USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘spanish’
Folk speech
Humor

Spanish Language Word Play

Subject: Joke featuring a play on words.

Collection:

“Atrás te huele!”

“Interviewer: So, do you have any jokes that are particularly like crude, because I think those are the best one.

Interviewee: Oh… it’s like, my dad’d always tell this joke about how there’s a difference in like the arrangement of words. So, like you can say, uh, ‘huele a traste’. Like huele-a-taste, which is three words. Which means it smells like dishes versus ‘atrás te huele’. Which should be, it smells like dishes still, yes it should be. But, because if you like break up the word, if you break up the word it means you smell like ass… and it’s my fav.”

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 would frequently make mention of jokes her dad would tell involving funny rearrangements of words in her native Spanish. This is the crudest and her favorite. I asked her to recount this story for my collection.

Analysis: This joke garners its humor by subverting the expected to reveal a new, surprising, and rather crude meaning. The simplicity of this model is what lends the joke its success. Without garnish, the simple wordplay is clear and easy to pick up on. Furthermore, the crude language and insult involved in the joke increase its surprise since it is amazing to many people the power of language in that a slight change can create a whole new meaning. The simplicity of the word play marks it a clear “dad joke”.

Folk speech

¡Que Viva La Marihuana!

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KM) and I (ZM).

KM: There’s this thing, like it’s related to Zozobra… (laughs) That’s all I can think of right now. It’s like um… So, what we do is like… Basically, there’s like this call and response type of thing that we do. So, it’s in Spanish, but it’s like “Que viva la fiestas,” Or like, “Long live the fiestas.” And we respond like, “Que viva.” But, we’ve kind of co-opted it to mean anything. So like, one time we were just like smoking weed (laughs) and my friend was like, “¡Que viva la marihuana! ¡Que viva!” Long live the weed. (laughs) So, I mean we do that a lot. Like… I mean, but not with weed (laughs) Sorry. We could do like um… What would we… So, we would be like, um… I don’t know, “Que viva…” I hate to say this, but like the baseball team in Albuquerque is the Isotopes. So like, “Que viva la Isotopes.”

 

Context: This is from a conversation with KM about her New Mexican culture. Zozobra is a New Mexican festival composed of multiple fiestas.

 

Background: KM is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. KM was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

Analysis: Although the phrase is in Spanish, the usage suggests a lack of knowledge of the Spanish language because the article is continuously left in the singular form even when the nouns are plural.

 

 

 

Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Quinceanera

I interviewed my informant, a young lady of Mexican descent, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. At the top of her list was her experience with the tradition of Quinceaneras, which she learned from her family members. She watched her older cousins performing the event when she was younger, and she had one herself when she turned fifteen. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:

 

According to my informant, a Quinceanera is a celebration of a young girl’s fifteenth birthday.

 

In the past, they were to show the village/town that this person is now ready to be wed/ now ready to meet suiters. Now it’s more of a celebration of coming into womanhood, and presenting her as such to family and friends

 

Girls wear bridal-like dresses. In modern Quinceaneras, girls wear colors that match the theme color of their party. My informant informed me that she wore a white dress because that was the main color of her party.

 

Quinceaneras also have a Court. The court is made up of seven couple with one main escort to dance with the Quinceanera [here the word is being used to describe the girl herself rather than the entire celebration].

 

At her party, when she enters the room, a waltz is performed with her court. And then she dances with the father/male figures in her family. Her father performs changing of the shoe, which is usually changing a ballet flat to a heal.

 

This is followed by the presentation of the doll. There is a doll that looks like the Quinceanera. She has to present it to a younger female figure (a cousin, or sister). My informant gave her doll to her younger sister at her Quinceanera.

 

My informant also told me that a more recent Quinceanera tradition is the surprise dance. The girl being celebrated will choreograph a modern dance of some sort to entertain guests.

 

It is also expected that the Quinceanera greet every guest and thank them for coming to their party.

 

My information added that Quinceaneras are traditionally for catholic people. There is usually a mass beforehand where they honor the Virgin Mary because she’s the pinnacle of womanhood.

 

I asked my informant for the context of a Quinceanera. She admitted that most of what she shared is based on the American tradition. In the Mexican culture, the whole town would be invited, not just family and friends. The party is usually held anywhere people fit: a ranch, in a dance hall, etc. The entire party also functions as a display of wealth for the family.

 

Analysis

I have ever experienced a Quinceanera party, but I have a great idea of what it’s like based on my informants description. She obviously is well informed about the complexities of the tradition, and was able to explain it to me in a way that was easy to document. I feel that if I ever go to a Quinceanera in the future, I will be knowledgeable of what is happening and why it’s significant.

 

For more information on Quinceaneras (including who celebrates it, and rituals that are part of it), go to https://www.quinceanera-boutique.com/quinceaneratradition.htm

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Armenian Christmas – El Día de Los Reyes Magos

I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. She is of Armenian descent on her mother’s side and Spanish descent on her father’s side. Because of this, she was able to provide me with a shared Armenian-Spanish Christmas tradition.

 

She called it ‘Armenian Christmas,’ but also acknowledged that it is also celebrated in Spanish cultures in which they call it ‘El Día de Los Reyes Magos’ (Day of the Three Kings).

 

This tradition is celebrated on January 6th (twelve days after Christmas). It symbolises the day the three kings arrived to deliver the frankincense, myrrh, and gold to baby Jesus.

 

My informant celebrates this day by putting out her shoes near an entryway — usually an inside door. The shoes are then filled with candy and small gifts Her family then usually gets together and has a dinner celebration.

 

She also noted that schools in her area also tend to get the day off so the families can celebrate this holiday.

 

Analysis

I’m aware of a similar German tradition of putting out the shoes for gifts, but I didn’t know about the Armenian or Spanish Version. It’s interesting because Spain and Germany are somewhat close together, but Armenia is part of the Middle East. I’m unsure how this tradition could have traveled across cultures. Nevertheless, this is another fun way for children to receive gifts and candy. I’m sure many children, my informant included, have fond memories of this folk tradition.  

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Traditions

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as NC.

NC: Another tradition we have is Christmas morning. We have a very specific routine on how to like—attack the day. So first, everyone had to, like, wait for everyone else to get up. We normally had a preassigned time when we allowed to wake up the parents. Normally—I’m the youngest—normally I’d wake up first, then I’d wake up my brother, and then we would wake up my sister. Then, after that, we would wait, and all go down at the same time. No one was allowed downstairs before everyone’s allowed downstairs, so we’d all go down together. This includes parents. No one was allowed downstairs until the whole family was ready. And then we would go into the kitchen, and we would let my mom start preparing the coffee cake, because we would always have a coffee cake for breakfast. And once she had put that in the oven—she had already set up all the ingredients the night before, so she just had to mix them together and put it in the oven, we were then allowed to open the stockings. After that, once the coffee cake was done, we would eat breakfast and clean the dishes, and then we could open the presents around the tree. And we did this one by one, looking and commenting on each present, telling stories why we gave the present to each other, or why Santa gave it. And that was our day. I think this is funny because we’re actually Jewish, so this has nothing to do with anything that we believe in. It was just like, a fun tradition, that became very systematic.

BD: Who set this tradition? Your parents?


NC: I guess—my mom is Jewish, and my dad is Catholic, but he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. He’s from Spain, and they celebrate Three Kings’ Day, not Christmas in the same way. So I don’t really know, I guess it evolved as we got older.

BD: Where’s your mom from?

NC: She’s from New York.


Analysis: The thoroughness of this holiday tradition was both startling and quite entertaining. It reminds me also of another Christmas tradition I had listened to, and I am surprised at the ease with which immigrants to the United States adopt some very American traditions. As the informant said, his family is Jewish, so Christmas Day should not be that big of a deal. However, his dad is Catholic, though this does not seem to affect their traditions very much. Perhaps it is explained by his mom’s background—she is not first generation, and perhaps helped to start what the informant thinks is a more “American” Christmas tradition.

 

Game
Riddle

Erre con Erre

What is being performed?
TV: There’s this little riddle Venezuelan’s teach their children to learn how to roll their “r’s”
AA: How does it go?
TV: Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros, cargados de azúcar del
ferrocarril.
AA: What does it mean?
TV: Nothing real, it’s just a way to practice rolling your “r’s” by saying as many “r” words as
possible.
AA: What could it translate to?
TV: I guess roughly it translates to R with R, uh, cigar, R with R, barrell, the cars go fast and
they’re carrying sugar from the railroad. It’s a lot of gibberish.

Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
them?
AA: Has this helped you?
TV: It actually has. It sticks with you and it’s fun so you get good practice rolling your “r’s.”
AA: What does it mean to you?
TV: I see it as a way I can help my future children embrace their Venezuelan culture and learn
how to speak with an accent when speaking Spanish. The Venezuelan accent is very different
from other Latin American accents, too, so it’s a way to embrace that.
Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
AA: Where do you perform this?
TV: It’s mostly performed amongst young children in school as sort of a little competition or
between a parent and a child as practice.

Reflection
I think this is a very catchy and fun way of practicing rolling “r’s”– something that’s fundamental
to proper pronunciation in Spanish. I think it’s a special trick that gets to be shared with families
and passed down. I also think it’s a celebration of Spanish and a language that is very beautiful
because of it’s pronunciation.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

For straight hair, shave your head

My grandmother tells the story of the head shaving folk belief. Apparently even though my Grandmother received her cosmetology license in the U.S., and throughout her training they never told her it was true and she never saw any evidence that it was true but she firmly believed in the Colombian folk belief that if you shave a person’s head who has curly hair at a young age then the hair will grow back straight especially if they are very young. So my Grandmother, who hated my mom’s curly hair because it was too hard to style, tried many times to sneak up on my mom while she was sleeping and shave her head when she was a young child (4-8) but always failed because my mom would always wake up screaming. To this day my mom is an extraordinary light sleeper.

Analysis: Even with empirical evidence some folk belief is so strongly ingrained that people will act when it seems against someone else’s best interest. The concept of shaving a five year old girl’s head seems to border on abusive, but the folk belief was so ingrained that even to a highly trained professional the folk belief still remains plausible. Perhaps this is why, even among highly trained brain surgeons like Ben Carson, belief in creation myths remains so strong.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Proverbs

“Malicia Indigina”-Indigenous ways of knowing

There was a proverb often repeated to me growing up by my grandfather. Whenever I had a problem I could not figure out, my grandfather would say just use your “Malicia Indigina” which literally means “ indigenous ways of knowing” and would follow it up with “Si no las sabes, las inventa” which mean “if you don’t know how to do something, invent a new way of doing it.” Or “if you don’t know, then innovate or improvise” which to me always sounded like “go fake an answer”, but he would explain that is was in our blood (Chibcha/Muisca indigenous heritage). Allegedly, they were a very intelligent people and could always figure out a solution to any problem if they just thought hard enough about it even if it was not the common answer, it would work nevertheless. The Chibchas/Muiscas were renowned for their skills because they were one of the very few indigenous tribes in Colombia to survive the arrival of the conquistadores and Spanish settlers. They were famous for getting rid of the conquistadores by giving them a map of “El Dorado” that they knew to be an area infested with jaguars and anacondas. It was a very effective ploy until they made the son of one of the chief to go with them to insure a safe return but instead the Chief sent a group of skilled hunters and killed all the conquistadores the first night with poison from frogs while they slept. After disposing the bodies, the Chibchas brought back the chief’s son and they were left alone for a long time. This story was told to me by my grandfather who was told by his father who was told by his grandfather who was a chief. The Chibchas are currently making a comeback after decades where their verbal language was outlawed punishable by physical violence (caning, whipping etc.). Now there are local schools where Chibcha is now taught as a language and children do not have to hide their heritage. Chibcha is considered the language but the tribe is the “Muiscas” but over time most of the members referred to themselves as simply “Chipchas”.

Analysis: This is considered a personal proverb that does not apply to those who lack indigenous genetic makeup. It seemed as a way to empower a group of people that were extremely marginalized and almost wiped out. However, being 1/16 Chibcha meant I could never receive simple empathy when struggling with a difficult problem, I was expected to somehow tap into my biological hidden powers and magically produce an awesome answer to every single difficulty that crossed my path. I always found this kind of annoying but perhaps contributed to sharpening my creative abilities.

Legends
Narrative
Protection

Chupacabra-“Chupee in SoCal”

My mom really enjoys telling me about The Chupacabra story- meaning “goat sucker”. Ironically, she wrote a paper about the Chupacabra for her college Folklore class. In her contemporary retelling the Chupacabra, or “Chupee”, it is a defender of powerless Latinos against of white people in positions of authority who abuse their power in California and throughout part of the southwest. It was no coincident that in May of 1996 reports of Chupacabra reached an all time high in terms of sighting in light of heighten social anxieties. Chupee was talked about on the radio and television with spoof interviews. Local issues about undocumented workers, border patrol incidents, Proposition 187, and the potential demise of affirmative action worried the Latino community. Projecting fears onto a blood-sucking creature was a safe way to air concerns. San Bernardino had a massive spike in Chapacabra sighting after an unarmed Latino woman was dragged from her car and beaten. It caused the LA Times to run a front-page story about the Chupacabra and publishing the photo attached.imgres

My mom thought it was awesome that Latinos living in the U.S had appropriated a Mexican legend and had unleashed it on Southern California, Arizona and parts of Texas. Several cattle in Texas were found dead with puncture marks on their necks. For the first time white ranchers were suddenly scared because they were dealing with an unknown entity. My mom was shocked when the LA times ran a front page article with a drawing of the Chupacabra. But it validated what she was thinking about the multiple sightings.

Analysis: I think the Chupacabra in this context sounds very interesting with lots of potential. My mom said while doing research for her paper she discovered that Chupee, “goat sucker” was written about in Mayan texts going back as far as 1400 B.C. This contradicts the contemporary belief that the Chupacabra was first spotted in Puerto Rico in 1995. Many Mexicans familiar with the Mayan legend reputed the origins and insisted that it was in fact part of ancient Mayan Mythology. Apparently it was their Mayan ancestor who were now seeking revenge against the white aggressors that almost wiped out their civilization. Many of the undocumented migrant farm workers at that time in California were of mostly indigenous descent. This perhaps was a way for a group of highly marginalized people to empower themselves with a creature that was mysterious and potentially deadly.

folk simile
Folk speech
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

“Hacer Conejo”-To Rabbit

“Hacer Conejo” – an expression meaning to bail out on the check at a restaurant incorporates folk simile, folk gesture and humor. Holding up two fingers (index and middle fingers in a spread out V) behind your head means you are thinking about doing “conejo” and lets the others in your group to get ready to run without paying the bill. It is also a way to freak out a friend who is still eating and scare them in to thinking you are about to bail out. When I asked my grand Aunt Marlly, who had married my Grandfather’s brother, she said she had never hear of the story and the expression that it sounded rather sordid. I realized that the story was attached to what social economic level you grew up in. My grand aunt came from an upper class family, while my Grandfather and all of his brothers came from a poorer lower class family where being able paying the bill was not always possible. My Grandmother came from an impoverish class that would never even think about eating in a restaurant in the first place, but she was aware of the expression and knew people who had gotten away with it. The trick was to be a very fast runner and not to have eaten too much.

Analysis: This folk simile, to my maternal grandfather, is more of a humorous gag expression, meant to scare or outrage the other diners you were with. Making the gesture is a way to get a point across without tipping your hand. I personal think is kind of funny, especially when I explain it to other people. In the U.S. the folk gesture of the rabbit ears made with the fingers has a different meaning and when I explain what it means in Colombia, I usually get a laugh or extreme fascination.

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