USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’
Folk speech

Wise Devil

The informant, J, is 18 years old born and raised in Coachella, California. His mom is from Delano, California, while his dad is from Indio, California. He is majoring in Print and Digital Journalism with a Media, Economics, and Entrepreneurship minor. He also considers himself Mexican.

J-“My family really likes proverbs and saying. We many times have arguments through just proverbs. One of them is ‘mas sabe el Diablo por Viejo que por diablo’(more knows the devil for age than for devil)”

What does that mean to you?

J-“It means that older people have more wisdom since they have gone through more. They have more experience”

When would you use this?

J-“It is mainly used by parents on their children when the child argues. They tell them that to tell them that they know what’s best because they have already experienced something like that”

Do you use it?

J-“I rarely use it since I am not that old, but I do tell it to my younger siblings when they argue with my parents or even sometimes when they argue with me”

Analysis- The proverb shows that the Mexican culture is one that respects its elders and that has high respect for them since they are the ones with the wisdom. They also like to test their wisdom and ability through all the different proverbs that they have. The family is even teaching the young children by telling them the proverbs and using them on them.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Mexican Christmas

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K- “For Christmas every year my family makes tamales and posole. My mom’s side makes tamales and my dad’s side usually makes posole. We celebrate it Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Depending on the family since we interchange every year. One day we have posole and the other we have tamales. When it comes to opening the gifts, we always wait until 12 midnight. We basically start on Christmas Eve and end at midnight. If we have little kids, we let them open their presents up at 10. And that’s it, only the little kids. Everybody else has to wait until 12.”

What is a tamale and posole?

K-“Ok a tamale is like maza (corn dough) with meat inside, or it can be cheese and chile, or sweet with pineapple or strawberry. Posole is like a soup with grano (white hominy) and we make ours red because there is usually red, white, and green. We always do ours red. You can put cabbage and onions and chile if you want, lemon, or radish.

How long, that you are aware of, has this tradition been going?

K-“Since I was born. Before I was born. “

Analysis- This Christmas tradition gives some background into the way the informant’s culture functions. They are a culture centered around family that likes to maintain its traditions. They like to include everyone by switching families every year. Even though the family is no longer in Mexico, they continue to have the traditions that they grew up, which will be later adopted by their children. They also belong to a culture that likes to celebrate and enjoy every moment together. It is very good that everyone is part of the tradition, even the small children.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

The informant, J, is 18 years old born and raised in Coachella, California. His mom is from Delano, California, while his dad is from Indio, California. He is majoring in Print and Digital Journalism with a Media, Economics, and Entrepreneurship minor. He also considers himself Mexican.

J-“So the folklore story that we used to hear was La Llorona and that was a big thing in Mexican culture. La llorona is this ghost of a woman and she lost her children while looking by the river they drowned and you can hear her crying and crying. Parents would tell their kids this stuff this story whenever they would do something that seemed pretty dangerous or they’re like behaving badly. So like I remember going to the park and doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing and like my parents telling me ‘oh you’re going to end up like la llorona’s kids like they drowned in the river because they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.’ Just like when you were behaving bad they’re like ‘I want la llorona to come after you’ and stuff like that. I remember my aunts and uncles would tell me this stuff before going to bed, ‘I would hear her crying at night’, just trying to freak me out. Now as an older person is funny but then it wasn’t funny because you take that stuff pretty seriously when you’re that young”

Do you remember what age you were when you heard this?

J-“I think I was like 7 or 8. Oviously you’re not going to tell a 6 year old that because like they’re still naïve. But like when you’re 7 or 8 you have a better concept of the world around you. That’s when you can start telling kids stuff like this”

Do you still hear the story?

J-“Uh, like everyone that surrounds me is like pretty much grown up so they think its like a running joke like ‘remember when tio (uncle) would talk about la llorona?’ There’s like no little kids in our family”

Do you think there is a specific reason why they told you that story instead of another?

J-“Well I’m Mexican. The area that I grew up in California is mainly Mexican citizens and so that’s something very popular at least in Mexico folklore. So yea that’s probably the reason why. That’s what they grew up with in Mexico”

Are there any forested areas or bodies of water nearby where you lived?

J-“By my house there was this park that also serves as a rain ditch so whenever it rains that park takes all of the water so that way it doesn’t go into the streets. That place is full of grass 8 of 10 times of the year and then like the other 2 is filled with water. So that was usually a point of interest with la llorona because like she’s crying by the river so this would be considered the river by the house”

Analysis- In this version of la llorona, the children died accidentally while playing near the river. Traditionally, la llorona was the one that drowned her children. This could have changed so that it would not be so harsh and scary to the children who it was being told to. The body of water also changed to fit even the rain ditch. This shows how the folklore changes according to its context and who its being to. Since there are no more children to tell the story to, the legend is beginning to die away. It is now only a memory from time to time. If there are no children added to the family, the story may be completely forgotten. It is evidence that while the story is known by everyone, it is predominately used as a legend for children, and it is otherwise not really spoken about.

Folk speech

Crea fama y Echate a Dormir

Title: Crea fama y echate a dormir

Interviewee: Armando Vildosola

Ethnicity: Mexican-American

Age: 21

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): Just me and my older brother Armando, as I asked him to share his most important pieces of wisdom that our family has shared throughout the generations. We do this every so often as some way to strengthen the bonds that we have as brothers, something of a brother meeting or a brotherly bonding session. We are sitting in our home in San Diego around our dinner table, having just finished dinner. Out house is full of family walking about visiting from Mexico. We are both on spring break from school at USC.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- Crea fama y echate a dormer”

Interviewer- “What is the English translation of that?”

Interviewee- “I guess it would be make fame and go to sleep.”

Interviewer- “I assume there is more to it than just the words? They don’t make much sense.”

Interviewee- “It means that people should make their fame, and in that sense, well… hold on.”

(A minute or so goes by)

Interviewee- “Ok so it means that when someone goes out and meets people, you should make the kind of impression that you want them to remember you by. And in that sense, you should become famous and have people remember you the way you want to remember. Because when you become famous because of something, people remember you for it. And as the saying goes, in reality, once you are famous for something and people will remember you for it, you can, basically, take a nap. And I guess what that means is that you can relax. You have made your fame and people will remember you for something, and you can relax and take it easy. You did your job, and now you can sleep! I love sleeping.”

Interviewer- “Where did you first hear this saying? Do you remember?”

Interviewee- “Of course. I first heard it from our dad, some time ago. It just made sense to me since I always dreamed of being famous, and he always wanted me to work hard. He uses it to motivate me.”

Interviewer- “Why do you still use it?”

Interviewee- “Well its meaning hasn’t left me, and I guess it helps me remember my dad and that I should do great things with my life. It helps me remember home and remember who I am as a person.”


This is a proverb that makes sense, but at the same time, it is very Mexican in the sense that when it is translated into English, some of the meaning is lost in the words. The true meaning is only understood within the Mexican culture, but some of it transfers. This is all about first impressions, and those impressions are important in Mexican culture as well as American culture. We always hear of getting off on the right foot, and things of that nature.

Tags: Proverb, Mexican, Fame

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Las Perlas de la Virgen

Title: - Las Perlas de la Virgen

Interviewee: Armando Vildosola

Ethnicity: Mexican-American

Age: 21

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): Just me and my older brother Armando, as I asked him to share his most important pieces of wisdom that our family has shared throughout the generations. We do this every so often as some way to strengthen the bonds that we have as brothers, something of a brother meeting or a brotherly bonding session. We are sitting in our home in San Diego around our dinner table, having just finished dinner. Out house is full of family walking about visiting from Mexico. We are both on spring break from school at USC.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “Las perlas de la Virgen”

Interviewer- “What is that?”

Interviewee- “Well it directly translates to the pearls of the Virgin. As in the Virgin Mary.”

Interviewer- “What does that mean to you?”

Interviewee- “Same thing it means to all Mexicans. It something that you use when you want to make fun of someone for valuing something too highly or when they expect too much. Something like, “You want me to pay you how much for that? What do you think that is, the pearls of the Virgin?” Things like that. It’s really common among all Mexicans.”

Interviewer- “Where did you first hear of this saying?”

Interviewee- “Oh everywhere in Mexico growing up. I remember that my mom specifically said it a lot, and soon when I was around 16 it found a way into the words that I use. I kind of starting using the words my mom used.”

Interviewer- “Why do you use it so much?”

Interviewee- “I don’t know really. I mean it’s just so easy to use and it’s really good for what it does. On one hand I guess that it does fill a need word-wise. But on the other hand using it reminds me of my mother, and my family that I have since lost. It makes me feel like a real Mexican when I use the phrase. I like it.”


This saying is common throughout Mexico, and one can see that it connects the Interviewee with his culture, even when he is living in the United States. It means more to the Interviewee than other people, but that it just this once case. This phrase is derived from the Catholic faith, and it makes sense that Mexicans would use such a phrase. Mexico is after all the most Catholic country in the world, total percentage of the population wise. It only makes sense for their faith to become a part of their daily lives, including the way they speak.

Tags: Mexico, Saying, Catholicism

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Witch Doctor

Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.

A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”

While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.

“My history teacher, I’m 100% sure he was serious about it. He’s from Mexico… he has a lot of family there. His family lives in this pretty small village, and his grandma was one of those witch doctors. There was this lady in the village who was this really big girl. I don’t know what was going on with her but she was doing really bad, I think she was homeless, like not doing well. My teacher said they were at their grandma’s house one day. His aunts were also there and he was young at the time, but him and his siblings snuck out into the back yard, they weren’t supposed, they were supposed to stay in at night. When they went back there they saw his grandma completely passed out on a chair. And in front of her was the other lady on the chair, and the four of his aunts were lifting the chair up on a finger, like really high up. He asked her about it and they were doing some healing thing.”

The patient was not healthy, and to lift her would either suggest that the aunts had extreme strength for the moment, or she became extremely light for the moment. The latter suggests the aunts were using homeopathic magic to making her lose weight. A.G. thought his teacher’s story was genuine, and shows some belief in the supernatural.


La llorona

Text (J is the informant, M is the collector):

J: So, she’s like this lady who, umm, was depressed or something until she killed — decided to kill her kids in this depressive episode. And then she went to, like, a river and — actually, I remember learning about “cenotes.” You know what that is?

M: No

J: In Mexico, they have them. They’re really really big, like huge circles and it’s like a water hole. And like you go really deep. And people used to, like I think during the Mayan and Aztec time, like they would sacrifice people and throw them in there.

M: Mhm.

J: So, I think I remember La Llorona having something to do with the cenotes. Like, killing her kids and dropping them in there — in a cenote. And then, so it was scary because there’s like a myth like after that — after she killed herself and like threw herself into the cenote, like she would find… like she would kidnap kids and do the same thing. That’s kinda the reason I was so scared of cenotes, too. Like the idea of a cenotes, really just a big water hole. There are a lot of like stories associated with it. With people being sacrificed and thrown in there and, uh, dying, so I’m pretty sure La Llorona.. She also used a cenotes. And it says that if you go near La Llorona that she’ll… you’ll know that it’s her because she’s saying, “Oh, mis hijos, donde estan mis hijos,” which means like “my kids, where are my kids?” And then she’d like take you and kill you.. And throw you in the cenote.


The informant is a first generation Mexican-American student. She learned this legend from one of her aunts who would tell the story to her and her cousins very late at night during family parties in Mexico. She said that the legend always made her feel very scared of La Llorona and cenotes, but it also made her feel more connected to the Mexican side of the family and her family’s history in Mexico.


This piece of folklore was performed while a group of college students sat around a bonfire at night during a camping trip. Several people had already told a scary story before this one, so the atmosphere was slightly on-edge.


I think the informant was spot on in analyzing her feelings about this legend. The reason adults probably tell this legend is to encourage kids to stay away from dangerous waterways, specifically cenotes. However, when this legend is brought outside the context of Mexico, part of the appeal is probably that, as such a prolific Mexican legend, it helps people identify themselves with their Mexican heritage.

For another version of this legend, see:

Coleman, Wim, Pat Perrin, and Martha Avilés Junco. La Llorona. South Egremont, MA: Red Chair, 2015. Print.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Put a cactus on your sunburn


The informant is a first generation Mexican-American student. She said that she spends a decent amount of time in Mexico still (she usually visits a couple weekends during the school year and goes for slightly longer periods during the summer). She visits a lot of family in Mexico, including her grandma, a lot of cousins, and aunts and uncles. She learned this folk remedy from her grandma during these visits.


The informant said that her grandma would use this folk remedy every time her or one of her brothers or cousins got sunburnt. She said that this was a fairly regular occurrence around her grandma, as she lived in a part of Mexico which was much closer to the equator where the sun was more intense.


When we would get sunburnt, my grandma would take the green goop from the inside of the cactus and rub it on our skin. I don’t know if it actually helped or anything… I think it might have… Anyway, uh, she.. It was, like, very slimy. And she did it all the time.


This folk remedy for sunburn seems to come directly from the terrain of Mexico, where cacti are very prevalent. It makes sense that her grandmother would learn and perform folk medicine that is readily available in the region where she lives. Furthermore, when I was collecting this piece of folklore, I realized that the informant seemed to look very fondly on what good be unpleasant memories of sunburnt skin. For the informant, this performance of folk medicine probably also recalls for her some of the comfort her grandma provides to her.


Folk Beliefs
Old age

Lechuza (Mexican folklore)

TK: What did you learn growing up in New Mexico? Any good folk tales or proverbs?

TB: My aunt used to tell us about the Lechuza. She was an old woman who could turn into an owl. I guess she was a witch.

TK: What did she do?

TB: I’d have to check for all of it. I remember she was supposed to have stolen babies, and would sometimes fly over your house at night. You could tell if she was around when you heard an owl. My aunt told us we were supposed to whistle at the owls and they would leave, it was like scaring her off. Except those normal sized ones were harmless, but they were like her messengers or something. The lechuza was supposed to be a lot bigger, like human sized. Sometimes people would shoot …. or try to injure the owl if they thought it might be a lechuza and then they would find a body the next morning of an old woman, but I never heard about that being for real.

THE INFORMANT: Male, mid-twenties, who grew up in a second-generation Mexican family in Santa Fe, NM. He was reluctant to recall the details of the story, but grew more enthusiastic after he recalled certain elements. He also recalled that his aunt was very spiritual and would often tell stories of this type to him and his brother and sisters while they were growing up, although now he does not put much stock in them, but still finds them interesting.


Family Ties to Cortés

“My mom always tells me this story of how her family came over on Hernán Cortés’ actual boat. There aren’t really any documents of it actually happening, but it’s been a belief in my family for generations. My ancestor was a Spanish soldier on Cortés’ initial conquest of the Aztecs, but he had mixed feelings about how they treated the natives. After he befriended an Aztec women before Cortés reached Tenochtitlan, he decided to abandon the conquest and moved away with the woman. They eventually started a family in Mexico, and over a few generations, my branch of the family ended up in what is now Española, New Mexico. My mom’s family has been in Española for hundreds of years, and a whole bunch of my family lives there still.”


This comes from one of my friends whose mother is fully racially Mexican, but has lived in Española, New Mexico, her whole life. Her family actually was really prominent in Española and owned a lot of land in the New Mexico territory. He essentially said that he doesn’t really believe the story fully and thinks that his mom’s family has probably exaggerated it a lot, but he still finds it really cool how strong the belief is in his family, and he actually thinks it’s awesome that there is somewhat of a possibility that his family has a connection to such a significant historical event.