Tag Archives: Mexican Customs

Break the Tortilla – Quiebra la Tortilla

Informant: My informant is my Mexican mother, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico. While she stayed with her mom for about 16 years before coming to the U.S, she grew up with many superstitions that derived either from her mom or from her grandmother.

Main Piece: “Esto lo escuche de mi mama en mi niñez. Ella siempre decía, que si sobraban tortillas era importante de intentar de no tirarlas a la basura porque si no uno se hacía más pobre y era mala suerte. Era muy importante que las agarres y las quiebres en pedazos más pequeños y dárselos a cualquier animal que encuentres en la calle como un perro. O si tenias puerquitos dárselos ellos” 

Translation:  “I heard this from my mom when I was a child. She always said that if there were leftover tortillas it was important to try not to throw them in the trash because if you didn’t you would become poorer and it would be bad luck. It was very important that you grab them and break them into smaller pieces and try to give them to any animal that you would find on the street like a dog. Or if you had little pigs, give it to them”

Context: My mom stated that she grew up hearing this superstition for as long as she could remember when she lived with her mom back in her town. She still performs it up to this day because it’s not that she believes that something bad will happen out of throwing out a tortilla, but because she states that this superstition has taught her to value even the simplest of foods. Growing up poor, she stated that sometimes the only thing her mom could provide for her was a tortilla with some salt or green pepper. Whenever there were one or two tortillas left and they had been overheated too many times and were too bland/hard to eat anymore her mom would break them into pieces and offer them as an offering to the animals.  Again, throwing them away was a big NO NO because God would punish them.

Analysis: I agree with my mom’s analysis of this superstition. My mom grew up in very difficult circumstances and I am sure that she was not the only one in that town who had to go through this. I also don’t believe that merely throwing a tortilla into the trash will necessarily make you any poorer is true. However, I do see where my grandma and great-great grandma/others who believe in this superstition come from. The tortilla in Mexico is a very sacred item, a symbolic perspective, and a pride-inspiring symbol of the nation and its people. Therefore, if this sacred item is thrown away it symbolizes not being grateful for the food that was created by previous ancestors, and ultimately when thrown away it’s a sign of ungratefulness. Not only do I believe that this custom has to do with culture and heritage itself, but also with religion. Throwing away a tortilla might also be considered rude in the Catholic religion because it refers back to Jesus’s last meal where he broke bread for his disciples. I’m assuming that this custom has transcended throughout generation to do the same with the idea of not wasting food or sharing to those less fortunate.

Wearing Black for a Year After a Death

Piece

EA: You are supposed to mourn someone like your spouse, child, or like parent in like you wear all black for a year. If you don’t then there will be a public hanging of you, no. I mean that is like you don’t care type of thing. 

CA: Is this in Mexico? 

EA: Yeah in Mexico.

CA: Does anyone do it here [United States].

EA: Still like older people will do it here. Like I don’t know if you have seen tia [whose mother recently passed away] she is wearing all black. 

CA: Do they do it for as long?

EA: No, I think now they will do it for a shorter period of time, but I think people like tita [her mother] or like older people will do it for a longer period of time. I don’t know about a year. They will do like grays and black but they won’t put on like loud colors. It’s called el luto. Then also, you are not supposed to go to like a party, a dance, anything that is supposed to be happy and lively for a whole year. See like Papa Javier [husband’s father] didn’t come for your [my sister’s] quinceanera because his brother had just died and like none of his family came because of that reason because we were going to have a party and have music. It is frowned upon like if they come it is like, “did you see that he is here, his brother just died. I can’t believe it either.” The longer the time the better. I would say a good three to six months. I would say after six months maybe people won’t say anything anymore, but the older people will still say something. Especially if it is your spouse and you are like not, then you are talked about that like you didn’t care. 

CA: Is it the same for husbands and wives or is it more frowned upon for one or the other?

EA: Well, yeah most husbands will not do that for their wives. Women have to do it. I mean men, that is a good question it is probably really sexist because it is okay for a man to do it but it is not okay for a women to do it. 

Context

EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me while my sister was also present.

Analysis

The luto is an outward expression of grief and how much the loved one that passed away meant to you. This is why it is seen as so disrespectful to break the luto because it is a sign that you did not care about the death. Additionaly, the dark clothes and avoiding parties play on the sadness and loss surrounding death more than the celebration life. The person must have meant a lot to you if you are unable to really enjoy yourself after they are gone.

It would also potentially be a way to release your misery and give yourself a set amount of time to grieve, and after it marks the time when it is appropriate to move on and enjoy yourself without feeling bad about it. With the younger generation it is becoming a more personal decision about when people are ready to start moving on and enjoying themselves. However, this opens you up to more outside criticism and comparison. If everyone mourns the same amount there is no comparison between who has mourned a husband longer than another woman. 

Dia de Los Muertos Alter

Interviewer: So you were saying about Dia de Los Muertes?

SR: Yeah so Dia de Los Muertes is like a special thing for my family and I didn’t really know about it until I was 13. I think I turned 13 when someone in my family had recently past away and they were like “oh, let’s start this tradition again.” We had made the alter, “La Obra” that when we put like the pictues of like our dead one and like the belief about it is that you get to spend that one day with them and like their spirit comes and spends a moment in our home. It is kind of like comforting thing as they are like beign in the other world. I guess it is also guiding them in a way too. I heard that you put a glass of water out. It is for like their long trip walking and it is, you know stuff like that. Giving them and offering them and offering them the things they like here on earth. And it could be like traditionally like a shot of tequilla or a ban de muerto which is very traditional and then like their favorite food which could be like pozole or tacos honestly, but we keep those out because our belief is that they actually do come into our household or wherever the alter may be and they spend that moment with us here on earth. 

Interviewer: So do you only do it for those who have recently died? 

SR: No, we do it for everybody. So I have I want to say my great, great, great grandpa and from that generation on, like people we have pictures for. It could be anybody.

Interviewer: And who taught you about it and showed you how to do it?

SR: My mom, yeah I think my mom. It is because my grandpa is buried in Sacramento and since we live in {somewhere in Southern California}it is like a long trip right so they only way she feels connected to him for that one day. 

Context

SR is a 20 year old student who attends college of the canyons in Santa Clarita. This conversation took place over a casual FaceTime call when I asked her is she had any folklore I could use for the database. She comes from a Catholic Mexican household and has lived in Southern California her whole life. 

Analysis

This excerpt shows the connection Dia de Los Muertos offers to the people that practice it with their loved ones that have passed away. The tradition in SR’s household was not brought back until there was a more recent death and was a desire to connect with them. Despite being focused on keeping the connection with a more recently deceased family members there is an emphasis on including all the people you can. Her great, great, great grandfather is someone she would never have met, but still earned his place on her alter simply by being a part of her family. Thus, showing the importance of family in Mexican culture and seeing the value in staying connected with your anscestors after they have passed on. Additionally, doing it for much older members of your family better ensure that those that come after you will do the same for you long after you are gone. 

Making Tamales–No Boys Allowed

LK explained that his grandmother and great grandmother would make tamales routinely at his great grandmother’s house.  His grandmother, great grandmother, aunts and mom would sit around the table and make tamales while telling stories.

While this tamale-making is a tradition in and of itself, LK shared a superstition present during the cooking.  LK explained that men were not allowed in the kitchen.  If there were men helping out in the kitchen or even simply standing in the kitchen, the women believed the tamales would burn and therefore be ruined.

LK’s family are Mexican Americans who were for the most part born in America.  LK’s grandmother and great grandmother were very superstitious women.  Therefore, it is not out of the ordinary for them to have superstitions regarding time spent in the kitchen.

Perhaps this superstition developed because the men would distract the women if they were in the kitchen and the tamales would actually burn–a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.  Or perhaps this superstition developed because the kitchen was a woman’s territory in Mexican American culture.  Their belief may have been a mechanism to keep the men off the women’s turf.

Baptisms Can Determine a Child’s Future Fortunes

Baptisms Can Determine a Child’s Future Fortunes

“The way a baptism goes can either mean that the child will have good luck in their future or not. This though is specifically entirely in the hands of the padrinos(god parents) so the parents of the child must choose a good fit. The padrinos are said to have to buy the baby’s attire for the day, pay for the holy mass and then contribute in whatever else they want for the baby’s party. The padrinos also have to throw a “bolo”, this is money thrown in behalf of the baby and other kids then get to pick it up. The baby’s luck is measured by how lavish the attire is, and how much money the padrinos throw… they say that if the padrinos are being stingy about the party, then the baby will suffer terrible luck but if the padrinos don’t show any signs of stinginess and are willing to rip a hole in their pockets, then the baby will be very lucky… I don’t really know how this originated, what I do know is that everyone goes by the same rule. I know my mom talks about how this was something that had been happening since years ago back at home in Mexico. I don’t think it’s like something set in stone but I mean, everyone else is doing it so why not. And it also is kind of true. My mother says how I have really good luck because my padrinos gave a lot of money the day of my baptism, and I do feel like I’m pretty lucky, whereas my sister didn’t even have a party and she’s not doing as good as I am. I also did the same for my children and I hope that they choose good padrinos for their kids. I guess this is all a tradition that makes us who we are.”

My informant is a 41 year old Mexican descendant who was born in Mexico but has lived in the USA for the most part of her life. She maintains most of her ties to her Mexican culture while living in the USA so therefore, most of the things she knows has been passed down by her mother and other relatives. She does not necessarily learn her folk tales for different thing via a specific book or other published material, but rather from relatives in her daily life.

This was pretty fascinating to analyze because who knew that a baby’s future can be determined at such a young age. Furthermore, I found interesting that parents are solely responsible for what kind of future their kids will have, based on this tradition. It might be interesting to try and see where this tradition originated from because that way we would be able to see exactly why it is formatted the way it is. Regardless, I don’t think that just because it seems silly, it’s not entirely a myth. It may actually be true, and if so, it should be practiced because who wouldn’t want good luck.