Author Archives: Antonio Okun

“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.

Marina’s La Llorona

My Grand Aunt Marina, my grandfathers sister, swears the following legend of “La Llorona” is absolutely true. She knows there have been other stories about La LLorona but hers is the “god’s honest truth”, the real story. She told it on Good Friday at a dinner at my grandmother house

When they would go out to the country for a family camping weekend near the Magdalena River, my aunt said “that on nights with a full moon if you went to the river at dusk or dawn you were sure to see a Llorona/The Crying Woman. She tells me that a young woman drowned her own children in the river because her husband did not care for them and had abandoned them for younger woman (Marina rolls her eyes at this point of the story and murmurs “typical”).  Marina continues but more feeling her voice… “no matter how hard she tried to forget her husband, he had left them without any money and had taken all of their meager belongings. She tried to find work but with four young children to take care of, it proved to be impossible and in a moment of desperation after hearing her children cry all night from hunger, she drowned her children at dawn, letting the river take away their bodies downstream and when she saw her child were no longer with her she cried out in grief and after no longer able to bear the pain she kills herself. St. Peter finds her at the gates of heaven and deems her unworthy for purgatory or even hell because of the gravity of her sins and was sent back down to earth and to find her children. For this reason she roams around at dusk and dawn, crying as she looks for them.”  Marina assures me that she had heard La Llorona on many occasions down by the Magdalena River but only saw her once. This is where Marina gets super serious and lowers her voice to almost a whisper… “One early morning she woke up and saw it was only dawn, she tried really hard to hold back her need to go to the bathroom but was unable. She thought if she was quick enough nothing bad would happen but on the way back to the campsite through the misty dawn she saw a woman wearing rags down by the river crying. She says she felt her blood run cold and ran to the campsite arriving in a cold sweat!” Seeing La Llorona is considered a bad omen and Marina says she was inconsolable all day, finally the family headed home that day to find that grandmother Celestina had passed away. She never went camping to the river again. Marina finishes the story with tears in her eyes because she says that she felt some kind of responsibility for Celetistina death. My Abuelo thinks this is absurd mainly because Celestina was very old and lucky to have survived as long as she did. He cannot collaborate his sister’s story because he was already living in the U.S. but Marina swears it is the God’s honest truth “te juro ha dios” and she is very Catholic. My Abuelo said he did have a dream where his grandmother Celestina talked to him at length, telling him all that was to come in his life, the night before she past away.

Analysis: Although there are some aspects of the supernatural and personal loss, overall I found the story very melancholy and haunting. The way she spoke of La Llorona made me believe that she believed what she had experienced was true. She was so upset during the retelling, she had to get up and leave to the restroom, when she came out she was dabbing her eyes and refuse to tell me any more stories. I feel fortunate to have been allowed to have such a personal retelling.

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.

“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.

Like dogs in church- “Como perros en misa”

“Como perros en misa”- Like dogs in church. This saying is used when one is having the worst day possible where you feel attacked from all sides with no warning. Back in the day in Colombia, churches used to have their door always open and on hot days, stray dogs would sometimes seek refuge inside a cool tile church only to be physically kick out by a variety of feet, leaving what should have been a sanctuary, bruised and confused. So when you ask someone how was their day and they answer “Como perros en misa” you now know that they have had a surprisingly terrible day. The correct response is “I am so sorry, that sounds horrible” as you would expect to react to a puppy being kicked without reason.

Analysis: There have been times this semester when everyday for a whole week I felt like a “perro en misa” because everything would go wrong and an undesirable event would happen like surprise reading quiz. The American version would be something like “ when it rains, it pours” but that along with “Mercury is in retrograde” seem more impersonal and generalized, while “perros en misa” is more specific and means that you are personally are being brutalized, not the whole world.