Tag Archives: Hispanic

Tamales with Olives

CONTEXT: 

RR is one of my best friends and roommates. She is a sophomore at USC who enjoys crocheting, writing poetry, and making me laugh. 

TEXT: 

Me: “Ok, so now, tell me the story about the olives.”

R: “(laughs) tamales with olives, Sophia. So every Christmas, it’s a tradition in my family that we make—We have tamales.

That’s like the main course of the meal on Christmas. 

And my grandma spends weeks preparing, like literally hundreds of tamales.”

Me: “What goes in them?”

R: “I’m not allowed to know the recipe because my grandma is still alive. 

When she passes away, it will pass down. 

But yeah, it’s a secret but it’s basic like masa flour. 

And then the corn husk is what it’s wrapped in. 

And then the fillings.”

Me: “Did her mom make them too?”

R: “Yeah. Or well, her mom is Italian but they grew up in Arizona 

in a Mexican community. 

But my grandpa is like Mexican Mexican (from Mexico)

But, anywho

but um, in the middle there’s red chili, and there’s green chili and it’s usually pork,

And they do an assembly line.

and then one person will put the masa in the corn husk, 

and then the other person will put the filling 

and then it’s one person’s job to put a single olive in every little tamale. 

And if you forget it, it’s bad luck 

when you eat it and a tamale that doesn’t have an olive in it. It’s bad luck.”

Me: “What does it mean?” 

R: “Well, it’s Christmas and the time of the new year. 

There’s also traditions where you eat grapes. 

So things shaped like that, like little fruits of the earth are supposed to make you have a fruitful New Year. 

And so that’s what the olives mean.”

Me: “Okay, and if you don’t get one, you’re not gonna have a fruitful year?”

R: “Not necessarily, but it’s better that you get one with one of them.”

ANALYSIS:

Making tamales for Christmas is a major tradition in many Hispanic cultures. Corn was commonly viewed as the “substance of life” because God supposedly made humans from corn. In regards to the olive part, after further investigation, each tamale can be viewed as a symbol for the Holy Virgin. The olive is supposed to represent baby Christ waiting to be born (as he was on Christmas).

The ”Crying Lady.”

A is a 59-year-old Hispanic American female originally from La Junta, a small town in Southeastern Colorado. A currently works as a background detective in Phoenix Arizona.

A informed me of this folklore over a dinner discussion. I asked A if she had any folklore, specifically legends or ghost stories she would be willing to share with me.

A: So this is the story I heard as a little girl of La Llorona, the “Crying Lady.” She lost her babies somehow, and wandered through the waterways, rivers, creeks, anything where there was a bridge overhead.. So as a kid we were always told “don’t cross the bridges at night” because La Llorona would be out there trying to steal children because she doesn’t have babies of her own.. So, even as a teenager, I would not walk over a bridge at night, I would walk extra, blocks to get away from the waterways just because it was too creepy to try to walk over it.

Reflection: The rendition of the La Llorona legend that A was told as child is consistent with the American Hispanic South-West understanding of La Llorona as a scare-tactic for children to discourage them from misbehaving or wandering away from home. I believe A’s story demonstrates how impressionable children are in relation to folklore, as La Llorona was still having a direct effect on A’s life well after childhood. Stories also tend to be more impactful when told by family members, as there is often an underlying sense of trust between blood ties that will lend immediate credibility to a story whether it is true or not.

 “For another version, see Schlosser, S. E., and Paul G. Hoffman. 2017, Spooky Southwest: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore., Page #85

Eggs, shoes, and nightmares.

A is a 59-year-old Hispanic American female originally from La Junta, a small town in Southeastern Colorado. A currently works as a background detective in Phoenix Arizona.

A informed me of this folklore over a dinner discussion. We were on the topic of family superstitions, and I asked A if she had any superstitions that she remembered her family believing in.

A: I was told by my parents that you’re not allowed to have eggs at night because you will have nightmares after eating them. They are only meant for the morning. I also remember you were not allowed to put your shoes underneath your head under your bed because that too would cause you nightmares.

Reflection: At first I had a hard time finding a correlation between these seemingly unrelated practices and nightmares. However, as A implies, the nightmares are induced by breaking the natural order of things. Like eating an egg (breakfast food) at night. Applying these same parameters, it can be assumed that keeping shoes underneath your head is harmful given that it breaks the natural order of shoes being on your feet. Based on my personal experiences being raised in a Hispanic family, there is often a strong emphasis on orderliness in the household and not breaking tradition. Perhaps these same values account for the superstitions present in A’s family.

Giving babies ”Ojo.”

A is a 59-year-old Hispanic American female originally from La Junta, a small town in Southeastern Colorado. A currently works as a background detective in Phoenix Arizona.

A informed me of this folklore over a dinner discussion. We were on the topic of family superstitions, and I asked A if she had any superstitions that she remembered her family believing in.

A: I was thinking about this a few days ago. I remember Nana and my aunts talking about giving a baby “ojo” by looking at them and falling over how cute they are it makes them sick if you do it too much. And then I read about it and I laughed because this is exactly what I remember hearing them talking about it, when I was little. I also remember in order for them to come back from the baby getting that, when you’re born they put a little bracelet on the babies made out of coral. I will call Nana to make sure but that’s what I remember. To help babies ward off the evil eye or “ojo” the babies would wear a little string with a piece of coral red coral. And then the mothers would put an egg in a cup of water near the bed to help them heal from the evil if they got it laughs.

Reflection: This folklore seems to be associated with the idea that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It brings greater context into my own family, as I remember my grandmother scolding my cousins for fawning over a baby, and I never knew quite why. I find it interesting that specifically coral and eggs in water act as deterrent. Perhaps they both have an absorbent property that draws evil away when placed in the immediate proximity of a baby.

Calladita Luzes Mas Bonita

Main Piece: 

“Calladita luzes mas bonita.”

Transliteration:

“Quieter you shine much prettier.”

Translation: 

“You shine brighter when you’re quiet.”

Background: 

My informant is one of my friends who lives in Miami, Florida, and is of Cuban and Iranian heritage. Her grandmother would often take care of her and her cousins when they were little, and the above piece is a phrase she would say to them when they were behaving poorly or talking back to her. This is also a phrase that’s recognized across Latinx cultures as a form of expressing disapproval, and criticizing one for talking too much. My informant also noted that it was usually the girls who would be on the receiving end of this expression, and not her boy cousins. 

Context: 

This piece came up when my friend and I were talking about the various ways that we would be disciplined and criticized by our grandmothers and elders in the Latinx community. My friend brought this phrase to attention as one of her memories, and I immediately recognized it because I’d heard a similar version of it when I was younger.  

Thoughts: 

This phrase seems to have been a staple of my childhood, part of which was spent in Mexico when I was young. My teacher in fourth grade would tell us the variation phrase, “calladitos se ven mas bonitos,” which translates to: “you [all] look prettier when you’re quiet.” Like my informant said, this phrase was used to criticize kids who were being rude or talking too much, but in my experience, it could also be applied to older people as well. The general message also serves as a warning to remind people to think about how their public image may be affected by their constant chatter. Like many proverbs, this tended to come from the mouths of our elders or anyone who seemed to carry a wave of authority, but that perception could have come as a result of them delivering the proverb. Additionally, it’s important to examine them because they can be representative of what kinds of behavior are accepted and valued in a culture— in this case, learning to hold your tongue. 

Regardless, I do agree with my informant’s observation that girls were more likely to be chastised for speaking too much rather than boys, and as she later added, it “Speaks to, for better or worse, the culture around propriety— not only in Cuban culture, but like Hispanic cultures.” From a young age, girls are conditioned from a young age to speak quietly and not to express more than their share of words. Introverted qualities are praised, whereas boys are given the liberty to talk as much as they want— maybe not constantly, as my fourth grade teacher scolded us, but extroverted behavior was encouraged, even expected for them.