USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexican American’
Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving Tamales

Subject: Traditional foods at Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. Tamales.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So, you just mentioned that you make Christmas dinner every year?

Interviewee: Yes, I make Christmas dinner and I make Thanksgiving dinner every year… so I started making the turkey on Thanksgiving, so which is why I love Thanksgiving so much now. I always loved it but now it’s like… I have to go every year. I have to go home because I make the fucking turkey. And I also bake all the fu- all the pies. Apple pie and the turkey every year… So, my mom has to make the stuffing. I will not let her like not make the stuffing. My dad, if he’s up to it, up for it, he will make like roasted potatoes with like butter and like herbs, like red potatoes, like particularly. My brother will probably do some sort of vegetable side dish… my sister usually doesn’t help that much, uh, I don’t know why. But my eldest sister, now that she has her own house, she like, like brings mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

But… I would like there to be tamales. Tamales are the kind of thing you get like once or twice a year. Um, and once or twice a year, one of those times is going be Thanksgiving and the other one has to be Christmas… So like winter, winter holidays. It’s just like the special occasion of it, you know. They’re not difficult to make…, it takes long, it’s just a process, ya know. We’re just like, it’s Christmas coming up so we’re going to make a lot of tamales, so it’s not like they make them for every meal. They freeze them and then bring them out for this holiday. And they’re just as good frozen…once you’ve reheated them.

Tamales has to be there. There is no way you can’t make more than enough.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate first mentioned that she enjoys making Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner while speaking about her ethnographic foods course. I asked her to go in depth to her experience preparing and consuming the food on these holidays for my collection.

Analysis: My roommate’s experience with Thanksgiving is especially interesting when placing it within her experiences of growing up in American culture but having parents who grew up in Mexico and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. To her family, Thanksgiving has become a mandatory homecoming, a time to reconnect every year. In this process, the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday has been removed from its American context and has been reworked to be one that defines her parents’ new family and their new life together in a new place. Furthermore, most of the families in the Brownsville area do not celebrate Thanksgiving because it is not part of their national background; in other words, the practice of Thanksgiving is not part of their reinforcement or performance of identity. For the Cantú family, however, the holiday is observed to exert their identity as a family unit that is composed of both Mexican and American heritage.

This is best observed by the food that is literally placed on the Thanksgiving table. There are the foods typically seen at an American family Thanksgiving: turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, for instance. However, the Cantú family modifies their American identity by including tamales at the table. For my roommate, this is a crucial part of the holiday season; the consumption of tamales marking a time of celebration and reunion. Without tamales, the performance of her dual-heritage would be incomplete. Since the food consumed physically represents the diversity of her family, to not include one element would not be fully embodying all parts of herself and her family.

Legends
Narrative

Mexican Legend of El Cucuy

Subject: The Legend of El Cucuy.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So [La Llorona] wasn’t used to keep you from going outside after dark?

Interviewee: No, there was a different one for that… it was, uh- uh, El Cucuy. I don’t know what the hell El Cucuy is. Cu-cu-y. I don’t know how to spell it, but it’s- I still say it to kids. I say it to kids now, because I have, I live in a two-story, uh, uh, house back home… we have a two-story house. And whenever, when like my little cousins or whatever, when little kids are over at our house, they’re always like, ‘Can we go upstairs?’ or whatever. And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, there’s- El Cucuy’s up there” and they know exactly what it is and they’re like, ‘oh no, we changed our mind’ kind of thing. It’s very strange, I don’t know what it is… Yeah, I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know what it is. I never ima- I always imagined him like having a grim reaper kinda look. I was always scared of the grim reaper, gosh that’s such a white person thing.

Interviewer: So, do you have a story around El Cucuy?

Interviewee: Not really. It’s just kind of a thing. Everyone says, ‘El Cucuy’. Everyone.

Interviewer: So, on the internet it says, ‘… he is the Mexican boogeyman’.

Interviewee: That sounds about right… It takes kids. It takes kids.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: This account was given to me by my roommate in a conversation late at night. I asked her to recount it for my records a week later.

Analysis: My roommate employs the figure of the El Cucuy without having a full understanding of what the creature is or how it functions. However, by being raised around it, “everyone says, ‘el cucuy,’” she knows how to use the figure to scare children into listening or behaving. The piece of folklore is part of vernacular tradition so she never received a formal story or description of the monster. This allowed her to create her own imagery of what El Cucuy is and does based on her own anxieties surrounding the grim reaper, revealing her inclusion in both Mexican and American cultures.

My roommate’s experience with the legend is a unique example of how folklore develops multiplicity and variation. While her usage and account seem traditional, her image of El Cucuy makes it distinct, and is revealing of how she embodies her identity. In her account, she, under her breath, remarks that thinking of El Cucuy as the grim reaper is a “white” thing to do. By being exposed to the folklore and legends of both cultures, Mexican and American, she developed images for these legendary figures that are neither one nor the other, they are hers. Her unique image of El Cucuy would not be revealed when she uses the monster to frighten her cousins, and it is even likely that her cousins each have their own image of what scares them in mind. This seems to be an instance of implicit multiplicity and variation in which folklore takes on diverse meanings on a person to person basis. On the outside, the use and feeling evoked by the legend appear consistent, but the person’s internal understandings of the legend is unique.

For Further Reading: For readings and photographs of El Cucuy from the original folklore, visit http://www.scaryforkids.com/el-cucuy/. This will provide evidence of how this account differs from traditional descriptions (especially physical) of El Cucuy.

Legends
Narrative

Mexican Legend of La Llorona

Subject: The Legend of La Llorona.

Collection:

“Interviewee: There’s two versions of this that I learned, and it always- it always ended up with the children in the river… So, basically, the one of them that I learned was that her- so, La Llorona was like really annoyed with her two kids, they kept on crying and she didn’t know how to deal with them so she drowned them in the river, right like She was just like annoyed and she like- she just lost her temper and like drowned them, essentially.

Um and then the other one was like her husband like left her, and um like she was left with the kids and every time like he visited like, or visited- not visited but like that he- that he saw her on the street, he was like with another woman or whatever. I know, classic story. Man leaves woman for another woman. And every time, he would like ignore her, and like just care about the children and ignore her. So, she felt like resentment for the children, so she drowned them in the river.

And for both of these stories, when she realized what she had done, she like searched and, uh, it was too late obviously, she threw them in the river… um… she threw them in the river and when she realized what had happened, it’d been too late, and she just like went around, for the rest of her life looking for her boys… Woah! I think they were boys. Yeah! That’s interesting. I think they were two boys. Um, looking for her kids. ‘Mis niños. Mis niños’. Yeah, that’s like the classis thing that they would say…

Interviewer: In what context would you hear them?

Interviewee: Always like in Spanish class… my parents didn’t really like, well I guess they did… I think there was a movie about it too. Um, and yeah, like in school and like other people would tell their version of the story. I don’t know where I first heard it… but the most recent one was always in high school. Like Spanish class, high school.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: This account was given to me by my roommate in a conversation late at night. I asked her to recount it for my records a week later.

Analysis: In Z. Cantú’s accounts of La Llorona, multiplicity and variation are explicitly visible since she gives the two most common legends associated with the figure that she has heard in her lifetime.

In the first account provided, La Llorona is depicted to be cold and murderous, the opposite of how mothers are typically portrayed in cultural models and how they are expected to behave. In the second, La Llorona’s motivations are more human; however, she is still subverting the traditional model of the mother in which the woman is caring and warm. The portrayl of La Llorona aligns more with the archetype of woman as a witch, as opposed to matron. This connotates her character with the histories of witches and unfeeling women, which then compounds upon the content of the legend, strengthening the three categories of women as slut, mother, and witch.

Furthermore, this legend supports traditional societal structures and morals by addressing the story primarily to children. At an early age, young girls are being exposed to good and bad models of womanhood. Their age compatibility to the children being killed would then augment fear and hatred of the woman’s behavior. It also can be used by adults to control their children by evoking the authority and fear of La Llorona. This reinforces family structures and perhaps even sends the message to children to be appreciative for their parents, as opposed to the unfeeling murderess.

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