Mexican-American society is rich with folklore, culture, traditions, rituals and religion. One can say that this came into being shortly after Columbus discovered the New World. The Spanish conquistadors and padres who sailed with Columbus to the New World over four centuries ago were the first to leave their mark on the new territory. European folklore influences are found in many places throughout the New World. These major influences are especially seen in the Southwestern region of the United States. The Southwest locality is an area rich in the oral traditions of legends and jokes, music, food, beliefs, and customs. It is here that Spanish is spoken and the Spanish/Mexican folkways still mold the lives of modern Latinos. There are many things in the Mexican culture which have contributed to the shaping and molding of the modern Latino society, such as the Mexican history, culture, folklore, rituals and traditions.
The culture of the Southwest is predominantly Hispanic of Mexican-American origin. The Mexican-American experience, history and heritage are intensified in its inhabitants. Mexican-American culture is not simply a blend of Mexico and the United States but the result of a unique historical process that developed with an originality all its own. The Embassy of Mexico chronicles the history of Mexico as so; the Pre-Hispanic Era was between 1200 B.C.-1521 A.D. and there were five major native societies that impacted the history of Mexico; the Olmecs, Mayans, Zapotecs/Mixtecs, Toltecs, and Aztecs. The Olmecs were the first recognized culture and they were significant because many past cultures borrowed religious, architectural and artistic customs from them. The Mayans are documented for their highly developed technique of mathematics and astrology. They were also the first society that established Baroque structural design. The Zapotec were distinguished builders and artisans, who produced remarkable temples, burial chambers, pottery and metal works. The Toltecs were master craftsmen and built one of Mexico’s most extraordinary cities, Tula. This civilization is considered to have been developed from the glorious Teotihuacan society of Central Mexico. The Aztecs conquered Mexico for practically 200 years. This society was prospering when Spanish conquerors disembarked to the New World in 1519. The Aztecs acquired their own complex linguistic, religious, artistic, architectural and military legacy by borrowing immensely from the Olmecs, Toltecs and Mayans.
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During the era of the Spanish conquest and colonial domination (1521-1810 A.D.), the Catholic Church and Spain forced their authority to establish an financial system that suggested many of the most awful features of colonialism and religion. The Spanish Inquisition was one of these terrible elements. In this time frame, the Spaniards enslaved many of the Indians to work on agricultural estates and huge mining operations; from this, these greedy Spaniards became prosperous. The colonial society was broken down into a caste system, which closely resembled European feudalism.
From 1810 to 1860 Mexico underwent several revolutions in preparation for its independence and insurrection. It took 300 years of Spanish and French colonial supremacy for the country to organize itself for sovereignty. The years of 1860 to 1910 marked the reform and stability period of Mexico. Benito Juarez assumed the presidency after the European instilled ruler, Austrian Archduke Maximilian was executed in 1867. Juarez’s four year reign lead to a great magnitude of land development and the decline of Catholic rights to the citizens of Mexico. In 1871, after Juarez’s demise, Porfirio Diaz took control, and in 1876, he led Mexico to 34 years of constancy and significant advancement. The wide-ranging mining, railroad building, all-encompassing architecture and overseas investment transformed Mexico, but heightened the country’s monetary and political disproportion.
The reform and revolution, which occurred between 1910 to 1945, was a result of Mexico’s out of proportion affluence and disgraceful living surroundings of its lower class citizens (“History”). This is a dynamic culture that continues to evolve and change, yet is constant.
The culture of Mexico teaches generation after generation about their historical background. These teachings are done in many different ways. Yet, the most popular experiences are through song and dance. Southwest culture is also known for its many varieties of music. Mexican music covers many genres. There are the romantic boleros, the tragic stories told in corridos and balzes, and the joy heard in the cumbias and polkas. The music of the Latino is at the forefront of everything a Mexican does, says and feels. It enriches the daily lives of all who hear the music. Music is the lifeblood and fuels the passion of the Mexican-American Folkloric dancing teaches the dancers stories of their past, through the steps, costumes and music. Folklorico instructor Claudia Becerra has been able to teach her students many things about their heritage and the different regions of folkloric dancing. She states that these stories are acted out through the words of the music and the movements of the dancers. The costumes are traditional of the region from where each dance originates. The music, which varies from region to region, tells different stories. In the present, folkloric dances reflect the Spanish influence on the native dances. The dances are known as Pascolas and Matachines, those dances are from the states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango. In the Pascolas the dancers imitate the wild animals. These dances are named after animals such as venado (deer) and vivora (snake).
The Matachines perform ritual dances, which they carry out as a promise to God or in particular to the Virgen De Guadalupe in gratitude for prayers answered. They may participate in the dances as an act of penitence. The dancers make two lines with a variety of simple steps and figures. The Indigenas Tarahumaras are a different version of the Matachines; they paint their faces or use masks representing animals and make the public laugh with their play-acting.
In the region known as the Huasteca, which includes the states of San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo and Veracruz, their dances are called Huapangos. The dancers of this region prefer to perform on a wooden platform, which makes their steps more resonant. The sounds of the steps enhance the dances. As a sign of bravery a dancer puts on her or his head a glass filled with water and dances without spilling a drop.
An excellent example of a song and dance that tells a story is “La Bamba.” "La Bamba" is a dance from the state of Veracruz. In this dance a young boy is the center of attention as different girls dance with him. He chooses one of these girls to dance the remainder of the dance with him. A reboso (shawl) is placed on the floor. The dancers make it into a bow using only their feet while they are dancing a complicated "zapateado". At the end of the dance they present the bow to the public. The story behind this dance is of a contest amongst many girls and the young boy has to choose the girl that dances it the longest and the most graceful. This young boy then courts the winner of the contest.
Another example of courting through song and dance is the “Pelea de Gallos.” A straight translation of this song is “The Fight of the Roosters.” This dance is of two boys fighting for the eye and affection of a girl. In the dance, the two boys are not really fighting, but competing to see which is the better dancer. As the girl looks on, she is the one who evaluates and decides which one “rooster” won the fight, and as in “La Bamba,” the winner then courted the girl.
The dances of Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco and Quintana Roo are known as “Jaranas”, and are similar to the Spanish “Jota.” When the conquerors introduced the “seguidillas” and “zapateados” to the Yucatan, the dancers of the aboriginals dances soon absorbed the new music and the combined the new musical emotions into the “Jaranas”.
The Mexican-American culture teaches all its generations the art, love and passion of food. Mexicans take great pride in the food they prepare, serve and consume. Food has given the Mexican-American culture distinction around the world. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Mexicans take their food very seriously and many arguments can start over this touchy subject. Many believe that true and authentic Mexican food is found only in Mexico. Others think that it can be found all along the Southwestern United States. The Mayans originally inhabited Mexico. Corn was of such importance to them, that they believed in and worshipped a corn god for the promise of a good harvest (“Regional Mexican Food”). Corn tortillas are served in almost every meal. They are the basis of many Mexican plates such as tacos, enchiladas, and chilaquiles. Important staples in the Mexican diet are corn products. Some dishes such as gorditas mandate the use of corn patties as necessary part of the meal.
Aztec and Mayan civilization are the major influences and are at the heart of authentic Mexican food. Nothing is more typical of Mexican food than the liberal use of spices. Chili is the most prevalent spice used in the food of the Mexicans. The Aztecs and Mayans are considered to be the originators of the spice. They were the first to cultivate and use chili as a condiment. The Aztecs were the ones that gave chili its name. Many prefer the vegetable sliced or diced into a sauce or salsa, stuffed with cheese or meat, or as an edible garnish on dishes. Chili may be green or red, but nonetheless it is used as important flavoring for many meals (Junior League of El Paso 208). Beans and rich are also important staples in the Mexican diet. They reflect the humble diet of the aboriginal descendants of Mexico. Today, they are used as important ingredients in every plate. Many people say that what was once a poor man’s meal is now a rich man’s banquet. This is what makes a modern day gastronomical cultural affair.
Mexican folklore holds many rich stories that entertain, enrich, enlighten and even scare us. Folklore holds many beliefs or creencias, which have molded the lives and oral history of the Mexican culture. Some of these beliefs include the old wives tales, which have been passed down through the years. These narratives are a vital element of the essence of the Mexican ethnicity and they manifest the principles of its descendants. These accounts serve to stimulate the modern Mexican society’s conscience and the faith that is inculcated on them. For the younger generations, they awaken a view of the magical world of the past. For our forbearers, they remind them of the beautiful past and romanticism of their youth. As the recorded and unrecorded traditions of a people, folklore is the heart and soul, the spirit, of a culture. Values, beliefs, ideology, and history are often revealed through folklore. Rituals, ceremonies and traditions, the folktales, of a people give insight into value systems and the psychology or reason for these expressions.
Many tales of lore have contributed to the upbringing of Mexican children. The story of “La Llorona” is one that scares all little children and assures parents that their young ones will not be out late playing along the riverbanks. Other legends and wives tales teach morals. Some tales teach us lessons such as “A Time for Everything,” (Aiken 3) a story about waiting for the right time, because if one wants to know something sooner than another is willing to tell them, the story is not as good as it could have been. Other tales teach us reasons for why things are, such as “El Parajo Cu,” (Aiken 4) which explains why the roadrunner hunts during the day and why the owl hunts at night.
The old wives tales of the Mexican society are sometimes comical and even hysterical. Some are based on beliefs that are passed down through the ages. There are tales of lemon juice being sprinkled on food and in drinks to help cut the fat. It is said that if one has an upset stomach, they should drink 7-upТ to calm it and alleviate the pain. According to Guadalupe Becerra, said that if a person holds a penny in their hand while they are nervous or scared it calms them down. This is also said to be a good cure for motion sickness. His wife used to perform limpias. In a limpia, the afflicted person is vigorously rubbed with a raw egg while prayers are chanted. The egg is placed inside a glass of water and positioned either under the bed or above the headboard. In the morning the yolk has coagulated and the mal or evil has been removed. This practice is performed whenever a person, usually a child, is given the ojo, or the evil eye. Many Mexican females believe that if they place their purse on the floor, they will not be able to maintain hold of their money.
His wife also believes that if she, or anyone else for that matter, drinks or eats anything with herbs while they are feeling ill they will magically be cured. Alternative medicine books are full of recipes that originated in the Mexican experience. Another wives tale is the common belief about the use of VicksТ on the chest, in the nostrils and on the feet of a person with cold like symptoms will take the illness away by the following morning.
Aside from the comical old wives tales and practices associated with them is the very serious religious side to every Latino. Religion plays a very big part in the Mexican culture. However, it does seem to grower thinner through the generations. Great grandparents and grandparents are much more religious than are their grandchildren. None-the-less, religion is an integral part of all Latinos’ lives. In the windowsills of most Latinos’ homes may be candles with either the Virgin’s picture or pictures of saints on them. These candles are burned after a relative or loved one has passed away, or in hope for a longing prayer. In many homes, a cross or a statue of Jesus is hung above the frame of a door. Many Latinos have been to Chimayo, NM and have a jar of holy dirt and/or holy water somewhere in the house. In Mr. and Mrs. Becerra’s house Mrs. Becerra has a room where she holds a little shrine to the Virgen de Guadalupe. Every-so-often, she offers it roses and the candles will be lit.
Religious ceremonies are an integral part of the Latino culture. Religious festivals usually involve the entire community. One known as the quinceaсera not only marks a young girl’s fifteenth birthday as the coming out party of the young girl into adulthood in a social sense, but more importantly, it marks her entrance into adulthood in the church. This celebration involves the young girl’s parents, siblings, grandparents, godparents and friends; each plays an important role in her celebration. An important act in the quinceaсera ceremony is the changing of the girl’s shoes from little girls shoes to high heels. The young girl also hands down a favorite doll from her childhood to her younger sister (if she happens to have one). Her parents, grandparents and godparents are witnesses to her transition and make a promise to the church that they will watch over her as she follows the rules of the church and sets an example for others to follow (West 150-151).
Another custom is the celebrating of El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). This celebration is the assembling of the family at cemeteries to clean and beautify the burial place of departed loved ones (West 152). A popular Christmas ceremony is the posada, the journey of Joseph and Mary going from house to house to seek shelter for the birth of Jesus Christ. This celebration is one of the most colorful and traditional rituals of the Christmas season (West 159).
Accounts of the Virgen de Guadalupe are symbolic to Mexicans everywhere. She is recognized as the patroness of the Americas and also as the representation of Mexican individuality, history and culture. The figure of the Nuestra Seсora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) is more than a picture. The visual rendering is an account in view of the fact that the motif on the Virgin’s clothing indicates the geography of Mexico and Nahuatl (Aztec/Mexico) deities. The marks upon her dress also uncover the message of the Virgin to Juan Diego, the Nahuatl artisan who saw the Virgin (“Culture- La Virgen de Guadalupe”). She appeared to him on December 9, 1531 and told him of her wish to have a church built on Tepeyac Hill, and asked him to give the message to Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. A small church was constructed at this site after the Bishop saw the perfect image of La Virgen Morena (the Dark Virgin) on Juan Diego’s cloak (“Origins of Mexican Dances”).
The rituals and traditions of the Mexican culture are very meaningful to this society. A calendar ritual is the blessing of fields during springtime. Some farmers used to take pictures of San Isidro to the fields and would parade through the rows of corn, the farmer would then hang the picture somewhere while he was working (West 162).
The Charreada is a tradition in Mexico, it is a Mexican-style rodeo. Participants and spectators of all ages are involved in this tradition. The origin of it comes from the workers with cattle showing off their skills. The events and parades resemble that of the American rodeos. A popular event is the coleadero (the tailing), where steers and bulls are not left with much dignity. The most dangerous event is the paso de muerte (pass of death). This event is where the charros double up and ride a wild mare bareback around the ring. While one charro drives the horse, the other has to leap onto the back of the horse racing beside them. The charro only has the horse’s mane to grab on to. Young boys train to be charros by watching their elders rope cattle and ride horses (West 166-170). This is a family event for all to enjoy and have fun watching together. All of the Mexican rituals and traditions allow families to spend time together and become closer.
There are many aspects in the Mexican culture which have contributed to the shaping and molding of the modern Latino society, such as the Mexican history, culture, folklore, rituals and traditions. The Mexican culture is one with a rich and historical background. It plays a major role in shaping the modern Latino society. Many rituals and traditions which were celebrated in the past are still celebrated today. Many of the foods that the ancient Mayans and Aztecs ate hundreds of years ago are still eaten today. The folklore still teaches its morals and impacts the upbringing of children. The home remedies are still routinely used in most homes. The influences of two continents and many peoples are seen in the daily lives of participants in the Mexican experience.
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