USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘homosexuality’
Proverbs

Mexican proverb: Arbol que nace torcido…

My informant is a 46 year old bicultural/binational/bilingual woman who works as a psychotherapist, born to a White American father and a Mexican mother. She grew up in both the United States and Mexico but currently lives in Mexico City with her husband and two young sons.

This proverb is a common one according to her, and usually spreads among women—she couldn’t remember who told it to her, but knew it was one of the women in her early adolescence. She told it to me over breakfast at a restaurant as an example of how fatalist Mexican proverbs can be, and how that reflects Mexican cultural attitudes.

“Árbol que nace torcido jamas su tronco endereza”
“Que significa?”
“Que la gente no puede cambiar, aunque quiera… no es su culpa, que así está la cosa.”

Translation: “Tree that is born twisted never its trunk will straighten”

“What does it mean?”
“That people cannot change, even if they want to… it’s not their fault, that’s just how it is.”

A more semantic translation would be “the tree that’s born twisted can never straighten its trunk”.

When I inquired as to why she thinks this type of proverb is so common, she had this to say:

“Pues aqui en Mexico, todos somos medio fatalistas. Este tipo de modismo disculpa la gente la gente como es, y es como si no hay nada que puedas hacer para que las cosas sean distintas. Los mexicanos se afligen, pero tambien se consuelan con ese tipo de pensamiento de que ya pues ni modo, sabes?”

“Well here in Mexico, we’re all pretty fatalist. This kind of proverb excuses people from how they are, and it’s like there’s nothing you can do so that things can be different. Mexicans torture themselves, but also console themselves with this type of thought that, well, that’s it then, there’s no other way, you know?”

In terms of its cultural relevance and attitude, I think she hits it spot on. It implies that a person who is one way, who is born one way, can never really change, and this reflects a prevailing attitude about the inflexibility of life situations, and a perceived lack of control over oneself and one’s situation.

She also informed me that the proverb is used in “a song about a homosexual”; I looked it up, and sure enough:

“El Gran Varon” by Willie Colón

Chorus:

“No se puede corregir

A la naturaleza

A lo que nace doblao

Jamas su tronco endereza”

http://www.lyricsg.com/64018/willie-colon/el-gran-varon-lyrics

Folk speech
general
Humor
Riddle

Catch Riddle

The informant learned the following catch riddle from his peers in elementary school:

“Does your mom know you’re gay?”

The informant’s comment on why the riddle is funny was that “No matter how they answer, they’ve clearly admitted to being gay.” He says that he performed in primary school but seldom does so any more because he no longer finds it amusing.

The informant regards riddles as “a childish thing in general . . . as an adult, people just look at you strange if you [say] something like that.” He calls this riddle in particular “a stupid kid joke” because “it’s not like anyone’s going to go with a verbal agreement.” However, he also made an assertion that seems to contradict his contempt for the riddle: “If I talked to a magic machine that was like the reverse of Tom Hanks’s Big and sent me back in time to elementary school, I would totally do that to some of the little bitches.”

It is interesting that the informant previously viewed the riddle from an emic perspective and has switched to an etic perspective now that he is out of elementary school–he is no longer part of that folk group. The informant’s assessment that very few people would assent to give a definitive answer to the riddle is most likely correct, and in Los Angeles, which, according to the scientific journal Demography, had in 2000 the second-largest gay population of any city in America (by number, not percentage), there is likely not as much of a stigma attached to being gay as in other places, though homosexuality has certainly gained acceptance since 1991, when the informant left elementary school. Nonetheless, many people who are not homosexual do get offended when it is intimated that they are, which might be perceived as amusing to active bearers of this joke.

Source: Black, Dan, Gary Gates, Seth Sanders, and Lowell Taylor. “Demographics of the Gay and Lesbian Population in the United States: Evidence from Available Systematic Data Sources.” Demography 37 (2000): 139-154.

general

Folk Metaphor – American

The informant learned the following folk metaphor from a friend in college:

“Gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide”

The informant uses this figure of speech “around friends who are gay and know that [he’s] not gay-bashing.”

The informant feels comfortable using this figure of speech around his gay friends because he considers that “in general, gay people are really laid back about their orientation.” He calls the folk metaphor “kind of silly and over the top” but “not horribly offensive unless it’s used in an offensive tone.”

If we take as a given that the folk metaphor is indeed “silly,” it is not surprising that it involves monkeys, which seem to be seen by Americans as fun or amusing—“a barrel of monkeys” is defined on Urbandictionary, a website that allows users to define slang terms, as “a standard of comparison for describing how much fun something is” and Amazon.com sells joke books called Barrel of Monkeys Super Silly Joke Book and Cheeky Wee Monkey Joke Book. Nitrous Oxide, while generally used as an anesthetic, also has the side effect of causing temporary hysterical delirium and is nicknamed “laughing gas,” which would explain why it is being used as part of a silly scenario. In this case it seems safe to say that the folk metaphor is implying that gay people are a source of amusement.

The folk metaphor is obviously widespread; it is pictured here on a commercially produced T-shirt: http://www.zazzle.com/gayer_then_a_tree_full_of_monkeys_on_nitrous_oxide_tshirt-235612046927597732

It can also be found in Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (151).

Sources:

Cusa, Nick. “Barrel of Monkeys.” Urban Dictionary. 25 April 2011 <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=barrel+of+monkeys>.

Gaiman, Neil and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. New York: Harper, 2007.

“Nitrous Oxide.” Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 April 2011 <http://www.answers.com/topic/nitrous-oxide>

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