USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexican’
Childhood
Digital
Folk Beliefs
Game
Legends
Magic

Urban legend: Momo

Main Piece:

Informant: Oh my god Momo, can we please not talk about Momo oh god. Momo is this like, texting game that some of my friends play at school. You know what WhatsApp is? Yeah, so like, my friends will text this number and whoever is behind it will respond and ask them to do weird stuff. Like watch a scary movie with the lights off. Apparently the number once asked some girl to kill herself. I’ve never texted it so I’m not too sure. Yeah also the photo is this absurd picture of the ugliest doll you’ve ever seen.

Interviewer: Where did you hear about Momo?

Informant: At my high school.

Interviewer: What do you make of it?

Informant: The doll is terrifying. I try to not think about it that much.

Background: The informant is a freshman in high school here in Los Angeles. He just recently moved from Woodstock, NY, so I asked him if he’s learned about anything new since he started at a new school. This interview was recorded and I got his father to sign his release form.

Context: I had previously heard of the internet phenomena that is Momo and wanted to get the interpretation of someone within the its target audience. After doing some research on my own I was able to learn about the backstory regarding this piece of cyberlore. Allegedly, the Momo came about from a Spanish speaking Facebook group and evolved into the mainstream when it was introduced to the US in the summer of 2018. The WhatsApp number that children text asks them to complete a series of bizarre and dangerous tasks. Momo reached a tipping point when a 12 year-old girl was found dead shortly after messaging the number. Momo is represented by the same doll every time, which I have attached below. Interestingly enough, the Momo doll wasn’t created with the intention of its current function. The Momo sculpture was created by a Japanese company that makes props for horror movies. However, the sculpture is supposedly based off of the ubume, which is supposedly the spirit of women who die in childbirth.

Analysis: As digital technology has progressed, we are now coming face to face with an entirely new subsection of folklore. These pieces of cyberlore are incredibly viral and mainly target children on the internet. Slenderman was the first of its kind and Momo is an extension upon the principles which gave Slenderman its cult following. These pieces of cyberlore speak to the effectiveness of global communication in spreading folklore. Now we are able to communicate across the globe in a manner of seconds. This kind of cyberlore, contrasted with memes, serve to shock the consumer and play on the gullible nature of younger individuals.

 

momo

Legends

La LLorona – A Mexican Legend

Piece: 

The only thing I grew up with is probably the same thing you grew up with, The legend of La LLorona. The legend states that a woman once drowned her kids in a river and forever hated herself for it. So when she died her soul still mourned the loss of her kids so her ghost roams the streets of Mexico crying for her kids. People say that if you hear her, and she sounds like she’s far away, then it means she’s really close to you. The same goes for the opposite, if you hear her close-by it means she’s really far away.

Background information: The informant is my cousin who grew up in a small village in Mexico. He is about 7 years older than I am.

Context: As described, this is something the informant heard a lot as a kid. Parents would use the legend of La LLorona to frighten their kids so they wouldn’t stay out too late at night.

Personal analysis: I never thought the legend of La LLorona would become such a well known legend. Seeing Disney turn it into a movie really put into perspective how exploitative capitalism can be. I take great joy in hearing legends like this being passed down from family members. But seeing a corporation use it to make money greatly discredits it.

For another version of this legend, see Mexico.mx. (2019). Horror Stories: The Legend of La Llorona. [online] Available at: https://www.mexico.mx/en/articles/horror-stories-the-legend-of-la-llorona [Accessed 26 Apr. 2019].

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Eso Si Que Es

Um, a saying… I don’t think it counts as a proverb, but um… my mom would always say “eso si que es” (I know that! That’s such a proverb!) Oh yeah? I thought it was too silly to be a proverb. (No, that doesn’t matter. I like the silly things. Anyway, keep going.) It, it just means “it is what it is,” which, I guess, yeah. But, there’s also like the joke to it as well, where it’s like, you’d ask, “how do you say- how do you spell socks in english?  So, ¿cómo se deletrea calcetines en inglés?” And the joke is, it’s “it is what it is, S O C K S (NB: ess oh see kay ess, eso si que es)” And that’s like the “ba-dum PSHH,” but my mom would always say it in important moments.

 

Context & Analysis: D is a 21 year old Mexican trans woman. She was born and currently lives in Texas. I asked her if she had any traditions or celebrated any holidays in a particular way, and she told me about a few. This informant learned this piece from her mother. This conversation was recorded and transcribed. I think it’s very telling that D learned this gesture from her mother as women have performed folklore since its inception (Mills 1993). I love the double meaning; I think that is the reason this saying is especially popular among American hispanic folks as many of us know both Spanish and English. I like that D’s mother would use it during serious moments to lighten the tension. While folklore is often used as an educational or parenting tool, with a moral and everything, proverbs such as this are often humorous enough to remember and abide by.

Legends

La Llorona

Main Text

La Llorona is a story about this grieving, um, it’s a grieving mom who lost her children, and that, she goes around taking kids from, from other families, screaming, “¡Ay! Mis niños, ¿donde están?” which translates to, “Oh! My kids, where are they?” You know what, you know he’s just—she’s, they’re looking for them, because. They died or, they were lost.

Background

The subject is a 21-year-old Mexican American in his third year at USC. He recalls first hearing the legend of La Llorona at around the age of four or six. Through childhood, he was frequently told the story of La Llorona by his parents as a form of discipline. If he or his siblings misbehaved, their parents said that La Llorona would come and take them away. The subject mentions that this usage of La Llorona as a form of parental discipline was common in every Mexican-American household, along with corporal punishment via the chancla (a flip-flop) or the belt. In terms of disciplinary severity, the subject as a child would have considered La Llorona to be less of a threat than the chancla and the belt. The subject stopped believing in the literal existence of La Llorona around the age of seven, eight, or nine—around the same time, he says, that most children realize that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Context

Growing up, the subject often discussed the legend of La Llorona with other Mexican American children in his hometown of Van Nuys. The purpose of such discussion was less to ascertain whether La Llorona was real, and more to affirm a shared folk experience of being disciplined by parents in the same manner. He felt that only other Mexican Americans would understand the normalcy of the disciplinary method, rather than reacting judgmentally and mischaracterizing the discipline as a form of child abuse.

Over time, the subject’s childhood fear associated with La Llorona dulled into nostalgia, and he began to view La Llorona as a central part of his cultural history. Based on this current perception, the subject says that he finds it fascinating the legend was even used as a disciplinary tactic to begin with. He characterizes its use as a disciplinary tactic as “negative”—as the opposite of how he believes folklore like La Llorona ought to be used. He thinks folklore like La Llorona should be used as a “positive” way to build a shared sense of cultural identity through the passing down of traditions.

Another “positive” use of La Llorona, the subject argues, is for entertainment. The subject mentions an instance when his Spanish teacher showed the class a cartoon adaptation of La Llorona, to give the class a simple task to occupy their attention on a relatively work-free day. The class, which was majority Latino, was familiar with the legend; as such, the teacher had offer little explanation for what the plot of the story was. The subject especially enjoyed the video retelling of La Llorona because of its “authenticity,” which he defined in terms of aesthetic choices, such as including all the major motifs in the legend (e.g. the river, the ghostly spirit), and casting Mexican voice actors who spoke Spanish with a proper Mexican accent.

Interviewer’s Analysis

When asked to elaborate on what constituted “authenticity” in folklore adaptation, the subject compared the La Llorona video to the Scooby Doo film, The Monster of Mexico, which he felt portrayed both an inauthentic version of the Chupacabra (another legendary Mexican monster), and an inauthentic version of Mexico. The Monster of Mexico made the Chupacabra look like Bigfoot, characterized Mexicans through stereotypical sombreros and maracas iconography, and most condemnably, featured an all-white cast. For the subject, authenticity in Mexican folklore adaptation hinged on the folklore not being whitewashed. Here, the interviewer asked the subject how one might strike a balance between fighting the hegemony of whitewashed folklore, and not establishing a new hegemony by claiming to have a singularly authoritative “authentic” interpretation.

Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. The subject replied that he didn’t think ought to be a singularly authoritative authenticator for adaptations of folklore. In the context of Latino folklore, the subject suggested that his concern was less with defining authenticity, than fostering a sense of accountability. He didn’t want people to create adaptations of Latino folklore for a mainstream general audience, without creators being mindful of what portrayals of Latino culture they could potentially misinform non-Latinos with.

While the subject’s answer certainly adds nuance to defining the boundary between artificially authoritative authenticity and hegemony, the question of where that boundary is still remains—and, in the interviewer’s opinion, cannot be answered without defining what precisely “whitewashing” is. Is whitewashing the same as Americanization? Who defines and authenticates what is American, when America houses multiple types of cultures? What counts as “white” culture? Is any insertion of “white” culture into a historically nonwhite folklore adaptation automatically considered whitewashing? For instance, in the La Llorona video, the children are portrayed as trick-or-treaters, to appeal to a broader American audience—does that count as whitewashing?

These questions are complicated, and any definition of “whitewashing” for the purposes of evaluating “authenticity” of folklore will inevitably struggle to cover every scenario. Perhaps a more appropriate starting point, would be to consider folklore adaptation in terms of social power structures. What cultures does one group get a “pass” to freely adapt from? Who authenticates the “pass” under what circumstances? How do dynamics play out when authenticity gets contested?  Who is contesting authenticity, under what definition, and why?

Folk speech
general
Life cycle
Proverbs

Waking up earlier will not make the sun rise sooner – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano.”

 Transliteration: 

Not much early rises earlier.

Translation:

Waking up earlier will not make the sun rise sooner.

 Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

The informant is a 78-year-old male. I asked the informant if he had any sayings, legends, or superstitions he would like to share. The informant smiled and simply said, “No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano.” I asked him what this proverb means to him and if he knew where he had first heard it. The informant went on to tell me about his first assignment as a newly graduated civil engineer on his first solo project. He was so eager to impress his boss that he told his second in command to meet him at the construction site at 5:00 am. Despite multiple attempts his partner made to try to convince him otherwise, my informant claims not to have listened and reprimanded him for being lazy. The next morning when they arrived at 5:00 am the sun had not risen and there was no light. They had to wait two more hours until they could begin working. As they waited my informant’s partner said to him, “No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano.” 

This proverb speaks to the importance of timing. It is often understood that by getting to a particular place early or rising earlier it will lead to more efficiency. A popular proverb representative of this is, ‘the early bird gets the worm’. However, not enough is said to finding the right time. As my informant claims it is important to pay attention to one’s surroundings and gain context before making a decision as opposed to blindly following what one thinks is right. One cannot control every variable in life; sometimes it is more valuable to let nature take its course and adapt to the situation. By doing this, a person is more effective than if they are trying to fight the flow of life wasting energy by attempting to control every variable.

 

general
Legends
Narrative

“El Cucuy” Mexican Legend

Main Piece: “El Cucuy is a myth that was basically a tall, furry, red-eyed creature, that had a large red ear which he would use to hear children that were misbehaving. He would live in the hills or the mountains in Mexico, and by using his larger ear he would listen for children that were misbehaving. He would then come down from his cave in the mountains, and would kidnap any kids that he heard misbehaving… he would take them back to his cave… and then he would eat them.”

 

Background: UV said that he lived in an area that was very mountainous, and so this story circulated around from his family and from people that he knew from school. There was always this fear of the unknown in the mountains, and UV said that because kids liked to play in the mountains, this story was another way to scare kids into not messing around in the dangerous area. Additionally, UV said that El Cucuy was often seen as a boogie man, and that essentially this was another way to remind kids to not only stay away from the mountains, but also to be good.

 

Context of Performance: UV told me this story at my apartment while we were discussing the classic stories and myths we were told as a kid. UV mentioned that many of the myths he was told as a kid had some kind of ghoulish element to them, or some cautionary aspect to it. There were also a couple other people in the room during the story, and one of them had also heard this story but he grew up in Arizona, so it was interesting to see that this crossed country lines.

 

Analysis: This story is very interesting to me for a number of reasons. Much like the story of La Llorona that UV told me earlier, this story also functions as a cautionary tale for children. It seeks to remind them that acting out of line or misbehaving, can have serious and drastic consequences. The other thing that sticks out to me is that it would appear that while similar in nature, they differ in their setting. So it would appear that regionally a story such as La Llorona may not work as well for people who live near the mountains or in dryer areas. But setting the ghoulish presence in the mysterious settings of the mountains would certainly draw more fear and believability out of the folk in the area. I find that this story is very much concerned with reinforcing the themes of obedience amongst children, and ensuring that they are fearful of disobeying their parents or other authority figures. And it also functions as a way to keep the children safe, as it discourages them from exploring the mountains where there could be any assortment of dangers rooted in them.

Foodways

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.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Quinceanera

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.

 

Analysis

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 https://www.quinceanera-boutique.com/quinceaneratradition.htm

 

Folk Beliefs
general

Tijuana Taxi Ghost

Folklore:

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
Legends

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.

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