Author Archives: Michelle Segura


El burro hablando de oreja.

The donkey talking of ear.

He speaks of others without recognizing the traits and flaws he speaks of within himself.

Silvia told me this was a common proverb that her close and extended family often said to one another or as a comment in regards to someone else. She took it as meaning that you must learn from your mistakes, although she admitted to having difficulty remembering the wording at first and struggling even more to recall its meaning. However, after thinking about it a little bit more, she added that it may have also referred to talking about others when you had a lot to answer for yourself. It seems to be a reminder to check yourself first before commenting or gossiping about other people. She also said that even though her family constantly reminded her to do this with this saying, she did not think they were the best examples of the proverb.

Admittedly, this was a completely new proverb for me that was especially difficult to decipher because it can be quite confusing and bizarre if translated and understood literally.  However, after asking a few of my family members and other Spanish speaking adults I know, they all seemed to agree that this challenging proverb was not only meant to challenge you intellectually as you struggle to understand its meaning, but also challenge you to be aware of your own behavior before you criticize others or speak critically of them. It also seems to challenge you not to judge others, gossip about them, or be critical of others more generally because you need to focus on yourself instead. This proverb makes a pointed observation that applies generally to so many; we are only too happy to focus on or emphasize others’ shortcomings or character flaws as we neglect our own and fail to see those very faults within ourselves. The proverb uses the image of a donkey, a traditionally dumb animal, speaking of or to an ear to highlight the folly of speaking about others and perhaps even listening to others blindly when the smartest thing to do is to turn towards you. This proverb prompts self examination.


El que se junta con lobos a aullar se ensena.

He that he comes together with wolves howl he shows himself.

He that joins wolves ends up learning to howl.

Sergio said that your friends basically influence you a lot. He said with a smile and just the slightest annoyance that his mom constantly tells him this proverb as a reminder to never be influenced by his friends, something that he says he never is. However, he added that his mother who is Mexican (but whose girl friends are Salvadorian) recently picked up a slang Salvadorian saying from her friends. Apparently, she now says “pasmado” frequently without even noticing- something that Sergio can hardly believe and joked about in light of her favorite proverb. He said that he was unsure about the word’s meaning, but he thought it might mean clumsy. Mostly though, he said it was funny how the proverb he had just shared with me and this brief anecdote about his mom was connected because of her constant reminders not to let him be influenced by others.

This proverb is comparable to another Spanish proverb that similarly seems to warn you to be careful and smart about choosing the company that you keep. Like the proverb says, if you choose to become close to “wolves” or similarly unsavory characters, you will also eventually learn to howl, or pick up their habits both good and bad. This is a very telling proverb that warns you against losing yourself and becoming like your friends and those you associate with most closely. However, this proverb emphasizes the consequences of hanging around with the wrong crowd, especially one that can negatively influence you as you become increasingly like them and begin acting differently. It also seems to underscore an emphasis on retaining your individuality and also morally sound character. There is definitely a subtle underlying message that “wolves” and “howling” are negative; or know morally questionable people and their equally questionable behavior should be avoided and guarded against for your own well being as the consequences of their influence could only be negative.


If the world was covered with a sweater, where would the gangsters hang out?

In the hood.

Norby’s joke was followed by very little, okay, no comments or discussion, except for a smile and a bit of laughter at his own wit. He mentioned that he was unsure where he had first heard this joke or from whom, although he thought it could have been his brother who is also pretty knowledgeable when it comes to racist jokes.

I have known Norby for a few years now, and though I cannot pretend to know how he feels about the joke and any larger significance it may have, I can definitely comment on the larger discussion that this joke invites. The youth center where I first met Norby (and where I actually interviewed him for this piece) is located near the infamous Mac Arthur Park in Los Angeles, California. It is a predominantly low-income Hispanic immigrant community with unfortunately high crime rates and other unfavorable statistics. It could essentially be seen as “the hood” by some. Norby’s joke seems to speak to this kind of neighborhood, or ‘hood, and some of its experiences or more specifically, some of its local citizens; “the gangsters.” It is interesting that the joke asks where “the gangsters” would go if the world was otherwise completely covered in a sweater. This image of the earth being covered in a fuzzy sweater could reflect a sense of there being no where else for gangsters to go that was not covered or protected in some way from them by everyone else everywhere else. As a result, they only have one place to “hang out”; the hood of the sweater or the more obvious ghetto or hood that is the only place left for them to go to. This joke carries the weight of larger social implications regarding the economic and social disparities as well as certain populations that are seemingly outcast in the joke.

Myth – Hispanic

La Cigüeña

The Stork

When I was little my parents would always tell me that the cigüeña had brought me and if I was bad the cigüeña had the ability to come and take me back. They would say that the cigüeña brought good kids to the earth, but if they misbehaved they would take them back.

As Kevin recalled the tale of the stork that he so often heard when he was younger, he could not help but say a few times that his parents had been mean to tell him this. He did also say, however, that his grandmother had been the first one to tell him this story. Yet, as he said emphatically, it was his parents who would keep telling him over and over again as a warning to him of what the consequences of misbehaving could be.

This is a fairly common story similar to the myth that describes storks delivering babies to their prospective parents. Kevin’s story does more than provide an explanation of where babies come from though, and seems to have a twist because of its different emphasis. Kevin’s parents would emphasize the stork’s ability to return misbehaving children to whence they came, an entirely different emphasis and tone. This twist in the stork baby tale reveals and serves a more cautionary purpose for the young children who hear this tale. It is a reminder for very young children that they must behave well and listen to their parents if they still want to be with them, because otherwise, the consequences could be pretty drastic. In this way, the tale of la cigüeña, or the stork, told most often by parents or other caregivers, is meant to curb young children’s bad behavior and encourage them to be obedient “good” children that the stork will let stay at home.


Don’t take any wooden nickels.

…Means don’t waste your time with something that has no value, not monetary value per se. For example, if you can’t learn something from someone everyday then you shouldn’t date them. If you can’t grow from something or be challenged by it, then why do it? Take no wooden nickels.

Andrew’s commentary of this personally meaningful proverb above combines both his own personal philosophy with the original meaning conveyed to him by the first person he ever heard it from. As a young boy, Andrew said that he would often spend a lot of time with a close guy friend of his whose grandfather (a “Swedish old guy” as he described him) would tell them this proverb repeatedly. In essence, Andrew said that he grew up hearing his friend’s grandfather’s favorite saying and blessing. When I asked him in what context his friend’s grandfather would tell them this, Andrew responded that he would use it as they left or went out instead of the familiar “good bye” or “be careful” sentiments that are customarily said. He would share this proverb with them upon their departure as a reminder and blessing in hopes that they would indeed not take any wooden nickels.

This proverb definitely seems to issue a personal challenge to the person to whom it is being told. The proverb seems to challenge you to not settle for anything but the real thing so that you do not take wooden substitutes for nickels of real monetary value that can actually be used. Andrew’s initial application of this proverb to relationships fits especially well. The proverb lends itself well to relationship advice by challenging you to not settle for anyone less than you deserve. Andrew himself gave an example of this. I also think that this proverb cautions you against settling for something that may appear to be satisfactory but is still not quite what you need or want exactly. Literally, a wooden nickel may be a nice oddity or keepsake, but at the end of the day it has little other practical value because you cannot use it as currency. This idea could apply more generally to various situations as a reminder that there is no substitute for what is real and is earned like a genuine nickel.