USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexican’
Foodways
Material

THE CORN MAN

EXAMPLE:

Interviewee: Growing up, we kind of lived in I guess sketchier areas or whatever.

Interviewer: Okay.

Interviewee: But I kind of miss it because the corn man would come by.

Interviewer: The corn man?

Interviewee: Yeah. Well there were like pretty much only Mexicans where we were. So the corn man was the old Mexican man who would come by and serve elotes to everyone.

Interviewer: Elotes?

Interviewee: Elotes. Mayo, butter, stinky cheese…

Interviewer: Stinky cheese.

Interviewee: Yeah. You know the stuff you put on pasta. Parmesan. Stinky cheese.

Interviewer: Okay.

Interviewee: So yeah, mayo, butter, stinky cheese, and chili powder. He would carry like this big tub of corn. And then you would come out of your house and he would put that stuff on the corn. I mean, I love corn, but that is like the best way to eat it.

But then, you know we moved, kind of away from that area, so know we have to make it at my house, homemade.

Interviewer: Do you make it at school?

Interviewee: Yeah. Like if we’re barbecuing out here, I will throw some corn on the grill to and make elotes. But nothing will be as good as the corn man’s. He was like the ice cream truck man. Everyone, my parents, my brothers, the whole neighborhood would come out and get the corn man’s corn. And he would just walk up and down the street.

Interviewer: Hot dogs, hamburgers, and elotes?

Interviewee: Exactly.

ANALYSIS:

I like this example for a few reasons. One is that the actual corn man himself seems to be somewhat of a legendary figure in this community. He comes in, shelves out delicious corn, and then leaves. It also seems like it has a sort of “locals only” feel to it, in that these people only come around these specific communities. More gentrified, less ethnic neighborhoods, are not privy to what they are missing out on.

It of course adds another element in that she makes it herself too. First it was her family, trying to recreate that delicious corn they had once they moved from the neighborhood. Trying to use the corn to travel back to those moments of nostalgia, fittingly she makes the caveat that its better from the corn man himself, every time.

Then, now that she has brought the tradition and food to college it is now her trying to find home again. I like that she has passed it along to her friends, many of whom did not know about the food prior, inserting it as somewhat of a staple when they barbecue together, meshing these cultures and this nostalgic cuisine together.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Don’t Let the Cucuy get you

SC: Whenever me or my siblings would act up, the nearest authority figure would say, “You better calm down or I’ll call the cucuy.” This happened often in the car, and my parents would knock on the windows. (Informant knocks on the table)

“YOU HEAR THAT? THE CUCUY’S COMING!” And I’d be all “…fffff.” Y-yeah. Didn’t spook me at all. Wasn’t like I thought I actually was going to get abducted when no one was looking.

Me: What’s a cucuy?

SC: It’s basically a Mexican boogeyman. Are you asking what I thought it looked like? Probably seven feet tall, ratty moss-green fur, bloodshot yellow eyes. Craggly coffee stained teeth. Like a giant baboon that lived in a sewer all its life.

The cucuy is also sometimes called the coco in Portugal and el cuco in Latin America, and the Coco Man in Hispanic communities in the states. Its appearance is different in each culture, ranging from a pumpkin-headed ghost to an anthropomorphic alligator. This legend is referenced in the last chapter of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, in which Don Quixote is referred to by this title on his epitaph.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Myths
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

La Llorona

“pues la llorona es una senora que se volvio loca despues de que su marido se fue a la Guerra. El fue soldado en la independencia de Mexico, entonces creo que se murio el senor en la batalla y como nunca regreso, la senora se termino de volver loca. La senora al ver que su esposo no iba a regresar, decidio matar a sus hijos porque pues ya no los podia mantener. Ella los llebo al rio y los ahogo. Ahora, la senora pasa por todo el rancho buscando a sus hijos que perdio. Si uno escucha a la llorona se tiene que esconder, especialmente si es un nino porque lo puede matar o llebarselo con ella… esta historia no la contaba mi mama. Nos contaba esa historia especialmente cuando hibamos al baile de noche, y aveses si se escuchaba que alguien lloraba y lloraba asi que lo que asiamos nosotros era que le ciramos para la casa.”

“Well la llorona is a woman who went crazy after her husband left to the war. He was a soldier in the Mexican independence so I think that he died in that battle and since he never returned back home, the woman went completely crazy. The woman once he saw that her husband would not be returning took her children to the river and drowned them. So now the lady haunts the village looking for her dead children. If one hears la llorona, one has to hide, especially if one is a kid because she can either kill you or take you with her… my mother used to tell us that story all the time. She would especially tell us that story when we would go out to dances at night and sometimes we would actually hear someone crying so what we would do is to hurry back home.”

The informant is an 85 year old male who has lived all his life in Mexico. He has been brought up on tales of the land. He never attended school, so all his knowledge has been passed down by his parents and other family members in his life. Since he has no other knowledge, he doesn’t really question the information, but rather takes it as the only truth. He has also never left his hometown village so the only information he knows is the information that pertains his village in particular.

This was interesting because the way the informant told this story was as if he knew that this story was 100 percent true. There was no doubt in his voice that this could somehow be a made up story, so one can infer from this that for older people, whatever stories were passed down, have made their way into a part of their daily life reality. Also, the fact that this individual had no other education also makes me think that it can serve as the reason as to why he did not question this story’s reality one bit; it’s all he knows that is to be true. However, when checking with other people, I have found that there are many more variations of la llorona, so technically, my informant can be wrong with his story, but regardless, it is one that he is very fond of. To look at aother variation of this legend, you can refer to: http://www.literacynet.org/lp/hperspectives/llorona.html

Customs
Foodways

Use of tortillas

“I think the history of toritllas in my family is a unique one. Even though I consider myself “main stream” American in most aspects, I am Mexican-American on my mothers side and German and English on my dad’s side. Even though we didn’t speak Spanish in my home, nor did we eat Mexican food in my home on a regular basis, I believe our use of tortillas would be thought of as unusual by most Americans.

For one thing my grandma Lucy showed me how to roll tortillas during my pre-school years. My grandma Lucy came to the United States from Mexico when she was 3. She and her parents crossed the border with a cow. *laughs* My grandmother would stand me on a kitchen chair so I could reach the counter top and proceeded to show me how to pinch off a ball of dough and roll it into a flat tortilla. She was very quick and skilled with her technique so that her tortillas always came out perfectly round and even in thickness, turning and rotating the dough as she went. Mine however, we’re very wonky. But she didn’t seem to mind.

Years later, she use to brag to me that her tortillas were now made of seven grains. Although uneducated, my grandmother learned the latest health trends in cooking and took many community courses. She was also a skilled seamstress.

Within my nuclear family household, there were always corn tortillas on hand. While most Americans think of corn tortillas as a condiment alongside a platter of Mexican food, we used tortillas as the base for a snack. I’m not even talking about quesadillas. We threw our corn tortillas onto a gas burner until they became lightly blackened. Then we would stuff them with a slice of cold cheddar cheese, a hot dog, scrambled eggs or even peanut butter which would melt inside the hot tortilla.”

What types of flour did she use?:

“I think white flour, whole wheat flour, garbanzo flour, barley flour, wheat germ and I can’t remember the others.

Have you ever made tortillas from scratch?:

“Haha no. Only my grandma did that, not even my mom.”

The informant, my mother explains that in her childhood her family did not maintain many, if any Mexican traditions or customs. The one that did stick though, was tortillas being a commonplace item in her household. However, her family used tortillas beyond an American conception of what tortillas can be used for. They didn’t just use them on the side or to wrap burritos, they used them as a base for creating different snacks.

It is also interesting to note that the tradition of making the tortillas ended with her grandmother, my great-grandmother. But the unique use of them got passed on through the generations. My mother made me some of these same snacks as a kid growing up. And now this is how I heat up tortillas, directly on the burner. A warm, blackened tortilla with a thick slice of cold cheddar cheese is surprisingly satisfying. My mom would also make another recipe she learned from her grandmother using the tortillas that included: torn up corn tortillas, sliced hot dogs and scrambled eggs.

 

Humor

Donkey wordplay joke

My informant is my cousin, a 9 year old boy born and raised in Mexico City to a half-white, half-Mexican mother and a Mexican father. He has an impressive repertoire of jokes that he knows, and impresses and cracks up the family every time he tells them, usually over the traditional Mexican mid-afternoon meal, which is the heaviest meal of the day and is typically eaten with family or friends, the same way dinner is here. He is very popular in school, probably in part because of his sense of humor as well as his natural charm.

This joke was performed over “comida” as the mid-afternoon meal is called, during an hour-long family-wide exchange of jokes. He learned this joke at school.

“Como haces que un burro se haga burra? Lo metes en un cuarto oscuro para que se aburra.”

Transliteration: How do you make a [male] donkey into a [female] donkey? You put him in a dark room so that he gets bored.

The word for female donkey in Spanish is “burra,” while “se aburra” means “[he] gets bored”, so it’s a classic and funny example of wordplay common among children. In fact, most of his jokes are wordplay, which is classic among children, especially as they are gradually learning the nuances and double meanings of a language, and particularly interesting as he is semi-bilingual due to his mom teaching English to him in the home.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk Remedy for Mosquito Bites

My informant is my 74 year old grandmother, who is a language professor born and raised in Mexico City, and currently living and working there. She heard of this folk remedy from her mother when they would go to Veracruz (her mother’s hometown), because the climate there is very hot and tropical and mosquitoes are a big problem. She likes it because it’s useful and reminds her of Veracruz and her older relatives, and she can pass it on to the younger generations as a useful thing.

The folk remedy is for mosquito bites, and consists of tobacco and rubbing alcohol. You’re supposed to steep the tobacco for a bit in the alcohol and then rub the combination gently on a mosquito bite; she’s done this for as long as she can remember and always reminds us to do the same.

Humor

Los Melones de Tapachula

My informant is a 48 year old pediatric oncologist at Stanford University. He is bilingual, binational and bicultural, born to a white American father and a Mexican mother. He grew up in both places but spent his formative adolescent years in Mexico City, where he learned this joke from a high school friend. He cracks up every time he performs this joke, which is often.

The joke in Spanish goes like this: “No es lo mismo los melones de Tapachula que tapate los melones chula.”

The literal translation is: “It’s not the same the melons of Tapachula as cover your melons cutie”.

This is a semi-dirty joke that employs wordplay, and is one of many “no es lo mismo” (“it’s not the same thing”) jokes. These jokes play with the sounds of a phrase and mix them up to make them something very different, as with this joke, which switches from the tame concept of melons from a certain town called Tapachula to a crude way of telling a attractive woman to cover up her breasts.

I love this piece and think it’s pretty funny, especially because the informant (my father) always laughs harder at it than anyone he tells it to. As a semi-dirty joke, it’s somewhat of a light taboo for him to break, especially in terms of telling this kind of joke in front of kids, so he gets a kick out of it every time he can perform it.

Proverbs

Mexican proverb – El que nace para maceta…

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.

“El que nace para maceta no sale del corredor”

“Quien dice eso? De donde lo aprendiste?”

(shrugs) “Pues las vecinas, Paula, las abuelas, mi mamá, mas bien las mujeres.”

“Y que significa?”
“Osea si eres pendejo así te vas a quedar.”

“Como dirias que significa pendejo?”
“Ay pues, tonto, así menso, pero extremadamente.”

Translation:

“He who is born for the pot (plant pot) does not leave the hallway.”

“Who says that? Where did you learn it?”
(shrugs) “Well the [female] neighbors, Paula, grandmothers, my mom, mainly from women.”

“And what does it mean?”

“Like if you are a dumb bastard that’s how you’ll stay.”

“What would you say “pendejo” means?”

“Oh well, stupid, like idiotic, but extremely.”

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.

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

Humor

Lowest Prices Joke – Son

My informant is my cousin, a 9 year old boy born and raised in Mexico City to a half-white, half-Mexican mother and a Mexican father. He has an impressive repertoire of jokes that he knows, and impresses and cracks up the family every time he tells them, usually over the traditional Mexican mid-afternoon meal, which is the heaviest meal of the day and is typically eaten with family or friends, the same way dinner is here. He is very popular in school, probably in part because of his sense of humor as well as his natural charm.

This joke was performed over “comida” as the mid-afternoon meal is called, during an hour-long family-wide exchange of jokes. He learned this joke at school.

“Una mamá vio a su hijo gateando por el supermercado y le preguntó: Que andas haciendo Lucas? Y el niño le responde: ando buscando los precios más bajos.”

Transliteration: “A mom saw her son crawling around the supermarket and asked him: What are you doing Lucas? And the boy responds: I’m looking for the lowest prices.”

I have another take on this joke from my informant’s father, who says he heard the joke in a more regionalist sense, where the mom was replaced by a person from his hometown of Hermosillo and the son was replaced by a person from the rival town of Nabojoa. I think it makes sense that the younger boy knew this version because of what it has to do with being young and misunderstanding things.

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