“el nopal en la frente” and the origin myth of Mexican City

 My informant (AG)’s parents moved from Mexico to Los Angeles before her birth. She speaks Spanish to her parents in home and is surrounded by Mexican culture.


Main piece:


Original script: “el nopal en la frente.”

Transliteration: “The cactus on your forehead.”

Full translation: “You merely look Mexican and indigenous.”


AG: “I consider myself a “Chicana”, which means someone whose parents are Mexican but is born here. I learned this word in middle school, and ‘Chicana’ is a big culture in LA. ”

“Cactuses are super important in Mexico, they are on their flag and we eat them. And they also have a big influence on Aztec culture. On the flag, there are a cactus, an eagle and a snake. So on the flag, the eagle is standing on a cactus and with a snake in its snout. This has to do with the original myth of Aztec people. When they were trying to find a place to live, the god told them that once they find a eagle that was eating a serpent, that will be their holy land, the place that they were supposed to live in. They searched it and found the eagle, and the place they found it is now Mexico City. They built the empire because they saw the image. ”

“So when my mom says to me that “el nopal en la frenta”, it means that I look kind of indigenous. It’s like a criticism, it’s like you have a cactus on your forehand, you look Mexican, you look brown and indigenous, but you can’t even speak Spanish.’”


Context of the performance:

This is a section of the entire interview. AG told me the context of the proverb when she heard it. When she talks to her mom but can’t speak Spanish perfectly, or when she is not aware of certain Mexican history and culture, AG’s mom will say this proverb to her. Moreover, AG told me that this saying is only used between relatives or people who are really familiar to each other, so this will never appear in a conversation between two people just met.


My thoughts about the piece:

This is a saying always told from a older generation to a younger one, and especially, according to my informant, is prevalent in LA and being told to young people around her age. This reflects on the trend that younger generation of immigrants tends to lose the connection with indigenous culture and the older generation is the monitor to enhance the culture bonding.