USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’
Legends

La Llorona

The informant is marked IN. The collector is marked JJ.

IN: So the story goes that this woman in like colonial times in Mexico, she had a couple kids. And the story changes, like some stories say the kids drown, some say they got lost, or killed. So the story goes that at night whenever people hear any crying outside it’s like this woman that’s coming back to get kids and like kill them. So part of that is saying that you can hear like moaning and crying and you’re supposed to hide your kids and stuff. So I’m pretty sure they like take the kids and drown them in the river.

JJ: Did you hear it in your family like from older generations more?

IN: In my family they didn’t say it that much, but it was more like between friends when we were telling horror stories. I think it’s more of an older generation, and also in smaller towns where people walk around more in a smaller environment. But it mostly came up in people telling their friends or hearing it from like older grandparents.

IN: The main thing is there are people that say that they heard her and it’s actually popular enough that they made a movie recently. But if you hear her you’re supposedly supposed to die, so not many people really claim to hear her.

Context: The informant is my sister in law. I asked if there was any Folklore from Mexico that she remembered.

Background: The informant is from Mexico and has lived in California for about ten years. She heard this tale growing up from friends who would tell the story as being something they heard from their grandparents mostly. For her it was more of a horror/entertainment tale than a cautionary one, particularly because she lived in a bigger city so there wasn’t relevance for la Llorona.

Analysis: I found the informants explanation interesting because from class I always imagined it being a cautionary tale to make sure your kids don’t wander away. I also understand why older generations and people in more rural areas might hear it more often or spread it for caution there to make sure that their kids don’t wander into forests at night.

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

12 Grapes for the New Year

Main Text:

DC: “On New Years at 12:00 am you are supposed to consecutively eat one grape each second for a total of 12 grapes in 12 seconds for good luck in the new year.”

Context: 

Although I collected this from a Mexican woman who is my boyfriend’s sister-in-law, I also witnessed and performed this tradition on New Years of this year while at a New Years celebration at my boyfriend’s family’s house. To give context, we all counted down along with the timer on the T.V. and my boyfriend’s mom was rushing around trying to give us all 12 grapes off the vine. It ended up being a mess with everyone dropping grapes and stuffing our faces while trying not to joke, but it ended with us all laughing and enjoying the company of each other. I asked DC why she thinks this tradition and folk belief has been passed aline within her family and others and she speculated that grapes is some cultures must be seen as lucky.

Analysis:

Recent articles say that the practice of eating grapes on New Years goes back to as old as the 1880s. In the 1880s, the bourgeoisie of Madrid were said to have celebrated the ending of the year by copying the French tradition of eating grapes and drinking champagne. This tradition then grew over time and led people tp believe that they needed to eat 12 grapes to have luck for all of the 12 months to follow in the New Year. Over time, this practice was used in order to mock the wealthy bourgeoisie and the ‘common’ people of Madrid began eating grapes to make fun of the practice that was performed by the wealthy middle class. Subsequently, this custom caught on and more and more people began to do it because they thought it would bring them good financial like if the Bourgeoisie of Madrid were doing it.

With the known history of grape eating as way to celebrate the end of a year being revealed, the belief in financial gain was probably a big pushing factor to many and encouraged them to share this belief and continue the custom. I feel too that media coverage also has encouraged the adaptation of said belief by larger parts of Europe, people in the United States and Even people in Mexico City. On New Years, the camera for the main national tv centers on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. Announcers then tell the instructions to all of the people in the audience and they then begin eating the 12 grapes. Centuries ago, TV was not around and these traditions had to be purely face to face, but that feudal folkloric model. With the introduction of tv and the Internet, people are now able to share cultures and practices all over the world in a way like never before even with people they have never met and will never meet in person. This new folklore model creates a world in which folklore can be spread all throughout the world to those with access to TV and internet in such ease that more and more people begin adopting and creating variations of other people’s traditions, like what I believe has happened here with the eating of 12 gapes on the New Year.

 

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Presents in Shoes During Christmas

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College.This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening. The informant and I were alone in a private space, and, out of her collection of folklore, this is one that she chose to share with me. In this account, she is describing a tradition that she experienced when she celebrated Christmas in Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Um, ok, so, the folklore that I am talking about is, ummm, connected to most of my extended family. Um, most of my extended family on the one side of my family still lives in Guadalajara, which is a state in Mexico. And although I don’t go down as much as I used to, one time when I was about eight years old we were there around Christmas and one sort of tradition that they have in Mexico that is pretty common is that instead of using stocking—the way that a lot of, um, American households use to hold presents—they instead use shoes. So if you, um, put your shoes or your boots in front of the fireplace, then the next morning that’s kind-of where your Christmas gifts and presents will be.

K: When exactly, like, did this happen?… Like what year?

E: Ummm, I think the year… Ok, so I was in 4th grade, which means I was ten, which means it was ten years ago, which means it was 2009. Actually I think it was 2008, let’s do 2008.

K: Have you like heard of this tradition outside of your family?

E: Yes, because it’s like pretty commonly done… I think it’s not only in Mexico, though, like I’m pretty sure people do it in Europe, too? I just don’t know that it’s like… Or I haven’t heard about it as widely like in the U.S.

K: Um, can you just set up the context of when this would happen? I know you said it was during Christmas, but can you be more specific?

E: Um, ok, so kind of like the idea is that… like… on any Christmas morning, instead of like kind of the more conventional U.S. version of kind of waking up to like stockings with presents in them, it’s like boots or shoes with like smaller presents in them. But it’s kind of like akin either way.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that the concept of putting Christmas presents in shoes was quite intriguing, and I wondered if there was a legend, myth, or tale that created this tradition of putting presents in shoes. Though my informant never mentioned a reason why this became a tradition in her family, she did mention that she knew that it was not just something that occurred in Mexico, but in Europe, as well. I did some investigating and found that in the days leading up to December 6, which is St. Nicholas’s feast day,  children in Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot out in front of the fireplace at night to find them filled with presents the next morning. Some differences between this tradition and my informant’s experience is that my informant put her shoes out on Christmas Eve day rather than in the many days leading up to Christmas, and also the mere fact that she celebrated this in Mexico rather than in a European country. Perhaps the reason there is such deviation between the way it is traditionally celebrated from the way my informant celebrates it is because Mexico is so far from the origin of the tradition,  which allowed for the tradition to take its own form and adjust to its new culture (as folklore should).

 

Folk Beliefs
Myths
Narrative

Devil Sightings on Horse at Night – Mexico

KF: People have tales of like because uh Mexico is like predominantly like Catholic um…people say that like they’ve seen the devil on like their horse- on his horse…like just like galloping like if you stay up really really late at night, you’ll see him like come through like the town or something.

 

Background:

Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friends with KF. This story followed one of KF’s previously about La Llorona.

 

Analysis: It is interesting to note that the devil only appears late at night. In Catholic tradition, one is always at risk to sin and the Devil, but for some reason, these monsters only seem to reveal themselves at night. In Mathias Clasen’s article “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories,” Paul Shepard is quoted as saying, “our fear of monsters in the night probably has its origins far back in the evolution of our primate ancestors, whose tribes were pruned by horrors whose shadows continue to elicit our monkey screams in dark theaters” (Clasen 1). In other words, tradition has conditioned us to believe that the night brings about supernatural activity. This phenomenon can possibly be explained by a communal need to feel protected from evils, such as the Devil, by having times dedicated to explore and be free and then times dedicated to retreat and hide.

 

Additional Reading:

Clasen, Mathias. “Monsters Evolve: A Biocultural Approach to Horror Stories.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 16, no. 2, June 2012, pp. 222–229, doi:10.1037/a0027918.

Shepard, Paul. The others: How animals made us human. Island Press, 1997.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Material
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

La Guelaguetza

Context

The informant is an acquaintance of my father, and in a previous vacation invited us to watch “La Guelaguetza,” a performance of the many different tribes in Oaxaca and their folk dances. I made some time during my Spring Break to ask him about the festival once more.

 

Interviewer: Back in 2014, you invited my family and I to the festival of “La Guelaguetza” in Oaxaca. Would you be able to tell me about it, and why it’s such a significant festival.

 

Informant: Yes, gladly! For starters, I myself am originally from Oaxaca, and came to Mexico City to pursue my career as a lawyer. However, much of my family is actually native mexican, like many in Oaxaca. I make an effort to go back every July to watch the festival. “La Guelaguetza” is a festival where many different cultures come together to perform their folk dances, because Oaxaca has many different native cultures, not just Zapoteca. The festival spans almost a week full of plays and performances, but the most important part of it all is at the end of the event… In an open theatre, the different groups all perform folk dances, to music unique to each culture, donning their traditional clothes. Most if not all dances are for couples, a man and a woman. Probably the most famous dance is the “hat dance,” but there are many others.

 

(Note: The hat dance involves the man placing his sombrero between him and the woman, with both of them dancing around it in until they meet.)

 

Interviewer: Yeah, I remember the dances being very unique, but what I remember the most is almost getting knocked out by a mezcal pot during the festival. Could you also talk about the food at “La Guelaguetza?”

 

Informant: (laughs) Of course, of course. “Guelaguetza” is actually a Zapoteca word, which roughly translates to “sharing of gifts.” Other than sharing their music and dances, “La Guelaguetza” is also the place where everyone shares their native foods… but not in a buffet or a restaurant. They actually give samples of the foods in the middle of the dance performances.

 

Interviewer: They pass out the food in a very… uhm… unique manner, do they not?

 

Informant: Indeed, it would be extremely complicated and would most definitely interrupt the dance if they tried giving samples to such a huge crowd, so the performers often opt to throw their items into the crowd! Most of the time they’ll bring a type of sweet bread, but you can also expect mole negro, tamales, and yes, even pots of natively brewed mezcal to be thrown your way. “La Guelaguetza” is so significant for Oaxaca because it celebrates all the cultural diversity in the state by bringing us all together through music, dance, and food.

 

A video of “Jarabe Mixteco” (lit. Mixteco Syrup) one of the more well known dances performed at “La Guelaguetza”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttlol6TZebE

 

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Mexican Salt Superstition

Interviewer: I know you ain’t very fond of passing the salt shaker when eating without putting it on the table first. Why is that?

Informant: Well, there’s a little bit more that goes into it than just not wanting to pass the salt. I do believe luck is real, and it’s something that can be affected by other people. I feel that when someone hands the shaker directly to you, it could pass their bad luck or bad energy to you… or you could end up fighting(arguing) with that person in the future. That doesn’t worry me too much, because I don’t really get into fights with people often. However, since I play golf, I understand that sometimes luck can be the difference between a birdie or landing in a sand trap. There are also events in life that you’ll only experience if you luck out or, in some cases, have terrible luck… So I don’t hand someone the salt shaker directly because I don’t want to take any chances.

Interviewer: And are there other people that share this belief?

Informant: My mother used to believe the same, and my sister also believes that passing the salt can be bad luck. My husband doesn’t really like the idea of superstition, he’s a very religious man.

Interviewer: And is there anything you can do if you accidentally hand someone the salt shaker?

Informant: Yes, you quickly shake some salt in your hand and toss it over your shoulders. It’s a way of putting the bad luck “behind you,” so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. But I think it’s better not to come across the bad luck at all if possible.

 

Analysis

Although I don’t know how widespread this particular belief is, I do have my theories as to how it came to be originated. The belief in luck is quite popular, but I think this specific case stems from a certain expression in Spanish (Mexico): “Echar la sal” (lit. to throw salt on something), which usually means to predispose something to failure, to “jinx it,” or to outright ruin it. I think it’s very possible the expression influenced and birthed this superstition.

 

general
Legends
Narrative

El Curro

Main Piece:

“He was a man…not sure if it was meant to scare us as children, but legend tells that at dusk everyone had to rush into their homes and close their doors and windows. Because once it was dark, you could hear the galloping of a horse all around the town. And it was said that it was a charro dressed in black…who all and any person he came across, he would take them and they would disappear forever. That is why once darkness fell, not a single person would step outside or look out their windows. Any people disappeared because of El Curro”

Context:

The informant is my 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. He heard this story from his mother. He believes that the town used the legend of El Curro to explain any and all disappearance.

Analysis:

This story seems to help explain why people from the town were never seen again and also helped the town keep their children from playing outside at night.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Jealous Husband of Chihuahua

Main Piece:

“In Chihuahua, in the neighborhood of Londres, there was a couple. The wife worked as a nurse at a hospital and the husband was a factory worker. They had three beautiful children. The husband did not want his wife to continue to work. He was jealous at all times because she was beautiful and always dressed nice to work. The wife did not want to leave her work because they needed the money, and she loved being a nurse. He kept insisting that she stop, but she continued to ignore his demands. One morning, the husband began to sharpen a huge butcher knife. The wife on her way to work saw him doing this and asked what he was going to do with that. He responded, that he needed it to kill one of their pigs. The wife shrugged and said goodbye and that she would return late afternoon. Two hours later, the neighbors heard various cries from the children in the home. Some neighbors approached the house and they saw one of the three children run out of the house and fall to the ground. The child’s throat had been slit. The neighbors rushed in and saw the husband about to take his own life, next to him were the other two kids, dead. The police arrived and they then went to the hospital to tell the wife the atrocities that her husband committed. The wife cried out, and then fainted. When she woke up, she went crazy and spent the rest of her life at a mental hospital.”

 

Context:

The informant is my 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. I asked him to tell me this story, having heard it thousands of times growing up. He says he heard this story from a childhood friend. He believes that this shows the extremes people go to when they cannot control another person. Also, the dangers of being a jealous person.

Foodways
Holidays
Material

El Trancazo: a Familial Cake

Ingredients/Steps:

– preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius

– Have two pans ready

– 1 Kilo Butter

– 1 Kilo Granulated Sugar (slowly put into mixer while butter is whipping)

– 1 kilo flour

– Add 8 Eggs into Whipped Butter and Sugar

– 8 Egg yolks go into the same bowl

– Set aside the 8 egg whites which remain

– 2 cups of the original Kilo of flour go into Mixer

– For every cup of flour, add a tablespoon of baking powder through a sifter to the mixer

– 2 Oranges and their shavings

– Add a little bit of vanilla (eyeball it)

– Mix the rest of the flour with the juice from the oranges

– You’ll need 1 cup of warm milk; heat for 1 minute in microwave

– Mix the 8 egg whites from earlier with the milk and water

– put 2 Kilos of the batter into each pan

– Prepare topping while cake is in the oven

– put pot on stove with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk and 5 tablespoons of Cacao (bring to a low boil)

– Soak cake part of cake in Bacardi Rum

– Spread what was on the stove onto the cake and spread apricot jelly as well :)

 

A.H. – “I’m the only person who has this recipe written down, it comes from my aunt in San Luis Potosi, and everyone knows about this cake because she always makes it for everyone’s birthday.  It’s literally a concoction of a bunch of stuff; because – her family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and she didn’t want to have to borrow money from her family, or from anyone, so the recipe basically started when she just took scraps from around the kitchen and put it into the cake.  And it’s just a little bit of everything.”

“She calls it El Trancazo, which literally means like, “getting hit,” so it’s kinda just something that’s thrown together.  And the cake is massive.”

How long has she been making this cake for everyone’s birthday?

A.H. – “The first time she made it was for her first grandchild.”

When it’s someone’s birthday, and they’re in her presence, they know it’s coming?

A.H. – “Yes.  I only learned how to make this cake because I happened to be in Mexico at the time of my cousin’s birthday, and the cake was made.  It took like all day.  If you look at photos of different birthdays, the cake is always there.”

When you think of that cake, or the idea behind it, the fact that it is just thrown together, is it a source of pride?  Identity?  Reminders of your aunt?

A.H. – “I know so much about my aunt’s upbringing – and I know that it was really tragic, really sad, like – her life sucked growing up.  So it’s that idea of – or a sense of, how mothers are just idolized.  Put on a pedestal to the nth degree.  I think it reinforces that idea, that she did what she could with what she could.  My lack of resources isn’t gonna stop me from making my grandchild’s birthday any less memorable or special.”

That’s an idea for you to to live by as well then, that never give up attitude.  As well as just, being reminded of the strength of your great aunt, and maybe your own mother.

A.H. – “Yeah.  I guess.  I don’t think that much about the cake specifically, it’s just very telling to think of everything.  It’s a lot more than just a cake.”

 

It’s a lot more than just a cake.  Again, this cake, created by this person’s aunt, is itself a symbol for the strength and resolve of her family members, some of whom grew up during tough times.  It’s easy to see a theme here; many of these submissions bring to light a strong sense of identity – of solidarity with their family.  Attributes of resolve are what create the fondest of opinions in many people, and this cake reminds me of countless other examples of strength in family.  

 

Legends
Narrative

La Llorona in Venezuela

Informant: Are you allowed to use ghost stories for your project?

 

Interviewer: Yeah actually, I thought more people would tell me ghost stories but it’s only been like one.

 

Informant: Because back in Venezuela a really well known one is the legend of La Llorona.

 

Interviewer: What? That’s a thing in Venezuela too? I thought it was a Mexican thing.

 

Informant: Well, everyone I knew there knew La Llorona, so I’m guessing it’s a South America thing.

 

Interviewer: Yeah yeah, that’s cool. I think it’ll be interesting to see how it differs to the legend I’ve heard back home. Can you tell me how you remember it?

 

Informant: Basically, La Llorona, she was this young woman that fell in love with a soldier, and they have a child. Then the dude leaves, to war or something, and never comes back. The woman has no idea of how to take care of a baby by herself, and she gets so frustrated from the baby crying that she eventually kills him with her own hands. She becomes insane, and even starts kidnapping other people’s kids to kill them as well.

 

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s kinda different from the version I know. I remember her having 3 kids, and them.. Getting lost or drowning in a river, I think? She kills herself out of sadness, but doesn’t really pass on because of the regret. And when her spirit shows up, she screams “Ay, mis hijos!” (lit. “Oh, my children!”), which is why the spirit was named “La Llorona” (lit. “The Crying Woman.”)

 

Informant: Ah yes she also cries for her children in the version I know, I guess thats why the name is the same everywhere. But I think to us it was mostly a way to scare kids into behaving. My mom always said that if I wasn’t good the Llorona would kidnap me.

 

Different Versions

Most notably, the legend of La Llorona is being adapted into a modern horror film The Curse of La Llorona (2019). The legend has been adapted into film several times before, though. This particular film seems to be loosely based on the Mexican version of the folktale, according to the synopsis.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4913966/


A written version of the legend of La Llorona is featured in José Alvares’s Leyendas Mexicanas (1998).

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