USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘spanish’
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
general
Signs

Puerto Rican Witches Getting Married

Description

“In Puerto Rico, they say a witch is getting married.”

Context

I was sitting with a few informants as we all discussed our cultures and our different belief systems. After one informant randomly offered their thoughts on what the Persians believe about rain when the sun shines, this informant gave me this tidbit of information. She went on further to explain that the origins of the belief are unclear, but that whenever it rained while the sun was shining, she had clear memories of her mother pointing at the sky and saying it.

Analysis

I found it interesting that I had two different people from two different cultures reflecting on this belief that there had to be something happening because it was raining and sunny at the same time. The closest thing I remember believing is that after a rain, or if there was a rainbow while it was still raining, there was a little leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of it. My friends would make jokes about God peeing onto Earth, of course, but that was the most of it. I love that different cultures have different explanations, but I cannot begin to think what witches and rain and sun have to do with each other.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Proverbs

I am no gold coin to be liked by all – Mexican proverb

Main Piece:

“No soy monedita de oro para caerle bien a todos.”

Transliteration:

No am small coin of gold to fall good to all

Translation:

I am no gold coin to be liked by all

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 49-year-old male. He claims the first time he heard this saying was many years ago. He says his grandmother on his mother’s side, who has passed away now, used to often repeat this saying during her life. He claims his grandmother was a strong decision maker and always had very good relationships with everyone, especially politicians and governors. In those circles, it is easy for one to be criticized, but his grandmother would not fall victim to these criticisms because she believed in what she thought was right and was not there to please others.  She fought for what she believed in despite what others might have thought of her. My informant claims the saying is self-explanatory. He says it is impossible to make everyone happy there are always social classes and people who are jealous of others and that can cause dislike. He emphasizes, “not everyone has to like you.”

I believe what my informant means by this saying being self-explanatory is that the proverb implies everyone likes gold coins. Therefore, if someone is a ‘gold coin’ it would come to mean everyone would like them. However, people are not gold coins, they come with opinions, qualities, personalities, and ideas. All of these characteristics can make them favored by some and disliked by others. The proverb therefore states that there is no way one can be liked by all for they are not gold coins.

 

Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

Beautiful women have great allure – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“jalan mas un par de bubis que una carreta.”

Transliteration:

Pull more a pair of boobs than a two-wheeled cart

Translation:

Beautiful women have great allure

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

 

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 71-year-old female from Guadalajara, Mexico. I asked my informant if she knew any proverbs and she responded the ones she remembered were due to their humorous nature. She then said to me the proverb, “jalan mas un par de bubis que una carreta.” I asked where she recalled this saying from and she claims to have heard it at a rural town where her family owned a countryside home, El Rancho Platanar. The town is called Plan de Barrancas in Jalisco Mexico. Her family was accustomed to driving up from the city they lived in, Guadalajara, to the house and spent weeklong holidays there when she was a young girl. When they were staying at the house, she would visit the local town with her siblings and that is where she first heard the saying. My informant remembers walking down the street with her sisters when she noticed a couple of workers that were doing construction on the road were staring at her and her sisters. She claims one of the men even whistled. Then another worker that had just joined the ‘viewing’ said the phase, loud enough so my informant and her sisters could hear. The informant says the phrase means a beautiful woman is more distracting, and draws attention in a greater quantity, than the amount of weight a wagon can carry.

The language employed in the phrase is slang. The verb ‘jalar’ is not commonly employed to mean a rhetorical pull and in more formal language it literally means ‘to pull’. The phrase is comparing the rhetorical quantity with a literal quantity.  This slang type of language is often heard around rural towns and used by working class people. The context the phrase was used in is very informal and even crude. The phrase can even be considered a form of street harassment, commenting in a sexual manner on the appearance of young women as they walk down the street. The informant shares she did feel a bit uncomfortable in the situation as she did not know how to respond, and her older sister told her to look down and keep walking. I don’t believe this phrase has a specific meaning and its purpose is likely to comment on the allure of beautiful women. In the proverb, women are compared to the weight a two-wheeled cart can carry because the phrase is employed by construction workers, and a cart is an object that is often utilized in their daily lives to transport materials from one place to the other.

Foodways
Holidays
Material

El Trancazo: a Familial Cake

Ingredients/Steps:

– preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius

– Have two pans ready

– 1 Kilo Butter

– 1 Kilo Granulated Sugar (slowly put into mixer while butter is whipping)

– 1 kilo flour

– Add 8 Eggs into Whipped Butter and Sugar

– 8 Egg yolks go into the same bowl

– Set aside the 8 egg whites which remain

– 2 cups of the original Kilo of flour go into Mixer

– For every cup of flour, add a tablespoon of baking powder through a sifter to the mixer

– 2 Oranges and their shavings

– Add a little bit of vanilla (eyeball it)

– Mix the rest of the flour with the juice from the oranges

– You’ll need 1 cup of warm milk; heat for 1 minute in microwave

– Mix the 8 egg whites from earlier with the milk and water

– put 2 Kilos of the batter into each pan

– Prepare topping while cake is in the oven

– put pot on stove with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk and 5 tablespoons of Cacao (bring to a low boil)

– Soak cake part of cake in Bacardi Rum

– Spread what was on the stove onto the cake and spread apricot jelly as well :)

 

A.H. – “I’m the only person who has this recipe written down, it comes from my aunt in San Luis Potosi, and everyone knows about this cake because she always makes it for everyone’s birthday.  It’s literally a concoction of a bunch of stuff; because – her family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and she didn’t want to have to borrow money from her family, or from anyone, so the recipe basically started when she just took scraps from around the kitchen and put it into the cake.  And it’s just a little bit of everything.”

“She calls it El Trancazo, which literally means like, “getting hit,” so it’s kinda just something that’s thrown together.  And the cake is massive.”

How long has she been making this cake for everyone’s birthday?

A.H. – “The first time she made it was for her first grandchild.”

When it’s someone’s birthday, and they’re in her presence, they know it’s coming?

A.H. – “Yes.  I only learned how to make this cake because I happened to be in Mexico at the time of my cousin’s birthday, and the cake was made.  It took like all day.  If you look at photos of different birthdays, the cake is always there.”

When you think of that cake, or the idea behind it, the fact that it is just thrown together, is it a source of pride?  Identity?  Reminders of your aunt?

A.H. – “I know so much about my aunt’s upbringing – and I know that it was really tragic, really sad, like – her life sucked growing up.  So it’s that idea of – or a sense of, how mothers are just idolized.  Put on a pedestal to the nth degree.  I think it reinforces that idea, that she did what she could with what she could.  My lack of resources isn’t gonna stop me from making my grandchild’s birthday any less memorable or special.”

That’s an idea for you to to live by as well then, that never give up attitude.  As well as just, being reminded of the strength of your great aunt, and maybe your own mother.

A.H. – “Yeah.  I guess.  I don’t think that much about the cake specifically, it’s just very telling to think of everything.  It’s a lot more than just a cake.”

 

It’s a lot more than just a cake.  Again, this cake, created by this person’s aunt, is itself a symbol for the strength and resolve of her family members, some of whom grew up during tough times.  It’s easy to see a theme here; many of these submissions bring to light a strong sense of identity – of solidarity with their family.  Attributes of resolve are what create the fondest of opinions in many people, and this cake reminds me of countless other examples of strength in family.  

 

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.

Legends

La Llorona

Main Text

La Llorona is a story about this grieving, um, it’s a grieving mom who lost her children, and that, she goes around taking kids from, from other families, screaming, “¡Ay! Mis niños, ¿donde están?” which translates to, “Oh! My kids, where are they?” You know what, you know he’s just—she’s, they’re looking for them, because. They died or, they were lost.

Background

The subject is a 21-year-old Mexican American in his third year at USC. He recalls first hearing the legend of La Llorona at around the age of four or six. Through childhood, he was frequently told the story of La Llorona by his parents as a form of discipline. If he or his siblings misbehaved, their parents said that La Llorona would come and take them away. The subject mentions that this usage of La Llorona as a form of parental discipline was common in every Mexican-American household, along with corporal punishment via the chancla (a flip-flop) or the belt. In terms of disciplinary severity, the subject as a child would have considered La Llorona to be less of a threat than the chancla and the belt. The subject stopped believing in the literal existence of La Llorona around the age of seven, eight, or nine—around the same time, he says, that most children realize that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Context

Growing up, the subject often discussed the legend of La Llorona with other Mexican American children in his hometown of Van Nuys. The purpose of such discussion was less to ascertain whether La Llorona was real, and more to affirm a shared folk experience of being disciplined by parents in the same manner. He felt that only other Mexican Americans would understand the normalcy of the disciplinary method, rather than reacting judgmentally and mischaracterizing the discipline as a form of child abuse.

Over time, the subject’s childhood fear associated with La Llorona dulled into nostalgia, and he began to view La Llorona as a central part of his cultural history. Based on this current perception, the subject says that he finds it fascinating the legend was even used as a disciplinary tactic to begin with. He characterizes its use as a disciplinary tactic as “negative”—as the opposite of how he believes folklore like La Llorona ought to be used. He thinks folklore like La Llorona should be used as a “positive” way to build a shared sense of cultural identity through the passing down of traditions.

Another “positive” use of La Llorona, the subject argues, is for entertainment. The subject mentions an instance when his Spanish teacher showed the class a cartoon adaptation of La Llorona, to give the class a simple task to occupy their attention on a relatively work-free day. The class, which was majority Latino, was familiar with the legend; as such, the teacher had offer little explanation for what the plot of the story was. The subject especially enjoyed the video retelling of La Llorona because of its “authenticity,” which he defined in terms of aesthetic choices, such as including all the major motifs in the legend (e.g. the river, the ghostly spirit), and casting Mexican voice actors who spoke Spanish with a proper Mexican accent.

Interviewer’s Analysis

When asked to elaborate on what constituted “authenticity” in folklore adaptation, the subject compared the La Llorona video to the Scooby Doo film, The Monster of Mexico, which he felt portrayed both an inauthentic version of the Chupacabra (another legendary Mexican monster), and an inauthentic version of Mexico. The Monster of Mexico made the Chupacabra look like Bigfoot, characterized Mexicans through stereotypical sombreros and maracas iconography, and most condemnably, featured an all-white cast. For the subject, authenticity in Mexican folklore adaptation hinged on the folklore not being whitewashed. Here, the interviewer asked the subject how one might strike a balance between fighting the hegemony of whitewashed folklore, and not establishing a new hegemony by claiming to have a singularly authoritative “authentic” interpretation.

Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. The subject replied that he didn’t think ought to be a singularly authoritative authenticator for adaptations of folklore. In the context of Latino folklore, the subject suggested that his concern was less with defining authenticity, than fostering a sense of accountability. He didn’t want people to create adaptations of Latino folklore for a mainstream general audience, without creators being mindful of what portrayals of Latino culture they could potentially misinform non-Latinos with.

While the subject’s answer certainly adds nuance to defining the boundary between artificially authoritative authenticity and hegemony, the question of where that boundary is still remains—and, in the interviewer’s opinion, cannot be answered without defining what precisely “whitewashing” is. Is whitewashing the same as Americanization? Who defines and authenticates what is American, when America houses multiple types of cultures? What counts as “white” culture? Is any insertion of “white” culture into a historically nonwhite folklore adaptation automatically considered whitewashing? For instance, in the La Llorona video, the children are portrayed as trick-or-treaters, to appeal to a broader American audience—does that count as whitewashing?

These questions are complicated, and any definition of “whitewashing” for the purposes of evaluating “authenticity” of folklore will inevitably struggle to cover every scenario. Perhaps a more appropriate starting point, would be to consider folklore adaptation in terms of social power structures. What cultures does one group get a “pass” to freely adapt from? Who authenticates the “pass” under what circumstances? How do dynamics play out when authenticity gets contested?  Who is contesting authenticity, under what definition, and why?

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.  

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