USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

El Ojo

PP is a teacher who currently resides in Bothell Washington. She is originally from Yakima, WA but her family descends from Guadalajara in Mexico. Much of her family spoke Spanish as their first language and her grandma was the first to immigrate to America. Much of her influences and culture come from that region and her upbringing in a single-mother low income household.

Are there any beliefs you had growing up that many people in your culture shared? Any superstitions?

PP: Well almost anyone you talk to who is Mexican knows about ‘El Ojo’ or ‘The evil eye’.

What is ‘el ojo’?

PP: El ojo translates to the eye but it is a belief that if you stare or look in an envious or spiteful way you can trigger the evil eye on that person. The evil eye can cause bad things to happen like sickness or trouble. Sometimes it is called Mal Ojo because it is evil. This is especially concerning to mothers of young babies because many people will stare at your beautiful child in envy. This is why mothers are more protective of their children.

Is there any way to prevent ‘el ojo’?

PP: There are healers that would say you can get rid of it with holy water or eggs if someone may have brought the evil eye onto you. It is more of a bad energy and can affect surroundings not just a person. I think that to get rid of it you have to do an entire cleanse spiritually of anything that could have been effected. There are many rituals involving an egg to identify the evil eye’s presence. I don’t think I truly believe in it but there are many people who religiously believe in this superstition and are genuinely afraid of the eye. My grandma and mother were especially afraid of it as I was growing up and warned me never to look at someone in an envious way so I didn’t bring it on someone.

Analysis:

I have talked to many people from Spanish backgrounds about ‘el ojo’ and it seems to be one of the most universal superstitions. People do truly believe the eye has powers and an energy that can make terrible things happen to you. The eye is associated with many accidents and illnesses and the ways to get rid of it or detect its presence are very elaborate. You have to get a healer to come and use an egg to detect if the evil eye is present and if it is the yolk will have a shape of the eye in it and then you must cleanse anything the energy could have effected. This could mean, your car, your house, or even your family and friends who could have the evil eye. Although this belief seems to make no sense and most of these things are coincidental, it is interesting how much people truly believe in it and the power of it to affect people’s lives.

general

Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

 

Mexican Proverb – “Mucho hablar y poco decir juntos suelen ir”

 

Transliteration – “Much talk and little say often go together”

 

Translation – “The empty vessel makes the most noise”

 

Background:

 

This is a proverb taught in schools and just as a general life lesson. It was told to me by my Mexican nanny, Mirna, who has been with my family for nearly 19 years, and she likes it because of its meaning as a way to determine someone’s ignorance. My nanny was told this saying at a young age by her mother, as a way to teach her proper etiquette when speaking and how to carry herself to stay on people’s good side, as well as how to tell when someone might just be talking out of their rear end.

My nanny has always been sort of quiet, and only really joining into a conversation when she had something to add. My sister was always just a talkative one and oftentimes just spoke to make noise, and my nanny would oftentimes just sit there and listen so as to please my sister. She would actually tell us this in Spanish when we were young, because being exposed to her speaking Spanish we could understand it a little bit, but I did not pick up on the deeper meaning of it.

 

Context:

 

I just asked for a proverb from home and this is what was told. It doesn’t seem to make much sense at first, but when it is looked deeper into the meaning of the two words – one being talk, and one to say – it is meant to say that just because someone talks a lot, doesn’t mean they really have much to say. The translation serves to say that those who have the least in their mind tend to talk and talk when they don’t really say anything.

When you hear someone talking and they just keep babbling on and on, a lot of what they say isn’t necessarily intelligent, and they are generally just talking to get attention and keep it. Because the literal translation (as given from my nanny) is “the empty vessel makes the most noise” this means that people who are empty minded tend to have a lot of nonsense to talk about.

 

My thoughts:

 

It is interesting to hear proverbs from other languages because the literal translation seems to just be nonsense but talking to someone who has grown up with it as a part of their culture and getting the explained meaning from them is much more interesting to me.  I was confused originally because with my knowledge of Spanish I thought hablar and decir meant the same thing so the saying made no sense to me but once it was explained this has become one of my favorite proverbs.

Childhood
Contagious
Folk Beliefs

“El Ojo”

LP, the informant, is 19 years old and grew up in Mexico. She now lives with her mother and sister here in LA while her father still lives in Mexico City. She learned the following superstition from her mother who said that when LP was a baby, she suffered from this curse and had to be cured by her grandmother. LP doesn’t quite believe it, but her mother and grandmother truly do.

“Mexicans have this thing where when you’re a baby and for example you’re on a train and other adults look at your baby from far away thinking about how cute they are, if you don’t let that person touch your baby, it translates to the stink eye, or as we know it “el ojo”. So it’s known as they gave me the eye. The baby comes close to dying, becomes really sick, they get a cold and chills, and the only way to get rid of it is to let that person hold your baby. And we also wear a red and black beaded bracelet to protect your kid from the stink eye. I actually still have my bracelet back at home.”

This curse only applies to babies and can happen whenever someone looks at the baby, admiring them but doesn’t ever touch them. It’s as if looking at them and admiring them can invite the Devil to snatch them, because they will become vain and narcissistic, LP tells me. If the person staring doesn’t come into contact with the baby, then it’s believed that the curse of “El Ojo” is upon them.

I think this superstition is common in many cultures but also in various forms. I feel like I’ve heard something similar to this, but not necessarily applying just to babies. I also never really knew why the evil eye was bad, but now I understand it’s religious connotations concerning the Devil and sin. It’s also interesting that her culture has a specific bracelet that an infant wears to defend them from this curse. It’s similar to the evil eye amulet that people wear to protect them from a similar type of curse.

Customs
Foodways

Molletes

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“You need crispy bread…In Mexico it is always a bolillo or teller, the Mexican version of…baguette…since the times of Maximillian in the 1860’s…You can use small baguettes or cut portions from baguette. Portuguese rolls work too. We eat these breakfast, lunch, and dinner…they are easy and cheap, so good for young people who maybe don’t have much time or money, like college (jokingly gestures in my direction.)”

Recipe

4 teleras bolillos, petite baguettes or large baguettes cut into 6” portions

2 cups refried beans homemade or store bought

2 cups Mexican oaxaca mozzarella or monterrey jack, grated (any melting cheese of your liking will do)

2 tablespoons of butter

Serve with pico de gallo salsa or another salsa of your choice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread in half lengthwise to have 8 pieces. Spread each piece with butter then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of refried beans and add 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated cheese on top. Arrange molletes on a baking sheet as you make them. If you want, add additional toppings like ham, turkey, bacon or chorizo. Sprinkle them on top of the cheese. When they are all assembled, place the baking sheet into the oven. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the bread has a nice toasted crust around the edges. Serve with pico de gallo salsa, or a salsa of your choice, on the side or on top.

Thoughts:

As Claudia suggests in the recipe, we used crumbled chorizo. It was interesting how familiar it felt to be eating a soft, white roll; despite the beans and salsa, the dish tasted decidedly European, like something I could buy on any street corner in Los Angeles. This can probably be explained by the historical context she provided; the rolls entered Mexican cuisine under the influence of a European monarch but has become a big part of everyday Mexican cooking.

Customs
Foodways
general

Bean Tamales

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“Tamales…they’re party food. We have them for weddings, for birthdays, for…everything (laughter)…so we make the cooking of tamales a party too! We invite people over to come and work on the tamales…it helps because there are many steps, and we make…uh…lines, you know? We take turns doing steps. So when you make tamales, tell your friends and your family and bring out the tequila for a tamale party (laughter — she gestures to Lorenzo who brings out a bottle of tequila and begins to pour shots).”

Recipe

5 cups corn flour maseca

3 tablespoons of bacon fat or lard

2 cups of refried beans

4 jalapeños in strips or julienne

30 corn husks

1/2 teaspoon salt

Oaxaca string cheese or salsa

2 cups of chicken stock or the stock of the process of cookings the beans or water as kneed

Soak the corn husks or totomoxtles in hot water for half an hour and allowed to drain. Mix the flour with salt and little by little is added warm water. Add the melted bacon fat and mix well with the flour, beating vigorously for 10 minutes. Cover a large wooden board (25 X 40 cm.) With a piece of plastic and spread the dough with your hand, evenly, to half an inch thick. With the dough make small tortillas. Place the refried beans on top of the dough and add the peppers or cheese or salsa cover with the masa by rolling, help yourself with the plastic and to form a cylinder an roll it to make it thin with the hand on top of the board. Then cut into regular pieces of 3 inch long. Then graph them with the corn husk. The tamales are steamed for one hour and served with cream and salsa.

Thoughts:

Just as Claudia said, participating in this ritual was a lot of fun. This was the part in the class where, as a group, we all began to get to know and enjoy each other’s company. Both laughter and tequila were plentiful. This, in particular, was a great example of the joyous and communal nature of Mexican cooking and the ways in which it is used to bring people closer together and bond over a shared recipe.

Customs
Foodways
general

Tortillas

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“You’ll need a big cast-iron skillet or griddle and a tortilla press, too (gestures to a very old, metal tortilla press) this belonged to my grandmother, who got it from her mother, so has been in my family for…130 years? More? A long time (laughter). In most every recipe for corn tortillas the proportion is 2 cups of corn flower to 1-1/4 to…maybe 1-1/3 cups water. The difference between 1/4 and 1/3 cup can be a lot…can be very important. Also, don’t confuse corn flower and corn meal. Very different. Corn meal is a completely different process and it won’t work…when you’re done, you can keep them warm how you like…I use this (holds up a dried gourd with the top cut off as a removable top)…gourds keep things nice and warm, how we like.” 

Recipe

2 cups corn flower

1-1/4 to 1-1/3 cups of water

Mix the corn flower and the water little by little. Work with your hands to form your masa and roll it into a big ball. Take a pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of masa.

    1. Set the masa on a piece of plastic in the tortilla press and core with another piece of plastic
    2. Press the masa in tortilla press
    3. Transfer tortilla to a hot dry skillet
    4. Cook for about 30 seconds on one side, turn
    5. Cook for about 60 seconds (it should puff slightly) turn back to the first side
    6. Cook for another 30 seconds on the first side
    7. Remove and keep the tortilla warm

Thoughts:

Though both simple and fairly generic, Claudia seemed to take the most personal ownership of this recipe. This seemed to be in large part because of the antique tortilla press we used to prepare them. She was very proud of the press and its history, and appeared to have an almost spiritual connection to its personal and cultural significance.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Salsa Xnipec

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“This is a salsa from the Yucatan peninsula, right here (gestures to map of Mexico)…right near Cancun…the word ‘xnipec’ comes from the Mayan language…in English it means like ‘dog nose’ (laughter)…but it’s good…very spicy so you just do a little drop like this…(takes a spoon and makes small drops on the back of her hand)…and you taste first…don’t do too much…we’ll have to take you off the floor (laughter).”

Recipe:

2 limes

5 roasted habaneros

1 garlic clove roasted

2 tablespoons of chopped red or white onion

Salt

Pinch of oregano

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Squeeze the juice of several limes (Yucatan lemons, which are more like limes) into a small bowl if you don’t find them lemons are ok. In a mortar add garlic roasted Habanero pepper, ground the ingredients and add spoons of chopped onion, oregano, juice of limes and olive oil and season. Mix all this and set aside you can make the salsa a day in advance and this will make the salsa milder.

Thoughts:

This dish was prepared with a stone mortar and pestle; the habaneros had been roasted on the flame of a gas stovetop shortly before we began the lesson. Claudia spoke at length about the different kinds of peppers used in Mexican cuisine, but interesting she did not appear to enjoy the habanero flavor herself.

Legends

US-Mexico Border urban legends

MR is a student at the University of Southern California, originally from Ames, IA.

MR shared a harrowing story that she’d heard from a friend in San Diego:

“My friend told me that in high school, there were kids who would sometimes cross the border into Tijuana to go out and party, and then they’d just post up on a hotel before driving back the next day…one year some kids went after finals and were out at a bar, and one of their girl friends was hanging out with a guy behind the bar. She told them she was going to stay and hang out with him, and that she’d call them when she was on her way back to their hotel…by morning no one had heard from her yet, and her phone calls would go straight to voicemail. They went back to the bar from last night and tried to show the owner a picture of the man that they’d taken last night, but the owner said he’d never seen him before. They drove around everywhere trying to find signs of their friend, but at some point they knew they had to get back to San Diego and would have to talk to the police then, after talking to the border patrol. So they started driving back and they were waiting in line to be search by border patrol, while they were talking to them also freaking out about their missing friend.

All of a sudden in another line they see something going on, and the cops are talking to this guy who has a sleeping girl wearing sunglasses in the passenger seat. The cops tell the guy he can’t cross the border unless he can wake the girl up, and he’s putting up a lot of resistance. Finally they take off the girl’s sunglasses and realize she’s dead – at the base of her spine there’s an incision, and her spine has been padded by bags of cocaine.”

My analysis:

While this story initially freaked me out, MR offered her reservations about the whole thing. It seems like there are a lot of these nightmarish stories about cartels using dead bodies to smuggle drugs over the border, but there are almost no records of such a crime actually taking place. MR thinks these stories are used near the Mexican border to scare kids like her friend from going across to get away with drinking or partying, or at least encourage them to be extra-vigilant. It also makes those in the drug business as monstrous, inhuman entities, maybe making it easier to discriminate against people like them (ie. Mexicans in general). Legends like this seem pretty common in border communities, but luckily it doesn’t sound like they’re true.

For more information on stories like this, see:

Mikkelson, David. “Drugs Smuggled In Dead Baby.” Snopes 23 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from http://www.snopes.com/horrors/drugs/deadbaby.asp
Folk Dance

Deer Dance

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in Mexico and currently lives in Brazil. She came to visit me.

Informant: So there’s a dance that the indigenous people do around the area where I’m from. It’s called the deer dance. Basically for the deer dance, they just do like this ritual for help for when they go to hunt deer. They dress up with a deer head for their head, and they dress normally in white clothes, and they have this special cascabeles on their ankles. There’s not any special significance to it, I think it’s just for sound. And then they start dancing, and when they dance they start to imitate the deer. And then they sing in their native language which is Yakki.

Collector: Do you know why they do a deer dance? Do they do dances for any other animals?

Informant: No, not really. They only have one for deer because deer is their primary source of meat. It’s a desert, so there aren’t many animals around. There’s only deer in the area, so that’s all that they hunt.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s from the natives of where im from, like the region of Mexico where I’m from. It’s part of my identity, even though I’m not an indian, but it still kinda is my identity. I learned about it when I was on a road trip close to my birth city and my uncle we saw it and pointed it out to me. We drove past a native place and we got to see it. They live right on the outskirts of the city. It kinda makes me feel proud that to be Mexican. It gives me a sense of home, a connection to where I’m from, seeing the natives of my region.

I found this one interesting because of how the natives adjusted their culture to the area around them. This dance has such a specific purpose – to help them hunt deer. Rather than having created a dance for food, or for success in hunting, they did one specifically for deer, because that’s the only animal around that area, and I find that fascinating. I also think it’s really cool how these people and my friend are from the same area, but yet they are still so different and she takes pride in these little differences in her culture.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

The utensils that know the future

The informant, C, is an 18 raised in South Central Los Angeles, California. His parents are both Mexican and he considers himself Mexican as well. He is studying Astronautical Engineering.

 

C-“So in my family we have this superstition that if you drop your utensils by accident you will receive different guests. If a spoon is dropped then a child is going to come, if a fork is dropped then a friend is going to come, and if a knife is dropped a stranger is going to come”

When did you first hear this?

C-“When I was little my aunts and grandma and my mom would say ‘oh a friend, or whatever person, is going to visit’ every time that I dropped a utensil.

Have you heard or seen this in other places?

C-“I have heard variations in other families and even with the other side of my family. Sometimes it’s that a woman is going to visit if you drop a fork and a man if you drop a knife”

Do you believe in it/think it’s true?

C- “I’m not sure. Sometimes it does like come true and then the person comes and visit but other times they don’t or is the wrong person. So I guess it depends if the right person shows up”

Analysis- The superstition could be a way to cover-up what may be an embarrassing and socially looked-down thing. Adding the consequence of the different visits creates a nicer response to this rather than public humiliation. The different visits could be different according to what the utensils resemble and remind the people of.

[geolocation]