“So I went to a Spanish immersion elementary school; everything was taught to us in Spanish except for English. Um, and so, when anyone would sneeze, as kids usually do, there’s this Spanish saying that correlates sneezing with health. I guess, you could say. So if you sneeze once, you say ‘Salud’, if you sneeze twice you say ‘Dinero’, if you sneeze three times, ‘Amor’. So you’re wishing someone health, money, and love after each time that they sneeze.”
“I don’t know why I did it. I guess I was sort of caught up in it. I mean, if you’re a little kid and someone’s screaming at you in Spanish, but it’s a happy scream, you’re like ‘Yeah! I’m a happy screamer too!’ But like everyone’s just happy yelling at each other. Which I think is a lot of the Spanish language. I learned that when I was really young, I mean I started Spanish when I was in kindergarten.”
“I don’t really say it anymore, but yeah, in general, people say it any time you sneeze, like saying ‘bless you’. But I guess it doesn’t really change in English. But I think it’s the same idea.”
I learned about this in my Spanish class in high school as well. Much like the term ‘Bless you!’ many of the native Spanish speakers I know weren’t sure why they say it. Generally, it’s to wish someone good luck: health, money, and love.
My family does something similar where we change our “bless you’s” each time. The first one, it’s just a mild “Bless you.” The second, a bit louder, “Bless you!”, and the third “Take a sick day!” Each and every time.
These sneezing rituals are not uncommon; as we talked about in class it used to be believed that when someone sneezed, a bit of their soul left their body, hence the phrase “Bless you!” This general sentiment of wishing someone good fortune when something bad has happened to them could be the reason for the extension to this Spanish saying that the informant is talking about.
Interesting, too, is the informants reaction to being asked about its origins. She had no idea, didn’t claim to have any idea, and removed herself from the culture entirely. Even though she attended a Spanish immersion school, spoke in Spanish for a large portion of her life, and learned and celebrated an immense amount of Spanish culture, she still speaks of it as if it were entirely removed from herself.
This deals a lot with our class discussions about cultural identity and heritage. I think the informant might feel that, because her heritage isn’t of Spanish origin, she doesn’t claim ownership over the Spanish culture. There’s no right or wrong answer to this dilemma, only that the informant acts in the way that she feels most comfortable, which evidently is not identifying herself with the language or culture.
The informant, my grandfather, is a 67-year-old man who was born and raised in the Sacramento Valley. His mother was also born in the United States, and is of Spanish, German, and French descent. While riding in the car on the way to breakfast, I asked if he remembered any of the home remedies his mother would use when he was sick.
“When I or any of my siblings had a sore throat, my mom would take a banana, peel it, and place the moist side of the banana peel against our feet. Then we had to put socks on. Apparently, whatever was left in the banana peel would heal your sore throat. Maybe it had to do with the potassium or something. I’m not sure if it ever really worked, but we still did it.”
I was a bit taken aback by this form of folk medicine, mostly because I could not imagine the sensation of having a banana peel forced inside of my sock. The informant did not initially tell me where his mother learned of this remedy. After I followed up to determine whether it was an idiosyncrasy, the informant said that his mother learned of the healing properties of banana peels from her mother, who was born in Spain, and that the tradition had been prominent within their community as doctors were scarcely available and most remedies were communicated orally. However, the informant decided not to continue the tradition and pass it down to his children because he felt there were better remedies available for a sore throat. Perhaps the idea of a banana peel having medicinal properties comes from the fact that fruits, and bananas in particular, are rich in vitamins and minerals. Banana peels are cool to the touch, and so may be capable of alleviating skin irritations or abrasions. It is unclear how these properties applied to the bottom of one’s foot would help to remedy a sore throat, but maybe the unfamiliar sensation served as a distraction from the pain that the child felt in their throat by focusing attention to a different area of the body.
The informant heard the legend of the mythological creature, La LLorona (“She who cries”) was heard when she was a child in Guatemala.
EO: La Llorona. I guess she–I don’t know if she was poor or tired of her kids… so she took her kids to a lake and drowned them. And then afterwards, she felt really bad, so she killed herself. And now she just goes through all eternity crying for her kids. And she screams like “Mis ninos! Mis ninos!”.
Is she supposed to be scary?
EO: I would say so. If I hear La Llorona, I would probably cry.
Where’d you hear that one from?
EO: Um, my mom. I don’t think I heard it from anyone else. My mom.
Why do you think she’d tell it to you?
EO: In Latin America, um, they tell stories to scare children into behaving.
La Llorona is a famous legend in all Latin America, and is one of many used by parents to teach their children about the dangers of the world.
For example, this is a film based off the folklore of La Llorona
Original Script: “El que nace para real, a peseta nunca llega.”
Transliteration: “He who borns for real [Cuban coin, equivalent to a dime], to peseta [Cuban coin, equivalent to a quarter] never arrives.”
Translation: “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter.”
This Cuban proverb talks about fate. Essentially, it means that if someone is born to never be wealthy, there’s nothing they can do to change that. According to the source, it has to do with fate. Some people just aren’t “fated” to be wealthy. She’s heard it used in a couple different ways. On one hand, it can be used by someone as a way to put others down, to tell them that they’ll never amount to much more than what they already are. On the other hand, it can be used to comfort those who aren’t happy with their economic status by telling them that it’s not their fault that they’re not as wealthy as they’d like to be, that it’s just destiny.
The strong tie to destiny is probably due to Cubans’ religious beliefs. The majority of Cubans are Catholics, and they believe that God has a plan for all of us. So, in this case, they use their belief in God to justify economic status. The proverb also puts a lot of emphasis on money being what defines a person. This is very interesting, considering Cuba’s status as a Communist country.
The source left Cuba during the rise of Castro’s regime. Under Castro’s governance, there hasn’t been much social mobility in Cuba. One typically stays within the socio-economic class they;re born in. If we are to view the proverb through this lens, then, it becomes much more literal. When we say that “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter,” rather than it referring to God or fate, it refers to the state of the country. Anyone who is born in a low social class will not move up. That’s how Cuban society had been engineered to be.
The two interpretations aren’t all that different though, really. In both cases, the proverb speaks to a sense of hopelessness. One is dealt a certain hand in life, and they are forced to play with it forever. It makes sense, especially, with the way Cubans have felt under Castro, especially the ones who emigrated to the US. Had I spoken to a Cuban currently living in Cuba, there’s a chance they’d never use such a proverb. Whereas in Miami, anyone who came from Cuba is almost guaranteed to be anti-Castro, and a proverb like this captures their sentiments and the impression he left on them before they left the country.
Original Text: “Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.”
Transliteration: “Shrimp that sleeps is taken by the current.”
Translation: “A shrimp that sleeps will be taken by the current.”
The meaning of this proverb is that a person who is lazy won’t amount to much. The source says that her mother often told her this when she was a teenager and chose to nap instead of doing her homework. It’s a saying that’s often used to berate people who aren’t being productive. She says she didn’t value it much at the time, but now, looking back, she finds that it holds more meaning because her mother was working all the time. After leaving Cuba and moving to the US, her family struggled. Her parents worked many hours so that she and her five siblings could live good lives. She says her mother was never taken by the current. She always swam past it.
It’s interesting because I’ve heard similar proverbs in the US, but none expressed precisely like this. It seems the Cuban version has taken the proverb and colored it with their own flare by using ocean-related words to demonstrate their point, which makes total sense since Cuba is an island nation.
As for the point it makes on being productive and whatnot, it’s a very fitting proverb for this community of Cuban exiles. Many of them left their entire lives behind when they left Cuba and had to start from scratch in the US. The current was definitely something to be afraid of. If they didn’t try their hardest every day, they may have left for nothing.
While I formally collected this source from my aunt, I also recall hearing it at another point in time from a coworker who’d come to Miami in a raft. He said it to me as I was sleeping in the passenger seat of his car, as we were returning from a summer camp field trip. Thinking back on it, in a more literal sense, for those Cubans who came to the US via raft, the person who slept would actually be taken by the current. Thousands of Cubans have made the journey to the US on rafts called “balsas.” There’s a lot of space to cover between Cuba and Florida, and without enough manpower and dedication, the raft will go off track, and they could be stranded at sea. Perhaps this proverb takes some root from there, rather than originating in Cuba?
Original Script: “Un muchacho le pregunta a una muchacha, ‘Cómo te llamas?’ Ella le contesta, ‘Si el enamorado es entendido, ahí va mi nombre y el color de mi vestido. La respuesta correcta es, ‘Su nombre es Elena y su vestido es morado.”
Transliteration: “A boy asks a girl, ‘How do you call yourself?’ She to him responds, ‘If the lover is understood, there goes my name and the color of my dress.’ The answer correct is, ‘Her name is Elena and her dress is purple.'”
Translation: “A boy asks a girl, ‘What’s your name?’ She responds, ‘If the lover is understood, there goes my name and the color of my dress.’ The correct answer is, “Her name is Elena and her dress is purple.'”
This riddle only makes sense in Spanish because the Spanish word for lover, enamorado, is a combination of the last three letter’s of the girl’s name, Elena, as well as the color of her dress, morado. ena+morado=enamorado. Furthermore, the word enamorado is preceded by the word el in the joke. El translates into “the” in this context. The woman in the riddle is testing the man to see if he’s clever enough to figure out her name using only the clue, rather than just asking for it.
The source said she heard it at a bridal shower. They were telling wedding riddles, and this one came up. It’s a coy riddle, with the woman sounding very flirtatious. It seems she’s interested in this man, but only if he’s smart enough to beat her game. It seems odd that her dress would be purple rather than white, though. Perhaps in some earlier version of the riddle, the man was a prince? Because purple is known to indicate royalty.
For another form of this riddle:
Ortiz Y Pino De Dinkel, Reynalda, and Dora Gonzales De Martínez. Una Colección De Adivinanzas Y Diseños De Colcha = A Collection of Riddles and Colcha Designs. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone, 1988. Google Books. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.
“On New Year’s Eve, you’re supposed to mop your house. Then, once you’re done, you take the dirty water in the mop bucket and you throw the water out your front door. It gets rid of the bad luck so that you can start fresh in the new year.”
This Cuban New Year’s tradition has a superstitious element to it much like their beliefs of the evil eye. For Cubans, it seems bad luck can actually be a physical thing that you can acquire and then get rid of. The source said her mother used to do this jokingly. They didn’t actually believe in it, but every New Year’s Eve, they’d participate in the tradition if only for laughs and to actually get the house clean.
I asked the source where she thought this tradition started, and she said it sounded “like something santeros would do.” Santeros are what Cubans call people who practice Santeria, a Latin American religion that involves witchcraft. Much like Wiccans, santeros cast spells in order to protect their families, ward off bad luck, attract romantic partners, etc. However, what I also find to be great (and comical) about this tradition is that involves one of the ultimate Cuban pasttimes: cleaning.
Sure, the metaphorical idea of cleaning your house to wash away the bad luck sounds pretty legitimate, but to me, I see this tradition as being a way for Cuban parents to get their kids to help them clean the house. Cubans are VERY clean people. Just about every Cuban family I know employs a cleaning lady on a weekly or monthly basis. At the end of the year, though, those cleaning ladies are hard to come by. Many take two weeks or so off to be with their family during Christmas/New Year’s/winter break. After Christmas, whoever hosted the celebration is going to have a fun time cleaning up after everyone. And if they’re supposed to have their house ready for a New Year’s celebration, too? Forget it. Time to bring out the Cuban New Year’s tradition and get everyone in on it because mama can’t be the only one with bad luck in the house.
Original Text: “Si pierdes algo, amarra un trapo negro a la pata de una silla para que San Dima te ayude a encontrarlo.”
Transliteration: “If you lose something, tie a cloth black to the foot of a chair so that San Dima can help you to find it.”
Translation: “If you lose something, tie a black cloth to the leg of a chair so that San Dima can help you find it.”
The source says that Cubans have many different superstitions for finding lost items, but this is the one she’s heard of the most. She said San Dima is the patron saint of finding lost things. When I tried searching more about Saint Dima, though, I was unable to find anyone by that name. I also asked what the significance of the black cloth and the chair were. Apparently, it’s a black cloth because the item is lost somewhere it can’t be found, somewhere “dark” to the finder. She didn’t know exactly why it’s tied to the leg of a chair, but she speculated it had something to do with being close to the floor and how lost things are usually on the floor.
This belief sounds like it stems from Santeria, a Latin American religion that combines witchcraft with Christian beliefs. The original practitioners of Santeria were African slaves that had been taken to islands like Cuba and whatnot by the Spanish. In order to protect themselves from being punished for practicing their native rituals, the slaves exchanged the names of African deities for Christian saints. As such, many of the deities’ abilities were carried over to the saints. It’s possible that San Dima received their power for finding things from whatever African deity their name was used to replace. While Santeros aren’t the only ones who practice this belief, it seems very likely that that’s where it stemmed from.
“From the 15th of December to Christmas Eve, we have posadas. We re-enact the journey of Joseph and Mary to find a place to stay.”
The source says that his local church would hold the posadas every year. The re-enactments would take place twice a day, one performance in the morning and one in the evening. It sounds similar to the Stations of the Cross and the re-enactment of the Nativity scene. It’s all about getting into the “true spirit of Christmas,” which for the source and other church-goers was always about accepting Jesus into one’s life and being more like Jesus. It’s strange, though, because the posadas don’t feature Jesus. So maybe this tradition is more about family in general and how everyone journeys to one home on Christmas Eve to come together and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The fact that it ends on Christmas Eve is also significant. While the most obvious reason is because Joseph and Mary “found lodging” by December 24th, the less clear reason is because of the value Latin Americans place in Christmas Eve. For other cultures, Christmas Day is the most important day. That’s when everyone gathers with their family for food and games and whatnot. But Latin Americans host what’s called Noche Buena or “The Good Night” which takes place on Christmas Eve. What most other cultures do on Christmas Day, Latin Americans do on Christmas Eve. Why? Who knows! I asked the source what he thought about this, and he said it’s because Christmas Day is for you to spend only with your immediate family rather than every cousin and great aunt and uncle.