Category Archives: beliefs

3 Elefantes

My youngest son wanted to buy a little toy and it was 2 for $1. He asked if he could buy 1 for 50 cents and they refused so he bought the toy he wanted and picked a little elephant for Suegra.

He went to Suegra and gave her the elephant and she smiled. “I will have good luck soon because of you,” she said in Spanish. My son smiled and walked away, probably not understanding her words but knowing she was happy.

“Why will you have good luck?” I asked.

She explained that in El Salvador some people believe if you have tres elefantes (three elephants), you will have luck – but the way in which you come to own the elephants is important.

“Uno comprado, uno regalado, y uno robado,” she says with a sly smile.

(One bought, one received as a gift, and one stolen.)

Knowing she has one elephant figurine in her room that she bought years ago, and now this one that my son gave her, I asked about the third.

“Do you have a stolen elephant?” I asked.

“No,” she said… “Not yet.”

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Today our church celebrates Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, but the forecast is calling for freezing rain so it may be postponed or canceled since the Spanish-speaking priest comes in from out of the city. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t attend the service, because it’s the one I look most forward to each year.

Raised Protestant, the Catholic relationship with the Virgin Mary was something that I had difficulty understanding at first. Protestants do not adore her the way Catholics do. I also found it confusing that there seemed to be a lot of Virgins in the Catholic faith. There is the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin, etc. I later learned that these are not different virgins – they are all the same Virgin Mary, (mother of Jesus). Some of the names are just describing her attributes, (such as Our Lady of Peace), and others are for locations where she appeared to people.

Years ago, during the course of writing one of my manuscripts, I needed to do research on the Catholic faith. While researching, I discovered the Virgin of Guadalupe, and fell in love. There is something about the Virgin of Guadalupe that intrigues me more than I can really put into words.

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes once said, “…one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.” And Nobel Literature laureate, Octavio Paz, wrote, “The Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.”

If you don’t know the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, allow me to share it with you.

There once was an indigenous Mexican man named Juan Diego. (His birth name was Cuauhtlatoatzin, but Juan Diego was the name he took when Spanish bishops converted him to Christianity.)

Juan Diego was a widower who walked every Saturday and Sunday to church. When it was cold out he wore a cloak-like covering called a “tilma”, a common type of clothing for the people of his tribe. On one particular Saturday morning (December 9, 1531), on his way to church, Juan Diego claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin.

As he passed the hill at Tepeyac just outside of Mexico City he heard music and saw a light. A woman’s voice called him by name from the top of the hill, so he climbed up to see. Near the top he saw a beautiful young dark skinned woman dressed like an Aztec princess. She spoke to him in his native language (Nahuatl) and told Juan that she was the Virgin Mary.

The Virgin instructed Juan Diego to seek permission for a church to be built on that site and in return she would always care for the people there. Juan Diego did as he was told but the bishop asked for a sign to verify that what Juan Diego claimed had really happened.

Juan Diego returned to the hill and told the Virgin what the bishop had said. The Virgin then directed Juan Diego to go further up the hill and there he would find roses. He was instructed to gather the roses into his tilma. Juan Diego did as the Virgin instructed. (Remember it is winter time and roses would not have been blooming.) The Virgin then told Juan Diego to bring the roses to the bishop.

Not only was the bishop surprised by the roses because they were not in season but these particular roses were also not native to Mexico. These roses were native to his homeland (Spain). And then as Juan Diego emptied the roses from his tilma, it revealed an amazing image of the Virgin.

Juan Diego’s tilma with the image still exists today. It is on display at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. This is considered yet another miracle because Juan Diego’s tilma is made from the coarse fibers of the maguey cactus. A fabric of this type should have deteriorated after 20 years. (It has been in good condition for almost 500 years and examined by many scientists who can find no explanation.)

For those who take a more cynical view, there are theories that the Catholic church made all this up just to convert the native peoples of Mexico.

Today, many of those faithful to the Virgin of Guadalupe pray to her and ask miracles. Many claim she has healed them or loved ones from incurable illnesses. Some make promises to the Virgin in return for answered prayer. On the day of celebration for the Virgin of Guadalupe, some will walk on their knees, (some for miles), to her altar in gratitude and devotion.

Our church usually assembles in the street with mariachi at sunrise to sing “Las Mañanitas” to La Virgen. After misa, there is a procession and a traditional desayuno of pozole, tamales and champurrado.

I hope we will be able to go, but here are photos from last year.

Rear windshield of a car outside the church.

A guy at church was wearing a pretty sweet jacket. He turned around and let me take his photo.

Image of La Virgencita and rosas people left for her.


Statue of La Virgen.

My youngest hijo asked if they have Cheerios. (He wasn't crazy about eating a tamal for breakfast.)

Faith & The Seeming Unfairness of Life

Today my friend Juan of, wrote about faith. (I encourage you to click over and read it.)

I responded in comments:

“I recently tried to blog about this but the post sits in my drafts because it ended cynically and I don’t like to spread negativity if possible. Faith has never been easy for me but unlike you, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found it more difficult.

Not having that belief that “everything happens for a reason” and is part of a bigger plan – that there is someone in charge up there that knows what is going on even when it looks like chaos from down here – having the unsettling feeling that we’re on our own, doesn’t feel good.

Faith is not something that can be bought or forced. If it could be, I’d spend good money to stock up on it just for the comfort it can provide.

The natural optimist in me won’t go down that easily though. There’s a tiny spark of hope that I’m wrong. My heart and mind are in constant battle over this… I’ve had to accept this, and accept that my definition of faith isn’t the solid kind some are lucky enough to stand on. My faith is something fleeting that I must constantly chase.”

As a result, Juan encouraged me to finish this post and hit the publish button… and so here it is – a post that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day.


“It’s not fair!” … These three words of indignation are one of the first phrases we learn as children. We shout it at our parents with a stamp of our foot when we’ve been denied something we want and it’s thrown around on school playgrounds across the nation as much as those bouncy red balls.

“It’s not fair!” was a phrase that was especially easy for me to employ as a middle child. With an older sister who was granted more freedoms and a little sister who was bestowed more mercy, there was plenty to find unfair, and maybe because of my birth order, it’s easy for me to perceive injustice, whether it’s done to myself, someone I love, or a complete stranger.

“It’s not fair!” I’d shout, and my wise mother would calmly respond, “Life’s not fair.”

Middle children are called “peace-makers”, (as well as “trouble-makers”, but that’s another story.) … We are accustomed to being sandwiched in the middle seat of a hot station wagon. We know what it’s like when one person is taking more than their fair share, (“Mom! She’s touching me!”)… and I guess that affects our view on the world. We like to make things fair, for ourselves and for others, and there are few things more frustrating than when the power to do that is completely out of our hands.

Eventually that frustration has to become something. It festers like an infected wound. It can become discontent, depression, cynicism. I look out at the world and increasingly find myself disappointed with the lack of fairness, and unable to shake it off as I used to. When I was younger, I’d wrap myself up in optimism. Close my eyes and think happy thoughts until my short attention span managed to be distracted and occupied by something full of fluffy goodness. People living in poverty… It’s so unfair… Ooo! Cake on a stick!

These days it seems there isn’t enough cake on a stick in all the world to make me forget the unfairness that is life. This is when many people will lean on their faith. The belief that there is a higher power, that it all happens for a reason, that someone up there is looking out for us – it is comforting. Like a child at the beach who walks deeper and deeper into the waves, looking over his shoulder every once in awhile to make sure his mother is there to run to him and pull him out when the tide gets too rough.

But what if you don’t have that sort of faith? Those with an abundance of faith may see it as a willful rebellion, but I can assure you, it is not. We are all gifted different gifts, and resigned to accept certain flaws. A doubting mind, a mind that questions, a mind that can not be shut off, is one of those things many of us would trade in a heartbeat. There is no comfort in looking back at the shore and seeing that no one is watching over us as we feel the sand slip beneath our toes.

So, with a lack of strong faith, and an increasingly cynical world view, where does that leave me? Should I simply accept this as my new reality? Am I capable of waking each morning knowing that I’ll encounter injustices in this world that I can do nothing about?

I began writing this without knowing where I would finish it. Something in my heart demands that I dig down deep and find that fluffy goodness that makes everything okay again, but I don’t want to be trite. I don’t want to pretend that there is always a happy ending. For myself, maybe I can truthfully say that so far life has demonstrated to me time and time again, that everything happens for a reason – but it’s not fair for me to say it’s a universal truth. It’s not fair for me to speak on behalf of others who may not see their reality that way.

(Image source: Libertinus)

Salvadoran Folktales

On a recent trip to El Salvador, a friend brought me back a souvenir. Thankfully it wasn’t another painting of The Last Supper, but a book called “Mitología Cuzcatleca: Los Cuentos de mi Infancia y Otros” by Efrain Melara Méndez. (Thank you, Ángel!)

The book contains all of the Salvadoran stories I’m not able to tell the niños since I wasn’t raised on them and don’t know them well enough. My husband Carlos has also been fairly useless in the story-telling department. Most Salvadorans are good storytellers, but somehow this skill escaped my husband. He also only remembers these stories in the vaguest of ways… And Suegra, well, the only reason I know of La Sihuanaba, is because Suegra called me that as an insult during a particularly heated argument a few years ago. (And after I Googled it, my feelings were so incredibly hurt on multiple levels. Needless to say, I don’t ask her about any of these Salvadoran Folktales because I don’t want to dredge up that day.)

So, this book is much needed. It has all the traditional stories from El Salvador, (some of which are known in other parts of Central America as well.) Some of those characters include, El Cipitio, El Duende, El Padre Sin Cabeza, El Griton de Medianoche and some others I had never even heard of before.

by Flickr user jayokossa
My favorite folktale is about Los Cadejos. The Cadejos are dog-like spirit animals. One is white and one is black. The white one follows people to protect them and the black one follows people to kill them.

Which Latin American folktale is your favorite?

(Image source)

Salvadoran Suerte

I’ve come to find that Salvadorans can be very superstitious. Over the years Suegra has warned me away from bad luck in various ways. For example, she’s told me repeatedly not to sweep the kitchen in the evenings because it will cause the household to lose money, (I continue to sweep each night after dinner, maybe that’s why we’re so poor?) She also consults with a palm reader, (who no doubt has told her many terrible things about a certain gringa.)

I’ve also told you before that despite being a strict Catholic who believes in “la voluntad de Dios”, Suegra wears her underwear inside-out (for luck), and carefully tends a “lucky plant”. She doesn’t see it as contradictory at all. When I asked her about how she can be both religious and superstitious, she just waves me off like I’m an annoying bug.

Well, while I’ve come to expect a certain amount of superstition from Suegra, usually my husband isn’t as susceptible to magical thinking – that’s why I was surprised by something I found by accident the other day.

I was cleaning the house during the day and we have this lamp near the front door that gets quite dusty.

Looks ordinary right? Well, when I went to dust around under the shade, something fell on the floor.

I wasn’t sure at first what it was. I decided it was a magnet and figured one of the kids stuck it there when they were playing around. I stuck it on the fridge, went back to dusting, and thought nothing more of it.

Later that afternoon, Carlos came home, kissed me as he came in the door, and went to put his lunch box in the kitchen.

“Hey, you moved my magnet,” he said, taking it off the fridge and returning it to the lamp.

“What in the world?” was pretty much all I could manage.

Carlos explained that it was a lucky magnet and he wanted to keep it there. I thought maybe he was pulling my leg because I had never heard of this in all the years we’ve been married. He insists that his mother always kept magnets around for good luck, and he’s seen other Salvadorans do it too.

Now, from an anthropological point of view, I’m wondering where this superstition came from. Maybe when indigenous people first encountered magnets they found it magical the way that they “attract” things, so maybe they believed it could attract even non-physical things, such as luck?

I’ve searched the internet to find out more and I’ve come up empty-handed, so that’s only my own personal theory. What do you think? Do you believe magnets are lucky or know someone who does? Are you superstitious? Which superstitions do you believe?

Go to the doctor? Nah. We have a bunch of guys from Veracruz, Mexico for medical advice.

My husband started having back pain the day after we picked Suegra up at the airport. I think he pulled something lifting her enormous suitcase into the car. When I mentioned this possibility, Suegra gave me la mirada that means she is cursing me inside her head, and she responded that if he hurt himself lifting then he is “más débil que yo” – and so therefore, it was his own fault.

Ni modo, back pain or no back pain, my husband has to work. The guys he supervises, (all from Veracruz, Mexico), eventually noticed that his back hurt and they asked him about it. They began trying to help him by asking some rather personal questions, which I think even our doctor has not asked my husband before. Ultimately they all agreed on a diagnosis. My husband has been instructed to stop having sex with the ceiling fan on. Apparently the cold air on his bare back while he’s…um… exerting himself… is not good for him.

Remedios (a guest post)

Mi gran amigo, Joe Ray, is back with another entertaining guest post. (You may remember his first guest post here on, “Spanglish…El bad boy de linguistics“.)

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

El Remediosphere®
by Joe Ray

My mother was raised on a rancho in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. When you got sick, you had remedies that worked for everyone, you went to a sobadora or a curandera. And if things were really bad, you were taken into town.

This is old school. No pinche WebMD for research. If you wanted to know something, you asked your comadre about it. You were part of the Collective Comadre Network.

One common herbal remedio is yerba buena. Yerba buena’s great stuff, it’s used for everything from stomach ailments or flavoring mojitos. My mom also kept around a glass jar filled with rubbing alcohol that contained marijuana, which she would rub on her varicose veins. Aloe vera was always around as well.

Having asthma as a kid, my mom would rub Vicks (AKA vaporu, vivaporu, or el veex) all over my chest, usually along with other very nasty smelling herbs/weeds. Not yerba buena but my guess is that it was probably more along the lines of yerba mierda. After rubbing it on my chest, she’d make me put on a heating pad over my shirt and blanket. I can’t stand Vicks. I knew some kids ate the stuff. I like the smell of eucalyptus, which she would also boil leaves into a tea but I still find Vicks to be quite repulsive.

Growing up in Arizona, we were only 2 hours from the Mexican border, so we would go visit family, shop and so forth. I recall going to a yerberia for dried rattlesnake strips to eat daily in order to cure my asthma. Never having seen a snake cough, this made perfect sense to me. The meat tasted okay (like jerky), but didn’t really cure me.

Prior to that trip, Doña Yoya in San Luis once gave me a little black bunny. I think the rabbit was supposed to absorb the asthma and I’d be cured. She lived a couple of houses away from my aunt and was a curandera who had a bunch of animals. Anyway, that didn’t work. This rabbit was the first pet I ever had. The rabbit proved to be quite the trouble maker, and eventually we ate it

I also remember one family friend using bleach for everything from ant bites to other skin ailments. That always had a nasty smell to the rub. Every once in a while I smell bleach and think of that. But it still doesn’t repel me the way Vicks does.

I went online the other day and asked friends a little about what type of remedios they remember from their childhoods.

Here’s a small sampling of what I heard back:

Suzi: We all know what cures-VICKS and 7-UP!

Veronica: I thought all cures came from a lil shot of tequila

Tony: Lemon honey and tequila for coughs-Mexican Nyquil. Olive and castor oil after a hot bath in the winter.
Note- Tony also remembers his father using the pot in the alcohol for arthritis.

Celeste: Vaporu. That with some salpicot y una limpia con huevo and whatever weeds grew in the backyard. Santo remedio! Anything that was sting related had saliva in it: aver que te pongo ajo, con un poco de saliva.

Gennaro: Mi madre used to pull the skin on our back really hard to cure empacho, until today I don’t know wtf that was about.

Lonnie: Mentholatum smeared under the nose. My suegra would shove it up her nose. I think she used a couple of tablespoons.


Culturally, we have a lot of herbs, beliefs and rituals that we relate to. These range from lighting candles, to a limpia con huevo (go ask about that one), to rhymes. Think of that little kiddie healing rhyme:

“sana, sana,
colita de rana…”

Before the internet, before WebMD, there was the Collective Comadre Network, which will always be around. Many of us continue these healing traditions. They are part of who we are and where we come from. It’s all part of the Remediosphere®. What are some of the remedios you remember?

Author Bio: Joe Ray is a Latino painter and printmaker living in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as Creative Director and President of Estudio Ray, a visual branding/marketing agency in Phoenix.


Last Sunday my youngest son, my baby, was baptized. The only thing is, “my baby” is 8 years old, far past infancy when most Catholic children are baptized. Our oldest son was baptized on a trip to El Salvador when he was a year old at my Suegra’s insistence, but we never got around to it for our second son.

I would say that we’re bad Catholics, but I’m not even Catholic so I am putting all the culpa on my husband. I was raised Protestant and never officially converted, so an 8 year old getting baptized is completely normal to me, since we do it when the child willing expresses a desire to be baptized.

Anyway, after the Padre made a joke about our son being old enough to get married, he consented to baptizing him. We were surprised that the Padre barely hesitated, not because of the child’s age, but because I’m not Catholic and my husband and I are not married in the Catholic church. (I think that Suegra lied to the church in El Salvador about all of this when our oldest son was baptized.)

So, our son, who requested to be baptized, was very excited. In the days leading up to the baptism, we explained a lot of things to him about what the ceremony meant and what would happen. We explained the part about padrinos a few times, but I could see that he wasn’t quite understanding me, so I told him in English.

“Padrinos means ‘Godparents’ in Spanish.”
“Padrinos are Godparents?”
“I’m going to have a Godmother?!”
“Yes, and a Godfather, too.”

His little eyes sparkled and that’s when I realized that the only point of reference he has for what a “Godmother” is, would be from the story of Cinderella.

“Honey, you know that real Godmothers aren’t magical, right? It’s not like a fairy Godmother…”

“…Um… I know that…” he said, (but rather unconvincingly.)

After that conversation, and several others, purchasing a candle, and other such preparations, we were ready.

The day of the ceremony we sat down in the first row, the seats reserved for those participating in the service, and listened to the Padre’s homily about “Amor”. He said it’s the most important thing on this Earth, to show love. The Padre gave several examples but at one point he said, “This past week I had to call the church office to discuss the importance of love. There are so many rules and regulations for things like baptisms. I told them, ‘Would you rather show the people God’s love, or bureaucracy?’”

Obviously there must have been some internal debate at our church as to whether we should be allowed to baptize our son. I’m glad that the Padre chose to show love rather than to block us out with red tape as others were apparently attempting to do.

I’m not a strongly religious person. I’ve struggled with my faith since I was a little child, but I do believe Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.” I don’t understand why anyone would want to prevent parents from bringing their child to God.

I can’t help that I was raised Protestant, and as for the small civil ceremony where my husband and I married – If one believes that God is everywhere, then is He not just as present in that court room as He is in the church?

As for my own faith in God, I have no way of controlling the doubts that cloud my heart, but at least I’m honest about them instead of pretending to be something I’m not. The important thing here is that my husband and I are willing to raise him in the church, regardless of our own personal spiritual struggles.

At the end of the day, our son was baptized and now he’s talking about wanting to study for First Communion. This day, amor was declared the winner. I only wish that were always the case.

The Pichichi

This morning I awakened before the sun, and it was not because I wanted to. I came out of a deep sleep to the sounds of some strange bird tweeting right by our bedroom window. Putting my pillow over my head only half-suffocated me, (that never works). Finally I just yelled in the direction of the window, “SHUT UP!” but that didn’t work either. I laid in bed hating that stupid bird which reminded me so much of my nemesis in El Salvador, the Pichichi.

The Pichichi is some sort of duck, in English it’s called the “Black-bellied Whistling Duck“, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the noise that bird makes sounds like a really loud and demented doggy squeak toy from hell and it nearly drove me to insanity.

Most of our time in El Salvador was spent in the city of San Salvador at my husband’s childhood home, but we spent a couple nights in Chalatenango at the house of a Tio and the Abuelos. It was at the Tio’s house where I met the Pichichi. I’ll admit that at first I thought he was cute, but that all changed after the sun went down. I climbed into my hammock with my tired, sweaty baby on my chest. My oldest son was a year old at the time and still very fussy. It was difficult to get him to sleep, especially without the comforts of home, and he’d become so exhausted and overwhelmed that he would cry for hours at a time. I wrapped him in a blanket to shield him from the mosquitoes which feasted on me instead, and tried to get comfortable. I woke often, itching from the mosquito bites and unaccustomed to the swinging motion of the hammock, feeling like I was falling, worried I’d drop the baby. The baby would cry out in protest each time I moved and so I tried my best to hold still.

It wasn’t just the hammock and the mosquitoes though. Right out the window in the adjacent courtyard lived a Pichichi, and that stupid duck made its torturous noises almost all night. Every once in awhile I yelled, “SHUT UP!” towards the window, but it was no use. When I thought he had finally given in to my demands, the sunlight started to filter in through the curtain and the rooster started his shift.

The next day my Suegra had scheduled our son’s baptism at the church. At the time I was devoutly Protestant and I was upset that this had been arranged without my permission. I was feeling rather emotional, and the lack of sleep did nothing to help matters. The day of the baptism was incredibly hot. The sun beat down unrelenting, and in the small, windowless church, we all sweated through our clothes. The baby began to cry, and so I began to cry as well. No one quite knew what to make of it.

At one point in the ceremony, the Padre addresses the parents and the padrinos saying, “Do you believe in the Catholic church?” … I’ve never been one to lie, and I had no idea my husband had intended for me to just silently go along with things. “I’m Protestant!” I blurted out through my tears. Everyone was silent for a moment as the Padre seemed to wonder what to do, and then the ceremony went on as usual.

I probably didn’t make the best first impression on a lot of my in-laws when we went to visit El Salvador, but for some reason, they seemed to understand me, even if I didn’t totally understand myself.

¿De qué tienes miedo tú?

Last week I got an unexpected invitation to an event in Miami which will be at the end of May. I never in a million years thought that my husband would let me go, but I mentioned it to him anyway. He gave me the expected answer of “No y no!” … It’s funny how I feel unappreciated here at home sometimes, yet when there’s any possibility of me going away for a day or two, the family acts as if the entire household would collapse in my absence.

After a day or two my husband couldn’t take any more of my quiet disappointment and he relented. He said I can go! For those of you with machos protectivos, tú sabes que esto es un BIG DEAL.

So I went from deep disappointment to absolute joy within minutes, but it didn’t take long for the anxiety to set in. Now I was SCARED. Why would I be scared to go? There are many reasons. For a shy person, taking this trip is stepping out of my comfort zone in a million ways.

So, that’s how I had been feeling over the weekend. SCARED. Excited, but scared.

Well, yesterday I went to Mass and the homily that the Padre gave was about “miedo” (fear). He said some rather inspiring things. The one quote I latched on to was “Viva tu vida sin miedo.” (Live your life without fear). The “Viva tu vida” is rather catchy in Spanish.

Of course, I can’t even have a religious experience without interruption. The Padre turns to the congregation and says, after a dramatic pause, ¿De qué tienes miedo tú? (Of what are YOU afraid of?)

There was silence as people pondered the question… and then, from the back of the church, a man’s voice with a very strong Mexican accent replies to the rhetorical question…

“La migra!”

There was quite a bit of laughter and it took awhile for it to die down so the Padre could go on with the message but the Padre seemed to have a sense of humor about it.


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