Author Archives: Trevor Kehrer

Mexican Elderly Idiom

“The second one is, umm… More knows the devil, because he’s old, than to be a devil. Do you want me to tell you in Spanish? ‘Mas el diablo por viejo que por diablo.’ ”

 

And in what context would you say that? Like, what would you say that in reference to?

 

“Umm, that, uhh, we need to pay attention to the old people. That the old people is, is they know the way and we need to listen to them.”

 

Analysis: Another short and sweet proverb, this one celebrates old age in a very tongue-in-cheek sort of way. The proverb proclaims that the Devil knows more about being the Devil from simply living into old age than by being the Devil in the first place. In other words, this proverb would seem to reveal that, in rural Mexican culture, learned wisdom gleaned through experience is superior to natural-born intellect. This would suggest a deference to rural elders and a suspicion of up-and-comer types in the informant’s culture.

Mexican Slang – El Huevon Trabaja Doble

Do you have, umm… like a saying, or a riddle, from when you were growing up?

 

“One of the popular ones there that came, comes to mind right now is, uhh… Whenever you use, somebody entrances you to do something, uhh… umm… almost of any kind, any kind of task, and uhh… you just, uhh, careful, you’re careless, you just want to finish something like right away, you just say, uhh, you just do it, you know, really fast, kinda shoddy, so… they send you back to do that kind of thing again, they say, ‘El huevon trabaja doble.’

 

Which is, uhh, pretty much like, lazy people have to do double the amount of work, because they don’t do it carefully in the first place.

 

So it’s an old saying that everybody knows this, it was applied so frequently when I was growing up, and you know, so, it was in a way it was a message for you to do things right the first time.”

 

So it’s kind of like the English saying ‘measure twice, cut once’?

 

“There you go! Very, very similar to that.”

 

Analysis: This is a very straightforward proverb relating to laziness. It essentially proclaims that laziness doesn’t pay dividends, as the lazy man will inevitably need to do more work anyway to make up for being lazy. Proverbs like this, and their equivalents in English, are very common in more rural areas like that which the informant hails from, and it seemed very well-known to the informant years later, implying its frequent use. It is also worth noting that the Spanish word ‘Huevon’ is a very derogatory term for someone who is so lazy that they are incapable of holding their testes above the ground.

Popular Belief in Ghosts in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico

Do you maybe have, like, a ghost story that you were taught?

 

“Actually, yeah, it’s uhh… they, they always said that there was, there were two nights every single year, don’t remember when or how, but there were certain specific time of the year, the, you were forbidden to leave your house between, after 11:00 p.m. on those two nights of the year, otherwise you would encounter, uhh… not really ancestors there, but some other people, especially those who wanted to do, like… like… you know, just, you know, bad stuff. And uhh… people who could not rest in peace, and they would come those specific nights. Of course nobody every left their houses, you know, during those two nights, ever, you know cuz you were so respectful of that tradition. And as far as I remember, nobody saw anything, although it’s maybe because nobody went out. [laughs]

 

Uhh, but, uhh, I dunno why, I don’t know why those things came, uhh… I don’t remember when that thing was like, like, followed, but uhh, there were two specific nights one right after the other, those two nights, you just were totally grounded.

 

Do you remember who told you that story? Or was it something that just everybody knew?

 

“Everybody in the community knew that one. Oh! Also related to that same thing is that they said that, uhh, you were lucky enough to, to, to be… uhh… outdoors between like 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., not after 11:00 p.m. because everybody else was so afraid of encountering something unnatural, they, ummm… they said between 10:00 and 11:00 was okay but you were lucky enough, you would see flames on the ground. Appearing like, just like, magic, and uh, you, uhh, you have to make sure, you have to make certain of where that flame was coming from, or where was the specific spot, because uhh, the next night, you wouldn’t come out, like I said, but on the third night, you were supposed to go there with some friends, dig, and supposedly you were going to find gold there.

 

I never knew anybody just, you know, striking rich by doing that, but that was part of the legend as well.
Where did it come from? It came from our grandparents, actually. And my dad tolds me that his dad swears that he saw some of those flames, but he was so afraid to go and dig because he would find something else instead of money, so… [laughs]

 

Not sure that was an old tale, you know, from some drunk people or something like that, very convincing, but, it became part of the community there, yeah.”

 

And what was the name of this community, again?

 

“This is Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.”

 

Analysis: Like many ghost stories, the informant expresses disbelief in the ghost elements in the story in abstract, but seems to believe at least partially in the reality of the experience that he relates. The story seems to imply that there is a certain time of the year where social function is not permissible because people are remembering the dead who cannot rest. This motif of restless spirits is incredibly common in ghost stories around the world, despite the very Catholic culture of Mexico. What is unique to this story, however, is the promise of gold if one happens to find oneself outside and getting very close to the forbidden hour, which would suggest that a degree of risk-taking is honorable and respected in this rural Mexican culture.

Naming Pets in Rural Mexico

“Actually, when we had little chicks, too, we didn’t like, like, you name your pets here, like ‘little Peter,’ or ‘Johnny,’ or ‘puppy,’ whatever you want to call them. There, we didn’t name our pets, you know. We just name them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. [laughs]

 

Not to feel bad when it was like time to slaughter them… ‘cause we grew pets for eating, you know? It was, it wasn’t like we were just playing with them, it was actual food on the line! [laughs]

 

Was that a common practice, did everyone name their pets something like that?

 

More or less, something like that. Very, very like, crazy names, like you know, like May, July, June, those. [laughs] Because they were going to slaughter them that month. [laughs]

 

There was a little rooster named father’s day [laughs] because they knew they were going to do that, ‘where’s father’s day, where’s father’s day,’ ‘donde esta dia del papa,’ you know, in Español, ‘oh you know he’s there, he’s there, and this and that,’ and sure enough, you know, time came and… cut some necks there. That was crazy.”

 

Analysis: This is a fairly straightforward but interesting and widespread folk practice in rural Mexico. Whereas pets are normally seen as members of a family in the United States, pets were instead viewed primarily as food sources in rural Mexico. As such, the cultural norms surrounding the animals are substantially different from what an American may expect. Naming animals after the date that they will presumably be slaughtered is a very efficient way of keeping the age of a pet on hand. It is worth nothing that the informant’s repeated use of the term “crazy” may be revelatory of a culture shift upon moving to the United States and owning two pets.

Mullah Nasreddin and Growing Older

“Okay, umm… I’m gonna tell you about the Mullah Nasreddin. He was a wi- wiseguy, and he was always say things that sound like stupid, but really it had a lot of meaning. Uhh… Mullah Nasreddin, umm… he… one day he was walking in the street, and the guy, friend, came and he says, ‘How old are you, Mullah?’

And Mullah says that, ‘I’m 40 years old.’

‘Oh, okay. I thought you told me that 10 years ago you’re 40 years old. What happened, you’re not getting old… older?’

He says, ‘No, even if you come hundred years from now ask me, I’m still gonna be 40 years old.’

And he says, ‘Why?

He says, ‘Because a man doesn’t change his mind. He is always what he says and what he’s gonna be.’

So, umm… Gonna tell you the Farsi. [Tells story in Farsi].

So, is just telling about how stubborn mens are [laughs].”

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture because they are a humorous way to impart life lessons, especially on children. Mullah was famous for playing the fool, but always having a bit of hidden meaning or wisdom in what he was saying or doing, as is present here. This story comments on how pointlessly stubborn many people can be, to the point of ignoring facts, and how humorously childish it is to do so rather than embrace reality.