USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Red String: Mexican method of Warding Off Evil (The Evil Eye)

Tell me about the Red String in Mexico.

A.H. – “Um, it depends on the person; but, people who are superstitious and use the whole red-string-fending-off-the-evil-eye put these strings around their babies, like, as soon as they’re born – literally.  So like, even before they’re before they’re competent, they already have this red string around them.”

And this red string repels the evil eye . . . That is what’s being repelled?

A.H. – “Right.  It supposedly does.  And I think it’s used even more on kids, because they can’t really defend themselves, and/or are less conscious of their surroundings.  Now that I think of it, adults definitely use it, but I definitely see it more on kids and babies.  In Mexico.  So, it’s really interesting what’s considered to be the evil eye itself; it can be even someone just looking at your kid on the street, and it’s obvious that they think they’re cute, or something, and I think people just have a lot of malice in them; the parent will assume like – and it’s not even always a bad thing, it can be a jealousy thing too, like someone could be threatened by some cute-ass baby . . . obviously not that that person wants to be the baby, but that they’re jealous in some way or another.”

A.H. – “If someone does see that, they have to be cleansed of that.  If not, then you’re affected by the eye, supposedly.  And I don’t really know where the egg thing comes from.”

Egg?

A.H. – “Yeah.  You’d grab an egg and rub it all over the kid’s body, and supposedly the egg absorbs the evil.  But, it’s weird – I feel like people who aren’t very superstitious still do that.”

Let’s go back to what you said about malice and the people.  Do you think that . . . the vibe, at first thought, when you have your child wearing one of these, is: you would assume that the first thing someone else would think about your child isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is something like jealousy, or envy, 0r anger, or just a want to ruin what’s been given to you?

A.H. – “Yeah.  Whenever I ask my mom about this – because she’s the one who told me about this in the first place – It’s not even just if somebody gives you a bad look.  It’s like, you can’t really trust people, strangers- if someone’s looking at your kid, you assume it’s because they’re going to do something to them . . . I don’t know.”

So at it’s base, in it’s most rudimentary form, it’s just “stranger danger?”

A.H. – “Yeah.  It does the job of fending off the eye, as well as reminding the wearer of the dangers of what the evil eye can be.”

Would you say that if you were to see somebody wearing a red bracelet, you’d wonder why? 

A.H. – “Yeah.  For instance, a friend of mine always wears a red string bracelet and I always think about it, even though it’s probably not for the same reasons.”

And what does it make you think of?

A.H. – “I guess just what my mom told me.”

How else can you repel this evil?

A.H. – “It’s actually interesting, if some parent were to see some stranger giving their kid the evil eye, the instinct would be to ask that person to touch the child.  So once that happens, the evil is absolved, regardless of whether or not that child is wearing the red string.  At it’s roots, it’s another example of the dangers of voyeurism, I feel like.”

 

This example of the Red String vs the Evil Eye is perplexing, as it is both completely similar to and totally the opposite of another cultural superstition; that of the Turkish evil eye.  The dichotomy of cultures, as well as parallels in those same cultures, are exemplified here perfectly.  It’s funny, even, that the very thing which keeps Turkish families safe is that which is being repelled by the red string.

Folk Beliefs

Wake your body, but don’t forget to wake your soul – Mexican Superstition

Piece: 

If you take your kids with you to the ranch, let’s say when you go work the field, and they fall asleep on the floor, because they are tired or because you are working. And you know how in the field the dirt is loose, and you know, when kids are young they are innocent, they are innocent until they become adults. So when they are kids, their soul is still really innocent too, because they don’t know anything yet. If you tell them that a certain bad spirit is nearby they won’t know what to make of it. So if your kid happens to fall asleep on the ground, the beliefs of the old times are that you have to grab a twig, or a branch and start hitting them. You have to yell their name and hit them at the same time. You do this so that their spirit can return back to their body when they wake up. You’ll know you accomplished this because they wake up crying. The same goes for when you fall somewhere, you know when you fall and you get spooked? It’s like your soul stays in the place where you fell. So when this happens, after someone has fallen, they will go grab a branch and start hitting themselves in order to wake their soul again.

Background Information: The informant was my aunt. She grew up in a small village in Mexico where superstitions and legends are very prominent.

Context: This is a very commonly known superstition amongst farmers in Mexico. Most villagers would take their kids with them to work because they had no babysitters to watch them while they were farming the fields.

Personal Analysis: As I was listening to this superstition, I was reminded of my younger sister. When she was younger, she would always wake up crying. My family and I never understood why, but after hearing this superstition I was introduced to a possible explanation.

Legends
Narrative

The Mountain of el Espiritu Michoacan

So where my dad lives, el Espiritu Michoacan, there’s a big mountain with a large cross that is visible to the naked eye at the top. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but they say that religious groups took it there on horseback. The wood used was so big that they needed a lot of people and lot of horses to move it or transport it. There’s a story that after it was built, many people were at the top of the mountain and I guess praying or worshipping… and because it’s at the top of the mountain, they got dizzy when they were staring at the cross. They thought that the cross was falling or that the sky was falling and they began to run, and some people maybe got hurt and fell down because it’s steep. They also say that the people might have been partying, so they could have been drunk or intoxicated or something. You know, your depth perception isn’t great under those circumstances. So they were being punished by God.

Context: The informant’s father is from Michoacan, and he has visited the state almost yearly since his childhood. He heard this story from his father.

Interpretation: This story has a cautionary element that warns audiences not to mix worship with intoxication for fear of punishment. It also seems reminiscent of Judgment Day, where worshippers are evaluated as the world appears to end (i.e. the sky is falling). It also suggests the power of religion, both in that it brought people together to build and transport the cross and that it is powerful enough to send a large group of people falling down a mountain. The fact that this story is widely spread in the area shows that the people of el Espiritu Michoacan value religion and are dedicated to spreading the word of Christianity (more specifically, Catholicism).

Folk speech
Proverbs

“El que come y canta luego loco se levanta”

“Él que come y canta luego loco se levanta.”

“He who eats and sings later gets up crazy.”

 

Context: The informant’s father is from Zacatecas, Mexico, and still regularly visits his hometown. The informant is from St. Helena, California.

“My dad would say it when I sang at the table during dinner. I think he was scared I would choke to death during dinner. It was a precaution. You act like a maniac because you’re trying to stop choking. Especially if you’re one of those people who breathes through their mouth when they sing.”

Interpretation: I interpreted this proverb differently than my informant. I think this could be used to silence children and make them behave by presenting a threat. There is plenty of similar Mexican folklore that follows this idea, such as the creature el Cucuy, who haunts children when they disobey their parents. My informant claimed that “the entire Mexican population” is aware of el Cucuy, so it is not outlandish to think that a Mexican-American father was driven by the desire to quiet his child in addition to protecting the child from choking.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

“El que no trampa nunca avanza”

“Él que no trampa nunca avanza.”

“He who doesn’t cheat never advances.”

Context: The informant is an Uber driver in Los Angeles. He speaks Spanish and English fluently. His parents are both from Mexico.

“My Uber passenger from Mexico City told me this. He said that a lot of people in Mexico City believe this, but he was raised to be honest no matter what. He told me he thinks that a lot of people in Los Angeles think this way.”

Interpretation: This is illustrative of American values, where success and personal gain outweigh honesty and altruism. This could also speak to Narcoculture in Mexico, where money and success often come from crime, dishonesty, and trickery. Perhaps it draws similarities between these cultures and unifies people who are willing to find success regardless of the moral implications.

 

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
Narrative

NEWLY WEDS HORROR STORY ON THE HIGHWAY TO CHIHUAHUA

Main Piece:

“Growing up…wherever we were in a car on the road to…pretty much anywhere, one of my uncles or aunts would tell us this one story. Apparently in Chihuahua there is this long highway with very few exits or cars passing by. So this couple, who ad literally just married, were on their way to Chihuahua. It was during the night…it was extremely dark. Their car broke down and the husband told his wife that he would walk down the road until he found help, and that she was to stay in the car and lock all the doors. He emphasized that she only opens the doors to him. She agreed and he left. An hour or two after he left, the wife noticed a raggedy man with a brown bag walking down the highway toward her car. The man stopped beside the passenger door and knocked on her window. He smiled at her and pointed at the bag. He knocked again and smiled. Just then a car passed the highway and the man rushed into the trees to hide. The woman flickered her headlights to try to get the car to stop but it did not. After the car was gone, the man with the bag approached her car door window again. He looked at her, smiled, and pointed toward the bag. The wife looked away from him, the man knocked, she turned to face him, again he smiled and pointed toward the bag. Just then another car was making its way down the highway. The man ran into the trees to hide again. The woman flickered her headlights and the car stopped. She told the man from the car that there was an old raggedy man with a bag bothering her and trying to get her to open her door. The man told her that he would hide and when the old man with the bag came back, that she honks many times and he would rush over in his car.

So, the wife waited for the old man to return. He finally did and again he knocked on the window, smiled, and pointed toward the bag. The wife honked and turned her headlights on. The other car rushed over. The old man then tried to escape and in doing so dropped the bag he was carrying. The wife got out of her car and ran toward the bag. The other man stood next to her as she opened the bag. The wife screamed and fainted from the contents in the bag. Inside was the severed head of her husband.”

Context:

The informant is a 27-year-old Mexican-American college student. He learned this story from his uncle, father, aunt, and any and all other family members. It is a very popular story to tell in his family. He believes to a certain extent that the events in this story might be based on true events, but he also believes that it might just be a scary story to tell around a campfire.

Analysis:

This legend seems to have some possibility of being true, which makes for a great legend. I believe that the reason this story continues to be told through generations in this informant’s family is because of how real the legend feels.

This story highlights the idea of sticking together in all circumstances.

Childhood
Game
general

Balero, Mexican toy

 

 

Main Piece:

A balero is an authentic Mexican toy made of wood. One part is made in the shape of a barrel with a hole in the middle, which is then tied to a small wooden shaft. The point of the toy is to make the barrel turn so that the shaft is inserted into the barrel’s hole.

Context:

The informant is a 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. Growing up he had very little money to spend on toys so he would make his own variation of the classic toy.

20190410_104024 The picture shows his own variation on the classic toy.

 

 

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.

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