Tag Archives: spain

Family Ties to Cortés

“My mom always tells me this story of how her family came over on Hernán Cortés’ actual boat. There aren’t really any documents of it actually happening, but it’s been a belief in my family for generations. My ancestor was a Spanish soldier on Cortés’ initial conquest of the Aztecs, but he had mixed feelings about how they treated the natives. After he befriended an Aztec women before Cortés reached Tenochtitlan, he decided to abandon the conquest and moved away with the woman. They eventually started a family in Mexico, and over a few generations, my branch of the family ended up in what is now Española, New Mexico. My mom’s family has been in Española for hundreds of years, and a whole bunch of my family lives there still.”


This comes from one of my friends whose mother is fully racially Mexican, but has lived in Española, New Mexico, her whole life. Her family actually was really prominent in Española and owned a lot of land in the New Mexico territory. He essentially said that he doesn’t really believe the story fully and thinks that his mom’s family has probably exaggerated it a lot, but he still finds it really cool how strong the belief is in his family, and he actually thinks it’s awesome that there is somewhat of a possibility that his family has a connection to such a significant historical event.


La Tuna

“During my college years in the mid 80’s I was a member of a ‘Tuna” group in Spain. A “Tuna” is a group of university or college students who dress in traditional costumes and play traditional instruments and sing serenades. In essence the tradition of this student tuna band or ensembles seems to go back to the 13th century as reflected in some of the medieval literature. That’s how we know the 13th century part because some of the literature alludes to these roaming student ensembles who would play music largely to earn money. They would sing and in some place they were known as “sopantes” de “sopa” (soup). Like soup kitchens that we have here; people would feed them for free. So sometimes they were known as “sopantes.” So this tradition of these student ensembles was typical of Spain and Portugal and it made its way even to the Americas through Spain. So in Mexico and Peru and all of these countries that were part of the Spanish empire, when the Spanish came and founded their universities here. In 1551 Emperor Charles V granted the charter which established the university of San Marcos in Lima, Peru to other old universities like Mexico City and Santo Domingo. So the tradition spread into the countries of the Americas that way. Today this tradition has even spread into the Netherlands as well. Over time the original purpose of these ensembles disappeared. The students weren’t doing these serenades to get money, largely but it became established as a venerable tradition on university campuses. And like by the 19th century already they were established as a cultural activity or enterprise on campuses. It was now sponsored on the campuses like a club or a school marching band. And membership was through trial; you had to pass. Not only music but pranks and stuff too. All of these things were involved in being admitted into “Le Tuna.” Now the tradition is that each school like Medicine, Architecture, Humanities, Law, you know all of these, have their own. And the colors are set for each field or discipline. I think Medicine is yellow. Basic science is usually royal blue. But there’s green and red. So no matter if it’s from different universities, the schools have the same colors. The costumes are kind of old fashioned and reminiscent of Renaissance, 16th century. So the costumes include a cloak, a ‘dublet,’ which is a tight fitting jacket almost like a bolero jacket that goes on top of a white shirt that has big cuffs and collar, they are like puffy. And then the pants are called petticoat britches, Spanish britches that are fitted right under the knee. And then there’s tights, stockings and also pointy black shoes and the most important thing is the so called “beca.” The “beca” is a V-shaped band that goes over the shoulders and on top of the jacket. The color of it is characteristic of the field. And then on top of everything you wear a big, long cloak, typical of the 16th century. Each ‘tuno,’ pins ribbons of different colors and seals or coat of arms patches that are sewn on of all of the cities and countries that the group has played in. The ribbons are usually given by girls to the “tuno.” But the seals or the coat of arms from places are collected through the traveling. So the amount of ribbons and patches on the cloak tells you already about the ensemble member. Those that are seasoned will have their cloaks nearly covered with patches. And those who are more popular with girls with have more ribbons *chuckles*.  Traditionally, the girl who gives the ribbon would embroider messages onto them for example, “para el tuno mas simpatico” (for the most charming tuno)  or “para el tuno mas guapo” (for the most handsome tuno).  Mothers, aunts, grandmothers and sweethearts would give the ribbons.

The instruments consist of typical Spanish guitars, but also combine other traditional string instruments like “el laud” y “la banduria” and also, very typically tambourines. The tambourines are the quintessential ‘Tuna’ instrument. Also some “Tuna’s” use accordions. Ive’ seen on television that Mexican “Tuna’s” have incorporated the typical Mexican, “guitarron.”

There is not agreement as to the origin of the name. Some trace it to the King of Tunis in north Africa. The tradition says that there might have been a “King Tunez” who was very fond of music and was sort of a vagabond and would like to walk around the streets playing and singing. So apparently sometime in the middle ages or the Renessaince the term “you’re a king of Tunis” would be given to the leader of an itinerant band.  But most people think it comes from the Spanish word “tunante” which is almost like a villain, a rogue but you can also use it with children like in English when we say “you little scamp.” “Tunante” has the connotation of mischievous yet playful, not necessarily malicious because we use it often with children.  From the word “tunante” could have evolved the word “tuno.” So the group of “tunos” became “La Tuna,” the band of “tunos.” But nobody really knows for sure.

They play lots of traditional “folk” music. Many of the songs are “tuna” folk songs but also many others are just other traditional songs that the play in their serenades. In modern times, “tunos” incorporate some more modern, popular music. One of the most typical songs in any ‘tunas’ repertoire is “La Compostelana.” It’s a song named after the “Tuna Compostelana.” Compostelana comes from Santiago de Compostela.  Which is the city of Saint James in northern Spain that has one of the best known and well established universities in Spain, founded in 1495. So this song that every ‘tuna’ plays has a line that says “Que cada cinta que adorna mi capa guarda un trocito de corazon.” Which means: every ribbon that decorates my cloak, holds a piece of heart. So that’s where the idea of the ribbon comes from.

It’s interesting that today in modern, recent times the ‘tunas’ have nearly regained or gone back to the idea of playing to earn money. Because now it’s not uncommon that they are hired by people for institutions or special events, such as weddings or other celebrations and even special events. For example when there are foreign dignitaries that come to Spain or for conventions to serenade visitors. While I was “tuno” we got hired to do two weddings. I was kind of like the ‘buffoon’ of the group. I would be the one cracking all the jokes and had the tambourine. I was directly engaging the audiences. The lead of the group is the one who introduces the band, cracks jokes, talks with the audience, with the girls, does acrobatic jumps and throws the tambourine around. ”

Can you tell me about some of the initiation processes or pranks you mentioned?:

“The selection process when someone wants to be a part of the ‘tuna’ starts with musical skills. Do you know how to play an instrument? Can you sing reasonably? There’s also usually tests to see if the person is shy and able to be out late at night and interacting with audiences. They’re not usually cruel though. Like standing out on the street in your underwear. Or asking a guy to take a ‘clavel,’ a carnation and profess your love to a random girl. Or to play out in the street and ask people to put money in your hat. These tests were kind of embarrassing but not meant to be overly cruel, more to test for an outgoing personality of a member. Oh and I forgot to tell you, some of the bigger groups take summer tours. Some of them have lots of prestige and are like institutions and go on tours abroad or just in Spain. ”

So the group didn’t only sing songs, there was dancing and performance involved?

“Yes, at a certain point the “tunos” get girls from the audience to dance. They play paso dobles and take women out to dance with them. Sometimes it’s in auditoriums but others it’s out in the street or they might go to an airport or something.”


I had seen this picture of my dad before and knew it was from his days of being a “tuno.” But I didn’t have anymore details than that. It was really fun for me to hear about my dad’s memories from college, right about when he was my age. It appears that this tradition in Spanish universities is similar to the American college tradition of fraternities. In both they form a close group and have some forms of initiations, but the ‘Tuna” has a musical and performance aspect that the fraternities lack. As his daughter I only get to see tidbits of his humor, but knowing that he played the lead of the group and/or buffoon makes absolute sense. It was also entertaining for me to watch him giggle when he started explaining the interactions “La Tuna” would have with women. It was my impression that he was popular with the ladies, although he didn’t explicitly admit that.
Here is another explanation of the “Tuna” tradition: http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/society/customs/tuna.asp

Los Cabezudos y Gigantes

“All the people in my village in Avila meet at the ‘Plaza de Ayuntamiento’ (City Hall). After we set off fireworks and when they finish the ‘Cabezudos’ start running and chasing after the people with branches and they hit the people. These ‘Cabezudos’ are first and then in the back are the ‘Gigantes’ (Giants) with the town band.  If you want to get chased you go to the front of the procession and if you want to be safe you go to the back with the giants and the band. This happens in the morning and then at night they do another thing. It’s called ‘Toro de Fuego’ (Fire Bull). One man puts a still structure with a bull form and in the horns they put ‘corre calles’ or ‘bengalas’ (light sticks, type of fireworks). When they fall off the horn the fireworks dance around the street on their own, like a type of rocket. This is a festival in my town and is less known than Sen Fermines.”


When does this festival take place?:

“The festival starts the 15th of July to about the 30th of July. The festival happens once a year and celebrates the saint of our town, San Pedro. ”

What are some other things that you guys do during the town festival?:

“There’s no school during this time because it’s summer. During any other summer night it would be normal to see lots of young people out on the street. But during the festival all ages and types of people are out on the street celebrating. A group sets up a stage and there are concerts and performances every night.”

Do you know how or who build the Cabezudos or Gigantes?:

“‘Cabezudos’ are big, plastic heads. I think they buy some and other, smaller ones they make. The same people who wear them during the procession either make or buy their own heads.”


The direct translation for “cabezudo” is an adjective meaning headstrong. But within the context of this festival the term is used as a noun for the large-headed characters that are a part of the parade. The direct translation for “gigantes” is giant. In the town festival these accompany the ‘cabezudos’ and are similar caricatures but are giant in height.

Upon further research I learned that the “cabezudos y gigantes” tradition is not isolated to the informants hometown of Avila. These characters are present in the parades of the patron saint festivals of many towns throughout Spain and now even in Latin America. The most famous example of them is from the patron saint festivals of San Fermin, known as ‘San Fermines’, as the participant had mentioned. Most town throughout Spain include them as a part of their parades, but not all do.

Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente

“The saying goes: Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente. If the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t feel, literally. In English a close equivalent would be “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” My grandmother Victoria would use this saying very often. She was actually my main source for Spanish sayings and proverbs, lo que llamamos ‘refranes’ (what we call ‘sayings’), ‘El refranero popular’ (popular proverbs). Much of it is not recorded and has been passed down from generation to generation. She, in her daily speech would sprinkle constantly ‘refranes’. And my other grandmother and other ladies would use them constantly. To a level that I don’t hear anymore in the younger generations, even my parents, as those ladies who were all born at the turn of the 20th century. And they would constantly, constantly use these popular sayings. Because of the circumstances they were my babysitters after school, I was exposed to their speech everyday. We would gather at my maternal grandmothers house and my paternal grandmother would join us everyday. And there we would have an after school snack, ‘la merienda’ and a number of other neighbors routinely would join and come also. “Las mismas viejas venian todo los dias. Jaja.” (The same old ladies would come every day. Haha.) My grandmother Encarna and grandmother Victoria. So I learned a lot of these ‘refranes’ directly from my grandmothers. Now talking to you I can clearly see that later generations would not use as much these refranes or popular sayings in their everyday speech. To the point that every situation, every conversation, whether happy or festive or sad or even, because then there was a point there were some children shows on television shows. My grandmother had a television; and they would react to these shows and situations or the news with ‘refranes.” Tengo una lista de refranes muy larga. (I have a very long [mental] list of sayings.)  But this one that I’m telling you about was very widely used by my paternal grandmother. She would use it many different ways. For family members and relatives or for more removed situations. She would often use it with the meaning of ‘don’t make someone suffer unnecessarily.’ And her second most favorite one was “Donde las dan, las toman.” *laughs* The donde is very undefinied but in English it could be “what goes around comes around.” Siempre estaba diciendo esto. (She was always saying this.) I remember she would use this a lot from the small children. Like if one of the kids would hit another kid, and then the kid tripped she would say “Donde las dan, las toman.”

It’s kind of sad really, up until that generation, those people were not all necessarily educated but they had all of these refranes in their “acervo cultural” (cultural heritage, cultural tradition). It was a big part of their cultural baggage. And today we don’t use them; we’ve lost them. Maybe because now we’ve become more rational or whatever and we don’t have to rely so much on what the collective thinking had to say on things. They feel probably that they don’t need to fall back on what the collective thinking has to say because all these sayings are collective thinking on anything and everything. On the weather. There was a time when people relied on those things more to interpret daily life, both in the natural world and in human relations and on other levels. I remember them talking a lot about the weather and using sayings. They were constantly using sayings to interpret everything going on around them. That’s my point. That has been lost. People don’t do that anymore.”

The item that has been collected here is the saying, “Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente.” But what I found most compelling about this conversation was my fathers reasoning for why many of these sayings or “Refranero Popular” have been lost. Western society focuses more and more on science, the official and the logical. Some sayings still exist, but as he explained this is not what people nowadays rely on to interpret the world around them. These sayings were not just whimsical sentences, they were modes of interacting with their surroundings and explaining phenomenon. Now, we tend to base our thinking and statements on what the latest study has discovered or the newest schools of thought.

It was interesting for me to watch my dad tell me this story. He was kind of sad. And not only because he was nostalgic, thinking about his grandmother and their times together, but also because he was realizing that a part of the culture he grew up with is disappearing.


“Back in 1969, I was 7 years old. Kids at that age, even today too, declare allegiance to a soccer club which usually is the one that represents your city. Every town, even small towns have a local soccer team that you root for. But you also have to be a fan of a team in ‘La Liga,’ the national league even if you live in a city which doesn’t have a team playing in ‘La Liga.’. The choice is usually by birthplace, if you were born in a big city that determines which professional team you become a fan of. But if you were not born in a big city or a city without a professional team in ‘La Liga’ then your choice is based off of other factors. For example, a family member like a dad, uncle or a cousin or even a classmate. It can also be based on geographical proximity to a team with a professional team in ‘La Liga.’ And in the big cities that have more than one professional team that is usually shaped by your family, neighborhood, part of town that you were born in, usually. Many kids also by default, in virtually any city, even cities that have professional teams, also follow one of these two teams, Real Madrid or Barcelona. So you can be a Sevilla fan or a Valencia fan but also either Real Madrid or Barcelona, which are the two most powerful clubs. So it’s like in the U.S. that the Lakers or Celtics have fans all over the country. In Spain, the country is always divided into two camps, the Real Madrid followers or Barcelona followers.

So when I was 7, so the American equivalent to second grade, there was a three way split since first grade that I remember. We would always play and talk soccer. So all my classmates were divided into three groups: Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Every kid was a fan of one of those three. In 1969 I saw one day, right after school that season the national championship had been won by Atlético de Madrid. So I saw a poster that featured them on a window of a bookstore. I was looking at that poster and recognized their faces from watching them on television; I knew somewhat the players. In that moment I decided to be a fan of them and no one else from the school was rooting for that team. I particularly liked the striker, Garate. I kind of wanted to, I liked the fact that no one else at the school was rooting for them and also because they had just won the championship I decided that was the team I was going to follow. So that day I became a ‘colchonero.’ That’s the nickname that the followers of that team are known by. The nickname ‘colchonero’ was born in 1913 when the team switched it’s original white and blue colors for red and white vertical stripes. Which up until today are the team colors. The nickname was born because the colors and vertical stripes reminded people of the design of mattress covers of the time. Mattresses of the time, early 20th century were striped and white and red. So it reminded people of mattresses or ‘colchones’ and from that point on the team and it’s followers were known as ‘colchoneros.’ The team has had, over it’s 100 year history some reasonable success, winning several national championships and European titles. However, it has not been as successful as Real Madrid, their neighbors, or Barcelona. And the team itself and it’s fans have given rise to a now nationally known spirit or attitude. The reason for this is that there had been intermittent, sprinkled success but usually the wait in between titles has been long. On a couple of occasions the team lost it’s standing in the first division, ‘La Liga’ and had to drop down to the second division, what would be the minor leagues in the U.S. Like for a big team like Atlético de Madrid to drop down like that is a big deal. The history of the team is alot of success mixed with hardship and disappointment. A few years back there was a spot on television that shows this attitude, issued by the team as a promotional campaign to increase the following and season passes for the club. Purposely this commercial reflects the ‘colchonero’ spirit of living through disappointment and hardship. So you are a fan of them because it’s almost like your own personality. They emphasize that it’s almost like being a masochist because you know you’re going to be disappointed. It showed scenes after past disappointments. And at the end the son asks the dad, “Papa porque somos del Atleti?” (Dad, why do we belong to Atlético de Madrid?) That is the question that all kids, in my days it was only boys but now it’s boys and girl, ask each other, “De quien eres?” (Who do you belong to?). Every boy had to “belong” to a team.  The spirit of my team kind of represents an alternative path or approach which manifests itself often in life. We have situations in society, in politics, in business, or art where people tend to gather around what seem to be the two majority options, paths, or schools of thought but that sometimes a third alternative or way may emerge. For example in the United States, most people would identify themselves as being either republican or democratic. And now in more recent years, the Independents have gained more momentum. Even in English we would use the question “who do you belong to?” more to describe your political inclination. While in Spain, your sports allegiance is a huge factor within your identity. Although it’s not perfect, it’s a stronger predictor of a persons general attitude, mindset or view of life than sports allegiance in the United States.  I’m trying to say that a person who follows Atlético de Madrid is in general, more likely to be more a third way person in politics and other things in life. It’s an important, popular statement or way to gauge or ascertain a persons general outlook. Also, people who follow Real Madrid or Barcelona have other generalizations.”

There are several interesting facets to this description of folklore:
Firstly, the group of fans that support the national teams all have nicknames. These nicknames however are not derived from the team name or a team mascot, like many of the teams in the United States. The nicknames are based on other factors or criteria. The participant gave the example of followers of Atlético de Madrid being nicknamed, “colchoneros.” Fans of FC Barcelona are known as ‘Culés’ and those of Real Madrid are called ‘Merengues.’ Merengues comes from a” Spanish dessert, usually white, made from whipped egg-whites and sugar, and served amongst the elites.” ‘Culés’ is “Catalan for asses. People passing by their old stadium, Les Corts, would sometimes see their buttocks hanging over the side of the benches, hence the nickname for the supporters.”
These two explanations were provided by: http://www.laligaweekly.com/2010/05/la-liga-nicknames.html. The site provides some of the other nicknames for the followers of teams in ‘La Liga’ and their descriptions.

Also interesting is that there are some stereotypes surrounding the individuals depending on the national team they support. Doing some more research I was able to figure out that fans of Real Madrid have the stereotype of being wealthy and elitist. I was unable to find a ‘stereotype’ regarding the followers of Barcelona, but the team has become a symbol of Catalan pride throughout their desire to break free from the rest of Spain. Atlético de Madrid is “the 3rd club of Spain in terms of fans, although far from Barça and Madrid. The image of the club is the story of the most “unlucky” team in Spain. Atlético is the club where everything can happen and it’s always lived by big passion, the good and the bad things. This history of “losers” and compared with their neighbors have made Atlético a special club. Atlético is considered the team of the people, the team of the artists, even sometimes linked to the left in politics. They say ‘it’s easy to be madridista, but being atlético is something that can’t be explained, you have it in the blood’.” A similar explanation of Atlético de Madrid’s reputation to that of my father’s is provided above by http://www.xtratime.org/forum/showthread.php?t=145703.

Additionally the language they use surrounding sports and especially soccer is indicative of how crucial it is to their national identity. In English we ask people who they are a fan of or who which team they root for. Usually it has something to do with your geographical proximity to a particular team but not always and/or can have something to do with your family culture. However, in Spanish the question that is asked is “To whom (what team) do you belong?” It is meant to ask for whom does a person root for but they type of language that is used implies a very strong connection with a persons being and identity. Also, since the country is much smaller than the United States the rivalry may be more augmented due to the fact that the teams and fans are confined to a smaller geographical space which creates more tension. This could be compared to the rivalries between Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in California or the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers in California. Most rivalries are not cross-country, they are between teams of closer geographic proximity. But still, it seems that an individuals loyalty to one of the three national soccer teams in Spain is a much greater indicator of personality and/or political inclinations and an integral part of a citizens national identity than in any sport in the United States.