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.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Magic
Musical
Protection

“Sana que sana” song

The folk song/chant: “Sana que sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.” (Magic healing song repeated at least three time or more if child is hysterical) The literal translation means “Heal, heal with the tail of a toad, if it does not heal today, it will heal tomorrow.” Obviously they are talking about a tadpoles tail or are being funny because a toad/frog does not have a tail, intonating something magical is about to occur. It works as a great distraction when your child gets injured and to stop him from crying because they are being imbued with the belief that the chant will actually make it hurt less especially if they say it in unison. Although my Grandfather tells me that the Chibcha Indians of Colombia, which he is a ¼, use dried out frog/toads all the time for healing and good luck and would even wear them around their neck (whole died out toad) for protection. He tells me that my mom went to Colombia at age 16 and she was given a necklace made out of small stones, which had a small, carved frog in the middle and was told to wear it for good luck and protection.

Analysis: Many frogs in Colombia have a variety of toxins, some medicinal, some deadly so there is more than simple folk belief there might be some factual basis for the song. Growing up my mother would always do the magical healing song “Sana que Sana” that her dad taught her whenever my brother or I got hurt and sprayed the area with Neosporin. She told me that when she was young, her grandmother (my great grandmother) who was a “botanica healer” would always sing the song while rubbing the injured area with some kind of balm. I do find the song soothing and silly at the same time, which is why it was probably so effective as a distraction. In terms of healing, the balm or Neosporin was probably what made it stop hurting and heal faster but rubbing an injury does stimulate endorphins to alleviate pain but the distraction is extremely helpful in stopping the blubbering and crying.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“En Casa de herrero”-Blacksmith Proverb

“En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo” or “sartén de palo” or “cuchara de palo” translates to “in the house of the blacksmith his knives/spoons/pans are made of wood. An example of an English version, “In the shoe makers house, the children go barefoot” share the same point to be made. This is one of my Grandmother’s most commonly used proverbs. The second part of the saying, changes depending how strong the feeling you want the statement to convey. Obviously, if the hypocrisy/irony is so great, like a teacher’s child dropping out of high school, because the teacher spent so much time with their students, to the detriment of their own child, then you would say “Sartén de palo”, because having a frying pan made out of wood shows the greatest negligence in terms of an item a blacksmith could have in his home. If the harm were less, then you would say spoon, because a wooden spoon is not that bad. Wooden knife would be worse but not as bas as the wooden frying pan, because a frying pan would eventually catch on fire rendering it useless much like the teacher’s kid who drops out of high school.

Analysis: This is a Colombian proverb I hear often growing up about various family members and friends. Favorite Colombian past time is to tell stories about the misadventure of their friends and family. This kind of story telling is meant to be “teachable moments” so you do not repeat the mistakes of others. It is often told during dinner, which makes dinnertime a two-hour storytelling session because others would feel compelled to contribute similar examples relating to the proverb.

Legends
Narrative

“El Coco” and “La Mano”

Both my Grandparents say growing up they were told about the story of “El Coco” it was only when they came to the US was when they heard about El Cucuy from Mexican friends and El Cuco from Puerto Rican and El Salvadorian friends) The story is basically the same regardless of the source, El Coco lives under your bed, in your closet or in the darkest corner of you room — and he will come and get you if you misbehave. Or at least that’s what many Latino kids are told growing up, and in that way El Coco/Cucuy is the equivalent to the American bogeyman. This was confirm my by Mexican Aunt Anyssa and most of my Colombian relatives. There is a wonderful web site featuring the great bilingual storyteller Joe Hayes retelling legend of “El Cucuy” I highly recommend the web site: http://www.cincopuntos.com/products_detail.sstg?id=4
However, my Grandfather had a personal variation, called “La Mano” or “The Hand”. His own grandmother, Celestina, who was widowed and never spoke but lived with my Abuelo’s family, which consisted of his parents and six other siblings. She had been a healer and a seer. Story has it that she foresaw her husband’s death and started to buy mourning clothing one month before her husband died that she wore till she died. It was told that in her grief she had convinced the mortician to give her husband’s hand, which she allegedly kept under her bed in a box. My grandfather’s mom, Margarita, who after trying to get 7 kids to bed would often resort to the threat that if they did not go to sleep “La Mano” would come out from under Grandma’s Celestina’s bed and attack and choke them, so they should behave and be quiet so “La Mano” could not find them. The threat was very effective. One night My grandfather told me “he got up to get a drink of water he was trying very hard to be quiet when he heard a rattling sound coming from Grandma Celestina’s room, he stopped cold and felt cold sweat pour down his back as the rattling turned to scratching as if it was trying to scratch it way out. Suddenly the door pops open and no one is there but a small object was on the floor slowly moving toward him. He felt frozen to the ground and could not move or breath. He saw a couple of skeleton digits come into the moonlight and he was certain he was seeing “La Mano”. He ran back to his room, sandwiched himself in the middle of his two sleeping brothers, thinking if the hand came, it would get them first!  Even though my grandfather moved to another hemisphere and was living in Los Angeles, several decades after grandma Celestina had passed away, he came across a movie poster while waiting in line for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for a horror movie called The Hand (1981) where a comic book artist loses his hand in a car accident and his hand is never found, The hand begins to follow the artist and kills anyone who angers the artist. Apparently, Grandfather almost fainted when he saw the poster but literally ran out of the movie theater when the trailer for “The Hand” began. He spent 20 minutes pretending to go to the restroom and buying everything the concession stand had to offer. He refused to sit anywhere but the aisle in case he had to bolt. He reported having nightmares for two weeks after, not about Darth Vader but about “La Mano”. As he was telling me about the legend, he became very pale , he kept clearing this throat and his voice quivered throughout.

Analysis: Urban Legends of things that hide in the dark to scare children into compliance seems to be a common universal theme. However, if they made a movie out of a hand hiding in the dark that can come and kill you, then maybe there is some kind of motif about hands that I am not aware of but one that does cross cultural lines.

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.

[geolocation]