USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘cuban’
Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb #2

Original Text: “Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.”

Transliteration: “Shrimp that sleeps is taken by the current.”

Translation: “A shrimp that sleeps will be taken by the current.”

 

The meaning of this proverb is that a person who is lazy won’t amount to much. The source says that her mother often told her this when she was a teenager and chose to nap instead of doing her homework. It’s a saying that’s often used to berate people who aren’t being productive. She says she didn’t value it much at the time, but now, looking back, she finds that it holds more meaning because her mother was working all the time. After leaving Cuba and moving to the US, her family struggled. Her parents worked many hours so that she and her five siblings could live good lives. She says her mother was never taken by the current. She always swam past it.

It’s interesting because I’ve heard similar proverbs in the US, but none expressed precisely like this. It seems the Cuban version has taken the proverb and colored it with their own flare by using ocean-related words to demonstrate their point, which makes total sense since Cuba is an island nation.

As for the point it makes on being productive and whatnot, it’s a very fitting proverb for this community of Cuban exiles. Many of them left their entire lives behind when they left Cuba and had to start from scratch in the US. The current was definitely something to be afraid of. If they didn’t try their hardest every day, they may have left for nothing.

While I formally collected this source from my aunt, I also recall hearing it at another point in time from a coworker who’d come to Miami in a raft. He said it to me as I was sleeping in the passenger seat of his car, as we were returning from a summer camp field trip. Thinking back on it, in a more literal sense, for those Cubans who came to the US via raft, the person who slept would actually be taken by the current. Thousands of Cubans have made the journey to the US on rafts called “balsas.” There’s a lot of space to cover between Cuba and Florida, and without enough manpower and dedication, the raft will go off track, and they could be stranded at sea. Perhaps this proverb takes some root from there, rather than originating in Cuba?

Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb

Original Script: “El que nace para real, a peseta nunca llega.”

Transliteration: “He who borns for real [Cuban coin, equivalent to a dime], to peseta [Cuban coin, equivalent to a quarter] never arrives.”

Translation: “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter.”

 

This Cuban proverb talks about fate. Essentially, it means that if someone is born to never be wealthy, there’s nothing they can do to change that. According to the source, it has to do with fate. Some people just aren’t “fated” to be wealthy. She’s heard it used in a couple different ways. On one hand, it can be used by someone as a way to put others down, to tell them that they’ll never amount to much more than what they already are. On the other hand, it can be used to comfort those who aren’t happy with their economic status by telling them that it’s not their fault that they’re not as wealthy as they’d like to be, that it’s just destiny.

The strong tie to destiny is probably due to Cubans’ religious beliefs. The majority of Cubans are Catholics, and they believe that God has a plan for all of us. So, in this case, they use their belief in God to justify economic status. The proverb also puts a lot of emphasis on money being what defines a person. This is very interesting, considering Cuba’s status as a Communist country.

The source left Cuba during the rise of Castro’s regime. Under Castro’s governance, there hasn’t been much social mobility in Cuba. One  typically stays within the socio-economic class they;re born in. If we are to view the proverb through this lens, then, it becomes much more literal. When we say that “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter,” rather than it referring to God or fate, it refers to the state of the country. Anyone who is born in a low social class will not move up. That’s how Cuban society had been engineered to be.

The two interpretations aren’t all that different though, really. In both cases, the proverb speaks to a sense of hopelessness. One is dealt a certain hand in life, and they are forced to play with it forever. It makes sense, especially, with the way Cubans have felt under Castro, especially the ones who emigrated to the US. Had I spoken to a Cuban currently living in Cuba, there’s a chance they’d never use such a proverb. Whereas in Miami, anyone who came from Cuba is almost guaranteed to be anti-Castro, and a proverb like this captures their sentiments and the impression he left on them before they left the country.

Folk speech
Riddle

Cuban Riddle

Original Script: “Un muchacho le pregunta a una muchacha, ‘Cómo te llamas?’ Ella le contesta, ‘Si el enamorado es entendido, ahí va mi nombre y el color de mi vestido. La respuesta correcta es, ‘Su nombre es Elena y su vestido es morado.”

Transliteration: “A boy asks a girl, ‘How do you call yourself?’ She to him responds, ‘If the lover is understood, there goes my name and the color of my dress.’ The answer correct is, ‘Her name is Elena and her dress is purple.'”

Translation: “A boy asks a girl, ‘What’s your name?’ She responds, ‘If the lover is understood, there goes my name and the color of my dress.’ The correct answer is, “Her name is Elena and her dress is purple.'”

 

This riddle only makes sense in Spanish because the Spanish word for lover, enamorado, is a combination of the last three letter’s of the girl’s name, Elena, as well as the color of her dress, morado. ena+morado=enamorado. Furthermore, the word enamorado is preceded by the word el in the joke. El translates into “the” in this context. The woman in the riddle is testing the man to see if he’s clever enough to figure out  her name using only the clue, rather than just asking for it.

The source said she heard it at a bridal shower. They were telling wedding riddles, and this one came up. It’s a coy riddle, with the woman sounding very flirtatious. It seems she’s interested in this man, but only if he’s smart enough to beat her game. It seems odd that her dress would be purple rather than white, though. Perhaps in some earlier version of the riddle, the man was a prince? Because purple is known to indicate royalty.

 

For another form of this riddle:

Ortiz Y Pino De Dinkel, Reynalda, and Dora Gonzales De Martínez. Una Colección De Adivinanzas Y Diseños De Colcha = A Collection of Riddles and Colcha Designs. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone, 1988. Google Books. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb #3

Original Text: “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.”

Transliteration: “More worth parrot in hand than one-hundred flying.”

Translation: “A parrot in your hand is worth more than a hundred parrots flying.”

 

According to the source, this proverb means that “things you already have are worth far more than those things you only have a chance at.” It can apply to money, friendships, jobs, etc. Basically, it’s used to discourage people from gambling with their lives. It expresses a disdain for uncertainty and favor for things that are already known/owned for sure.

For example, imagine you have a stable job, but there are several opportunities that might prove to be better, but you can’t know for sure. A Cuban might say to you, “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.” In this case, they’re telling you that it’s better to stay with the job you already have than to go after one of the other ones.

Like Cuban Proverb #1, this one places a lot of emphasis on wealth and staying with what you already have. In Cuban Proverb #1, we saw that anyone who is born of one socio-economic class will probably not move up. In a way, this proverb puts down anyone who might think of doing so. It doesn’t say this in a manner of, “Don’t do it because those are the rules,” but rather in a manner of, “If you try, you might only make it worse for yourself.” I suppose it’s not always like this, though, since this proverb applies to more than money, but when it is used in the context of wealth, it seems to discourage movement between social classes.

At the same time, though, it contradicts with Cuban Proverb #2, which basically says that slackers will fall behind. Well, if one were to ignore the flying parrots, then wouldn’t that be a form of falling behind? They’re sending mixed messages, which could be confusing for the child that grows up hearing all of these. What are we to understand of Cuban culture then? There seems to be a want for economic safety, which makes a lot of sense for those who fled Cuba for the US. After managing to gain a standing in the US, it would be best not to lose it. But at the same time, it also seems there’s a want for more. They left behind their lives. Their country was stolen for them. Do they maybe feel that they are owed something more in life because they’ve been wronged?

I posed this question to the source, my mother, who said I was looking too far into it. She says Cubans just like to feel nostalgic by reciting the proverbs they heard growing up in Cuba. According to her, sometimes they don’t even know what they’re saying. They just say it out of habit.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays

Cuban New Year’s Tradition

“On New Year’s Eve, you’re supposed to mop your house. Then, once you’re done, you take the dirty water in the mop bucket and you throw the water out your front door. It gets rid of the bad luck so that you can start fresh in the new year.”

 

This Cuban New Year’s tradition has a superstitious element to it much like their beliefs of the evil eye. For Cubans, it seems bad luck can actually be a physical thing that you can acquire and then get rid of. The source said her mother used to do this jokingly. They didn’t actually believe in it, but every New Year’s Eve, they’d participate in the tradition if only for laughs and to actually get the house clean.

I asked the source where she thought this tradition started, and she said it sounded “like something santeros would do.” Santeros are what Cubans call people who practice Santeria, a Latin American religion that involves witchcraft. Much like Wiccans, santeros cast spells in order to protect their families, ward off bad luck, attract romantic partners, etc. However, what I also find to be great (and comical) about this tradition is that involves one of the ultimate Cuban pasttimes: cleaning.

Sure, the metaphorical idea of cleaning your house to wash away the bad luck sounds pretty legitimate, but to me, I see this tradition as being a way for Cuban parents to get their kids to help  them clean the house. Cubans are VERY clean people. Just about every Cuban family I know employs a cleaning lady on a weekly or monthly basis. At the end of the year, though, those cleaning ladies are hard to come by. Many take two weeks or so off to be with their family during Christmas/New Year’s/winter break. After Christmas, whoever hosted the celebration is going to have a fun time cleaning up after everyone. And if they’re supposed to have their house ready for a New Year’s celebration, too? Forget it. Time to bring out the Cuban New Year’s tradition and get everyone in on it because mama can’t be the only one with bad luck in the house.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

How Cubans Find Lost Objects

Original Text: “Si pierdes algo, amarra un trapo negro a la pata de una silla para que San Dima te ayude a encontrarlo.”

Transliteration: “If you lose something, tie a cloth black to the foot of a chair so that San Dima can help you to find it.”

Translation: “If you lose something, tie a black cloth to the leg of a chair so that San Dima can help you find it.”

 

The source says that Cubans have many different superstitions for finding lost items, but this is the one she’s heard of the most.  She said San Dima is the patron saint of finding lost things. When I tried searching more about Saint Dima, though, I was unable to find anyone by that name. I also asked what the significance of the black cloth and the chair were. Apparently, it’s a black cloth because the item is lost somewhere it can’t be found, somewhere “dark” to the finder. She didn’t know exactly why it’s tied to the leg of a chair, but she speculated it had something to do with being close to the floor and how lost things are usually on the floor.

This belief sounds like it stems from Santeria, a Latin American religion that combines witchcraft with Christian beliefs.  The original practitioners of Santeria were African slaves that had been taken to islands like Cuba and whatnot by the Spanish. In order to protect themselves from being punished for practicing their native rituals, the slaves exchanged the names of African deities for Christian saints. As such, many of the deities’ abilities were carried over to the saints. It’s possible that San Dima received their power for finding things from whatever African deity their name was used to replace. While Santeros aren’t the only ones who practice this belief, it seems very likely that that’s where it stemmed from.

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bujería

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Brujería (Quemada)  

The informant’s cousin Pache was in love with a gipsy and traveled around Spain with him. He taught her how to be a brujería, translated in english as a person who practices voodoo. Her favorite bruja, translated as what the person practicing voodoo creates or potion, to create was a Quemada, in english Quemada is translated as burned, but it is in this tradition a potion used to fend off evil. A Quemada “spell” is made by first an alcoholic beverage mixed together in a huge clay pot, an incantation is spoken over the mixture, the mixture is lit on fire (where quemada comes from), and the people involved drink the quemada. This ritual was meant to get rid of evil spirits so Pache and her boyfriend would do the quemada usually to people who were just married to rid them of evil spirits in their relationship.

Analysis…

Rituals similar to this are definitely not practiced in the culture that I am constantly in. I am not familiar with them, but when I hear about them I am seriously intrigued. It is extremely interesting that voodoo and potions are viewed as a way to rid a person, house, or relationship of evil spirits. When the informant was telling me about her cousin and what she experienced and the rituals that she performs really struck me as interesting. I guess for me, I didn’t realize it was a real cultural tradition in modern culture to practice these types of practices. It is interesting also that Pache usually only performs these rituals when a couple is married and maybe if someone buys a new house. I connect this to religion because people are married and that is an important step religiously, and people moving into a house usually will pray over the house because they want to purify it. With Pache’s Brujería, it is really similar, she performs her ritual at weddings and to rid evil spirits. Maybe in some way the two are connected and that would be another interesting subject to explore.

Customs
general
Legends
Narrative
Proverbs

Abuelo Antonio

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

“Live Like Abuelo Antonio” 

Informant…

“My Abuelo Antonio was an early member in my family who grew up in Spain but eventually moved to Cuba. While he was living in Cuba he was extremely poor and he and his wife were going through some rough times. They had no money for food and all they could afford were scraps of bread. Every morning, Abuelo Antonio would put out scraps of bread on the ledge of their house porch and would wait for the pigeons and doves to come take the scraps of bread. When the birds would arrive he would trap them and kill them so he and his wife could have food to eat. Abuelo Antonio was an extremely caring, loving and a giving person who was seen as a saint and it hurt him so much that he had to kill the birds. When he and his wife were able to have enough money to live more comfortably and actually buy food, he swore that for the rest of his life he would feed the birds every single day until the day he finally did die.

When I was a child, my mother would tell me that story which had been told to her by her mother and told to her by her mother and so on, as a reminder to always I guess give back in life, and to put out good vibes and oras into the world. Another lesson that comes from this story is to live how Abuelo Antonio would have lived. That became sort of a thing in my family, everyone wanted to live like Abuelo Antonio, it is sort of a life goal to be like him and we really look up to him, and people use it as a from of advice to others in the family. They would say Live like Abuelo Antonio. Yeah its pretty neat I guess that my family has sort of our own legends and myths that make proverbs.”

Analysis…

When I thought about folklore before, I didn’t realize that folklore could be held within and amongst family members. The specific informant gave me folklore that isn’t necessarily known widely by lots of people but rather held in her family and it is significant to her and important to the family because it actually means something to them. It is a story that advises them on how they should or shouldn’t do things.

Abuelo Antonio sounds like an incredible man and saint. His struggles and the way that he approached them shows to me that he is someone to look up to. The informant expressed to me that he was a saint and I could tell by the way she spoke about him. Having a figure like him to look up to and try to live like is probably beneficial in a family. If they all look up to the same person and base their life after the same person there are probably a lot of similarities within the family.

 

 

Customs
general
Legends
Narrative

“It’s A Promesa”

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Its a Promesa” 

The informant…

“My Abuela Nina had strange rituals that she would perform. Abuela Nina was involved with the Santeras who have beliefs that if they do different promesas then they would be given something by the Gods. Abuela Nina bagan to pull her eyelashes out at some point in her life and wouldn’t give an explanation to anyone as to why she was doing it except for “it’s a promesa”. She finally revealed that the Santeras taught her that if she never let her eyelashes grow back the Gods would do something in her favor. Abuela Nina also practiced other Santera traditions referred to as promesas as well. As her sons grew, she kept all of their hair, nail clippings, and teeth in jars. She would only give the answer “its a promesa” when asked why, but it is believed among the santeras that is someone were to get a hold of those things they could create voodoo on that person, so it was safer to keep them hidden in a jar.”

When I asked the informant what the Santeras specifically were she described them to me as witch doctors. They have strange voodoo, magic, are connected to the Gods in some way, and other traditions they practice they believe to work. I also asked her what a promesa is. She said that a promesa is translated as a promise, but to the Santeras it is a promise to the Gods or like a thing that you do for the gods. The informant also added that her Abuela Nina is said to be so weird or strange.

Analysis…

When the informant told me this stuff about her abuela Nina, I didn’t know how to respond. It was so different than anything I have heard before. The closest thing to a witch doctor that I have ever seen has been on the discovery channel so to hear about it face to face with someone who’s family knows a lot about it was interesting. Similarly to witch doctors, the closest form of voodoo magic I had ever heard about has been on movies. Hearing about Abuela Nina has expanded my cultural perspective and awareness. I think it is interesting that the informant has that in her culture and I was given the opportunity to be able to hear about it.

Customs
general
Legends
Narrative

Abuela Blanca

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Magic Abuela Blanca

Informant…

“It is a wide spread belief through santeras (witch doctor) is that if you were to catch lice that it was most likely from a dead person. Having lice from a dead person meant that you would carry that dead person’s spirit with you or you were possessed by them leading so you would be shunned from your family and society. My great great great grandma Abuela Blanca was a saint in her community. She was an amazing woman who taught at an elementary school in the country side. For a few days in a row one student, a young girl, wasn’t showing up to school and Abuela Blanca was concerned. She went to the young girl’s house and asked the parents why she hadn’t been to class and they proceeded to tell her what happened. The young girl caught lice from a dead person and the family was in the process of pushing her out of the home so she would be shunned from society. Abuela Blanca cared for the girl and didn’t accept the situation. Being the saint she was Abuela Blanca took the girl home, cleaned her hair and got rid of all the lice and sent her home. From that point on Abuela Blanca was talked about in the community as being a miracle worker or being able to perform magic.”

Analysis…

When I thought about folklore before, I didn’t realize that folklore could be held within and amongst family members. The specific informant gave me folklore that isn’t necessarily known widely by lots of people but rather held in her family and it is significant to her and important to the family because it actually means something to them. It is a story that tells them about their ancestor and the way that she lived her life.

Abuela Blanca sounds like an incredible woman. The way that she saw other people and was caring in her community really is an expression of her character. The informant expressed to me that she was amazing and I could tell by the way she spoke about her. Having a figure like her to look up to and try to live like is probably beneficial in a family. If they all look up to the same person and base their life after the same person there are probably a lot of similarities within the family.

 

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