Tag Archives: Mexican

Grapes and Red Underwear on New Years Eve

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. Her aunt taught her this and said it’s a Venezuelan tradition.

Text:

MV: You’re supposed to eat thirteen grapes in the last ten seconds of the new year. And if you do it, then that’s good luck. Also if you wear red underwear.

JS: Why grapes?

MV: I don’t know, that one’s just a weird challenge.

Thoughts:

Ritual transitional ceremonies such as new year celebrations often involve superstition and folk belief, as ways of marking a transition from one period to another. In other iterations of this practice, you eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. The element of skill and difficulty make this tradition a fun and competitive ritual. The tradition can be traced back to Spain, where the bourgeoise adopted it from the French, who ate grapes and drank champagne on the new year. The tradition was picked up by members of other classes who ate the grapes likely to make fun of the upper class. The fact that one is scarfing these grapes at a high speed can be seen as a mocking gesture towards the elite, who would daintily eat the grapes with their champagne, a way to mimic and critique the ways in which they cover up their pernicious and consumptive practices of economic exploitation with a mask of civility and decadence.

As for the red underwear, red symbolizes lust, luck, and life in many cultures. Being a Spanish tradition, the use of red resonates with the colors of the nation. The choice of garment suggests sexual overtones in this bit of folk superstition, with the new year as a time for new beginnings, creation, and sexual proliferation. The belief also, for the duration of the new years celebration, allows undergarments to be a topic of conversation, allowing for a less sexually repressed and euphemistic celebration, with the topic coming up more apparently to the surface.

“Dios en mi. El en ti, la sangre de cristo, me alibre de ti” Mexican proverb and narrative

Main Piece

Informant: My grandma tells me this story about a lady who lived three towns over when she was living in Mexico. There was a time when bulls got out and were running through the streets because they escaped, and this woman was in the streets and caught off guard and a bull was running straight towards her. And there was a prayer that she said over and over again watching the bull run over.  When the bull came up to her it stopped right in front of her, they made eye contact, and the bull  just walked away. She told everyone in town the prayer she told herself to protect her, and it spread across town and that is how my grandma heard it. The prayer went like this:

“Dios en mi. El en ti, la sangre de cristo, me alibre de ti”

It roughly translates to “God is with me. The Devil is with you. The blood of Christ protects me from you.” 

She always tells me to say this whenever I am in danger, whenever I don’t feel safe, to just recite it over and over again and now I do whenever I am scared shitless. There is nothing else to do! Haha. 

Background

The informant is a great friend and housemate of mine, and he is a senior at USC studying Lighting Design. Coming from Oxnard, CA he and his family are very connected with their Mexican roots and he has grown up practicing and identifying with many aspects of Mexican culture. He is also a very big raver, as he enjoys going to many EDM festivals and aspires to do lighting design for different raves as well. 

Context

One day the informant was driving while I was in the passenger street and we had to take a very dimly lit dirt road. When he was driving I heard him reciting a  prayer in Spanish while we were taking this road, and since I speak Spanish fluently as well I could understand it was some sort of protection prayer. After we got off of the road I asked him what he was reciting, and asked him about it once more in our interview to get more of the context. 

Analysis

Coming from a very Hispanic city and a Mexican family, the informant was taught this folk proverb and accompanying narrative through in Spanish and through word of mouth. It offers a sense of protection and security, and ties into the religious nature of Hispanic communities. Since this story was passed down from his grandmother, it also is a signifier of identity not only to his family, but to his culture as a whole.

Rubbing the belly of a pregnant woman to absolve it of “El mal de ojo” or bad energy

Main Piece

Informant: This one is weird because strangers can just come up to you and ask to rub your belly. It happened to me. If a woman has an impure thought or is envious when they see a pregnant woman, usually it is about them not being able to have a child, they ask the pregnant woman if they can rub their stomach so that their child doesn’t have “Mal de Ojo” or any bad energy. The Mal De Ojo is between the woman to woman, but the baby is caught in the middle, so they rub the stomach to absolve the baby if that makes sense. I have never seen a man do it, that would be kind of..weird. Oh! And the woman rarely discloses why she rubbed the belly, it is more about absolving their conscience so when it happens you just kind of let them rub it so your baby can get cleansed. It is very odd, it is kind of scary because you find out these women are having bad thoughts about you. It is even scarier to think about the ones who don’t rub the stomachs and just let the bad energy impact the baby.  

Interviewer: Did this ever happen to you?

Informant: One time. The person didn’t even know I was pregnant because I wasn’t showing. I just think she was talking ill of me and found out I was pregnant and rubbed my stomach. She probably thought I was just getting fat haha haha. She was an acquaintance of my ex-husband’s family, so that explains a lot haha. 

Interviewer: Can you explain more about El Mal de Ojo?

Informant: It is interpreted as an evil eye. In the sense of pregnancy the evil is are the ill thoughts of the woman, only she knows why. To try and remedy their conscience they rub the stomach, and disclose if they may “ay no lo quiero dar el mal de ojo, me permites?” (“I don’t want to give the baby the evil eye, may I?”) You do it in an apologetic way, to secure the baby and to get forgiveness for having those bad thoughts. I think its humanity. I think it is an immediate remedy to perhaps absolve an ll thought. People have ill thoughts all of the time- jealousy, comparison. So they do it to apologize in a way, and to save the baby from these ill thoughts, because they don’t deserve that. 

Background:

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

My whole life I have heard of this premonition, and saw it for the first time when my sister was pregnant and a stranger at a store came up to her and asked to rub her stomach. With that story in mind, I asked the informant more about it and she explained. 

Analysis

This is a very interesting form of folk magic, superstition, and protection. At the end of the day, this practice stems from a belief of magic harming the baby just from a glance. However, I think it is interesting that the act of this practice requires someone to admit that they were sending bad energy in the first place. However, as the informant describes it is more to protect the baby who doesn’t deserve to be impacted by that bad energy. This demonstrates the link of witchcraft to women, and is also a form of superstition present in Mexican communities.

Red Yarn to Cure Hiccups and Colic in Babies

Main Piece

Interviewer: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: My first daughter was super sensitive to colic and hiccups and really her digestive system. She got hiccups all the time, and I didn’t know what to do with it, you can’t have a baby hold your breath they’re a baby. So I called my mom and she let me know what to do. 

Interviewer: What are the steps for this practice?

Informant: When your baby has hiccups or colic you wad a little bit of red yarn and you wet it with your saliva and you pinch it in your fingers to make it round. And then you put in on the forehead, kinda like where the Third Eye would be. And then they’re fine. I don’t know the science how why but it worked. Once the baby stopped you took the yarn off and there you go. Sometimes it took a few minutes, but you take the red dot off after it is done doing what it is supposed to do.

Interviewer: Do you know where your mom learned it from?

Informant: She learned it from her mom who learned it from her mom. Everything she told me was done on me. 

Interviewer: Does the practice have a name?

Informant: No, not that I know of. 

Background

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

My Mother and I often joke about how horrible babies we were, and she often tells us the stories of the different practices that my Nana would teach her to calm us down. One of the ones I remember vividly was this one, with the red yarn. Over the phone I asked my Mom about the different practices we would talk about to understand the context better. 

Analysis

I think that this example of folk medicine is a great indicator of Mexican heritage and identity. It has been passed down in the informant’s family for multiple generations and had a reputation of working, prompting the informant to use it herself. The use of a red yard is interesting, as it is a very inexpensive material that most women would have at their disposal in their home. The placement of the dot on the forehead and the reference to the third eye also indicate a sense of magic as well. 

La Llorona

The following is a Hispanic/Latin legend.  The informant is represented by L and I am represented by K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about La Llorona.

L: Okay, so… I feel like it’s the first myth that EVERY little kid lear- every little Mexican hears about is La Llorona, and it’s usually, well, she’s active during the night, and near water, is what I’ve heard.  And that what happened is that she drowned her children…. it like evolves over time because it’s from.. drowning her children to like a river and to her bathtub, but I’m… pretty sure originally, it’s that she drowns her children in a lake… no! she doesn’t drown her children, she… doesn’t watch over them and they drown by themselves, and so.. she started… so… she kills herself, and so she’s just wandering around and looking for children to take as her own.  And so, she’s like dressed in white, really long black hair, that just covers her face… and, she’s just wailing, wailing during the night… and… she won’t.. come, near like large groups of children, is what I’ve learned.  It’s like one or two.. and that’s when she’ll strike and snatch you up, but I guess what it means to me is just… I don’t like being alone at night, it scares me ’cause…. and, I think it’s something that parents tell their kids to keep them in check.

Context:

The informant was sitting at a dining room table.  There was a group of 5 of us and we had all just celebrated Easter together.  We were sitting at the dining room table sharing folklore and she had a lot of Mexican folklore that she wanted to share with us.

My Thoughts:

La Llorona seems to be a legend meant to scare kids into not wandering alone at night.  This story is very popular in a lot of Latin American cultures, as my dad heard a version of it himself growing up in Nicaragua, and I have many Mexican friends who heard this story growing up.  I think the story is meant to remind kids that they should listen to their children and be cautious with whether they decide to wander alone at night or not.  I think it’s a super interesting story because there are a lot of different variations of La Llorona and slight details that change every time I hear it.  There’s a clear progression of the way the folklore has been passed down from different years.

 

For another version of this legend, please see “La Llorona” in Colo Arvada’s 1997 La Llorona: 43 Lloronas de Abelardo (Barrio Publications).

Moment with the Devil

The following is a somewhat of a ghost story, but also a demonic encounter.  The informant is represented by L and I am represented by K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about your story.

L: Okay… I heard this from my mom, and my mom told it to me when I was younger, that… back when she was living in Mexico, when she was coming home from school with her- with my aunt… and that… the girl who lives next to them… she was like, very bratty and just very mean to her mom, didn’t want to go to work with her, didn’t go help her out to like get money and get food, and she was just… not a nice person at all.  And my mom said when she was coming home from school, she just heard like… a shrilling scream… and her- the girl comes out and she was just sobbing and crying and my mom, it took her- it took my mom a while to calm her down and.. uhm… and she said that.. that the Devil… that the Devil came for her because she was just being so- she was being a bitch, and that… what only she saw was like the black and long and like scary hands with like the fur and stuff. And then my mom stayed with her- my mom and my aunt stayed with her until… her mom got home and then her mom took her to a priest to go… to go bless her, but uhm… I guess what it means to me is just, it kept me in line as a kid ’cause like I can’t be disrespectful to my mom because I don’t want that to happen to me.

Context:

The informant was sitting at a dining room table.  There was a group of 5 of us and we had all just celebrated Easter together.  We were sitting at the dining room table sharing folklore and she had a lot of Mexican folklore that she wanted to share with us.

My Thoughts:

I thought this piece of folklore was interesting because it’s kind of a ghost story, but also kind of just a demonic encounter. I think it was really interesting because this could totally be a real experience or it could be a story that was made up in an effort to keep children in check.  I, personally, think it’s a real story and was told as a way for the informant’s mother to make her behave well when she was younger, but I definitely think it’s real. I also think it’s interesting because, it’s somewhat of a variation of a ghost story, but in this context, the ghost happens to be the Devil.  I think it’s super interesting because people who aren’t religious, but believe in ghosts would probably say it was just a ghost, but people who don’t believe in ghosts, but are religious, might say it’s really just the Devil.

The Devil in your bed

Main Text:

“My Aunt always told me that if one of us in the house did not make our beds then the Devil would come and play in them. The only way to protect ourselves from the Devil was to make our beds before we left the house.”

 Context:

I collected this piece from a hispanic male whose family is Catholic. When I asked him why he remembered this piece and why he thinks he learned it from his family he told me that he remembers it because he used to have meltdowns when he would leave the house after forgetting to make his bed and that he also thinks that his Aunt only told them this as a way to get them to clean their rooms.

Analysis:

I agree with the informant’s explanation that the reason that his family was told to make their beds was not because the Devil would actually appear in an unmade bed but as a way for the children in the family to get in the habit of cleaning their rooms and making their beds. I think that one of the reasons this is passed down is as a way to teach children their manners as well as discipline and it is done in a folkloric way so that the kids will remember and abide by it.

Another explanation for why this folk belief has been told and continues to be shared by that family has to do with religion. Many western people’s religions all agree that there is a Devil and that the Devil is someone you meet in hell if you sin and do not repent for your sins. I think that this has a very strong affect on children who are just learning about religion and beginning to attend church because it equates their uncleanliness to sin and something that they have to repent for in order to protect themselves from finding the devil in your bed. Naturally, when a child gets in trouble for doing something that they are not supposed to be doing they try to apologize and find some way to not be punished. In this case, the punishment is coming face to face with the devil and the only way to avoid this is to make one’s bed- which is a pretty dark but effective way to make children more disciplined and clean.

I would also like to analyze this folk belief by seeing the choice of diction and how this would affect kids specifically and allow them to remember it. This folk belief  does not just say that the devil will appear in your bed but that the devil will play in your bed if you leave it unmade. The word choice here is directly targeted towards children to whom the notion and action of playing was natural ever since birth and that is what they are used to doing. When they hear the word play, I feel like they connect to it in a different way than an adult would because that is what they spend most of their childhood doing so it resonated with them in a different way.

I am no gold coin to be liked by all – Mexican proverb

Main Piece:

“No soy monedita de oro para caerle bien a todos.”

Transliteration:

No am small coin of gold to fall good to all

Translation:

I am no gold coin to be liked by all

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 49-year-old male. He claims the first time he heard this saying was many years ago. He says his grandmother on his mother’s side, who has passed away now, used to often repeat this saying during her life. He claims his grandmother was a strong decision maker and always had very good relationships with everyone, especially politicians and governors. In those circles, it is easy for one to be criticized, but his grandmother would not fall victim to these criticisms because she believed in what she thought was right and was not there to please others.  She fought for what she believed in despite what others might have thought of her. My informant claims the saying is self-explanatory. He says it is impossible to make everyone happy there are always social classes and people who are jealous of others and that can cause dislike. He emphasizes, “not everyone has to like you.”

I believe what my informant means by this saying being self-explanatory is that the proverb implies everyone likes gold coins. Therefore, if someone is a ‘gold coin’ it would come to mean everyone would like them. However, people are not gold coins, they come with opinions, qualities, personalities, and ideas. All of these characteristics can make them favored by some and disliked by others. The proverb therefore states that there is no way one can be liked by all for they are not gold coins.

 

Flourishing despite circumstance – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“El que es perico donde quiera es verde.”

Transliteration:

The one that is a parrot wherever he wants is green.

Translation:

Someone that is bright will flourish despite any circumstance he might find himself in.

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

 Context and Analysis:

I asked my Informant, a 74-year-old female if she knew of any sayings that have stuck with her throughout her life. At first, she answered she didn’t know any and after I told her one of the proverbs I knew she said she remembered this one. I asked what the proverb meant to her, and she responded that it means, someone smart would thrive in any situation he is placed in. She says her husband has many friends that came from very little and with their merit were able to become very successful people in their lives. These people were not handed anything, everything they have they earned. 

I agree with my informant’s interpretation of the proverb. Parrots have a very vibrant green color that stands out wherever they are.  I believe the proverb uses this identification to compare it to the stand out character of a person who is intelligent and full of personality. Someone that has charismatic and unique qualities will stand out wherever he is. Just like the parrot’s color will not change despite his environment this bright person will stand out despite his background. I also see this proverb as having implications to status and wealth. The proverb in english, “born with a silver spoon in your mouth” is often used to refer to those that were given everything and therefore naturally thrive. On the contrary, the proverb “El que es perico donde quiera es verde” speaks to being able to flourish despite the environment someone is in and what is given to them. 

 

Getting too caught up with yourself can cause confusion – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“No te subas al ladrillo que te mareas”

Transliteration:

Don’t get on the brick because you will get dizzy 

Translation:

Getting too caught up with yourself can cause confusion

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

I asked my informant, a 17-year-old female when she first heard this saying. She said it used to be a phrase her dad would say to her to make sure she did not let her privilege make her feel superior to others. She said her father would tell her this saying when she was acting bratty or snobby. She says she comes from a privileged family and her father sometimes worries that she is not working hard enough for the things she has. My informant says it is easy to fall victim to the rewards of things and to act like she deserves everything she has when in reality she did not earn it herself. She says she also believes this saying is meant to prevent people from thinking they know everything and from showcasing knowledge they are feigning. The informant says her father has tried to instill in her the value of admitting not knowing something and learning it as opposed to making it up and falling out of people’s trust and favor. 

I agree with the informant about the meaning of this proverb. Getting on a brick signifies elevating yourself from others. By getting on a brick the person becomes taller and people have to look up to them. This can be interpreted as representative of status. Having more and being of higher status can make it easy for people to overindulge and think they can have everything or deserve everything because of what they have or the title they hold. Once a person begins feeling deserving or above others it is easy for them to fall out of favor and lose what they have. As the proverb describes getting dizzy or caught up in everything one has. Getting dizzy and losing balance on an elevated surface can result in falling. This proverb is meant to warn people from the dangers of falling if one gets too caught up with what they have and who they think they are. This proverb can also signify losing sight of oneself by getting too caught up in material things or a reputation.