USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’
Legends

La Llorona, Mexico

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. She told me her version about La Llorona, a widespread legend in the American Southwest, South America, and Central America. A lot of versions of the story exist in different regions, and this is the one her nanny used to tell her when she was growing up. Most versions have themes of maternal love, marriage, and death and suicide.

 

According to my friend’s version, La Llorona is about a woman whose husband left her, which made her lose her mind and kill her three children. When she came into her senses and realized what she had done, she couldn’t live with it so she committed suicide. She couldn’t go to heaven for having killed herself, so she stayed on Earth. She is supposed to go around looking for her children and taking all of the children she can find thinking they are hers.

 

My friend says it didn’t have much of an impact on her since she didn’t really believe in ghosts or anything of the sort, but it did make her scared to leave her house at night when she first heard it since she was so young. She also believes that was its intended purpose; something a parent would say to their child to scare them into behaving more safely, since Mexico has some dangerous areas.

 

I think it’s very interesting that her version has some religious undertones in its incorporation of heaven, since the one that I heard growing up didn’t, which speaks to how religious Mexico is as a country. Also, some other versions portray the woman as “bad,” condemning her behavior saying she intentionally killed her children as a form of revenge yet this version seems to portray her as more of a victim of a terrible situation. This is surprising to me, for Mexico is a sexist country in a lot of ways.

 

For more versions of this legend, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Llorona

Proverbs

“Camaroón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente,” Mexico

This proverb was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. The proverb “camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente” translates into English literally as “a shrimp that falls asleep gets carried by the tide.” It is similar in meaning to the American saying “if you snooze, you lose.” It can be interpreted in terms of laziness, opportunity, or devotion, depending on the context it is used in, according to her.

 

My friend first related it to laziness. To her, the “tide” represented life since, it is always moving, and the shrimp represents lazy people who refuse to move with it. It is something that her mother always used to say to her and her siblings in order to motivate her to stay focused at school, and she thinks that it was very encouraging. As she grew up, she related it to opportunity when comparing the tide to an opportunity, and if you “sleep” on it you can miss it. It was her dad who gave it this meaning as he was encouraging her to apply to jobs and network as she got to college. When she had a bad experience with a close friend, another good friend said it to her comparing the tide to toxic people.

 

Even though I am from a Latin American country myself, I had never heard this before, but it is hardly surprising since Latin Americans have a reputation for being lazy so I could see why this would be popular. Like most proverbs, this one can be interpreted differently by different people depending on context, and I think it is really interesting how one person could use the experiences she was having at a certain time in her life to assign different meanings to a phrase she has been hearing since she was a child. It speaks to the universality and flexibility that some proverbs can have when looking at them from different perspectives.

Proverbs

“Más vale solo que mal acompañado,” Mexico

This proverb was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. The proverb “más vale solo que mal acompañado” translates into English literally as “it is better to be alone than in bad company.” It clearly comes from a place of experience, and it is about toxic people not being worth befriending just for the sake of having many friends.

 

Even though my friend had been hearing it all her life, specifically from her dad, she never really believed it. Like a lot of young kids, she believed that popularity was everything and surrounded herself with as many people as she could, even though some of them weren’t good for her. They were shallow and often mean, she says, which caused her to imitate that behavior as well just so she could “fit in.” However, when she left for college, all of those relationships immediately fell through. All her “friends” stopped talking to her, and it was hard for her to be alone at first, but her dad kept reminding her of that. She really got to know herself and learned to find peace on her own, and to be a better person. That saying has become really important to her, something that she constantly reminds herself, and she is very grateful to her dad for teaching her that lesson.

 

To me, this is also a very meaningful life lesson. I have also heard it since I was very young and I had very similar experiences to my friend’s. I think is a really powerful message that most of us forget as we let appearances and popularity define our behavior. Similarly to her, that reminder has gotten me through a lot and it has also made me learn to appreciate real friends, no matter how many of them I have.

Folk speech

El chamuco, Mexico

This folk saying was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. El chamuco is a Mexican folk saying mostly used to as a slang term referring to the devil. It often comes with religious undertones, and some versions are very detailed; for example, some people believe that his body is on fire, has one cat leg and one chicken leg, and smells strongly like copper.

 

It was used in her household in different ways. Her mother would often say things like, “go to sleep right now or el chamuco will eat you.” The hostile tone of that type of threat-like statement made her feel very scared as a child.

 

However, people also used it to refer to an evil or angry person. When her mother got angry, her father would say “if you get any angrier the chamuco is going to come out of you.” It soon became a running joke with her siblings to refer to their mother as el chamuco when they wanted to tease her. She would get really angry, which they just thought proved their point.

 

Even though I wasn’t familiar with el chamuco specifically, my parents had similar ways of getting me to listen to them, like el cuco, which was used in the same context as el chamuco and I would think could even be a variation of it. As I pay closer attention to Latin American sayings and legends, I am beginning to see that parents tend to scare their children into behaving, which is really interesting. I think Latin American parents are very strict and more religious than the average American, which is reflected in these folk sayings.

Riddle

“Agua pasa por mi casa, cate de mi corazón, lleva un vestido verde, y amarillo el corazón,” Mexico

This riddle was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. The riddle “agua pasa por mi casa, cate de mi corazón, lleva un vestido verde, y amarillo el corazón” translates into English literally as “water passes through my house, cate from my heart, it wears a green dress, and has a yellow heart.” The answer is avocado, for the word in Spanish for it is aguacate, so if it is split in too it becomes “agua” (the word for water) and “cate,” which isn’t an actual word.

 

My friend says she used to hear it a lot around school as she was growing up. She says she isn’t surprised that avocados were made into a riddle since avocados are very common in Mexico, and she grew up eating them with every single meal.

 

This riddle is a variation of one I grew up with myself, and it is one of the most popular ones that I can remember from my childhood. It seems that Latin American riddles are a bit more symbolic in that they involved more imagery than American ones.

Proverbs

“A quien madura Dios lo ayuda,” Mexico

This proverb was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. The proverb “a quien madruga Dios lo ayuda” translates into English literally as “God helps early risers.”

 

This is something her dad used to say to her to get her to wake up for school. She has noticed that it is often the older people tell to the young, like it also often happens with proverbs in general. She thinks it highlights the fact that Latin Americans are notorious for being lazy and need to be encouraged to break that habit.

 

I actually grew up hearing what seems to be this proverb’s opposite, “no por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano.” It translates to “no matter how early you get up, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner.” I thought it sounded discouraging at first, but when I thought about it, I concluded that it spoke to a similar idea; it is saying that one should not make rushed decisions, to take the time to do things right.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Padre Sin Cabeza

Main Piece: Padre Sin Cabeza  

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about ghost stories of her hometown. She is marked as MS. I am marked as DM.

MS: Algo que paso ahi donde yo nací. En la iglesia que está en el pueblo que yo nací se muere un sacerdote. La iglesia era una iglesia antigua donde siempre se celebran las fiestas de la virgen de guadalupe. Entonces cada cierto tiempo pasaba que el padre que se murió dicen que le cortaron la cabeza. El alma de ese padre bajaba en la iglesia desde aparte de atrás de la iglesia hasta el frente de la iglesia. En las noches si oía cuando el padre salía y arrastraba las cadenas y el padre murmuraba y lloraba por el patio de toda la iglesia. Mucha gente en el pueblo sabían que era el padre porque mucha gente lo llego a mirar. Hoy, todavía se puede oír las cadenas del padre.   

Translate:

MS: In the church that is in the village that I was born in, a priest died. The church was an ancient church where the festivities of the Virgin of Guadalupe are always celebrated. Then every once in a while they heard the father who died, people said they cut off his head. That Father’s soul was coming down into the church from  the back of the church to the front of the church. In the evenings one could hear when the father went out and dragged the chains and the Father murmured and his cries in the courtyard of the whole church. A lot of people in town knew it was the father because a lot of people saw him. Today, you can still hear the father’s chains.

Background/Context:

The participant is 52 years old. She grew up in Michoacan, Mexico. Maria, who is marked as MS, is my grandma. In her hometown, there is a lot of superstition beliefs that spread throughout the whole town. In this specific story, almost everyone in town heard the chains and cries of the decapitated priest.They heard the priest mostly at night around 12. Below is a conversation I had with MS for more background/context of the remedy, which was originally in Spanish.  

DM:Why do you know this ghost story?

MS: I know this story because I am the one who lived through it. Me and my sister heard stories about the church and we went to see for ourselves what it was like.

DM: Why do you like telling this ghost story?

MS:  I like telling this story because it is something I want people to know what I have been through.

DM: Where/who did they learn it from?

MS: There was stories already in my town of the priest, but I never heard him it until that time walking with my sister.

DM: Why is this ghost story important to you?

MS: Whenever there is a family gather I will be able to tell what I lived through and what my town believed. I want my kids and grandkids to tell it to keep this story alive because I feel like it’s apart of my hometown.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

This story shows how universal this story was in MS’s hometown. If she was able to hear about it from others, then experience it herself it means that this is true. MS explains to me how her and her sister heard a lot about the priest’s cry before they heard it.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Devil Dog

Main Piece: Devil Dog

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about ghost stories of her hometown. She is marked as MS. I am marked as DM.

MS: Esta tarde voy a comentar una historia que me paso a mi y mis tres hermanos aproximado cuando yo tenía seis o siete años. Veníamos de la case de unas de mis tías. En ese tiempo había televisión nada más en diferentes casas. No todo el pueblo teníamos televisión y veníamos de ver un programa de la televisión en casa de mi tia. Para regresar a mi casa teníamos que atravesar un río. Veníamos como a las doce de la noche caminando por la orilla del río y cuando veníamos llegando donde estaba une puente donde cruzaba la gente de un lado a otro. Unos de mis hermanos nos dijo voy a sacar mi plátano para comer me lo ahorita. Entonces cuando vinimos nosotros caminando de repente se empezo a oir come un bramido come de un perro o un animal grande y mi hermano quien traía el plátano dijo espérense no caminan y los empezamos a detener nos miramos que salió un perro grande de unos arbustos grandes y empezaba como caminar con una cadenas alrededor del perro y ese perro se atravesó por el río y empezó a tratar come de agarramos y nos ladraba fuertemente. Pero lo que me más superando ver que el perro no se atravesó dentro de la agua si no por encima de la agua y cuando mi hermano quiso correr juntos con nosotros no podíamos dar el paso donde el perro no atorro y cuando mi hermano quiso agarrar y aventarle el plátano para que nosotros podíamos pasar el plátano se partió en tres pedazos con la misa cáscara y mi hermana empezó a rezar a dios que nos quitara eso para pasar. De repente se empezó a meter como un montón de canteras con un montón de ramas secas y ahí se metió el perro y se iba desapareciendo poco a poco. Cuando se desapareció el perro, podíamos empezar a caminar otra vez.

Translate:

MS: This afternoon I’m going to tell you a story that happened to me and my three siblings when I was six or seven years old. We came from the case of one of my aunts. At that time there was only a television in certain houses. Not all the people had television and we came to see a TV show at my aunt’s house. To get back to my house we had to cross through a river. We came as at twelve o’clock in the night walking along the river bank and when we came arriving where it was bridge that people could cross from one side to the other. One of my brothers told me I’m going to get my banana to eat now. Then suddenly we began to hear a roar of a dog or a big animal and my brother who brought the banana said wait do not walk. We looked at the big dog come out of a large shrubs and with a chain around the dog and that dog walked on top of the river. But what more surpassing me to see that the dog did not go through the water if not above the water and when my brother wanted to run together we could not take the step where the dog was. Atorro and when my brother wanted to grab and throw the banana to We could pass the banana broke into three pieces with the shell mass and my sister began praying to God to take that away to pass. Suddenly they got He started putting like a pile of quarries with a bunch of dried twigs and there he got the dog and he was slowly fading away. When the dog disappeared, we could start walking again.

Background/Context:

The participant is 52 years old. She grew up in Michoacan, Mexico. Maria, who is marked as MS, is my grandma. In her hometown, there is a lot of superstition beliefs that spread throughout the whole town. In this specific story, almost everyone in town saw this dog they claimed to be the devil. They tried to avoid the river because that is where the dog appears most of the time. Below is a conversation I had with MS for more background/context of the remedy, which was originally in Spanish.  

DM:Why do you know this ghost story?

MS: I know this story because I am the one who lived through it.

DM: Why do you like telling this ghost story?

MS:  I like telling this story because it is something I want people to know what I have been through.

DM: Where/who did they learn it from?

MS: There was stories already in my town of the dog, but I never saw it until now. I heard about the dog from others but I also learned it through a real life experience.

DM: Why is this ghost story important to you?

MS: This shows that family always need to be united always in every situation especially with family and that God will always hear you out.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

This story shows how this “devil dog” was able to show up in everyone’s life at one point. MS explains to me how her and her siblings heard a lot about the dog before it appeared to them. They were scared of walking or fighting at night because of everything they heard. Finally, the dog appeared to them. When my grandma told me this story, I was scared of the dogs that I had in that moment.

Childhood
Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle

The Lock

Main Piece: The Lock

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk riddle that is passed within his community or his school. He is marked as AO. I am marked as DM.

AO: El dia de ahora les quiero hacer una adivinanza. Haber si la pueden adivinar. Es chiquito come un ratón y cuidad la casa como un león. Que es?

DM: I don’t know.

AO: El candado.  

Translate:

AO: Today I am going to tell you a riddle. Let’s see if you guys can solve it. It is small like a mouse and guards the house like a lion. What is it?

DM: I don’t know.

AO: The lock.

Background/Context:

The participant is 56 years old. He grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. Alberto, who is marked as AO, is my grandpa. When I was growing up, my grandpa loved to tell me and my sisters jokes or riddles. He would tell us it helped us develop a different way of thinking. He learned this riddle and I learned this riddle in Spanish, but it makes sense in English as well. Below is a conversation I had with AO for more background/context of the joke, which was originally in Spanish.

DM: Why do you know/ like this riddle?

AO: I like to tell this riddle because it became a motivation to read. All of my books in elementary contained jokes, which made it easier to read.

DM: Where and from who did you learn this riddle from?

AO: I learned this joke in Mexico from an elementary book.  

DM: What does this riddle mean/ signify to you?

AO: Telling jokes or phrases that make people think is a tradition in Mexico. This was a better way to unfold my learning abilities in an enjoyable manner.  

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

Every time I heard this joke I never thought about it as a way to pass time or a game. I think it is important to know that at one point riddles were a form of entertainment in some communities. The fact that elementary books in Mexico that are full of riddles are being read by students is amazing. The students have no idea that their readings contain so much tradition or folklore. The fact is that the riddles that are authored text can be continued to be passed down to other children.

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Riddle

El Plato de Maiz, el Cayote, y la Gallina

Main Piece: El Plato de Maiz, el Cayote, y la Gallina

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk riddle that is passed within his community. He is marked as AO. I am marked as DM.

AO: Ahora les voy hacer una adivinanza. Haber si pueden resolverlo. Tengo una gallina, un coyote, y un plato de maíz. Que tengo que cruzar por un río. Pero en la lancha que llevo solamente puedo traer una cosa a la vez. Sin perder ninguna de las tres cosas. Tienes que cruzar de un lugar a otro. Creen que se puede hacer? Sin la gallina se coma el maíz ni que el coyote se coma la gallina?

DM: No.

AO: Se les voy a demostrar que si se puede. Tenemos la gallina, tenemos el coyote, y tenemos el maíz. Aqui esta el rio. Como solamente podemos cruzar una cosa a la vez, primero agregamos la gallina, la subimos al bote, y la pasamos del otro lado. Ya tenemos la gallina de esta lado. Nos regresamos y nos tiremos el coyote. Tiremos al coyote, como no más puedes agarrar una sola cosa a la vez, agarramos la gallina y la regresamos para tras y los tiremos el maíz. Y como ya tenemos a la gallina y el maíz el coyote no se puede comer el maíz y la gallina volvemos a tener aqa entonces nos volvemos a traer la gallina de regreso. Y ya tenemos las tres cosas aqa.

Translate:

AO: Today I am going to tell you a riddle. Let’s see if you guys can solve it. I have a chicken, a coyote, and a plate of corn. I have to cross a river. But in the boat I can only bring one thing at a time. Without losing any of the three things. You have to cross from one place to another. Do you think it can be done? Without the chicken eating the corn or the coyote eating the chicken?

DM: No.

AO: I’m going to show you that you can. We have the chicken, we have the coyote, and we have the corn. Here’s the river. Since we can only cross one thing at a time, take the chicken to the other side of the river. We’ve got the chicken on this side. You come back and take the coyote. We take the coyote, return with the chicken. You leave the chicken and take the corn. Then you come back for the chicken and take it to the other side again.

Background/Context:

The participant is 56 years old. He grew up in Mexico City, Mexico. Alberto, who is marked as AO, is my grandpa. When I was growing up, my grandpa loved to tell me and my sisters jokes or riddles. He would tell us it helped us develop a different way of thinking. He learned this riddle and I learned this riddle in Spanish, but it makes sense in English as well. Below is a conversation I had with AO for more background/context of the joke, which was originally in Spanish.

DM: Why do you know/ like this riddle?

AO: I like to tell this riddle because I want to make people think.

DM: Where and from who did you learn this riddle from?

AO: I learned this joke in Mexico from a friends.  

DM: What does this riddle mean/ signify to you?

AO: Telling jokes or phrases that make people think was a tradition in Mexico. Also, since there was no internet or tv in my time, this was a way to pass time. Telling stories, jokes, riddles was a game or form entertainment to us.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

Every time I heard this joke I never thought about it as a way to pass time or a game. I think it is important to know that at one point riddles were a form of entertainment in some communities. The fact that people in Mexico would sit around telling each other proverbs, jokes, and riddles that learn from their families and to not think about it as folklore is amazing. The fact is that one daily conversation can turn into something that will last forever.

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