Celebrating Día de los Difuntos

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation is below!

Este año no pensé que ibamos a tener una ofrenda por Día de los Muertos. Dos años pasados, sin realizar que los salvadoreños no celebran Día de los Muertos igual que los mexicanos, hice una ofrenda para el papá de Carlos. Carlos agradeció el gesto pero ponía algo triste y esto no fue mi intención. El problema fue que Carlos no estaba acostumbrado tener una ofrenda porque en El Salvador no se hace eso.

Mientras que los mexicanos llaman el día “Día de los Muertos” y celebran la muerte, abrazan la muerte, aún se ríen de ella – los salvadoreños llaman el día “Día de los Difuntos” y lo consideran un día de recordar sus queridos fallecidos en una manera mucho más sombría.

El año pasado, no queriendo repetir mi error, no tenía previsto hacer una ofrenda, pero mis hijos me dijeron que les gustó la tradición y querian tener una. Entonces, hicimos una ofrenda por nuestro perro que se murió.

Este año no tenía planes por hacer una ofrenda otra vez, pero Carlos me dijo que ya se siente comodo en tener una ofrenda con sus queridos fallecidos. Entonces, nuestra ofrenda incluye el papá de Carlos, la abuela de Carlos, el abuelo de Carlos, (que se murió sólo una mes atrás), mi abuelo y dos perros.

Hay demasiados detalles en la ofrenda por explicar, pero les voy a explicar un poco. Tal vez ustedes pueden buscar los artículos en la foto que menciono.

El papá de Carlos, (“Don Max”) le gustó mucho el casamiento – un plato hecho de arroz y frijoles. Por eso, hay arroz y frijoles. También tuvo un camión pick-up, y estaba muy orgulloso de él. El papá de Carlos era un entrenador de fútbol y le gustaba echar chile en su comida, (algo raro por un salvadoreño, pero algo que le gusta a Carlos también.) Don Max no era muy religoso pero era super dedicado a San Antonio.

Mi abuelo tampoco era muy religoso, pero identificó como judío. Le gustó la música “Big Band” y se comió Corn Flakes cada mañana.

Hay una historia sobre el abuelo de Carlos. “Papá Milo” era muy bueno por nadar y a veces cruzó el Río Lempa nadando para traer grandes bolsas de maíz para su familia. El abuelo de Carlos también fue el alcalde de un pueblo de Chalatenango, y casi siempre andaba con sombrero de vaquero.

La abuela de Carlos se llamaba “Mamá Juana” y era una mujer muy dulce. Ella tuvo diez hijos, y le encantaban las flores. Yo recuerdo que a veces Mamá Juana, en la manera de muchas salvadoreñas del pueblo, usaba un delantal encima de su vestido, aunque no estaba cocinando.

¿Hiciste una ofrenda tú? Quién estás recordando?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

This year I didn’t think we’d have an altar for Day of the Dead. Two years ago, without realizing that Salvadorans don’t celebrate Day of the Dead the same way Mexicans do, I made an altar for Carlos’s father. Carlos appreciated the gesture but it made him kind of sad, which was not my intention. The problem was that Carlos wasn’t used to having an altar because Salvadorans don’t make them.

While Mexicans call the day “Día de los Muertos” and celebrate death, embrace death, and even laugh at death – Salvadorans call the day “Día de los Difuntos” and consider it a day to remember your passed loved ones in a much more somber way.

Last year, not wanting to repeat my mistake, I didn’t have plans to make an altar, but my boys told me they liked the tradition and wanted to have one. So, we made an altar to one of our dogs which had died.

This year, again I didn’t have plans to make an altar, but Carlos told me he feels more comfortable now to have an altar with his passed loved ones. So, this year we have an altar which includes Carlos’s father, Carlos’s grandmother, Carlos’s grandfather, (who died only a month ago), my grandfather, and two dogs.

There are too many details to explain them all, but I will explain the altar to you a little. Maybe you can find the items I’ll mention in the photo.

The father of Carlos, (“Don Max”) really liked casamiento – a dish made from rice and beans. For that reason, there are rice and beans. He also had a pick-up truck which he was very proud of. Carlos’s father was a football coach and he liked to put chile pepper on his food, (kind of rare for a Salvadoran, but something Carlos also likes to do.) Don Max wasn’t very religious but he was super dedicated to Saint Anthony.

My grandfather wasn’t very religious either, but he identified as Jewish. He liked Big Band music and ate Corn Flakes every morning.

There’s a story about Carlos’s grandfather. “Papá Milo” was really good at swimming and sometimes he would swim across the Lempa River to bring big bags of corn to his family. Carlos’s grandfather was also the mayor of a town in Chalatenango and almost always wore a cowboy hat.

Carlos’s grandmother was called “Mamá Juana” and was a really sweet woman. She had ten children and she loved flowers. I remember that sometimes Mamá Juana, in the way of many Salvadoran women from the countryside, used to wear an apron over her dress, even though she wasn’t cooking.

Did you make an ofrenda? Who are you remembering?

La Llorona coming to televisions across the United States

Do you know the Latin American folktale (or is it true?) called La Llorona? (The Weeping Woman.)

For those not familiar, here is the story of La Llorona.

Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria killing her children by drowning them in order to be with the man that she loved. The man would not have her, which devastated her. She would not take no for an answer, so he slit her throat and threw her body in a lake in Mexico. Challenged at the gates of heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona”.

In some versions of this tale and legend, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who resemble her missing children, or children who disobey their parents. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evenings from rivers or oceans in Mexico. Some believe that those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. She is said to cry “Ay, mis hijos!” which translates to “Oh, my children!

Function of the story in society

Typically, the legend serves as a cautionary tale on several levels. Parents will warn their children that bad behavior will cause La Llorona to abduct them, and that being outside after dark will result in her visitation. The tale also warns young women not to be enticed by status, wealth, material goods, or by men who make declarations of love or lavish promises.

– Source: Wikipedia.

Well, this Friday’s episode of Grimm is about La Llorona. The show Grimm is an American TV drama series which is described as “a cop drama—with a twist… a dark and fantastical project about a world in which characters inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales exist.”

This clip features Grimm stars Bitsie Tulloch (Juliette Silverton), David Giuntoli (Nick Burkhardt), Russell Hornsby (Hank Griffin.) Guests cast in this episode include Bertila Damas as “Pilar” and David Barrera as “Luis Alvarez.”

(video no longer available)

Kate del Castillo (of “La Reina del Sur” fame), is also in this episode!

Grimm airs Fridays at 9 pm ET on NBC. This particular episode will air on NBC on Friday, October 26th at 9 pm ET. There will also be special airings, in Spanish on Telemundo at 11:35 pm ET on October 29th and in English on mun2 at 1 am ET on Saturday, October 27th.

Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll watch because this kind of stuff freaks me out. I will probably have a week’s worth of pesadillas just from watching these videos here. Do you think you’ll tune in?

The Cone of Fire – El Cono de Fuego

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation is below!

El otro fin de semana, Carlos tenía dolor de oido, sentía que tenía fluido por dentro, y me pidió una cura. Empecé a enumerar los remedios caseros, pero Carlos no estaba entusiasmado por ninguno de ellos. Entonces me acordé de una pintura de Carmen Lomas Garza llamado Ventosa, que muestra un cono hecho de periódico con fuego en el oído de alguien. Le conté a Carlos y quiso hacerlo.

Hice un poco de investigación y luego decidimos probarlo. La primera vez lo hicimos en el comedor y eso era un gran error. El suelo en nuestra casa es alfombra y algunas cenizas empezaron a caer, creando un peligro de incendio. Cuando el fuego en el cono creció me dio pánico y no sabía cómo apagarlo. Abrí la puerta de atrás y lo tiré al patio.

Después Carlos me dijo que no se sentía mejor y unas horas más tarde quería tratar otra vez. Esta vez lo hicimos en la bañera, pero una vez más cuando el fuego creció un poco fuera de control, me ponía nerviosa. Yo creo que este remedio casero es demasiado peligroso por casas en los Estados Unidos, la mayoría que son hechas de puras cosas inflamables.

Al final, Carlos dijo que el “cono de fuego”, como lo llamamos, realmente no le ayudaba. Intenté uno de los primeros remedios que había mencionado originalmente – gotitas de aceite de oliva en el oído. Ahora se siente mejor.

¿Tienes experiencia con el “cono de fuego”? Funciona para ti?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

The other weekend, Carlos had an earache – he felt like he had fluid in his ear and he asked me for a cure. I started to list home remedies I knew of, but Carlos wasn’t enthusiastic about any of them. Then I remembered a Carmen Lomas Garza painting called Ventosa, which shows a newspaper cone of fire in someone’s ear. I told Carlos about it and he wanted to do it.

I did a little research and then decided to try it. The first time we did it in the dining room which was a big mistake. The flooring is carpet in our house and some ash began to fall, creating a fire hazard. When the fire grew bigger on the cone I panicked and didn’t know how to put it out. I unlocked the back door and threw it onto the patio.

Afterward Carlos told me he wasn’t feeling better and a few hours later he wanted to try again. This time we did it in the bathtub, but again when the fire grew a little out of control, I got nervous. I think this home remedy is too dangerous for homes in the United States, which are made ​​of purely flammable things.

In the end, Carlos said the “cone of fire”, as we call it, didn’t really help. I tried one of the first remedies that I had originally mentioned – drops of olive oil in the ear. Now he feels better.

Do you have experience with the “cone of fire?” – Does it work for you?

Have you been whipped by the devil today?

El Día de Los Talcigüines

El Salvador is home to some traditions which can seem funny even to native Salvadorans. This week marks “Semana Santa” (Holy Week) in the Catholic faith, and so today is Lunes Santo, (Holy Monday.)

In a small town called Texistepeque in the department of Santa Ana, Lunes Santo means it is also “El Día de Los Talcigüines” – The word “talcigüines” means “deviled men” in the native language, Pipil/Nawat. Like many traditions in El Salvador and throughout Latin America, the holiday is a result of the mixing of Catholic and indigenous beliefs; this occurred with the arrival of the Spanish and their desire to convert the native people to Catholicism by introducing their religion in ways that would seem familiar to the people.

On “El Día de Los Talcigüines” men dress as devil-like figures and whip people on the streets to absolve them of their sins.

Just make sure that if you ever visit Texistepeque on Holy Monday, you take measures to protect yourself…

whipping devil El Salvador

dónde cuenta.

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Read more: History of El Día de Los Talcigüines and how to take part on Official El Salvador Tourism site.

See more: Slideshow of El Día de Los Talcigüines – La Prensa Gráfica

Image source: Images are still frames taken from video by La Prensa Gráfica.

Feminine Strength vs. Machismo

Image source: Ray Larabie

In high school we would have one week of gym class that we spent in the weight lifting room. It was in a dark, windowless room down a forgotten hallway. Students were allowed access to it after school but it was often forgotten, except by the jocks. The girls stood in a corner talking, watching the boys, examining their nails and refusing to do anything other than a minute on the rowing machine – preferring to take a zero for the day. I, however, loved our week in the weight lifting room.

Already known for challenging boys to arm wrestling contests at lunch time, (and sometimes winning), my reputation was further sealed by my behavior in the weight lifting room. The boys gathered around to see how much I could bench press, taking bets that I wouldn’t be able to do it each time the peg was moved lower and the weight got heavier. I fed on their pessimism. I loved being underestimated. I took a deep breath, felt the muscles ripping but pushed, pushed, pushed, my lips closed tight, my nostrils flaring. I heard them say knowingly to each other, “She can’t lift it” – as I struggled. My arms shook and I pushed harder still until I would feel the weight give way and my arms straightened above me in victory.

I didn’t care that I wasn’t the kind of girl you ask to the prom, but instead the kind of girl you ask to help push the car when it breaks down. I come from a family of strong women. My mother is well-known for re-decorating while my father is at work – sometimes moving heavy furniture up and down two flights of stairs by herself.

I associated femininity with weakness and wanted no part of it, but I realized how simplistic this point of view was when I gave birth to my first child. Giving birth is an act that is simultaneously the height of femininity and strength. Now, as the mother of two boys, the lone female in a household full of males, I value my feminine side more than I did growing up. Being married to Carlos though, has made me examine my femininity from a cultural perspective. It hasn’t been easy to sort out.

I will try to open a jar of pickles. Carlos will offer to help, reach his hand out for the jar, and I’ll turn away with the jar, stubbornly determined to do it myself. This is when Carlos will tell me I’m like my mother or say, “Why do you have to be so American?!” … to which I’d reply, “Why is it an insult to your manhood for me to open the pickles myself?!”

Over the years, I’ve learned to (usually), hand over the jar of pickles. It makes Carlos feel good to do it for me. I never pretend I can’t do anything, but if it’s difficult, why not give him the satisfaction of feeling that he takes care of me?

I thought that over the years, Carlos and I had mostly ironed out this one cultural wrinkle. We both have made compromises. I let him open jars of pickles that are difficult for me to open, (damn you, carpal tunnel) – and he doesn’t expect me to act completely helpless – fair enough… but at the grocery store while I was unloading the cart at the cash register, I retrieved the case of bottled water from the bottom of the cart and hefted it up and onto the conveyor belt. I thought nothing of it but Carlos whispered through clenched teeth, “Hey, you should have asked me to do it. You’re embarrassing me.”

Embarrassing Carlos was not my intention or even something I had considered – I just wanted to get the groceries checked out so we could go home, (and for the record, the cashier seemed completely unaware of the battle going on right in front of her.) I guess the lesson here is that Carlos and I will always have cultural issues to work on – nothing is ever resolved so completely that it won’t pop up again, so ingrained are the traits we bring from our two different backgrounds.


What is your take and your experiences on the topic of feminine strength vs. machismo?

Plastic bag of water: Latin American superstition or science?

[Don’t speak Spanish? No problem! Scroll down for the English translation!]

En un viaje reciente a una panadería mexicana, me di cuenta que habia una bolsa de agua con unos centavitos adentro colgada de la puerta. Al principio pensé que alguien estaba haciendo una broma y que el agua va a caer, pero cuando abrí la puerta, era obvio que la bolsa estaba atada muy segura. Mi segunda sospecha era que la bolsa de agua era resultado de una creencia popular de América Latina o de México – que era una superstición que tienen que ver con la prosperidad o la suerte.

Al salir de la tienda con una bolsa llena de conchas, marranitos y otros panes en la mano, le pregunté a Carlos si sabía algo al respecto. Carlos no estaba seguro, pero también sospechaba que era una creencia popular.

Una vez en casa, investigue para encontrar la respuesta. La repuesta – Esto en realidad no es una superstición cultural, sino cientifica! Resulta que la bolsa de plástico de agua colgada en una puerta es un repelente de moscas. Hay desacuerdo sobre cómo funciona realmente, pero muchos juran que funciona. No he visto ninguna mosca en la panadería mexicana, entonces vale la pena intentarlo. Tal vez ahora nuestras chanclas no tienen que usarse como matamoscas.

A plastic bag of water hangs from the top of a door at a Mexican bakery.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

On a recent trip to a Mexican bakery, I noticed a bag of water with a few pennies in it hanging from the door. At first I thought someone was trying to play a practical joke and the water would spill, but when we opened the door, it was obvious that it was tied very securely. My next suspicion was that the bag of water was actually a Latin American or Mexican folk belief or superstition having to do with prosperity or luck.

Leaving the store with a bag full of conchas, marranitos, and other panes in hand, I asked Carlos if he knew anything about it. Carlos wasn’t sure but also suspected it was a folk belief.

Once home, I researched to find the answer. This is actually not cultural superstition, but science! It turns out the plastic bag of water hung on a door is a fly repellent. There is disagreement over how this actually works, but many swear that it does work. I didn’t see any flies at the Mexican bakery, so it’s worth giving a try. Maybe now our chanclas don’t have to double as fly swatters.

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Statues + Boundaries

“Someone wants to come stay with you,” Suegra teased us weeks ago, knowing that Carlos has sworn off allowing family to come visit after some not-so-good experiences.

“What are you talking about,” Carlos demanded.

Suegra smiled, enjoying the game.

“Someone very special is coming to stay here at the house. She wants to live here.”

“Well, you better tell her she can’t come… Who is it?” Carlos said.

“It’s a surprise,” she said.

“¡Mamá!” Carlos said losing patience, “I told you that you can’t keep inviting people here.”

Suegra giggled, which had a maddening effect on Carlos. How could she think this was funny? Had she seriously lost her mind? This is our house and she has no right to invite anyone without our permission. We don’t even have an extra bed! Last time she invited cousins to live with us temporarily and they ended up sleeping on the floor.

“¡Mamá!” Carlos said, now obviously angry, “You better tell whoever it is that they can’t come. I’m serious.”

Suegra finally confessed that the “guest” that wanted to come live with us was the Virgin of Guadalupe – more specifically, a statue she had been secretly making payments on. She explained that she was buying the statue “for the household” and that she had only one payment left before she could take her home.

Finding out it was a statue and not a person did not make me or Carlos any happier. Not only has Suegra been warned about not inviting people to visit, she has been warned about re-decorating our home. Gifting this statue “to the household” is her sneaky way of adding something to the general living area that quite frankly, we really don’t want.

This isn’t about religion, this is about boundaries. Suegra has once again crossed a line and knowingly, purposefully, broken rules, despite all of the compromises we’ve made to allow her to live with us. If she wanted to buy a statue that would fit in her bedroom – that’s her business – we turned a blind eye to her destruction of our third bedroom with her junk collecting – but the rest of the house – that’s where we draw the line. She has her own living room in El Salvador, which she is free to decorate as she chooses – this living room is ours.

Carlos assured me he would “take care of it.”

Days later, Suegra asked Carlos to take her to the store to make the final payment and pick it up. At the store they discovered the statue was broken because the person who delivered it hadn’t been careful with the box. Carlos breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the problem had taken care of itself. The merchant collected the pieces that had shattered into a bag and offered to sell it to Suegra half price – Suegra likes a good deal. She still wanted to bring the broken statue home.

An hour later I heard Suegra and Carlos struggling to bring it in the front door.

I put my head in my hands and took deep breaths to calm myself before coming out to see it.

The statue stood almost as tall as my 9 year old. As I could have guessed, Suegra didn’t get a simple, tasteful statue – but one with added touches, like two angels crowning the Virgin… Y con todo el respeto, it looks like something you’d buy at a dollar store.

La Virgen doesn’t look right to me. The original image has her looking down and to her right, a neutral expression on her face. This statue has her smiling silly, like the Mona Lisa. The apparent rush paint job has the Virgin and the angel holding her up, looking a little cross-eyed. Instead of a simple base, the statue stands atop a mound of puffy, white clouds.

Even after an earnest attempt to glue back whatever I could, there are still many pieces missing. The statue is overly-big, broken, faux-fancy in a way that makes it look cheap, and inaccurate.

I do not like the statue, at all, but I rearranged furniture in silence, biting my tongue, to make room for the Virgin – trusting that Carlos would take care of it.

The next day, Suegra invited friends to our living room to visit the statue. The day after that she invited more friends. She brought them before it and bragged about what a fantastic statue it is and how she generously gifted it to the household. All of this seemed very wrong. You don’t brag about the Virgin of Guadalupe. It isn’t for showing off.

On the third day, Carlos and I went out together and temporarily left the boys in Suegra’s care. While we were out, our older son texted me, “She’s being really weird. She’s making us watch her sing songs to the statue and then she was dancing around ringing bells. She won’t leave us alone. We’re just trying to watch TV and she’s ringing bells in our ears!”

That’s when I decided enough was enough.

“The statue can’t stay. Please, you need to take care of this. She needs to find space for it in her room or donate it to a church or something,” I told Carlos, feeling guilty for the position he was in, but angry for the position I had been put in as well.

Carlos wanted to avoid drama and tried to find a solution that would create the least amount, (because at least some would be inevitable.) Compromising yet again, I agreed we could move the statue to the garden outside. Suegra narrowed her eyes at me as we prepared the spot in the fenced-in backyard on the side of the house where no one, including myself, will see it. She didn’t dare say anything to my face, but the next day during an unrelated argument with Carlos behind the closed door of her bedroom, she spit the words out, making sure to say it loud enough that it would reach my ears.

“¡Sacaste la Virgen y entró el diablo!”

This was followed by other random attempts to induce guilt in Carlos – to manipulate him into doing what she wants. When guilt didn’t work, she tried her other favorite psychological warfare weapon, religious fear: “God will punish you for treating your mother this way!”

These tactics used to have their desired effect, but Carlos has grown a lot this past year. Carlos has come out of denial and admitted to himself that she is emotionally abusive, mentally unstable – that she is selfish – that she isn’t a very good mother. He isn’t afraid anymore that God will punish him for admitting this truth. He knows it isn’t his fault though she would have him believe it. Things have changed. Her words can’t hurt or control him like they once did. She’s like a cat that has been de-clawed – her swipes at him are harmless soft-padded paws, failing to dig deep and bring blood to the surface.

The statue stays outside. Suegra stays locked in her bedroom, praying that God will punish us.