USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexican’
folk metaphor
Folk speech

Urban Sayings in Mexico City

The informant is from Mexico City, currently rotating at UT Medical Center.

The interview occurred at a family barbeque on a Sunday.

 He and I discussed what he thinks about when he thinks of his home, which is originally Mexico City. He said that there is nothing quite like the sights and sounds of the urban squares of the densely populated capital. Here, Jesús discusses the marketplaces and street vendors in further detail.

“Hacerte Maje’ is a way of life, which means to cheat on people, and we sum it up by saying “el que no tranza no avanza”, which translates as “he who doesn’t cut corners doesn’t make progress”. Sadly, there is a tacit knowledge that corruption and lying are widespread; the “gandalla” is a person who breaks the rules in order to come out ahead. Traffic police are called Tamarindos, because they used to wear brown uniforms, the same color as the fruit, tamarinds, and México is known to be the capital of corruption. When an infraction is called, cops get paid to cancel the ticket, that payment is called “mordida,” which literally means bite. Public transport is usually run by organized groups that literally control the routes. People call the short, plump vehicles “peseros”. they used to cost one peso too, and they run the schedules and the routes as they please. The metro is also a place where things are sold illegally, and they pay the police “the mordida”, so that they are not stopped or detained as they carry on their business. On the metro you can be a victim of “bolsear”, which means to have your wallet stolen or “tortear,” to have your buttocks grabbed mercilessly; usually by a Patazo or Tigrazo; a despicable individual with no redeeming qualities. Our national holiday is on September 15th, not 5 de Mayo, as is wrongly assumed in the U.S.; although that commemorates the only victory our army had, the Batalla de Puebla. On Sep. 15th we celebrate “El Grito de Dolores”, which happened in Guanajuato.

This description of some of the folk sayings and forms of informal commerce gives some insight into the secondary economies of Mexico, wherein corruption and off the books dealings often do occur, but are so frequent they’ve become a part of the everyday. “El que no tranza no avanza” is an interesting saying that, although sly in tone, seems to imply that one cannot let others cheat, or to be weary of strangers. He gives the clarification that this saying for the most part applies to trivial happenings for the common person, and is used ironically when large-scale corruption is revealed. The fact of so many sayings surrounding corruption in Mexico gives us insight into the socialized aspect of discussing these exploitive practices. The question remains–is this socialization by folk dictums a form of combatting corruption, or have these sayings merely arisen due to frequency?

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dale, Dale, Dale – Piñata Song

Informant: Maria Burguete. 20 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City

Informant: “Mexican parties are very fun. If there is a piñata involved we all sing a specific song while the person hits it with a stick. Once the  song is over, the person stops hitting the piñata”


“Dale, dale, dale! no pierdas el tino,

Porque si lo pierdes… pierdes el camino;

Ya le diste una!

ya le diste dos!

ya le diste tres!…y tu tiempo se acabo!!”



“Hit it, hit it, hit it! Don’t loose the aim,

Because if you loose it, you loose the way;

You already hit it once!

You already hit it twice!

You already hit it three! and your time is up!


Collector: “Do you recall when you first heard this song?”

Informant: “No, this song has literally been in my life forever. When I was a baby and I could not hit the piñata, my dad would carry me and everyone would sing it. Over time, this song has stayed with me and everyone I know. It is really part of our culture.”

Thoughts: This song is really important in Mexican culture. Whenever there is a piñata at a party, everyone immediately sings. It really has been engraved in the culture forever. Piñatas are an important part of a celebration in Mexico and although it usually involves kids, adults also partake in the activity.

Folk speech

Mexican Proverb

Informant: Maria Clara Williamson. My mom who is originally from Colombia but has lived in Mexico City for 25 years.

Informant: “Está mas caro el caldo que las albondigas”

Translation: “The broth is more expensive than the meatballs.”

Informant: “This is a saying I learned living in Mexico. My friend Paloma uses it a lot but I never do. It is said when the effort put into something is more expensive than the end result. Right now we are building a house in an underserved community with your sister. We have to sell tickets for a raffle, travel to the community, get people at the school to participate, and make the whole thing work. This has taken so much of my time and so many people have been uncollaborative. This effort is more laborious, tiresome, and expensive than the end result (the house) and although it’s a good deed it is indeed more expensive.”

Thoughts: This proverb is really interesting. I had never heard it and my mom has certainly never said it in front of me. It is definitely an interesting way of describing a laborious task. There are many Mexican sayings people have and I’m actually surprised to not have heard it before growing up or from Paloma.


La Leyenda de la Luna – The Legend of the Moon

Informant: Maria Burguete. 20 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City.


Informant: “Un día, el dios Quetzalcóatl se transformó en forma humana para explorar la tierra. Después de un largo día se anocheció y el dios se sentó para descansar. Un conejo lo vio preocupado y se acerco a él sin saber que era dios. El conejo le preguntó que si se sentía bien. Quetzalcóatl le dijo que se sentía cansado por caminar tanto y tenía hambre. El conejo le ofreció su comida pero el dios le dijo que él no comía plantas. Al escuchar esto, el conejo le dijo que no tenía nada más para ofrecer, pero se ofreció a si mismo como comida. El conejo dijo que aunque no sea muy grande bastaría para llenarlo. Al escuchar esto, el dios estaba muy agradecido. Envés de comérselo, el dios regresó a su forma original, recogió al conejo y lo alzó tan alto que su reflejo quedo enmarcado en la luna. Al bajar, el dios le dijo al conejo que aunque su forma física fuera pequeña su retrato quedaría enmarcado en la luz por el resto de los tiempos.


One day, the god Quetzalcóatl transformed into human form to explore the earth. After a long day of walking, the sun went down and the God sat down to rest. A bunny saw him worried and came close to him without knowing he was a god. The bunny asked him if he was feeling ok. Quetzalcóatl told him he was tired from walking and was hungry. The bunny offered his food to him, but the god said he did not eat plants. After hearing this, the bunny said he didn’t have anything else to offer, but he offered himself as food. The bunny said that although he wasn’t very big it would be enough to fill him. After hearing this, the god was very appreciative. Instead of eating the bunny, the god transformed into his original form, picked up the bunny, and carried it so high that the bunny’s reflection was engraved on the moon. After coming down, the god told the bunny that although his physical form was small, his portrait would be engraved on the light for the rest of times.

Collector: “When did you first hear this legend and what does it mean to you?”

Informant: “I learned this legend in sixth grade Mexican History class. I vividly remember the story because that same day I made the effort to look at the moon and could see the bunny’s trace on it. I was literally mind blown! I enjoy this legend because it is a creative approach to explaining why the moon has its spots. When I first heard the legend, I was really moved by the story: a little cute bunny offers himself to a god and the god is moved by the bunny’s kindness. To me, it was really a story about kindness.”


Maria was my best friend growing up. We both went to the same school in Mexico and were introduced to this legend at the same time (6th grade Mexican History class with Ms. Fernandez). To be honest, I did not remember the legend as well as she did. I only remembered that the bunny was kind, the god threw him into the moon, and his reflection was engraved on it. Truly, the message of the legend is to teach children about kindness. Ever since hearing this legend, each time I look at the moon I see a bunny engraved on it.


For another version of this legend please see: “”  or “”



Mexican Proverb

Informant: Maria Burguete. 20 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City.

Informant: “Camarón que se duerme….se lo lleva la corriente”

Translation: Shrimp that falls asleep… taken away by the current

Collector: “What does it mean and when did you first hear it?”

Informant: “If you fall asleep you loose, is basically what it’s saying. Mexican mothers tell this saying to their children so that they pay attention. I don’t remember when I first heard this proverb, but I think my mom would use it whenever I would be lazy and not obey her. Also, I think my teachers in lower school would use it”

Thoughts: I have heard this proverb many times growing up. Just like Maria, my mother would often cite it when I was lazy. It is interesting that we both heard this proverb from our mothers and not our fathers. Another interesting observation is that my mother is from Colombia and therefore the proverb is not restricted to a country.


La Mujer Dormida – “The Sleeping Woman”

Informant: Maria Burguete. 20 years old. Born and raised in Mexico City.  Maria learned this legend from her parents and in sixth grade Mexican History class. Mexican history class introduced Maria to several myths, legends, and stories of the land.


Original: “En la Ciudad de México hay dos volcanes: Popocatéptl y la Mujer Dormida. Su historia es fascinante. En Tlaxcala había una hermosa princesa llamada Iztaccíhuatl. El poderoso guerrero Popocatéptl se enamoró de ella y los dos se profesaron su amor. Desafortunadamente, el ejército Tlaxcalteca necesitaba a Popocatéptl para pelear contra los Aztecas. Popocatéptl le pidió al padre de ella por su mano, y el aceptó su propuesta pero con la única condición de que regresara victoriosamente. Popocatéptl aceptó y se fue a la guerra. Iztaccíhuatl esperó a Popocateptl por mucho tiempo pero la guerra continuaba. En Tlaxcala había otro hombre enamorado de Iztaccíhuatl. Por sus celos, inventó que Popocatéptl había sido derrotado y asesinado. Iztaccíhuatl estaba derrotada. No podía parar de llorar y murió de tristeza. Popocatéptl regresó de la guerra victoriosamente y con muchas ganas de ver a su prometida. Al ver que ella había muerto, Popocatéptl la cargo en sus brazos y la llevo hasta la cima de una montaña. Popocatéptl la acostó en el suelo y la beso. Al ver el poderoso amor, los dioses los cubrieron en nieve y los convirtieron en volcanes para que siempre estuvieran juntos y su amor estuviara conectado por el resto de los tiempos. Por eso, los volcanes se ven así ahora. Iztaccíhuatl está acostada en forma de mujer dormida y Popocatéptl es un volcán activo que tira humo y fuego por la perdida de su amada.


In Mexico City there are two volcanoes: Popocatéptl and “The Sleeping Woman” and their story is fascinating. A long time ago there was a war between Los Aztecas and Los Tlaxcaltecas. In Tlaxcala, there was a beautiful princess named Iztaccíhuatl. The powerful warrior Popocatéptl fell in love with her and they both professed their love. Unfortunately, the Tlaxcaltec army needed Popocatéptl to fight against the Aztecs. Popocatéptl asked her father for her hand, and he accepted the proposal on the only condition that he return victoriously from the battle. Popocatépt accepted and went to war. lIztaccíhuatl waited for Popocatéptl for a long time but the war continued. In Tlaxcala, there was another man in love with Iztaccíhuatl. Due to his jealousy, he invented that Popocatéptl had been defeated and assassinated. Iztaccíhuatl was heartbroken. She could not stop crying and died of sadness. Popocatéptl returned from the war victoriously and very eager to see his fiancée. After seeing that she had died, Popocatéptl took her in his arms and carried her to the summit of a mountain. Popocatéptl laid her down on the floor and kissed her. Seeing their powerful love, the gods covered them in snow and turned them into volcanoes so that they would always be together and their love would be connected for the rest of the times. That’s why the volcanoes look like that now. Iztaccíhuatl is lying in the form of a sleeping woman and Popocatéptl is an active volcano that erupts smoke and fire for the loss of her beloved.

Thoughts: Living in Mexico City, the volcanoes are prominent objects in the landscape. In my opinion, this is one of Mexico’s most beloved legends due to its symbolism of love and its accurate description of the shapes. Ever since I was little, I have only called the Iztaccíhuatl volcano “La Mujer Dormida” or “The Sleeping Woman.” I would often ask my parents why the volcano was called as such and they used to give me a similar version of the story. In our sixth grade Mexican History class, a version of this legend was told. Of course, some of the details are not exact and the story has not kept the same narrative. For example, I remember that Popocatéptl ate a torch on fire to kill himself and then the gods transformed them into volcanoes. Although at times the narrative is different, the legend keeps the same symbolism and story. The legend has truth to it because it incorporates real tribes and real people. The magical part of the legend is something the Aztecs really believed in. They believed that the gods had a powerful effect on their lives; as a consequence, it makes sense that this legend was created. By teaching it and reinforcing it in schools, I believe that the legend will not be lost.


Mexican Recipe

Main Piece: Beer Battered Fish Tacos


For this piece, I asked my nanny of 18 years, Mirna, for a recipe, and being native to Mexico, she delivered. She prepared beer battered fish tacos, which consists of frying a white fish meat in a batter made from bread crumbs and beer (Corona, of course). It is put into a taco with a chipotle sauce, cabbage, and salsa. I asked if there was a set recipe she followed but there was not, she just cooked based off how she had done it in the past. The entire time she was cooking she was adding little bits of ingredients here and there according to taste, and nothing was perfectly measured. Once the fish was battered it was fried in a pan with vegetable oil, not a traditional deep fryer. There was no set time to cook or anything of the sort, just judging based on the look of the food and feel based on the cook.




This is a traditional recipe from my nanny’s home in Mexico, and she has been using it for as long as I can remember at home. It was a traditional recipe used when a successful fishing trip returned and would be cooked right away.

She learned it from her mother, who would generally cook for all of her brothers and sisters, of which there were 6 of them. She had many recipes she could’ve chosen from, having grown up in this large family and also having cooking as a big part of life for them. There was never really much take out or dinners out, so it was typically home cooked meals from her mother.




This time she cooked the meal for me, it was just one night for dinner, and did not have much contextual meaning. I used to fish a lot during the summer, and fresh fish was my favorite food for that span of time. I used to call my nanny as we were unloading the boat telling her what we had caught and she would prepare to cook it for me, and this became one of my favorite preparations of fish. She cooked a very large portion as it would serve as our family dinner that night, and had a sort of system going where she would be constantly breading the fish, frying it, warming the tortillas, and prepping the plates. She said that’s what it was like at home when her mother would cook for everyone, needing to feed many mouths.

When this dish was being prepared, my dad had a few different beers at home but none were a Mexican beer, so my nanny actually went out and bought Coronas to cook this recipe, which I think is interesting in that even though I’m sure other types would have worked, it is more traditional to the recipe that she used a Mexican beer for the recipe.


My Thoughts:


I had always thought this was just a random recipe my nanny had found and cooked for our family, but it turned out this was a recipe she had learned from her mother and brought here to cook for us. There are many more dishes my nanny knows how to cook from home and makes them constantly, but this one is hands down my favorite that she does.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican Birthday Tradition


Joseph is a sophomore social science major at USC.


So our family tradition, and i think it’s  a pretty common Latin tradition is that well what our family does is that every time its someone’s birthday party when it comes time for the cake and after they blow out the candles and we take those candles off we always yell mordedura which means bite and the person has to bite the cake. But what they don’t know is that someone always has their hand behind their head and actually smashes their face into the cake. Its one of our favorite most enjoyable traditions ever.


Collector’s thoughts:

This tradition is interesting because in any other context the action is rude and mean, but in the context of one’s birthday it is a fun playful tradition that everyone enjoys even when they are the one getting their face smashed into the cake. In this way, this tradition reveals the bonds within families and the importance of birthday traditions.


Gestation, birth, and infancy

Mexican Pregnancy and Menstruation Beliefs

LP’s (the informant) family is originally from Mexico. She learned this superstition from her mother who advised her not to eat certain foods when she was menstruating. I remember when I was roommates with LP my freshman year, and her mom would bring her certain foods that she believed would help reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. For the pregnancy part, she said her entire family believed in the tradition and that her mother used this method to determine the sex of a baby, and has never been wrong.

Both of these things apply to women, either pregnant or menstruating women specifically. Therefore, the following needle test is used on a pregnant woman, usually within the home.

“During your period, don’t eat spicy stuff because those make cramps worse. Don’t eat watermelon because that makes it worse too, or any watery fruit will hurt you. It’s bad to eat these when you’re menstruating. Also, when you’re pregnant don’t eat watery foods because they’re afraid the baby will slip out. Ha, it’s so strange….Oh also! When you’re pregnant there’s a test to see if you will have a boy or girl baby. Someone will put a needle on a red string and dangle it over the mother’s stomach when she’s lying down. If the needle starts swinging back and forth it means it’s a boy, and if it goes in a circle, it’s a girl. My mom has done this and has always gotten it right. Also if your pregnant stomach is bulging out, it’s a boy, if it’s round and droopy it’s a girl.”

I’m very curious as to how this needle test came about. Is there some sort of reasoning behind it? LP did not know how it came about, so she wasn’t able to answer me. I’d like to know where they got the idea about the direction of the needle swinging indicating the sex of the baby.  Additionally, LP tried to explain the reasoning behind eating certain foods during menstruation and while it seemed plausible, I don’t think it’s scientifically accurate. 


La Llorona

Background of informant:

My informant (AG)’s parents moved from Mexico to Los Angeles before her birth. She speaks Spanish to her parents in home and is surrounded by Mexican culture.


Main piece:

AG: “The story that I know about her is that, she was with a man and they had children together. And for some reason, she became crazy. Either because of the guy, or just because of herself [in a questioning tone]. Let’s say, I don’t really know why. Because of that, uhh, she went crazy and she drowned her kids in the river. And then when she realized what she did, she wanted the kids back. But she couldn’t so she killed herself, thinking that she could reunited with them. But when she went to heaven, because she committed suicide, she couldn’t get into heaven and had to find her kids back. So she came back to earth and she’s like [pause] damned. Just wandering on the street looking for her children. And then like, what she said, was like ‘Where’s my kids?’, ‘¿Dónde estás Mi hijo?’”


SH: Is this sentence always a part when people tell this story?


AG: “Yes, cause you learned as a kid…like… [pause] I think I learned from some older cousin and they were trying to scare the younger kids. And cause you are little, so its like “no you can’t follow us, cause La Llorona will come and she’ll be like ‘¿Dónde estás Mi hijo?’ [in a different tone] and she’ll take you!” Cause you’re kid so she’ll think that you were hers kid. ”


AG: “Surprisingly, a lot of adults, [pause], kind of believe in it. Cause like, my uncle claimed that he heard her and seen her. But a weird thing about Latin American, especially Mexican, is that they can be very superstitious. […] People claim that every time when you’re sleeping and hear a crying outside, “Oh, that’s Llorona!” And when you wake up, you’ll just have discussion with your family, like, “I heard, I heard La Llorona last night.” So it’s like in certain situation, we talk about supernatural stuffs.”


Context of the performance:

AG and I were discussing on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo in a writing class. When we were close reading the scene when the female character jumps into SF Bay to kill her self, she told me this really reminds her of a story she heard when she was young. And she started to talk to me about this story and it turns out that this female character in Vertigo shares many similarities with La Llorona.


My thoughts about the piece:

This piece was performed after I first knew about La Llorona’s story on ANTH 333 lecture. Not only is the content of the piece slightly different from the version that I heard of, the context when my informant learned about this piece is also different. Instead of being told by parents to kids, or among young women (as what we’ve discussing on class), AG was told by her older cousins to scare her in order to prevent her from following them.


For another version of this legend, see Vertigo (1958).