Author Archives: erikabau

Anansi Tales

Main piece: So, it’s the Anansi Tales, it’s really popular in Jamaica, and my mom grew up in Jamaica so her mom used to tell her the stories. Basically, Anansi was this spider and he was pretty popular in most of the stories but one of them specifically was about Anansi and the snake. So, there was this tiger that was the king of the forest and had a bunch of stuff named after him. And Anansi was like, “I want something named after me.” So he went up to the tiger and was like, “hey you have everything you could ever want, can you just name something after me?” and the tiger was like, “okay, what do you want me to name after you?” and Anansi said that he wanted the stories to be called the Anansi stories because they were originally called the tiger stories. So, the tiger didn’t want to give up his name as the story names. So he was like, “ok fine I’ll entertain this idea for a second.” And he decided to make a deal with Anansi. So he was like, “Okay, here’s the deal bro, capture the snake, then I’ll change the name to the Anansi stories.” And Anansi was like, “Okay, BET.” So, he was thinking about how he could capture the snake. And his first plan he got a noose and some berries, and put the berries in the noose, I think. But, the snake managed to get the berries without getting caught. So Anansi was like, “Aw dang. What’s another way I can do this?” And so then he went a little bit further down the trail — like he did this on a trail that he knows the snake normally goes down — and then he went further in the trail and dug a pit and put some bananas in it. Oh, and then he put grease along the side so that the snake wouldn’t get out. So the snake saw the bananas, but he also saw the grease so he was like “no” and he tied his tail or something to like the tree that was next to it, and he went in and got the bananas just fine. So then, Anansi was like, “alright cool. What can I do now?” So, then he made this trap and put mangos in it and then this piglet walked by and was like “whoa” so he got trapped in the trap. So basically there was enough room in the trap for the snake to go and eat the piglet but not get out. But then when the snake arrived, the piglet started to go crazy and he like broke down the trap and ran away and the snake didn’t get caught. So then the next day Anansi was sitting outside the snakes house and the snake was like, “oh okay, so after you try to kill me on multiple accounts, you’re just going to sit outside my house? Smart idea” and then Anansi was like, “Yeah, you’re right but like I was doing it for a good cause, people are talking about you behind your back. And the snake was like, “What do you mean?” and he [Anansi] was like, “They’re saying that you’re not the longest creature here. They’re saying you’re not even like as long as bamboo.” And the Snake was like, “Hell nah I am. Get the longest piece of bamboo you can find and like measure me next to it” and Anansi was like, “Okay here’s the issue: what if like I’m measuring, and when I go by your head you make yourself seem longer, but when I goby your tail you move closer to make it seem longer.” Cause obviously Anansi can’t see the whole length of the snake like all the time, so the snake told him to tie his tail to the bamboo. So, Anansi does and then goes down to measure the head. But, what he really does at that point to that snake is he quickly ties the head to the bamboo and to the middle. And at this point, everyones kinda gathered around and watching and they’re like “oh, what the fuck—” Oh sorry— “Anansi caught the snake!” and then ya all the animals were like “Okay respect, we’re not gonna laugh at you anymore. They’re the Anansi Tales now.” And that’s how they became the Anansi tales, but there’s a ton of other stories and they’re super popular in Jamaica. 

Background: My informant is a Junior in college. She is American, but her Mom is an immigrant from Jamaica and her Dad is an immigrant from Nicaragua. Here she talks about a tale that her mom heard when she was a kid, and then passed it on down to her kids. The informant says that they’re not well known stories here, in Jamaica the characters and stories of the Anansi tales are like kids stories, that the culture holds very fondly. It is important to note that my informant acknowledged the fact that this wasn’t going to be the exact same as the way her mom tells it, but she remembers most of the ‘specifics.’

Context: This story was told during the day in a group setting. What was nice is that time didn’t seem to pass as we heard this story, as the informant shared it in a way that was aimed towards us. The language used was casual and engaging, and the group was listening to the story with the same engagement of watching a netflix show. I could also tell that the informant fed off this energy and began to have fun with the tale. 

My Thoughts: What I think is super important here is the idea that two versions of the same story could stem from the same house. Of course, the informant’s mother’s version is great as it was listened to many times by the informant. However, the informant has created her own version in sharing the story with me and a few others. The way she performed it for us was very informal and modern in terms of language, which made the story engaging and hilarious for the audience. I found myself rooting for Anansi at the end of the rather long narrative, and also curious as to what other adventures this spider has gone on, both in a traditional sense, but also in a non traditional sense. I mean, the stories this spider has inspired from passing from person to person. I am excited to try this one out on my younger siblings, and I am sure my version will not be the same, but still hold some of the Anansi magic. Of course, I have no intense personal ties to the Jamiacan roots of this story, however the informant’s genuine love for her childhood tale is inspiring to keep that tale alive. 

Sana Sana the Silly Healing Saying

Background: Below is an account of this informant’s memory of a silly spanish saying that was meant to make you feel better. The informant is a mother in her 40s of Mexican Descent. She reflects on the how healing ritual below shaped both aspects of her childhood and parenting. Under the informant’s experience I have clarified the literal translation of this version of the saying according to google translate. 

The main piece: 

“Sana Sana Colita de rana, si no se Sana hoy, se aliviara mañana” 

It means like when you hurt yourself.” Sana Sana” means heal heal, so it’s like you know we would say ‘there there’ if you were rubbing a boo boo. “Sana Sana” is like heal heal.  Colita de rana means— literal translation — a frog’s…tail…butt? Ha! A frogs rump. It’s something about butts I think. “If you don’t get better today, you’ll get better tomorrow.”  So someone would hit their elbow or arm, so you’d be like come here and rub it saying “Sana Sana…” Only my mom did that to me and… it felt better. And it would make me giggle. So I think maybe that’s why too: The touch and then it like makes you laugh, to think of a frog’s butt. It’s something I did with my kids too, out of habit I think. Not because I was trying to pass it on— it just felt like the right thing to do in the moment.

Literal Translation (google): heals heals Frogtail, if he does not heal today he will heal tomorrow

Context: This conversation arose from a video call where we were comfortable chatting with the informant’s mother for some time  talking about her childhood. With the nostalgic memories in mind, I asked the informant to share what Sana Sana means, and what it meant in terms of her childhood. 

Analysis: This another saying I vaguely remember from my childhood. The interesting part of this particular experience is how transformative a silly saying has been in the informant’s life. Not in the sense that her life changed because of it, but in the sense that it changed with her life. The transition between Sana recipient and Sana healer, seemed almost nature to the informant. So natural, that she didn’t even seem to notice why she began performing it with her children, it just happened. This for me shows how some of these simple sayings/ beliefs can be so casually ingrained in our identity. 

La Llorona

Background: My informant is a high school junior. She is also Mexican American. She grew up listening to this story from her mother, but after learning of its folk roots, decided to create her version of the story based on other versions of the story. She is part of the Latin American society on her campus, so she has heard a few versions of this and other Latino legends. 

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Tell me about La Llorona

Informant: There’s a lady who lives in Mexico, I don’t know exactly where, but it’s somewhere near the Rio Grande, and she falls in love with a Spanish man, but she’s not of status. So, after they have two children the Spanish man leaves her for another Spanish, for a Spanish woman, who is obviously more high class because colonization. And um, one day — because he disappears, he GHOSTS her, you know— So, one day she’s in the town and she sees him ride by in his like fancy carriage WITH the other woman and she gets so enraged and so made that she ends up going back home and throwing her two boys into the river. But then she gets so distraught that she did that, she throws herself into the river to drown. But, when she dies and goes up to heaven she gets denied at the gates because she doesn’t have her children with her. So they sent her back down to go find her children so she can enter heaven. But, obviously she can’t find them, and she steals whatever little kid is running by the river to go bring it up to god to be like, “Hey, this is my child!” But, it never works. 

Interviewer: Where did you hear this story?

Informant: Uh, I don’t know. That’s just like, um. I know I heard some of it obviously from my mom and stuff, but I know that wasn’t like the full version. Like that wasn’t — where I got the actual like… pretty sure I musta watched TED ED or something. 

Context: This conversation happened casually over the phone. The informant and I were both aimlessly talking, when I used the opportunity to ask her about her version of a story we both know well. My informant’s tone was extremely casual and slightly sarcastic, like she was telling a story about a friend. 

My thoughts:  As mentioned before, La Llorona is a popular legend for the Latinx community. I have heard many versions also from family, teachers, and friends. What struck me the most about my informant’s version was how casual she talked about a ghost story.  My version was always interlaced with fear, as I heard it always in the context of instilling that fear. The informant is slightly younger than I, and seems more well connected with a more progressive version of the story. The informant highlights La Llorona’s lover did to her in order to cause a temporary insanity. And while she doesn’t praise La Llorona for having some agency as some versions I’ve heard do (see in ‘Annotations’ below), she doesn’t judge the character. Her words were void of emotion in the sense that she just explained what happened. Matter of factly linking action to consequence but not claiming anything. This balanced view of the story was refreshing. Especially since it is a glimpse that the younger generation hopefully sees La Llorona as someone who is not necessarily in the right, but who also did what she had to do and paid the price for it. My version was always interlaced with fear, and I’m thankful to be introduced to versions of this Legend fused with a quiet power, and undeniable agency. 

Annotations: For another version of this Legend that explores feminist themes please see page 54 of MELUS Vol. 24, No.2  (The Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 1999) for Ana María Carbonell’s “From La Llorona to La Gritona: Coatlicue in Femenist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros”

Echale Sal al Animal, Quien te Pico

Background: The account below is explaining a game that the informant used to play as a child with her family members. The informant is Mexican American and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. She remembers a few games and stories that she played as a kid that would entertain her and her cousins without toys, or often supervision. However, the specific game below is one she learned from her mom, who learned it from her mom, who heard it from her mom. This has been passed for generations. The informant doesn’t remember playing this in school, only with family members. 

Main piece: 

*** names of informant’s family members are represented by S, J, R

My sisters used to play that. They’d be like okay, “Lie down! Echale sal…” and my mom too. If we were bored in the car she’d say okay let’s play a game. And like you bend over on the legs and you pull the back of your shirt up and you take turns, and you have to guess who pinched you. Was it S, was it J, was it R, ya know, was it mom? Who pinched you? It’s a group game and if you guessed right then that person would go next. If you guessed wrong you’d lie back down and do the pinch over again until you guessed who pinched you. If they were being jerks they pinched hard. “Echale sal al animal, quien te pico” It means, “put salt on the animal who bit you” and pico is like a poke, like a fork. Like you would stick an animal with a  fork, ya know. That’s why they said put salt on the animal — like they’re salting you up when they rub their hands on your back. Echale sal al animal— and PLOOP. And poke. So rubbing the salt on the back is like they’re seasoning an animal and then boop you get pinched… I mean you have to think way back when as kids you had to entertain yourselves. We all played that. Well, the family did.

Context: This conversation took place over a video chat. During the conversation I  asked about her version of this saying, sharing that I had my own. The informant instantly filled with giddy nostalgia as she explained something so natural and personal to her childhood.

My thoughts: I grew with the same Spanish text: Echale sal al animal quien te pico. However, my experience never translated over to a game. My mother would rub my back in circles saying the line, and then she would lightly and playfully give my back a pinch. This happened a lot in an embrace, so it was always a term or gesture of endearment. My family members often did this to each other sometimes if they were being playful. More to the little kids who would go off giggling after being pinched. I was fascinated to learn the informant’s version. I realized that both of our experiences were terms of endearment that we shared with a select few. Moreover, it brings back happy childhood memories. I feel that this game is also related to other hand/ body games that children would play with their closest friends to jovially pass time without worry. 

Chinese Proverb for a Struggling Student

Background: Below is a conversation about a proverb that the informant was told at the start of her academic journey at a competitive math and science boarding school. Two years later, she still holds the proverb near to her heart and uses it as motivation for her all-nighters. 

Main Piece:

Informant: I was struggling in excel with my workload and my math teacher told me a chinese proverb that helped. He basically said, the proverb goes like this like, “20 years ago was the best time to plant the tree, but the second best time to plant a tree is right now.

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Informant: Basically saying that you know you should have started this thing, a WHILE ago, but now that you haven’t done it you know that in the past that was the best time to start it. But, you haven’t so the best time to start it, again, is right now. And I think that works well cause like I’d procrastinate a lot on homework and then I’d be stressed like there’s no way I can finish this. And it’s like well yeah you should’ve started it 6 hours ago, but — you didn’t. So, the best time to start it is right now. 

Interviewer: Tell me about this teacher

Informant: He was half Chinese, his mother uh— actually I don’t know which region, but she spoke Cantonese not Mandarin. And his father was from Kentucky, he was Black. He was really understanding. Not judgemental, he knew that waiting til the last minute was punishment enough.

Context: This conversation occurred over a FaceTime call where I asked the informant if she had any sayings or proverbs she liked. She instantly told me this. The conversation was casual, but very relatable as we both lived out our shared experience of procrastination and all-nighters.

My thoughts: It was interesting to find out that this was one of those sayings that keeps the informant pushing through some tough times. It felt very personal to know that this has become a mantra for her. I also found it interesting and quite touching that she resonates so wholeheartedly will a proverb from a culture that is not her own. I feels that not only the proverb was given to her, but a kindness and genuine motivation from her teacher was transferred as well.