J is a first generation Salvadorian-American and has made friends with different kinds of people from different cultures. She heard this one from a close friend of hers and tries to employ it now in her everyday life.
The context of this piece was during a shift at work after attending some customers. These customers had a baby with them.”
J: “Oh gosh I was so scared I looked at that baby for too long! She was just too cute you know. Like I told myself not too but I just like babies too much”
Me: “Why were you trying to not stare? I don’t think the mom would’ve minded, she seemed nice during the transaction.”
J: “I didn’t want to give the baby mal de ojo. I don’t know if you heard about what that is but my friend told me about it. Apparently, its like a illness you can give to cute little babies. But its not like coughing on them or anything like that. She told me that if you look at a baby for too long it’ll make them fussy and like sick. I guess its like, like your stare is too strong or something and it ends up making the baby cry. Even if you don’t try to give them like a strong start it can still give them ma de ojo so I just try to look a little but not for too long. Or you can just touch like their hand and it’ll go away, or that’s what my friend told me about it.”
The mal de ojo is a folk illness and its translation into English is “evil eye.” This folk illness primarily affects children and babies are usually the most vulnerable. This belief is that a simple look or a stare can cause symptoms of bad luck, sickness and even death. As J said, infliction of mal de ojo does not have to be intentional for it to be given to a child. Treatment and prevention vary in different regions. For example, in Mexico it is thought that the person admiring the child can prevent the malady by touching the child while in the Caribbean touching the child is thought to exacerbate the problem. A folk remedy to this illness is the performance of an egg cleaning. I found this interesting because I had heard of this folk illness before, so it was interesting to hear it from J’s perspective and see in person how she handled avoiding it.