Tag Archives: Mexican

Unwrapping Tamales For Christmas

Background: The informant is a 52 year old man. He was born in Tulare, California. He grew up with his four siblings and two parents, moving from location to location across California. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California. 

Context: The context as that when the informant was eating tamales, he was reminded of Christmas.

Text:

MD: “Well typically, uh, mexican families, they make, uh, tamales for Christmas, and, you know, it’s kind of like a seasonal food, and that’s considered traditional to make tamales for Christmas, and uh, the big joke about tamales and mexicans is that the reason why mexicans make tamales is so they can have something to unwrap for christmas. And so uh, I used to help my mom make ‘em, and we would kind of like interchange, like, you know, sometimes I would like, layout the leaves and spread the masa, which is like corn dough, on them, or other times she would do that, and she would allow me to put the meat inside of it. It’s like a meat sauce, and uh, she didn’t like me putting the meat with the sauce in the tamale because I would typically put too much and, uh, she’d kind of strive for balance between the masa and the meat, the problem though too is like when you steam them, if you, if you put too much meat inside them, they kind of overflow, and they, they break apart the tamale, you know? It is what it is.” 

Analysis:

Informant: He is very humorous and recalls both the joke and the tamales in good fun. He reminisces about his time with his mother and looks to it as a great bonding moment between the two of them each year.

Mine: First, the joke’s context is that Mexicans are considered poor in America and will not have the money to buy presents for their family. While on the surface, the joke seems like a laughable jab, it speaks to a much deeper social context, about how Mexican families are treated in the greater societal context of the US. Typically, they do not have higher paying jobs or may be supporting a larger family and much more. However, the joke is prevalent in Mexican communities in order to make light of their hardships. It shows how humor is consistently used to make a situation seem better and it’s a source of hope. Second, making tamales on Christmas is very widespread in Mexican culture. Given how the informant would always complete the task with his mother, it provided a way for the two of them to connect through their culture of making food. 

Easter Capirotada

Background: The informant is a 50 year old man. He was born in Tecate, Mexico, moving to California when he was young. He grew up with his four siblings and two parents, moving from location to location across California. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California. 

Context: The context was a few weeks before Easter, and the informant began sharing stories about what happens before Easter when walking in the mall past Easter decorations.


Text:

UI: “Around Easter, when I was a kid, we used to go to my grandmothers, in uh, Delano, which is a small town near Bakersfield, and, and what she used to do is that she would make this, hm, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like a bread pudding and in Spanish it’s called capirotada. You know, I haven’t had it in so long because it takes like all day to make it. What you do is start off with about a week old bread, and then you put it in a tray with butter. And basically, it’s like traditional Mexican bread. It’s like a bread pudding type bread, and you typically make it before Easter and it’s like day old bread with raisins and butter and nuts, and it’s just like it all melts together with cinnamon and they sprinkle it with cheese on top and it all kind of like blends together into a weird pudding mixture, and that’s basically in preparation for Easter. I used to help my grandmother make it, because she would make trays and trays for everybody. The bread represents the body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, and the cloves are the nails of the cross, and the whole cinnamon sticks are the woods of the cross, and the melted cheese stands for the holy shroud. I guess it’s just like hidden meanings with the crucifixion of Jesus for Easter within the food.” 

Analysis:

Informant: He was very excited when sharing the story and appeared actually nostalgic for his childhood. Evidently, the time making food with his grandmother was a peaceful time of his life, and he loved the food.

Mine: Many of the foods around the holiday have hidden religious meanings behind them, having a dual cultural significance for both being a food to bring together family on holidays and for the religious context. The informant made the food with his grandmother, serving as time for the two of them to bond and for him to be taught the recipe of the Mexican dish. He was in the transition state from passively accepting the tradition when he began cooking with his grandmother. Then, the capirotada holds religious folklore, with each element not being randomly chosen, but rather chosen to represent an element of Christ. Given that the informantant still remembers the information after all these years, it is clear that the message imparted onto him by his grandmother held a deep value for him. It is our elders who are carrying on the traditions and they must be listened to in order to fully absorb it.

The Curse of the Church in Tlzazalca

PP is an 18 year old college student. She is a freshman communications major whose parents are from Mexico. PP has visited her hometown Tlzazalca in Mexico many times and heard about this curse from her family and the locals.

Context: The informant and I are roommates and I know she has strong ties to her Mexican culture and I asked if she had any folk legends to share as we drank tea on the couch. She has stayed in Mexico over summers and experienced them with her family.

Transcript:

PP: Basically, I don’t know when exactly this happened but I think it’s from the 1800s. The church in the plaza, it’s been there for so many years, it was built when the town was first created. It was supposedly the first building created there and church became really important to the town. But then people were not respecting the church. You kind of have to go to church there [in Tlzazalca] or else it’s taboo if that makes sense. What happened was girls would show up wearing really short dresses and stuff started to happen that were not considered Godly in the church. The priest was really pissed at the town and could not believe their disrespect because the town is supposed to be sacred. At this point he was falling out of the church like a lot of the other locals and he started doing satanic rituals to make them listen to him. He then cursed the town and that is why the town does not grow… By that I mean the town is so small and the population stays the same. As people continue to die, it would become a ghost town, and that is what the priest intended.

Thoughts/Analysis: This is an interesting version of stories were the Godly/heroic figure turns on the town. It reminds me a bit of Beauty and the Beast where the witch cursed the Beast for being selfish. This story is based on a social belief of people in the town. This story sits on the fine line between a myth and a legend because legends are based on social beliefs and might be true, myths are creation stories and would tell how the town of Tlzazalca stays so small.

For a variation of a very similar story, see:

Tayebi, N. “Kuldhara.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 8, 2018. http://folklore.usc.edu/kuldhara/.

Maria Fue Con El Diablo

PP is an 18 year old college student. She is a freshman communications major who’s parents are from Mexico. PP has visited her hometown Tlzazalca in Mexico many times and heard about this legend from her parents.

Context: The informant and I are roommates and I know she has strong ties to her Mexican culture and I asked if she had any folk legends to share as we drank tea on the couch.

Transcript:

PP: In my town, where we live, it’s mostly surrounded by water and rivers. There’s a natural spring where we go for water. But on the other side of town, there’s a huge lake. Supposedly, there was this woman, named Maria I think. She had a few children, maybe 2 or 3, with her husband. He was abusive and treated her horribly. But she stayed with him until this new man came into town. He was attractive, super sweet, a Godly man, and everything you could dream of in a man. She saw him and thought, “Oh my gosh, I like him” and he liked her too. But the thing is he found out that she was in the process of getting a divorce and had already had children. He didn’t like the idea of her having children already because he did not want to raise children that were not his. And so, he told her, “If you want to be with me, you can’t have your children”. She was obsessed with him and would do anything for him because he was perfect, like he was carved from a movie. She still didn’t know where he came from and no one knew who he was. She was surprised by his reaction so she went to church and prayed about it but she somehow fell out with the church and she felt like there was nothing else she could do. One night she was by the river across town and she set up to do satanic rituals to find a way to get rid of her children. As she was doing these rituals, she was speaking to the devil. A few days later she takes her children to the river and drowns them. Then the man finds her there and he says, “You did that all for me?” and he takes her to hell because he was the devil the entire time.

Collector: Wow. Have you been to that lake?

PP: Yeah it’s really scary. It’s horrible and the last time I went to Mexico, we were at a party and it was around 11pm. Right where we live is near a spring of water and we heard something like moaning and decided to ignore it. But who knows what it could have been.

Thoughts/Analysis: There are many variations of stories and legends where a mother sacrifices her children. This one is quite scary though because the devil slowly influenced her. This story and those alike in which they are related to the devil tell folklorists that these folk groups are strongly connected in their faith because the main fear-factor in this legend is not necessarily that Maria drowned her children; it is that the perfect man was actually the devil.

For a variation of this legend, see:

Ryanprod, and Ryanprod. “My Father’s Version of La Llorona.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, November 4, 2021. http://folklore.usc.edu/my-fathers-version-of-la-llorona/.

The Floating Lady

Background: My informant is a 19 year old girl with Mexican heritage. She describes this paranormal experience that happened to her great grandmother in the 1970’s and again years later. When her grandmother tells this story to the family, everyone becomes a little uncomfortable. 

S: In the early 70’s, my great grandmother lived on a lemon tree farm that she had used to provide for her family. She says that the farm was vast, there were certain places on her farm where you could look and see nothing but tall lemon trees. One night when my grandmother was playing outside, she came back inside crying to my great grandmother about a lady standing in the orchard and staring at her. My great grandmother went to the front door of the house and looked out to see what my grandma was talking about. She saw a lady standing outside staring into the house. My grandma says that this would not have been strange usually, as where she was located in Mexico got extremely hot and it was not uncommon for people to go to her orchard and cool off under her trees. But she noticed that this lady had been levitating a couple inches off of the ground and says she became terrified. She saw the same lady many years later a second time when she had immigrated to California. My mother had been very young at the time and was helping my great grandmother babysit her cousins since their parents went out for the night. The babies had all fallen asleep so my mother went to her room to go to sleep herself. My great grandmother was leaving the kitchen to go to her room when she noticed a figure standing over one of the babies. She initially thought it was my mother messing with babies, so she started yelling at her to stop. This yelling made the figure turn around and she saw an old woman staring back at her. My grandmother then says that woman went to the living room window, opened it and crawled out all while my great grandmother was screaming at her. She had thought she was dealing with a kidnapping situation at first, until she reflected on the events and she recalled that the lady had been slightly floating off of the ground just like the lady she had seen many years ago in Mexico. My great grandma, she’s no stranger to paranormal events. She even claims that one night when she was washing dishes, she felt someone roughly tap her shoulder twice, so rough that it made her drop the dish she was holding into the sink. But when she turned around nothing was there. My great grandmother is now in her eighties and tells the story with just as much fear as she did when she was young. 

Me: Is there any reason why she thinks this happened to her?

S: She thinks it could be a bad omen. My grandma, the one who first saw the lady outside when she was a girl, got into a really bad car accident and she’s had schizophrenia ever since. And when she appeared the second time, the cousin she was looking over ended up losing his future baby when it was barely a month old. So my grandma believes that the floating lady’s appearance signals that something bad will happen to them. 

My thoughts: It appears to me that many times, paranormal superstitions and omens, especially ghosts, may be localized to a small folk group, especially the familial level. It’s not uncommon both through the grapevine and in the media that there are cases in which a specific entity follows a person or family around and can latch on to them, sometimes over generations, and sometimes localized to a specific town or house. This speaks to the belief that ghosts may exist outside of time but are made real through their liminal connection to the living world. I believe that stories with ghost attachments are common in cultures that emphasize familial bonds such as Mexico because they are more likely to perceive connection as something important and real that can transcend the boundaries of the living realm, as evidenced by the tradition of El Dia de los Muertos. Even if the supernatural connection is a negative thing, such as in the story above, the paranormal experience still serves as a form of wisdom and warning to those who can perceive it.