Category Archives: suegra
The most recent superstitious thing Suegra has brought into the house is this soap. She got this in El Salvador for Carlos.
The soap is supposed to bring you luck in whatever you need luck in, (in our case, dinero.) Carlos said he wasn’t sure he believed in it but proceeded to lather up anyway.
When I laughed at him, Carlos tried rubbing it on me.
“Hey, you better watch where you rub that,” I said.
“Well, I don’t know how it works but what if whichever body part you rub it on is the one that brings in money?” I said.
Carlos stopped rubbing the lucky soap on me after that.
Usually, I try not to laugh at things like this – I try to be respectful of other people’s beliefs, but some of them seem very strange and even silly, (though Suegra and Carlos think I have equally weird beliefs sometimes.)
Here are just a few of the beliefs I’ve encountered over the years while living with two Salvadorans.
I actually prefer the “silly” beliefs because the alternative is disturbing ones like the time I believe she tried to put a curse on me. I will never forget the time Suegra angrily moved out of our house. During that year that we were “disowned” I was cleaning the house and happened upon something which quite frankly kind of freaked me out.
When I dusted the top of the doorbell box high on the wall, I knocked something down. Whatever it was, it clattered to the floor. I reached down to pick it up and knew immediately that Suegra had something to do with it. It was a chicken bone and I really don’t know why she put it there. She may have put it there as a blessing on the house when we were on good terms – or, more likely, she may have put it there as a curse when she left. I still haven’t asked because I don’t want to stir up anything with her.
The reason I suspect Suegra is the one who put the chicken bone up there is because it’s just too strange for there to be any other explanation. After all, I already know some of her other beliefs, and this wouldn’t even be the strangest. For example, I know that there was a woman Carlos was involved with before he came to the United States. Suegra hated this woman and she told Carlos to stay away from her, but he wouldn’t. This is when Suegra became convinced that this woman had cast a spell on him by putting his photo in her underwear.
Luck & Wealth
Speaking of underwear, I mentioned before that she wears her own underwear inside out for luck.
When one of the children accidentally puts their shirt on inside out, Suegra announces that it’s “Día de San Antonio” and this is also good luck.
Rue plants likewise bring good luck.
A lot of her superstitions revolve around attracting good luck/money and discouraging bad luck/loss of money. She chides me for sweeping in the evening, (the household will lose money.)
Beliefs that don’t fall into the luck/money category, usually fall into the health category. She avoids quick changes in temperature. If she has been using her sewing machine she says her muscles are “hot” and so she won’t reach into the freezer to retrieve anything – (she has me do it instead.)
Carlos is also this way to some degree though he never explained it. When we first got married he’d come home from work and though he loves to be clean, he would always wait awhile before taking a shower – saying he wanted to rest first. Later I realized that this was part of that same belief. And now that I think about it, I wonder if when Carlos’s Mexican co-workers advised him not to have sex with the ceiling fan on, perhaps the hot/cold thinking is also why they believe that.
Other medical issues – “Empacho” is a gastrointestinal problem which Suegra believes can lead to death. She gets very worried about feeling bloated and will do everything from massaging her stomach to brewing various concoctions to cure it.
Sometimes Suegra also complains of having air trapped in the body. I don’t know if this has scientific merit or not. I don’t know if it has a specific name but she’ll say “Tengo aire” before pounding a fist against her back in an attempt to clear it out.
Suegra believes that if you point at a rainbow, you’ll make it disappear. Also, you should not watch a dog relieving itself or it will cause a sty on your eye.
Have you heard of “Tapa Boca” candles, or “Shut up” candles? If someone is gossiping about you, you light it and by the time it burns out, the person will be forced to stop talking about you. There are dozens of other similar candles for every imaginable problem as well.
In the end, living with Carlos and Suegra all these years has caused some of their creencías to rub off on me.
If the palm of my hand becomes itchy, my first thought is that I will soon come into money. And, if my ears are ringing, I assume someone is talking about me so I bite the tip of my tongue.
No matter how angry I get at someone though, I will not hide a chicken bone in their house.
Lately Suegra has been suffering from “empacho” … This illness has always confused and amused me – And Suegra is equally confused as to how it’s possible that gringos don’t believe in it, and usually have never even heard of it.
“Empacho” is a gastrointestinal illness that many people in El Salvador and other parts of Latin America believe can kill you. I decided to interview her about it for anthropological reasons because it doesn’t seem well documented.
Interview below, (in Spanish.)
Note: The use of the word “chibolitas” in Salvadoran Caliche means “little round objects” or “little balls.” (The word has other meanings in other parts of Latin America.)
(If interested in a translation to English, let me know in comments and I’ll see about transcribing it.)
Reading La Cocina de Leslie the other day, I came upon her blog post about Duritos. I knew I had seen something similar at the Latino Market many times before, but I always passed by without really checking them out, assuming it was some sort of healthy spaghetti.
With Leslie’s post in mind, I bought a bag for less than $2 when I went to the Latino Market. I let the kids watch me cook them so they could witness the magic. It’s neat to watch them puff up when they hit the hot oil, (and I never would have guessed you cook them this way. I would have boiled them if I hadn’t been told otherwise!)
When Suegra saw me preparing to cook them, she tried to act like she knew all about them even though in more than a decade she has never mentioned them, eaten them or cooked them in my presence. She gets jealous when I know something she doesn’t when it comes to cooking.
She asked where I heard about them and I replied “una amiga que vive en México.” Suegra sniffed and then claimed that El Salvador has Duritos too and that she used to cook them “all the time” – (even though she hung over my shoulder and couldn’t hide her surprise as they puffed up in the pan.)
I wasn’t in the mood for her games so I told her, “I don’t believe you ever ate them or cooked them.” Then, just to get her goat I added, “I discovered them first.” She sucked in her breath and finally left the kitchen saying, “I suppose you invented pupusas too!”
Anyway, we ate them while watching the opening game for DC United which was just as good as the Duritos. The boys preferred the Duritos plain while Carlos and I experimented with Valentina hot sauce, salt and lime.
(Thanks, Leslie, for a new favorite snack!)
Penquear – (origin Caliche) To spank/hit/slap, golpear
We had finished eating and our youngest son had already run off to play. Carlos, our older son, Suegra and I sat around the table, our plates pushed away, and talked for awhile as we usually do.
Carlos had a small argument with one of the guys at work and was telling us about what happened. The fact that the co-worker was Mexican really didn’t have anything to do with the conversation except to identify which guy Carlos was talking about – but you can’t say “mexicano” around Suegra without her getting started. Like many older people, she has some “preconceived notions” which aren’t malicious so much as misinformed. Of course she pipes up with the usual, “Así son los mexicanos, pues.”
Carlos gives me a look that means I should bite my tongue, but I can’t keep quiet.
“No puedes juzgar a todos los mexicanos así. Tengo un montón de amigos mexicanos y son muy buena gente.” I say.
Suegra shakes her head. We go back and forth a few times. Things are getting a little heated.
“Los hombres mexicanos son muy penqueadores!” she says, as if that settles it.
I start to tell her it’s not true of all Mexican men, and that Salvadoran men have their own reputation as well, but she interrupts, as is her way.
“Y si yo estuviera una joven, jamás me voy a salir con un mexicano!”
This conversation is going no where, so I decide to tease her.
“Y si está bien meloso?”
“De eso miel, no voy a comer!” she says.
“Y si está bien guapo?” I ask.
She looks at me as if I’m an idiot.
“Los mexicanos no son guapos, vos!” she says as if it’s common sense. (Forgetting that I know for a fact she has a crush on Vicente Fernandez.)
I catch Carlos’s eye and decide not to push it further. Insisting that there are plenty of mexicanos guapos will only make him celoso and cause problems for me. The table falls quiet since I fail to return fire, and then our twelve year old, who we had forgotten was sitting there, speaks up.
“Huh,” he says, “I didn’t know Mexicans like to spank people… that’s weird.”
Because he says this in English, Suegra has no idea what’s going on when I start laughing. Carlos also isn’t sure what’s so funny until I explain. Our son managed to pick up on the word “penquear” within the word “penqueadores” – but his only reference for this word is the threat of a spanking, as in, “Te voy a penquear.” Because he doesn’t know the word out of this context, he didn’t realize it could mean “hit” or “slap.”
Of course I set him straight. I explain the word “penquear” and I also tell him you can’t judge people based on stereotypes. My son says, “Of course. I already know that!” …and I knew he did, but I just wanted to make sure. Maybe I won’t convince Suegra, but my children will know better.
A cute plump little Robin perched on the backyard fence. I watched him out the kitchen window as I washed breakfast plates off in the sink. Suegra appeared next to me.
“Ay, qué lindo, vá?” she said.
I nodded, turning off the water and drying my hands.
“¿Cómo se llaman esos pajaros de la garganta roja?” she asked.
“Robins,” I responded, accepting the loss of my quiet bird watching moment.
“Hay una historia de esos Robins,” she said, “No la conoces?”
I shook my head.
Suegra smiled, for she had a story to tell, and there are few things in the world that make her as happy as story telling.
“Bueno,” she began, “Cuándo Jesús se murio en la cruz, tenía bastante sangre, cómo los soldados estaban apuñalandolo…” she pauses to make sure I understand. I nod and she continues.
“Jesús tenía sangre por todos lados, y aquí en el pecho,” she says putting her hand slightly above her heart.
“Venía ese pajaro…el Robin, me dijiste, vá?… bueno, pero antes de este tiempo estaba sólo cafecito el pajaro. El Robin voló por el pecho de Jesús y posó allí…”
I smile because this is a sweet folktale…At this point I have assumed that the bird came to comfort Jesus, and for that, the blood colored his feathers red… but Suegra isn’t finished.
“Se posó en el pecho, y empezo a picar a Jesús—”
“Picar?!” I interrupt, “Pero yo pensé que este cuento sería algo más bonito… picar?! Qué feo salio el cuento…”
Suegra shrugs and walks away. When I look out the window, the cute little Robin has flown away.
Image: Elee Kirk
My cumple is at the end of the month, but Carlos wanted to give me his gift un poco temprano.
This is Carlos’s first and only tattoo… y lo amo!
Suegra still doesn’t know about it. When she finds out, she will probably threaten to disown him, (otra vez.) She believes tattoos are a pecado and that only “mala gente” like pandilleros get them. When Carlos told me this I said, “Wait, doesn’t your older brother have tattoos?”
“Yeah,” Carlos said, “but when my mother found out, she slapped him.”
So Carlos’s birthday present to me? A permanent reminder of his love, and the promise of mucho drama to blog about in the coming days.
Suegra está enferma. Ha pasado unas semanas así, tosiendo por todos lados. Después de verla en la cocina, con un gabinete abierto, tosiendo sobre todas las ollas y sartenes, no podía soportarlo más. No podía quedarme en silencio.
“Por favor, cúbrete la boca.”
“¿Cubrirme la boca?” ella repitió, un poco incrédula.
“Sí, por favor, cuando estés tosiendo, cúbrete la boca,” dije yo.
“¿Para qué?” Me preguntó con la cara toda confundida.
“Para que no riegues gérmenes por toda la casa. Nos vas a enfermar a todos,” dije yo, “No te enseñaron eso en la escuela cuándo era niña?”
“No,” ella dijo con desdén. “En El Salvador no hay necesidad de cubrirse la boca. Allá los gérmenes no se quedan en las casas como aquí. Las casas allá están bien abiertas…y aquí todo cerrado…ay no,” suspiró.
Bueno, después de esta conversación, ella se puso un poco molesta conmigo. Cada vez que ella tosía y cubría su boca, me miraba con los ojos entreabiertos como si dijera: Mira! Mira la inconveniencia que me has obligado a hacer!
En la mesa durante la cena, aquella noche, ella continuó tosiendo y cubriendo su boca. Carlos le preguntó entre bocados, “¿Estás enferma todavía pues, madre?” (Como que si no fuera obvio.)
“Ojalá no me vaya a morir de esta gripe,” dijo Suegra, “Porque si me muero, tienes que mandar mi cuerpo a El Salvador.” Ella tosió, cubriéndose la boca, “Y Tracy,” me dijo, “si no acompañas mi cuerpo en el avión, no te voy a dejar en paz.”
Y después de decir eso, ella rió tanto que no dejaba de toser.
• Special thanks to mi comadre, Claudia. Carlos y yo tuvimos broncas last night so I had too much pride to ask him to double check my Spanish for errors. Claudia came to my rescue this week! Gracias, amiga!
• Partisipaste en Spanish Friday? Deja tu link en comentarios! Did you participate in Spanish Friday? Leave your link in comments!
Suegra is sick. She’s been like this for a few weeks already, coughing all over the place. After I saw her in the kitchen coughing into an open cabinet full of pots and pan, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stay silent.
“Please, cover your mouth.”
“Cover my mouth?” she repeated, a little incredulous.
“Yes, please, when you’re coughing, cover your mouth,” I said.
“For what?” she asked with a confused expression on her face.
“So that you don’t throw germs all over the house. You’re going to get everyone sick,” I said, “Didn’t they teach you that in school when you were little?”
“No,” she sniffed. “In El Salvador there is no need to cover your mouth. The germs don’t stick around like they do here. The houses there are wide open … and here they’re so closed up … ay no,” she sighed.
Well, after this conversation, she got a little upset with me. Every time she coughed and covered her mouth, she looked at me with narrowed eyes as if to say: Look! Look at this inconvenience which you’ve obligated me to do.
At the dinner table that night, she kept coughing and covering her mouth. Carlos asked between bites, “Are you still sick then, madre?” (As if it was not obvious.)
“Hopefully I will not die of the flu,” said Suegra, “If I die, you have to send my body back to El Salvador.”
She coughed, covering her mouth, “And Tracy,” she continued, “If you don’t accompany my body on the airplane, I will haunt you.”
And having said that, she laughed until she coughed and coughed.
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.”
I switched to regular numbers because I suck at Roman numerals and who knows how long this saga will continue. (If you’re new to this story, read Parts I through III first.)
Pero, you’re not here for a history or mathematics lesson, verdad? You’re here for the chisme. Well, this will be a long one, so get comfortable. Listos? Okay…
So, last week, the whole familia, (including Suegra, of course), piled in the car to run errands. As we passed through downtown close to Clementina’s Market, Carlos asked where else I needed to stop.
“We’re almost out of tortillas,” I said, trying to sound casual.
Carlos narrowed his eyes at me.
“Why do you want to go in there? I don’t like that. They sell tortillas at the other Latino market,” he said as we sat at a red light.
“Yes, but they don’t give away free piropos at the other Latino market,” I said. Carlos didn’t laugh. The light turned green and he pulled up a few car lengths from the large glass windows of Clementina’s Market.
We had been speaking English but Suegra is a metiche and had understood the gist of the conversation. She offered to go in and buy the tortillas herself. Maybe Carlos was embarrassed that his mother knew he was celoso because he said, “No, está bien.”
Before I knew it, I was walking through the familiar door of Clementina’s – the bells clanging against the glass door. My heart pounded in my chest remembering the last time I had been here – how awkward it had been for him to tell me he had fallen in love with me – to have touched my hand the way he did! Clementino looked up, and seeing me, broke into the happiest smile you can imagine.
I blushed despite my efforts to appear nonchalant and greeted him with a “Buenas tardes,” on my way to the back of the store to get a package of tortillas from the fridge. I grabbed two bottles of Jarritos so I could use my debit card, ($5 minimum.) As I made my way back to the front of the store, I became increasingly anxious about how Clementino would act towards me after what had happened. I put the tortillas and Jarritos on the countertop.
Clementino’s face had changed since I came into the store – he looked serious, when only moments before he had looked so happy.
“No Bubu Lubus?” he mumbled when I didn’t reach for the box on the counter.
“No, hoy no,” I said.
“¿Porqué no?” he asked, running my debit card through the machine.
“Es que una amiga me mandó una caja de Bubu Lubus y tengo suficiente ahorita,” I said, trying to sound cheerful.
He looked at me as he put the receipt on the counter.
“Mentirosa,” he said without malice. “No quieres comprarlos de mí…” he said raising an eyebrow.
I signed the receipt, “No, de veras, una amiga me mandó—” I said feeling defensive.
“Mentirosa,” he said again with a small smile.
I told him “Hasta luego” and went out to the car, which was now parked right in front of the big glass windows. I got in and buckled my seatbelt.
“Everything fine?” Carlos asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Did he behave?” Carlos asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Man! Don’t look so disappointed about it!”
“Yes you are!”
“Well, I just feel… am I not cute today or something?”
Carlos started laughing.
“What?” I said.
“You know why he behaved?”
“Because as soon as you went in, I pulled in front of the store. He looked out the window after you went to the back and I waved to him. He knew I was watching.”
This made me feel a little better and it explained why he’d had such a sudden change in mood. Still, I wondered if things between Clementino and I could return to normal. I would have to wait another week and eat a lot of tortillas before I could try my luck again.
Suegra and I went to Clementina’s Market – Me to buy tortillas and Suegra for phone cards. Before buying her phone cards as usual, Suegra went to the back of the store. I put the tortillas on the counter and looked for the box of Bubu Lubus, but it was no where to be seen.
“Y los Bubu Lubus?” I said, looking at the blank space where they used to be. “¿Dónde están?”
“Bubu Lubus no vendo ahora,” Clementino said.
I grabbed a package of De La Rosa Dulce de Cacahuate, (my other favorite.)
“¿Porqué?” I asked, handing over my debit card.
“Porque no vienes a comprarlos de mí,” he said.
I smiled and raised an eyebrow, unsure of whether he was just out of stock and joking with me, or if he had found a way to take revenge for not accepting his piropo weeks ago.
“Síííí,” he reassured me, “Los Bubu Lubus – no más.” He rubbed his hands together as if cleaning them off and showed them to me empty, with a small smile playing on his lips.
Suegra appeared behind me, “Clementino,” she demanded, interrupting us. “¿A cuántos son?” she asked, holding up an avocado. Clementino quoted her the price and Suegra sighed disgustedly, muttering about how expensive they were as she went to return it to the produce section.
Clementino leaned down and whispered in English, “Do you get along with your mother-in-law?”
“…More or less,” I said translating the Spanish words “más o menos” that I had almost said aloud.
Clementino shook his head. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“She can be… difficult,” I admitted.
“Yes,” Clementino said, “She is a VERY difficult woman.”
We shared a smile as Suegra came back to the counter to buy her phone cards. I left feeling hopeful that our friendship was now back on track.
That same day, later in the evening, Carlos and I ran an errand. Suegra asked Carlos to buy her phone cards. We stopped at Clementina’s Market and since it was late and cold and I was tired, I stayed in the car while Carlos ran in by himself. This was Carlos’s first time facing Clementino since the whole situation began. I watched the store anxiously. I saw Carlos go to the counter, Clementino handed him phone cards, and Carlos came back to the car within 2 minutes – the whole transaction happened without incident. I felt happy. Things were finally getting back to normal.
We brought the phone cards home and Carlos handed them over to Suegra.
“Pero estas tarjetas no sirven, vos!” Suegra said immediately. Despite the late hour and the fact that Clementina’s Market would be closing in 20 minutes, she insisted Carlos bring her back to exchange the phone cards. Carlos put his jacket back on and with car keys jangling in defeat, headed back out with Suegra behind him.
Since all had gone so well earlier, I didn’t worry for a minute about Carlos going back to the market – so I was shocked when he and Suegra returned full of anger.
“What happened?” I asked.
Carlos and Suegra told me the same story – they had gone into the market and Carlos asked to exchange the phone cards because they were the wrong kind. Clementino refused to exchange the cards saying, “You were never here today.”
Carlos told Clementino, “But I was just here, less than an hour ago!” and Clementino continued to insist that Carlos was lying. They both raised their voices to the point that Clementino’s wife, Clementina, came up to the front counter to see what was going on. Carlos explained to Clementina what had happened while Clementino shouted over him that he was a liar, and that “only the muchacha [referring to me] came here earlier today with her,” (indicating Suegra.)
Having had enough and not wanting things to escalate further, Carlos stormed out. Suegra stayed and Clementina exchanged the phone cards while chastising her husband and asking him what in the world had gotten into him.
Carlos and Suegra are now boycotting Clementina’s Market, and I’m just wondering if he was serious about not selling Bubu Lubus anymore. Vamos a ver.
Part 7: Clementino, ya no me quiere
While she passes most of her time in Chalatenango proper where her family lives, and Soyapango where Carlos’s childhood home is – Suegra sometimes goes to visit her childhood home which is in a town in the mountains of Chalatenango called San Luis del Carmen.
I visited there one afternoon when we went to El Salvador. Against all my gringa instincts which screamed that I needed a seat belt, I rode in the back of a Tío’s pickup truck with my then one year old baby. They threw cushions from the sofa in to make the ride more comfortable. We rode up, up, up, stopped for some bony looking cattle to cross the road, and then up, up, up some more. San Luis del Carmen was very quiet. There was a pretty white church, typical Salvadoran-style cement block homes lining the road, the ever present chuchos aguacateros (street dogs), and a small store selling soda en bolsas and snacks.
Suegra’s modest childhood home has been kept in good repair despite being over 50 years old, though no one inhabits it. The home sits on a fair amount of land – the trees in the backyard are heavy with coffee beans.
That is how I remember San Luis del Carmen, so I was surprised when Suegra told me there are a lot of gringas there now – “jovenes, chelitas, americanas – como vos!” she says, though I imagine they are younger than me – maybe Peace Corp. volunteers or missionaries. She says they are pairing up with young Salvadoran men, (she emphasizes that they are dark-skinned country boys – “pero puro del campo!” she says, as if this made it more shocking, which to me it isn’t. Country boys have their charm though I married a city boy.)
Suegra went to San Luis during the feast day in December. During the festival, the town traditionally picks a “reina” (queen) … This year, the reina was one of the gringas.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I’m fascinated by the idea of an entire village that ten years from now may be made up of families that resemble my own. Part of me wonders if these girls know what they’re getting into. It’s one thing to marry a Salvadoran who has immigrated here – but quite another to marry a Salvadoran in El Salvador. My mind swirls with the compromises, sacrifices, and struggles they will face. Culture shock. Language barriers. Machismo. They are on his turf. They are on their suegra’s turf. As romantic as it appears on the outside, the situation raises many concerns.
Honestly, I do laugh a little imaging the phone calls home. The parents expect information about when to pick their precious daughters up at the airport now that their volunteer assignment has come to an end. Instead, their daughter’s voice sounding farther away than ever says, “Mom, Dad, I met someone here. I’m staying in El Salvador and getting married!” … Those poor gringo parents! …And then imagine when the parents go to El Salvador for the wedding. Will there be tears of joy or tears of sheer terror for what their daughter has done? (Oh wait, I’m just having flashbacks to my own wedding…jiji…)
But what about the relationships that don’t work out? What if they love each other but the girl desperately wishes to return home? It isn’t easy to adjust to a drastically different culture and way of life. It also isn’t that easy to bring your new novio with you thanks to immigration law which splits us all up into these man-made parcels called countries. Will the girls go home with broken hearts or will it be the muchachos who are left con el corazón en pedazos? (Either way, one must make the sacrifice of being away from their own family and culture.) If the girls stay in El Salvador, get married, start a family and then for whatever reason, end up divorcing, what happens with the children?
How do the Salvadoran women of San Luis del Carmen feel about this “invasion” of gringas? Do they feel animosity towards the gringas for “stealing” the men? Was it fair for an outsider to be chosen as the “queen” of the town?
If I were a sociologist, I know where I’d be buying a plane ticket to right now.