Tag Archives: family folklore

Aloe and Bad Energy

Background: The informant is a 26 year old female who lives in a suburb of Chicago. She was born and raised around the city with her grandparents, mother, and younger brother. Her grandparents, immigrants from Mexico, imparted most of their knowledge to the informant.

Context: The context was, when speaking to the informant over the phone, she mentioned how one plant liquefied, and was asked questions surrounding the meaning of it.


VA: I was always taught, growing up by my grandparents and mom, that plants soak up the bad energy in a home.

Me: Any particular plants, or is it just any one?

VA: Aloe. If someone with bad intentions or, uh, jealousy comes into your home, the aloe takes the hit for you. So, that’s why sometimes they’ll spontaneously liquify themselves. 

Me: Liquefy?

VA: It’s like, basically the plant completely deflates and is dead. Like, the plant will be perfectly fine, people show up with bad energy, and when they’re gone, the plant is dead.

Me: Is it always aloe?

VA: Sometimes animals take the hit, too. That’s what my mom said happened to my budgies [birds].


Informant: It’s something she deeply believes in, being told many times throughout her life that it was something that would happen upon bad energy. She didn’t seem to question anything about it.

Mine: Plants have long had an association with the supernatural, typically to treat illnesses. In a sense, having bad energy may be considered a supernatural illness and something to be treated, as it is still making the body worsen. Aloe may be the main plant that soaks up bad energy because aloe is commonly used to soften the skin, which draws up the image of breaking through a barrier. It’s like the aloe plant softens the skin, allowing the bad energy to slowly seep out, but in the process, it sucks away all the energy from the plant itself. It’s just like trading one life force for another, with the plant giving life for a human being. The concept of animals also deflating seems a unique touch to their familie’s folklore, or may be something the mother told the child as an excuse for what truly happened to the budgies, creating a scenario where superstition becomes the modern excuse.

El Cucuy is Everywhere

Background: The informant is a 26 year old female who lives in a suburb of Chicago. She was born and raised around the city with her grandparents, mother, and younger brother. Her grandparents, immigrants from Mexico, imparted most of their knowledge to the informant.

Context: The context was watching a horror movie and being reminded of a legend she was constantly told as a child.


VA: So, in Mexican folklore, there’s El Cucuy. It’s like the boogeyman. Mexicans threaten their children with El Cucuy coming and taking them away.

Me: Oh my. How does El Cucuy come?

VA: El Cucuy is everywhere, everywhere around you.

Me: Would you mom tell you this to scare you?

VA: Well, it was my whole family. My mom, my grandparents, all of them. It was how they scared children into behaving. Oh also, just anyone of Latin American culture like my babysitter from Central America. Basically, if you speak Spanish, chances are you know El Cucuy.

Me: What does he do to children?

VA: He eats children once they’re taken. Basically, if you don’t behave, you’re getting eaten. 


Informant: Her voice was extremely solemn when speaking about El Cucuy, likely still remnants of how childrenhood fears can continue to affect someone. Even at 26, she didn’t want to take any chances.

Mine: The boogeyman is a very common theme across cultures as a way to scare children into behaving. While it may not be scary to everyone, it seemed to hit something deeper for the informant. She told the story more calmly than her other ones, not making any humorous jokes, or pausing often. While it likely is still childhood fears sticking with her to some extent, it may also be because the informant has a younger brother and would have to tell him the story as well. In this case, the informant has been both the receiver of the tradition and has passed on the tradition. It brings up the interesting placement of the older sibling, in that they may become active bearers of their traditions much earlier than the younger siblings. 

A Hair Past a Freckle


“When someone asks you the time and you don’t know what time it is because you’re not wearing a watch or don’t have your phone, my family always goes ‘Oh, it’s a hair past a freckle’ or ‘A freckle past a hair’. You use the two interchangeably just depending on whatever mood you’re in.”


OA is a 21-year-old American student at USC. She grew up in Washington. I asked her about any proverbs she knew of or sayings that were common to her. This proverb is used as a joke. “It’s something my dad did because his dad did it.”


Family folklore is special because it identifies people who are in the group (your family), and those who are out of the group easily. Things that might not seem funny to outsiders could be incredibly funny to your family, or vice versa. These things can develop from specific moments, or their origins can be more fluid. My friend mentioned that this was something she says to her friends now as well, which shows that even folklore that originates as family-specific has the capacity to grow beyond families and enter into a more widespread usage. This specific proverb seems to be related to “it’s time for you to get a watch,” as it pokes fun at the person for not knowing the time and highlights our society’s reliance on time. Timeliness is very important in the United States, whereas in other cultures being on time isn’t as important. So, when someone doesn’t have a watch or isn’t aware of what time it is, people make fun of them because they should know what time it is in a society where time is everything. 

El Trancazo: a Familial Cake


– preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius

– Have two pans ready

– 1 Kilo Butter

– 1 Kilo Granulated Sugar (slowly put into mixer while butter is whipping)

– 1 kilo flour

– Add 8 Eggs into Whipped Butter and Sugar

– 8 Egg yolks go into the same bowl

– Set aside the 8 egg whites which remain

– 2 cups of the original Kilo of flour go into Mixer

– For every cup of flour, add a tablespoon of baking powder through a sifter to the mixer

– 2 Oranges and their shavings

– Add a little bit of vanilla (eyeball it)

– Mix the rest of the flour with the juice from the oranges

– You’ll need 1 cup of warm milk; heat for 1 minute in microwave

– Mix the 8 egg whites from earlier with the milk and water

– put 2 Kilos of the batter into each pan

– Prepare topping while cake is in the oven

– put pot on stove with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk and 5 tablespoons of Cacao (bring to a low boil)

– Soak cake part of cake in Bacardi Rum

– Spread what was on the stove onto the cake and spread apricot jelly as well 🙂


A.H. – “I’m the only person who has this recipe written down, it comes from my aunt in San Luis Potosi, and everyone knows about this cake because she always makes it for everyone’s birthday.  It’s literally a concoction of a bunch of stuff; because – her family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and she didn’t want to have to borrow money from her family, or from anyone, so the recipe basically started when she just took scraps from around the kitchen and put it into the cake.  And it’s just a little bit of everything.”

“She calls it El Trancazo, which literally means like, “getting hit,” so it’s kinda just something that’s thrown together.  And the cake is massive.”

How long has she been making this cake for everyone’s birthday?

A.H. – “The first time she made it was for her first grandchild.”

When it’s someone’s birthday, and they’re in her presence, they know it’s coming?

A.H. – “Yes.  I only learned how to make this cake because I happened to be in Mexico at the time of my cousin’s birthday, and the cake was made.  It took like all day.  If you look at photos of different birthdays, the cake is always there.”

When you think of that cake, or the idea behind it, the fact that it is just thrown together, is it a source of pride?  Identity?  Reminders of your aunt?

A.H. – “I know so much about my aunt’s upbringing – and I know that it was really tragic, really sad, like – her life sucked growing up.  So it’s that idea of – or a sense of, how mothers are just idolized.  Put on a pedestal to the nth degree.  I think it reinforces that idea, that she did what she could with what she could.  My lack of resources isn’t gonna stop me from making my grandchild’s birthday any less memorable or special.”

That’s an idea for you to to live by as well then, that never give up attitude.  As well as just, being reminded of the strength of your great aunt, and maybe your own mother.

A.H. – “Yeah.  I guess.  I don’t think that much about the cake specifically, it’s just very telling to think of everything.  It’s a lot more than just a cake.”


It’s a lot more than just a cake.  Again, this cake, created by this person’s aunt, is itself a symbol for the strength and resolve of her family members, some of whom grew up during tough times.  It’s easy to see a theme here; many of these submissions bring to light a strong sense of identity – of solidarity with their family.  Attributes of resolve are what create the fondest of opinions in many people, and this cake reminds me of countless other examples of strength in family.