Mexican Lap Game- “Los maderos de San Juan”

The informant is a 47-year old accountant working in California, originally from Michoacán, Mexico. She lived a modest life as a young adult, having to take care of her family at a very young age while still finding success in management. She then moved to the United States with her husband to raise their family and now works in accounting. She primarily speaks Spanish with English as a second language.  He shall be referred to as MB.

“Los maderos de San Juan piden pan, no les dan, piden queso, les dan hueso, ye se sientan a llorar en la puerta del zaguán!”

“The workers of San Juan beg bread, no them give, beg cheese, them give bone, and they sit to cry in the door of hallway!”

“The wood workers of San Juan beg for bread, they don’t give it to them, they beg for cheese, they give them bones, and they sit to cry in the door of the hallway!”

This is probably the most socially important of the child games that MB explained (for other Mexican child games, see the “aquí va un gusanito” and “Pon pon pata” entries in my collection). This one isn’t played until the child is about one year old. The child is seated on the lap facing the adult, and the adult places both hands to support the child’s back. The parent then slowly rocks the child back and forth (back on “San,” forward on “Juan,” back on “piden,” forward on “pan,” etc.). When they reach “en la puerta,” the adult begins tickling the child around the neck, much to the laughing delight of the child.

Notably, this is a very dark game, as it concerns poor workers who don’t have enough to eat. However, the game itself is very enjoyable for both the adult and the child. As MB explained, this game is usually played by members of the lower class who might have to deal with the reality of food shortage now and then. She compared it to slaves singing spirituals: Singing songs about your misfortunes often helps you deal with them, in the case of the parents. Turning their troubles into a silly game helps them deal with their lives. At the same time, the child is gaining exposure to the reality of the life they will probably live someday. Children might repeatedly request the game be played, often to the point where the child is barely able to fit on the adult’s lap.

I completely agree with MB’s analysis: This game seems to serve both a physical and social purpose for children as they reach a certain age. The “maderos” game not only involves the child being physically strong enough to be rocked back and forth, but also demands some social exposure. In a safe environment, the child is introduced to some of the harsh realities of poverty life, but does so in a way that brings joy. This prepares the child to cope with challenges in life that he or she will inevitably face.


Franco, Jean. Introduction to Spanish American Literature. Cambridge UP, 1995. Print

In this book on Spanish-American literature, poet José Asunción Silva includes a variant of the this rhyme (referred to as a nursery rhyme) as part of a longer poem titled “Los maderos de San Juan.” In the context of the poem, it is shared by a grandmother to her grandson as she rocks him on her knees. The poem itself is about remembering the hardship of the past and the continuity of stories.