USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexican’

Panes con Pollo y Rellenos de Papa

Main Piece:


The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KA) and I (ZM).


KA: For Christmas, um, my mom tends to make panes con pollo and for like my birthday because I ask for it, she makes rellenos de papa.

ZM: What is panes con…

KA: Panes con pollo? So we have what we call… bolío, or frances. Mexican people call it… um… I believe its bolio and we call it frances. I may be mixing it up though. It’s the exact same thing. It’s bread. And do you know what a torta is?

ZM: Uhhhh…

KA: Okay so a torta is kinda like a sandwich, but in a specific type of bread and Mexican people tend to make it. So, it’s a Mexican dish. So we use the same bread and we put like chicken in it. And there’s like this special sauce that you like put… I guess it would, it’s like tomato. Is it tomato sauce? Yeah. You have to… I don’t know how to make it. And then you put like vegetables in it and that’s how you would eat it. Kind of like a…

ZM: Like a sandwich?

KA: Kind of like a… Yeah, like a sandwich and then… But, like a moist sandwich because you put the sauce…And then rellenos de papa… It’s potato cut in half. So, you’ll peel the potato and then you’ll cut it in half, and you’ll put cheese in it, and then you would, um… you whisk egg and you dip it in the egg, and then you kinda like… It’s not fried, but it’s, it’s cooked like that. And then you would make like tomato sauce and you would put that on top and you can put cheese on top, if you want.


Context: This performance was recorded from a conversation with KA about her heritage and Salvadoran culture.


Background: KA was born in El Salvador but raised in South Central Los Angeles. She is a junior at the University of Southern California.


Analysis:I was unfamiliar with both dishes discussed. One of them seemed pretty much just like a sandwich, but the stuffed potato was the most interesting to me. I haven’t heard of any similar dishes.


Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays


I interviewed my informant, a young lady of Mexican descent, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. At the top of her list was her experience with the tradition of Quinceaneras, which she learned from her family members. She watched her older cousins performing the event when she was younger, and she had one herself when she turned fifteen. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:


According to my informant, a Quinceanera is a celebration of a young girl’s fifteenth birthday.


In the past, they were to show the village/town that this person is now ready to be wed/ now ready to meet suiters. Now it’s more of a celebration of coming into womanhood, and presenting her as such to family and friends


Girls wear bridal-like dresses. In modern Quinceaneras, girls wear colors that match the theme color of their party. My informant informed me that she wore a white dress because that was the main color of her party.


Quinceaneras also have a Court. The court is made up of seven couple with one main escort to dance with the Quinceanera [here the word is being used to describe the girl herself rather than the entire celebration].


At her party, when she enters the room, a waltz is performed with her court. And then she dances with the father/male figures in her family. Her father performs changing of the shoe, which is usually changing a ballet flat to a heal.


This is followed by the presentation of the doll. There is a doll that looks like the Quinceanera. She has to present it to a younger female figure (a cousin, or sister). My informant gave her doll to her younger sister at her Quinceanera.


My informant also told me that a more recent Quinceanera tradition is the surprise dance. The girl being celebrated will choreograph a modern dance of some sort to entertain guests.


It is also expected that the Quinceanera greet every guest and thank them for coming to their party.


My information added that Quinceaneras are traditionally for catholic people. There is usually a mass beforehand where they honor the Virgin Mary because she’s the pinnacle of womanhood.


I asked my informant for the context of a Quinceanera. She admitted that most of what she shared is based on the American tradition. In the Mexican culture, the whole town would be invited, not just family and friends. The party is usually held anywhere people fit: a ranch, in a dance hall, etc. The entire party also functions as a display of wealth for the family.



I have ever experienced a Quinceanera party, but I have a great idea of what it’s like based on my informants description. She obviously is well informed about the complexities of the tradition, and was able to explain it to me in a way that was easy to document. I feel that if I ever go to a Quinceanera in the future, I will be knowledgeable of what is happening and why it’s significant.


For more information on Quinceaneras (including who celebrates it, and rituals that are part of it), go to


Folk Beliefs

Tijuana Taxi Ghost


This is a Mexican ghost story about a taxi driver. Several taxi drivers have claimed they have picked up a woman and she instead of giving a location location to the drive she gave them directions. The directions took them to a very far location. The location ended up being a cemetery and when they arrived and the taxi driver looked towards the backseat the woman was gone.

Background and Context:

This story was told to me in a casual setting in middle of the evening on a weekend. The informant is a Sophomore at USC and is Mexican American but grew up in Southern California. She was told this story by her mother in her teenage years. My informant also told me it is a story specific to her mother’s hometown Tijuana, Mexico.  

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this story is that it does not hold any specific message but is used as entertainment. I thought this story was interesting that my informant told me it was specific to a city rather than the whole country or region. What I also found interesting is in the story the taxi driver does not realize she is a ghosts until she disappears, there is also no mentions of bad luck, tragedy or horror that most ghost stories tend to have. Overall this story was a very unique type of folklore.

Folk Beliefs

El Cucuy

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description of a supernatural figure they learned about from their mom:

“El Cucuy was a monster that my mom told me was in my closet, and I had to close my door–my closet door–at night or else he would get me. And so, every single night- well I was- I would always leave my closet door open because I would forget and she’d be like, ‘el Cucuy is gonna come get you!’ She would like, slam the door shut and like, that was that. And um, I actually like- that was all that we talked about, about el Cucuy. Like that was the only interaction I had…it was very mysterious.”

Variants of a monster or ghost that hides in a child’s closet appear across various cultures and locations. Much of the folklore that children learn from their parents consists of vaguely threatening or scary legends that may or may not serve to teach children not to misbehave. For example, Rudy’s mother may have talked about el Cucuy partly to get Rudy to close the closet door and keep their bedroom neat.

A description of this figure, known alternatively as “el Coco,” can be found in the book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans by Rafaela G. Castro (Oxford University Press, 2001) on page 57.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Three Kings’ Day

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description with me of how their family celebrates Three Kings’ Day:

“Three Kings’ Day is a really big one- that one we celebrated specifically. So that was like, January 6th, it’s the day that the three wise men finally reach Bethlehem with the baby Jesus. And um we- you’re actually not allowed to throw out your Christmas tree, in like, Mexican culture, like until Three Kings’ Day. So you have to keep your tree until then because that’s like, the official like, end of the season. And like, you put your shoes out and you leave food for the camels and then they fill your shoes with like sweets or a toy as a thank you for um, feeding the camels and giving them a rest. And like as a congratulations for being a good child. And so that was um, always important, and then you have a rosca de reyes which is um, a bread shaped like a crown so it’s like, circular bread. And um, there is sugar on it and dried fruits and there’s also tiny baby Jesuses inside it…There’s like multiple babies in roscas sometimes cause people like, like to play with fire. And um, well it’s like, when you get the slice and you get a baby Jesus inside your slice then you are obligated to throw a party on February second. And that’s the uh, day that Jesus is presented to the temple. Um, so you have to throw the party that day. But at that point it’s less about Jesus and more about more partying.”

When I heard Rudy’s description of the rosca de reyes, I recognized it as a variant of the “king cake” eaten in New Orleans on Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras king cakes are also circular and have a tiny plastic baby representing the baby Jesus baked into them. The version of the king cake tradition I learned from my aunt, who lives in New Orleans, says that the person who gets the baby in their slice has to buy the cake the following year. The king cake/rosca is a prime example of folkloric foodways that are present, but variable, across cultures.

Folk Beliefs

La Llorona


This story is well known throughout general Mexico and is titled La Llorona which translates to the weeping women and is a ghost story. The story focuses on an indigenous women who marries a Spaniard and has three children. However the husband leaves the woman and marries a wealthy Spanish woman. In the indigenous women’s anger she kills her three children. Right after she kills them she regrets killing her children, so she drowns herself. In the end her soul cannot move on so she roams lakes and rivers at night calling out “mis hijos” which translates to my children.

Background and Context:

This story was told to me in a casual setting in middle of the evening on a weekend. The informant is a Sophomore at USC and is Mexican American but grew up in Southern California. She was told this story by her mother in her teenage years. My informant also told me it is a ghost story and it is believed that anyone who hears the wailing woman is destined for bad luck, it is also told to children so they won’t wander outside at night.

Final Thoughts:

This was not the first time for me to be hearing this story so I believe this story is very popular and has many different variations. I also agree with the notion that this story is used to prevent children from wandering out at night, it would be effective because it would scare the children in fear of receiving bad luck by hearing the wailing women. I do not believe in ghost but I  do believe ghosts are a possibility so this story would deter me from going out at night as a child.



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?


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.