USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘spanish’
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.

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.

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.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Colombian New Year’s Rituals

Collected from mother and daughter Marlly Hernandez and Patty Moso during a Virgin Saturday brunch with an easter egg hunt for the kids.

There is a whole subset of rituals that are supposed to occur on New Years in Colombia if you want some particular outcomes. I gathered these from my Aunt Marlly and my cousin Patty:

  • At the stroke of midnight 12 green grapes that have been dropped in a flute of Champaign and are eaten at each stroke/dong to bring a on a lucky new year. The person who is most successful without choking on the grapes or have Champaign snort out of the nose will have the better lucky year. This ritual is the most common and followed in Colombia and the US. I always found it fun to watch because my grandfather and my mom were never successful but my grandmother always seem to be able to do it unless she starts talking, then grapes will go flying.
  • For those who want the coming year to be full of travel will place luggage outside of the front door. My mom was in Colombia for New Years and she said that it was not a matter of just leaving your bags outside the door but that you had take a walk around the block after midnight. Both my abuelos and my Aunt Nora also confirmed this although Patty and Marlly said it was not necessary. My mom said that taking the walk around the block was fun to see all the different colors and variety of luggage people were carrying around and a very social event as people talked about where they wished they could travel to in the coming year. This sounds like a ritual I wouldn’t mind trying, since I love to travel.
  • Crack open a raw egg in glass/bowl of water, place it under you bed New years eve and leave over night. This is done to absorb any bad things/luck that may happen in the coming year. In the morning you throw away the egg and water, which has now supposedly absorbed all potential negative energy ensuring a better year. I found this ritual kind of creepy for some reason I cannot personally identify.
  • Women are supposed to put on puts on yellow (good luck color) underwear inside out new years eve and at midnight they are supposed to turn their underwater they correct way for good luck. This is challenging because Champaign soaked grapes are supposed to be swallowed with each ring of midnight and a women would need to find a private place to change their underwear without flashing a group of party goers while allegedly chugging grapes. I found this the most bizarre of the rituals.
  • In Colombia paper maché handmade life size dolls dressed with old clothes and shoes and is burned to show the end of the old year to insure nothing especially negative events remains from the previous year. When cars go buy they will throw coins at the dolls to bring wealth. Smoke makes me asthmatic so I would not be very interested in participating in this ritual.
  • At New Years Parties after chugging grapes go around kissing everyone on both cheeks at the party and to verbally wish them a Happy New Year, this action is supposed to bring good blessings to everyone involved. Having being part of Colombian New Years parties here in the states, I can attest that this is not a voluntary ritual, you will be kissed and covered with gross amounts of lipstick all over you face by people you do not even know, not my favorite ritual.

Analysis: Rituals are common in Colombia because of its rich history of catholic, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous roots. With cultural appropriation and annexation sometimes rituals are the only things you can keep with you. Most of these rituals seem nonsensical and why there were done or where they originated seem to be a mystery, they are just rituals that are followed because they are mainly benign and you have nothing to lose but your dignity and hopefully a wonderful year ahead to gain, if you followed the rituals.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Salud, Dinero, Amor!

Folklore Piece

“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.”

 

Background information

“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.”

 

Context

“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.”

 

Analysis

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.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Banana Peels and Sore Throats

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.

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