Author Archives: gmvelasq

O’s Salvadoran Civil War Legend.

This story was originally told in Spanish, therefore, I included the transcript in Spanish, as to preserve the story as best I can.

Context: O was a church member in my congregation. I managed to interview him recently, right before his unexpected passing. He grew up in El Salvador and lived through the Salvadoran Civil War, which inspired him to immigrate to the US in the 80s. The civil war was between the US backed Salvadoran military and the Rogue FMLN guerrilla fighters.


” En el tiempo de la guerra contrataban a los jóvenes y a los niños pobres del vecindario para contratarlos en la guerrilla. estos eran los niños más vulnerables los que más corrían riesgo de ser contratados y mandado a la guerra punto esta época era bien peligrosa extremadamente violenta y cada día más y más niños y jóvenes fallecían como resultado de las balaceras. en nuestro cantón,  surgió una leyenda de un señor que se metía a las escuelas secundarias y primarias a secuestrar a los niños y mandarlos a la guerra. esta leyenda se popularizó después de muchas desapariciones de jóvenes y niños que desaparecían al azar. muchas madres temían la seguridad de sus hijos y no los dejaban salir y a la escuela. en nuestro cantón era bien común ver a los guerrilleros entrar y salir con sus armas y con sus compañeros uniformado.  como estábamos en lados, de fmln,  teníamos una odio total a los militares y a los soldados. los escuadrones de la muerte comúnmente rodeaban nuestro cantón invadían a los pueblos con gente indígena y niños jóvenes. era un guerrillero quien la gente pensaba que era el responsable de toda la desapariciones punto al fin nunca se descubrió quién estaba alrededor ni detrás de estas ocurrencias. muchos niños desaparecieron y se presumía que estaban muertos hoy en día tengo muchos compañeros que nunca los volví a ver después de los 18 o 19 años hasta ahora no sabemos lo que pasó con ellos ni Cuál fue su destino en esa época tan difícil.”

Analysis/YOUR interpretation:

O’s story discusses the Salvadoran Civil War and the many disappearances that happened in his village. He mentions that he grew up on the guerrilla side, an FMLN (socialist guerrilla)  occupied section of the country. As is known, the Salvadoran Civil War was a bloody battle between the US backed military and rogue guerrilla fighters. The military was known to go into the impoverished indigenous villages where many vulnerable youths were, and recruit young men to enlist in the army. They would brainwash the, imposing their nationalistic points of view onto them. The Civil War originated from a division between the dominating high class who monopolized Salvadoran agriculture,  and the Farm Workers who maintained it alive.

In his story, O mentioned that there was a legend told in his village that one particular man would go into their village and kidnap kids who would never be seen again. It was presumed that these kids were drafted into the military, killed and never seen again. O saw many disappearances in his time during the war. The trauma from this era still haunts him to this day until the day of his death. There are still friends that he had that one day disappeared never to be seen again. This appears to be some sort of urban legend that originates from a very traumatic point in history for El Salvador. In the case of O’s, a truly did affect his life and whether or not there was somebody behind the disappearances has nothing to do with the validity of the emotional trauma. At the end of the day he did experience as many losses in this time, and the war was simply a catalyst for these Unfortunate Events to occur.

Salvadoran Joke – “Mato Tunco Tu Tata”

Context: This folklore is in the form of a Joke that is very common in El Salvador. It is used throughout the country, and seems to be unique to the Central American country,

Explanation of Folklore: I interviewed F about a joke that is commonly told in El Salvador. The joke goes as follows. One asks, “Mato tunco tu tata?” (Did your father kill a pig?) where one then answers yes, then the response is a follow up question “Le tuviste miedo al machete?” (were you scared of the machete?) and then the other person answers no. Finally the joke teller flinches at them as if they were to hit them with a machete, which usually provokes some sort of scared reaction from the other person.

According to F, this joke is super common among the Salvadoran people of all ages. It is also a very old Joke that is commonly known.

Analysis: The Premise of the joke is to prank the other person by following a storyline of a father killing a pig. The Jokester implies that the father used a machete to slaughter a pig, and that the other person was scared of it, which is why they flinch, emulating a machete swing.

F informed me that this joke is old enough that it is very popular among the older generations. It is a joke that has made its way through different generations and still remains relevant. F said that the joke is so popular in the country, that the mainstream media and popular culture in El Salvador have incorporated the joke in marketing, commercials, and even restaurant names. The Joke uses uniquely Salvadoran slang. The word “Tunco” is Salvadoran slang for Pig. It also uses “Tata” Salvadoran slang for father. This joke is uniquely Salvadoran, and is very connected to the countries own cultural identity and expression. F was not sure when the Joke came to be, he only informed me that it was very old, and that generations of his family and country had kept it going

Personal Analysis: This is a Joke I grew up hearing all of the time. I have distinct memories of my grandfather telling it to me, as well as my mom and dad. One of the reasons it stuck out to me is due to its unapologetically Salvadoran perspective. The use of colloquial slang makes it an ode to cultural expression, and that is very fascinating. Due to the specificity of origin, there do not appear to be any regional variations and Oicotypes. In terms of origin, I theorized that this might be a post colonial joke due to its specific choice of language.

Both “tunco” and “tata” are uniquely Salvadoran words, that are based off of the indigenous Nahuatl language. This pre hispanic language was melded with Spanish to produce much of the Salvadoran slang used today. This leads me to believe that the joke has origins in a post colonial El Salvador. Additionally, the mention of a pig implies a post colonial environment as well. Pigs are not native to El Salvador, and were introduced by the Spaniards. Once again these context clues can be utilized to help bring these theories of origin to play.

Folklore as humor is very common, and can be observed all over the world. It is a clear example of humanistic oral folklore that is passed on through word of mouth. In the case of this Joke, it is interesting to see how specific to El Salvador it is, since there are no other accounts of this joke anywhere else in Latin America. It is fascinating to see how this joke stayed within the confines of the Country, and how relevant it remains to this day.

The Latino Whistle

Context: The folklore gathered is a particular whistle sound, that was a way of getting someone’s attention.

Link to Sample Audio:

Explanation of Folklore: I interviewed J about a particular whistle sound he made, that was a sort of attention getting gesture. This is a gesture that was practiced a lot by J when I was growing up , and something he implemented in my upbringing. As a kid, J had a unique way of getting my attention. He would do this particular whistle sound that, whenever I heard, I immediately knew it was him trying to get my attention. This whistle, although simple, was so recognizable to me, and immediately caught my attention, almost like some sort of sonar or audio flare. My ears would perk up, and I didn’t even have to be looking at him to know who it was.

This was specifically useful whenever we were in crowded places, like getting picked up from school, in a supermarket, and in malls. What makes this particular whistle so nostalgic, is that I usually associate it with a “time to go” message or tone. Usually, whenever J let out this whistle, it was an indicator that he wanted to get my attention, and or it was time to go. Depending on the context (where we were or what we were doing) I usually would use my context clues. This whistle is ingrained in my memory, and as stated previously, is ingrained so vividly in my memory. When interviewing J, he knew exactly what I was talking about, and was excited that I remembered it as well.

Analysis: According to J, this was a custom he also experienced in his upbringing growing up in El Salvador. As a kid his father used a certain whistle sound to gather his attention. For him, it was almost second nature, and for as long as he could remember, the whistle was always a non verbal way of communicating a certain “let me get your attention” gesture. I asked J about the particular whistle he chose to use, and he stated that it was what came natural to him, what he found to be the first whistle he made. This stuck, and became his particular gesture, something unique to him, and his children.

tying to the diachronic nature folklore holds.

Personal Analysis: What fascinates me about this particular folk gesture is how it is not unique to El Salvador at all. It seems to be a Latino concept, and perhaps, even a world wide one.

I asked several Latino people if people in their lives also used a whistle to grab their attention, and the common consensus was an astounding yes. Many people in the Latino community have stated that there is a particular “Latino Whistle” that is ingrained in our community, and passed on by the older generations. It is also a folk gesture that is typically associated with a father figure, a dad call if you will.

I also discovered that within the Chicano community, the use of a whistle is a very common call of attention that signifies a “what’s up” gesture. Similar to the “Latino Whistle” I heard growing up, its main purpose is to grab your attention. Also, the whistle sound is not standardized. Many people I asked whistled the sounds they grew up hearing and they all differed. This is very important because although the basic principle remains the same, it is the execution that varies. This is commonly seen in Oicotypes, and the various regional differences of folklore that exist within a region.

This concept of passing on folk gestures can be seen in more traditional folk, stories like those the Grimm’s documented, folklore that are staples in certain communities. a Functional Analysis would lead me to believe that this “Latino Whistle” is done to trap the attention of somebody. There is an association between hearing this whistle, and immediately knowing you have to perk up and listen to whoever let it out. In terms of Transmission, it seems to be a form of folklore that is passed on from generation to generation, and similar to how folklore is passed on by groups of people, this “Latino Whistle seems to be a staple within the community.

Pacific Islander Hand Sign

Explanation of Folklore: This folklore is a hand gesture that was explained to me by T, and is used in his home country of Guam, along with Hawaii and throughout the Pacific Islands. The gesture is a greeting sign that is widespread, and in the common traditions of the Pacific Islanders, when done, everybody knows what it means, and it is a normal, everyday aspect of Island life.

Analysis: When I interviewed T, he told me about a particular hand gesture that is practiced in Guam. He mentioned that it is not exclusive to Guam, but is also polar in Hawaii, and most of the pacific islands. The hand gesture is made by sticking out one’s thumb and pinky finger, bringing in their middle three fingers to crate the gesture. (see image below). T told me that in Guam, this hand gesture is commonly used as a greeting, a nonverbal way to express “what’s up” to someone else. He told me that in Guam, everybody else uses it to greet each other, and is a very common greeting. T elaborated and mentioned that it is also very popular across the Pacific islands, specifically in Hawaii. In Hawaii, this is labeled the “Shaka” and has a strong association with the surf culture in the state. This “Shaka” as it is labeled is known very well by the many tourists that visit Guam, and the Pacific, and has made its way to the mainstream. T mentioned that in Guam, tourism is tremendously important, and makes up a large part of the economy. Gift and souvenir shops use this gesture in merchandise, and to make memorabilia surrounding it.

When asked what he believes the origins of the symbol are, T mentioned he is not sure, but guesses it originated from the native Chamorro people of Guam. he believes that these indigenous inhabitants of Guam are the originators of the hand gesture, and it has made its way through generations and is still utilized to this day. Even in the present, the people of Guam continue to use it, and know what it means. It is a part of their nonverbal folkloric gestures.

Common Pacific Island hand gesture.

Personal Analysis: This is a regional folklore that even I knew of, and have seen many times in the mainstream. Previous to interviewing T, I was aware that there was a strong association between this symbol and surf culture. Growing up in California, surfers would call this “Shaka” and I was aware of its origin from the pacific islands. Elaborating on T’s theory, I do believe that this may be a remnant of the indigenous Chamorro people. Perhaps their native customs included hand gestures, that were kept alive and passed on throughout the generations. Guam is a country with a very diverse population. There is strong asian influence, especially Japan, the Philippines, and China. This intermix of people make its all the more fascinating that a gesture could survive all this time. The Oicotypes associated with this folk gesture are very interesting, and provide a unique perspective of regional variation. In Guam, this not called “Shaka” but more so an unspoken form of communication. It is interesting however to see the more common and well known variation to be the “Shaka” and more closely tied to the surf culture of the Pacific Islands.

Sana Sana Colita de Rana

Context: The folklore gathered is a saying that is popular throughout Latin America, usually when young child gets hurt, in order to help them feel better.

Explanation of Folklore: I interviewed A about a saying that I have heard a lot in the Latino community. This saying is “Sana sane colita de Rana, is no sane hoy, saner mañana”. Originally in Spanish, this saying literally translates to “healthy healthy frog tail if it doesn’t heal today it will heal tomorrow”. The context for when this is said is typically for injured young children. When they get hurt, someone, usually a mother or a guardian will repeat this saying, while helping them with their injuries.

A told me that this is a very popular saying in El Salvador, her home country, but that it is also extremely common throughout Latin America as a whole. It is a saying that is almost universal in the Latino experience, and even has made its way alongside the Latin American diaspora.

Analysis: A mentioned that this saying has been in her vocabulary for as long as she can remember. When A was younger, they were told this by their parents as a way of calming them from crying. The witty rhyme is silly in its literal meaning, and has no connection to healing whatsoever. As a result, the intention was to make the child laugh and forget their pain. A personally thinks it is a colonial era saying, based on the fact that it is not exclusive to a certain part of Latin America. It is widespread across the Latin American countries as a common saying.

Personal Analysis: This is a form of oral folklore that is reflected in the form of a saying. Based on my interview with A, and my own personal experience, this form of Folk speech seems to be pretty familiar. The only variation of the saying that I found to be used is switching “colita” with “culito” a more vulgar adaptation of the saying. I definitely think that this is a colonial era saying, the traces its roots to a colonial Latin America. Given that the saying is in Spanish, it is very safe to assume that it was not until the Spanish reached Latin America that the saying gained popularity. This is a clear example of the Transmission of folklore, and how it is passed on from generation to generation. A fascinating part of this folklore is that its is tremendously widespread. because it is popular throughout an entire continent, it could be difficult to pinpoint the exact origin point. There do not seem to be very strong regional differences that would indicate any sort of regional variety. The common consensus is that it is a pretty standard saying.

When analyzing the meaning of the saying itself , it is difficult to find any sort of logical meaning. The frog tail might be an ode to the pre hispanic wildlife that may have been observed during the colonial species. Upon doing some research, I came across a species of frogs that are able to grow back their limbs when they are cut off, so perhaps there is a correlation between that observation of nature and the saying. In the end, the saying is told to children to make them feel better, and distract them from any pain they might be going through. It is a way to boost morale, and inspire a calmness for the child. Growing up, I was told this saying numerous times, and it really did do its job in distracting me. I would laugh at the use of “culito” a vulgar slang for one’s behind. It is interesting to see how saying that are so close to one’s life can be so widespread, and is a shared experience on a continental level.