Informant: Maria Clara Williamson. My mom who is originally from Colombia but has lived in Mexico City for 25 years.
Original: “Al que madruga, a Dios le ayuda”
Translation: The one who rises early, God helps
Informant: “My mom was a firm believer in this saying. Every morning, she would tell me this as a constant reminder to persevere. Growing up in a Catholic household, I was taught not to complain and follow set values. My mother would often use my father’s determination as an example. By 6A.M. he had already showered, changed, and was ready for the day. “Your father’s success comes from rising early and having determination,” she would always say. Throughout my life, I have kept my mothers words with me and have really strived to follow it.”
Thoughts: This is probably the proverb I have heard the most throughout my life. My parents both mention it as they stress the importance of productivity. If one rises early there is so much more one can do with the day. Because religion is an important part of life in Latin America it makes sense that God is included in the saying.
“Hacer Conejo” – an expression meaning to bail out on the check at a restaurant incorporates folk simile, folk gesture and humor. Holding up two fingers (index and middle fingers in a spread out V) behind your head means you are thinking about doing “conejo” and lets the others in your group to get ready to run without paying the bill. It is also a way to freak out a friend who is still eating and scare them in to thinking you are about to bail out. When I asked my grand Aunt Marlly, who had married my Grandfather’s brother, she said she had never hear of the story and the expression that it sounded rather sordid. I realized that the story was attached to what social economic level you grew up in. My grand aunt came from an upper class family, while my Grandfather and all of his brothers came from a poorer lower class family where being able paying the bill was not always possible. My Grandmother came from an impoverish class that would never even think about eating in a restaurant in the first place, but she was aware of the expression and knew people who had gotten away with it. The trick was to be a very fast runner and not to have eaten too much.
Analysis: This folk simile, to my maternal grandfather, is more of a humorous gag expression, meant to scare or outrage the other diners you were with. Making the gesture is a way to get a point across without tipping your hand. I personal think is kind of funny, especially when I explain it to other people. In the U.S. the folk gesture of the rabbit ears made with the fingers has a different meaning and when I explain what it means in Colombia, I usually get a laugh or extreme fascination.
The folk song/chant: “Sana que sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.” (Magic healing song repeated at least three time or more if child is hysterical) The literal translation means “Heal, heal with the tail of a toad, if it does not heal today, it will heal tomorrow.” Obviously they are talking about a tadpoles tail or are being funny because a toad/frog does not have a tail, intonating something magical is about to occur. It works as a great distraction when your child gets injured and to stop him from crying because they are being imbued with the belief that the chant will actually make it hurt less especially if they say it in unison. Although my Grandfather tells me that the Chibcha Indians of Colombia, which he is a ¼, use dried out frog/toads all the time for healing and good luck and would even wear them around their neck (whole died out toad) for protection. He tells me that my mom went to Colombia at age 16 and she was given a necklace made out of small stones, which had a small, carved frog in the middle and was told to wear it for good luck and protection.
Analysis: Many frogs in Colombia have a variety of toxins, some medicinal, some deadly so there is more than simple folk belief there might be some factual basis for the song. Growing up my mother would always do the magical healing song “Sana que Sana” that her dad taught her whenever my brother or I got hurt and sprayed the area with Neosporin. She told me that when she was young, her grandmother (my great grandmother) who was a “botanica healer” would always sing the song while rubbing the injured area with some kind of balm. I do find the song soothing and silly at the same time, which is why it was probably so effective as a distraction. In terms of healing, the balm or Neosporin was probably what made it stop hurting and heal faster but rubbing an injury does stimulate endorphins to alleviate pain but the distraction is extremely helpful in stopping the blubbering and crying.
“En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo” or “sartén de palo” or “cuchara de palo” translates to “in the house of the blacksmith his knives/spoons/pans are made of wood. An example of an English version, “In the shoe makers house, the children go barefoot” share the same point to be made. This is one of my Grandmother’s most commonly used proverbs. The second part of the saying, changes depending how strong the feeling you want the statement to convey. Obviously, if the hypocrisy/irony is so great, like a teacher’s child dropping out of high school, because the teacher spent so much time with their students, to the detriment of their own child, then you would say “Sartén de palo”, because having a frying pan made out of wood shows the greatest negligence in terms of an item a blacksmith could have in his home. If the harm were less, then you would say spoon, because a wooden spoon is not that bad. Wooden knife would be worse but not as bas as the wooden frying pan, because a frying pan would eventually catch on fire rendering it useless much like the teacher’s kid who drops out of high school.
Analysis: This is a Colombian proverb I hear often growing up about various family members and friends. Favorite Colombian past time is to tell stories about the misadventure of their friends and family. This kind of story telling is meant to be “teachable moments” so you do not repeat the mistakes of others. It is often told during dinner, which makes dinnertime a two-hour storytelling session because others would feel compelled to contribute similar examples relating to the proverb.
Both my Grandparents say growing up they were told about the story of “El Coco” it was only when they came to the US was when they heard about El Cucuy from Mexican friends and El Cuco from Puerto Rican and El Salvadorian friends) The story is basically the same regardless of the source, El Coco lives under your bed, in your closet or in the darkest corner of you room — and he will come and get you if you misbehave. Or at least that’s what many Latino kids are told growing up, and in that way El Coco/Cucuy is the equivalent to the American bogeyman. This was confirm my by Mexican Aunt Anyssa and most of my Colombian relatives. There is a wonderful web site featuring the great bilingual storyteller Joe Hayes retelling legend of “El Cucuy” I highly recommend the web site: http://www.cincopuntos.com/products_detail.sstg?id=4
However, my Grandfather had a personal variation, called “La Mano” or “The Hand”. His own grandmother, Celestina, who was widowed and never spoke but lived with my Abuelo’s family, which consisted of his parents and six other siblings. She had been a healer and a seer. Story has it that she foresaw her husband’s death and started to buy mourning clothing one month before her husband died that she wore till she died. It was told that in her grief she had convinced the mortician to give her husband’s hand, which she allegedly kept under her bed in a box. My grandfather’s mom, Margarita, who after trying to get 7 kids to bed would often resort to the threat that if they did not go to sleep “La Mano” would come out from under Grandma’s Celestina’s bed and attack and choke them, so they should behave and be quiet so “La Mano” could not find them. The threat was very effective. One night My grandfather told me “he got up to get a drink of water he was trying very hard to be quiet when he heard a rattling sound coming from Grandma Celestina’s room, he stopped cold and felt cold sweat pour down his back as the rattling turned to scratching as if it was trying to scratch it way out. Suddenly the door pops open and no one is there but a small object was on the floor slowly moving toward him. He felt frozen to the ground and could not move or breath. He saw a couple of skeleton digits come into the moonlight and he was certain he was seeing “La Mano”. He ran back to his room, sandwiched himself in the middle of his two sleeping brothers, thinking if the hand came, it would get them first! Even though my grandfather moved to another hemisphere and was living in Los Angeles, several decades after grandma Celestina had passed away, he came across a movie poster while waiting in line for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for a horror movie called The Hand (1981) where a comic book artist loses his hand in a car accident and his hand is never found, The hand begins to follow the artist and kills anyone who angers the artist. Apparently, Grandfather almost fainted when he saw the poster but literally ran out of the movie theater when the trailer for “The Hand” began. He spent 20 minutes pretending to go to the restroom and buying everything the concession stand had to offer. He refused to sit anywhere but the aisle in case he had to bolt. He reported having nightmares for two weeks after, not about Darth Vader but about “La Mano”. As he was telling me about the legend, he became very pale , he kept clearing this throat and his voice quivered throughout.
Analysis: Urban Legends of things that hide in the dark to scare children into compliance seems to be a common universal theme. However, if they made a movie out of a hand hiding in the dark that can come and kill you, then maybe there is some kind of motif about hands that I am not aware of but one that does cross cultural lines.