USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘spanish’
Legends
Narrative

La Llorona

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

Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb

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.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb #2

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?

Folk speech
Riddle

Cuban Riddle

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.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

“It is better to have tuchus than sechel” – Yiddish Phrase

“Es mejor tener tuchus que sechel”

Phonetics: “Ez meˈxoɾ teˈneɾ ˈtuʧus ke seˈʧel”

Translation: It is better to have a bottom (understood as persistence) than a brain.

This phrase combines two Yiddish words with the Spanish language. Because it was understood that having a bottom implied being persistence and that having a brain implied being intelligent, this proverb implies that it is better to be persistent than to be smart. It is often said by a wise adult after witnessing another struggling to complete his or her work.

The informant, Reyna Babani, is a 71-year-old Mexican Jew who lives in Mexico City. Because she grew up in such a close-knit community, Reyna considers herself an expert on Jewish culture. She was taught the proverb by her father after he observed her struggling to finish various tasks, such as finishing her homework. To her, the proverb represents the idea that it is better to keep working hard than to simply be smart.

This phrase is a clear example of something that resulted from the Mexican and Yiddish cultures mixing together. Reyna’s father was born in Europe but had been raised in Mexico, so it makes sense why he would mix both languages into the same sentences. It is interesting to see how her father maintained his Yiddish identity, but still assimilated into his new country.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb #3

Original Text: “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.”

Transliteration: “More worth parrot in hand than one-hundred flying.”

Translation: “A parrot in your hand is worth more than a hundred parrots flying.”

 

According to the source, this proverb means that “things you already have are worth far more than those things you only have a chance at.” It can apply to money, friendships, jobs, etc. Basically, it’s used to discourage people from gambling with their lives. It expresses a disdain for uncertainty and favor for things that are already known/owned for sure.

For example, imagine you have a stable job, but there are several opportunities that might prove to be better, but you can’t know for sure. A Cuban might say to you, “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.” In this case, they’re telling you that it’s better to stay with the job you already have than to go after one of the other ones.

Like Cuban Proverb #1, this one places a lot of emphasis on wealth and staying with what you already have. In Cuban Proverb #1, we saw that anyone who is born of one socio-economic class will probably not move up. In a way, this proverb puts down anyone who might think of doing so. It doesn’t say this in a manner of, “Don’t do it because those are the rules,” but rather in a manner of, “If you try, you might only make it worse for yourself.” I suppose it’s not always like this, though, since this proverb applies to more than money, but when it is used in the context of wealth, it seems to discourage movement between social classes.

At the same time, though, it contradicts with Cuban Proverb #2, which basically says that slackers will fall behind. Well, if one were to ignore the flying parrots, then wouldn’t that be a form of falling behind? They’re sending mixed messages, which could be confusing for the child that grows up hearing all of these. What are we to understand of Cuban culture then? There seems to be a want for economic safety, which makes a lot of sense for those who fled Cuba for the US. After managing to gain a standing in the US, it would be best not to lose it. But at the same time, it also seems there’s a want for more. They left behind their lives. Their country was stolen for them. Do they maybe feel that they are owed something more in life because they’ve been wronged?

I posed this question to the source, my mother, who said I was looking too far into it. She says Cubans just like to feel nostalgic by reciting the proverbs they heard growing up in Cuba. According to her, sometimes they don’t even know what they’re saying. They just say it out of habit.

Folk speech
Proverbs

What’s Done is Done

Original Text: “No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano.”

Transliteration: “Not for much waking early dawns more early.”

Translation: “No matter how early you wake up, the sun still rises at the same time.”

 

According to the source, this proverb is similar to the proverbs “What’s done is done,” and “You can’t change the past.” To put this proverb in simpler terms, it means that it doesn’t matter what you do. The sun will always rise at dawn, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. The source says he uses it when people are worried about things they’ve done that can no longer be corrected. He couldn’t remember specifically when or where he’d first heard it, but he remembered his mother using it when he was young. He’d go to her crying about something that he’d done poorly in school, and she’d tell him not to cry because it’s in the past, and there’s nothing he could do about it anyway.

This collection particularly interests me because of the source’s interpretation. The proverb is stated in terms of something that will happen in the future (i.e. the sunrise), but when he explained how he understood it, he explained it in terms of the past (i.e. “You can’t change the past.”). When I first heard the proverb, I understood it to be making a statement on destiny. I understood it as being, “No matter what you do, you can’t change the rules of the world. The sun is still gonna rise at x time. So and so is still going to die. Etc, etc.” The source, however, makes it sound like a statement on regret. We shouldn’t worry ourselves about things that have already happened because the past can’t be corrected.

In either case, the proverb is understood as making a statement on how people can’t change things. But why did he and I understand it differently? Personally, I hate the idea of destiny very much, which might be why I jumped to that conclusion, ready to tear apart this proverb. When I asked him why he saw it as a statement about regret, he said he thinks it’s because that’s how his mother always used it, so he kind of inherited her view and never quite thought of it any other way. He understood my view, though, and wondered if maybe he’d start to see the proverb that way, too.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays

Cuban New Year’s Tradition

“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.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

How Cubans Find Lost Objects

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.

Customs
Holidays
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Posadas

“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.

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