Spanish Proverb

Subject: Proverb


Informant: I asked my dad, Jose Oti, if he knew any proverbs that were important to him or that he grew up with. He was born in Cuba in the fifties and moved to the United States when he was eleven. When he immigrated to the U.S., he had to escape without the government finding out he and his family were trying to move out for good. Because of this, his parents told him to take his little brother and his little sister and go to the United States alone, and they would come meet them in Miami later. As a result, he was forced to grow up fast, in a sense, and learn not to make mistakes. When I asked him if any proverbs came to mind, he responded,


“There’s a saying in Spanish that translates to ‘it’s better to be alone than in bad company.’”


The phrase is a common saying in the Spanish language in general, but my family got it from Cuba, where their extended family and friends of the family said the saying regularly. He said his parents started saying it to him more often when they had all moved and settled in the U.S. Since he had never spoken English before arriving in the United States, he was held back a few grades in school, and had to work extra hard to become fluent enough in English so that he could do well enough in school and skip a few grades to catch up with the kids that were his age. Therefore, he could definitely not afford to get into significant trouble that would set him back. His parents stressed this to him with the proverb, and whenever they thought he was hanging around with kids from school who might be a bad influence on him, they would repeat in the original Spanish,


“Mejor solo que mal acompnañado(a).”


I’ve heard the proverb many times from my dad before, growing up, but as it is a phrase said as advice or as a scolding, usually from a parent to their child when the child has gotten into trouble, I never really took it to heart or thought about what it actually meant. When I asked my dad where he had first heard it from, he told me, “I learned it from Abuelo and Abuela [or, “dad and mom”] when they thought I might be hanging around with kids who may get me into trouble.”