Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spirits of Central America

All of these stories have many variations. If you know of another version of these legends or any other interesting creatures, please leave a comment so I can add them to the list.

Image found at

La Siguanaba - Central America

La Siguanaba is a shape-shifting woman with long hair who haunts men who have been unfaithful or are traveling alone. Once she has lured a man away, her face transforms into a horse´s, or a skull, or a horse’s skull with red eyes. She may lead a man into a place where he will get lost, or the very sight of her face may drive him mad. To defend oneself from her, you should bite your machete. Like La Llorona, she is often found near water sources like rivers or water tanks. Her legend is traced back to Nahuatl mythology. She offended the water god Tlaloc by cheating on his son and being a bad mother. Tlaloc also cursed her son, El Cipitío. Other names include Sihuanaba, Siguanaba, Cigua or Cegua. Her names are derived from several different Nahuatl words with various meanings.

El Cipitío - El Salvador

El Cipitío is the child of La Siguanaba who was cursed by Tlaloc. He is cursed to live forever as a small child with backwards feet. He is usually depicted with a large belly and a hat. He likes to eat ashes and banans, and to throw stones at people. He can also teleport. He sounds more creepy than scary.

La Mano Peluda

La Mano Peluda or “The Hairy Hand” is said to belong to a man who was killed during the inquisition. His hand is said to have come back to life to seek revenge on his enemies while they’re asleep.

La Lechuza - Mexico

La Lechuza or “The Owl Woman” is a witch that can turn into a huge bird with red eyes. She attacks men like an owl attacks a mouse. There are stories of people shooting owls or crows and the next day elderly ladies coming into town with gunshot wounds. If you’d like to meet her, go outside at midnight and whistle three times and La Lechuza will whistle back. This legend is also popular in Texas.

Que viene el coco, Goya 1799

El Cuco

Also known as El Coco, he is a dark, shapeless monster that kidnaps and eats children that don’t obey their parents. This myth began in Spain or Portugal and was brought to the Americans during the colonial period. Sometimes he is depicted as having a pumpkin head or a skull face.

Duérmete niño, duérmete ya...Que viene el Coco y te comerá.

La Carreta Chillona - El Salvador

La Carreta Chillona or “The Screechy Wagon” is a wagon made of human bones. The legend began in Spain and centers on a boy named Terencio, who was adopted by a priest and moved to San Salvador as an adult. There, he pretended to be a miracle doctor, but ended up killing many people. The dead priest came back as a ghost and forced Terencio to build a chariot from the bones of his victims and sentenced him to wander the streets for all eternity. If you hear the sound of the wagon´s bones and chains, you will know that death is near.

El Cadejo

The dog-like animal can be good or bad, depending on the color of its fur: The white cadejo is said to protect travelers from danger or drunks from robbers. The black one has penetrating red eyes, sharp teeth and hoofed feet. The evil cadejo smells of burning sulfur and lurks in alleys and other dark places waiting for his next victim. The name cadejo could come from the word cadena, or chain. Sometimes the dog is depicted with a chain following it.

La Llorona - Mexico

La Llorona or the "Wailing Woman" is the ghost of a woman who drowned her own children in anger over her husband´s betrayal. Now she wanders at night, often near water sources, crying and wailing "Ay, mis hijos!" Children are told she will take them and kill or eat them if they cross her path. I have also heard the La Llorona is the ghost of La Malinche, the Aztec interpreter and lover of Hernán Cortéz, who killed her children when she realized together they had betrayed her people. .

This list was inspired by Latina Magazine´s " Scary Latino Myths."

Don´t think I haven´t noticed that most of these spirits and creatures are female. Witches, evil seductresses and bad mothers have been scaring people for centuries the world over. What does that say about women? In these myths we seem to have incredible sexual power as well as a great capacity for committing evil against men on the road. The myths are both insulting and empowering. La Llorona can be seen as the most evil figure in Mexico, or the most powerful female next to La Virgen. Make of them what you will.

Related Post:

Spirits of the Caribbean

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is America a Christian Nation?

This can´t be posted enough times.

Related Post:

Christianity and Healthcare Reform


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

We´re a Culture, Not a Costume

Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS) is a student organization at Ohio University. Their mission: “To educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings.”

They created these anti-racist Halloween campaign posters to give us all something to think about as we select costumes this year. That when people dress up as "an Indian" or "a Mexican" they are using an entire culture as a prop. And that is wrong.

By now, these posters have been re-posted at numerous sites on the internet. I am amazed by the rancor this campaign has brought out in some people. The comments can be nasty. But they are a window onto the minds of people who 1. do not think they are racists, 2. believe they know what racism is and 3. are somehow offended by the campaign rather than enlightened by it.

Many White Americans believe there exists a special Racism Test, that only they can administer. They imagine the races switched in a given situation and if they wouldn´t feel offended they believe minorities shouldn´t feel offended either.

Costumes are a great example. In many of the comments I´ve seen where these images have been posted elsewhere, people (presumably white) complain that they wouldn´t be offended if they saw a black person dressed as a cowboy, or a Mexican dressed as a Viking. Therefore, minorities shouldn´t be offended when white people use foreign cultures as costumes.

"I hope I don't offend anyone of Scandinavian descent if I dress up as a Viking this Halloween. Will Italians be outraged if I dress up in a toga? I suspect that Italians and Scandinavi­ans are not as touchy and more secure." Comment on the Huffington Post

Except it doesn´t work this way. When people use this disingenuous Racism Test to determine if something is racist or not, they are ignoring the cultural and historical context in which we all live. Italians and Scandinavians in America have now been absorbed into the dominant white culture. They cannot experience racism in the way the the Black, Native American, Middle Eastern, Asian and Hispanic students in the posters can.

Should we live in a society where race is not a factor in how people are treated? Of course. But we don´t live there now, and it isn´t helpful to pretend that we do.

White people cannot be the ones to determine if minorities have the right to be offended by what white people do. We cannot say that wearing blackface is ok, because we wouldn´t be offended if black people painted themselves white. This colorblind way of viewing racism does not help us get beyond racism, it perpetuates it.

I assume that most of the people leaving comments along the lines of "This is too PC" or " They are being too sensitive" would not want to be seen as racists. But in their inability to understand their own privilege or to be empathetic with someone else´s experience, they are exposing how little they know about not being racist.

I really commend the students who created these posters. They are well done and very thought provoking. It hurts when others point out your racism. I believe that is why so many of the comments are angry. But this Halloween, people may think twice about their costume choice. Or maybe it will take until next Halloween for the point to sink in. But at least the dialogue has begun.

Related Posts:

Nivea: Of Course this is Racism
All Posts on Race

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Orleans: Southern Comforts

Found at Creative Roots, Design by Studio Muti, Cape Town, South Africa.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Would Happen if the GOP Banned Contraception?

What, you don´t think it could happen? Look around you. They are dismantling Planned Parenthood, cutting funding for family planning, trying to make it lawful for pharmacies to refuse to distribute emergency contraception. Rick Santorum was filmed saying he would defund contaception and that contraception is "dangerous."

The GOP holds contraception in contempt.

What would happen if it were banned althogether? Let´s take a look back in time to communist Romania under the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. In 1966, he outlawed abortion and all contraception. In 1967 the birth rate doubled. And then women started seeking out illegal abortions. As the birth rate fell from the initial boom, the maternal mortality rate tripled. For over two decades, contraception and abortion were illegal in Romania. The result was not a larger population, as Ceauşescu had intended. The result was more abortion, higher maternal mortality, more unwanted children who filled up orphanages of international infamy.

In 1989, the year Ceauşescu was overthrown, 400,000 women were hospitalized from complications from abortion. Hundreds died. Even after 1989, when the laws were reversed and abortion and contraception were legal again, as there was still limited access to contraception and to information, Romania continued to have a high abortion rate and low awareness about alternative methods of contraception.

Banning contraception and sex education should not be on the Pro-Life platform. If the intention really is to prevent abortion, the best thing Pro-Life activists could do is to make sure every woman knows she has the power to control her own fertility and to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But this is not what is happening. Pro-Life activists are the ones supporting politicians today who are proposing legislation that would defund access to contraception.

The irony is that they call Obama a communist. They say they want the Government to stay out of our lives. And yet, what is more invasive than a government that attempts to control your fertility? Communist Romania already lived through that misery. Why would we want the same in America?

There are two very good films that address this time in Romanian history.

Children Underground is a documentary that follows the lives of several children who had left orphanages in Bucharest and were living in the subway in the early 1990´s.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a drama about a young woman seeking an illegal abortion in Bucharest in the 1980´s.

A Handmaid´s Tale, a novel by Margaret Atwood, predicted what a conservative, fertility-obsessed North American dystopia might look like way back in 1985.


NYT: Romania Seeks to Reduce Abortions
Ceauşescu´s Longest Lasting Legacy
The Nation: Ban Birth Control? They Wouldn´t Dare

Related Posts:

Posts on Pregnancy
Posts on Preconception Health

Thursday, October 6, 2011

HIV: Corruption Kills

Corruption takes resources away from the those who need it most. Corruption kills.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ways People Find this Blog

I use stat counter to count the number of people who visit my blog. I think most bloggers do this to reassure themselves that somebody, anybody reads the posts they write. The stat counter allows me to see the visitor´s city, the length of time they stayed on a particular post and the phrase they typed into the search engine to find the blog. Don´t worry, there is no way I can see the visitor´s name or identifying information. Some of these phrases are interesting, some are hilarious. Here is a list of some of the recent phrases that lead people to my blog. They are linked to the related post.
King Cake
What Ethnicity is Salma Hayek?
This is American and Our Only Language is English (typo theirs, not mine)
Marpessa Dawn (frequent)
Brazilian Asians, Lovefoxx Luisa
Why Does Oscar Wao Use Lord of the Rings References
Soucouyant (frequent)
Planned Parenthood is Problematic
Hot Teenage Boy Mudding with Four Wheelers
Mad Men Hard to Understand
Punk Latina
El Tigre Chino
Weeds is Racist (extemely frequent)

My all time favorite was from a few years ago: Can I Ride an ATV While Pregnant?

Notice that many of these posts address race. I do not think of race as being a theme of this blog. I tend to think of it as a blog about public health, places I have been, interpretation stories. But I realize I have written quite a bit about race here. My post on Orfeu Negro has gotten some angry comments from people desperately defending the film as not racist. My post on Weeds has received many comments and visits from people looking for racial analysis of the show. (Unfortunately I don´t have access to the latest season, so the review is fairly old now.) This says to me that people have a lot of questions about race. It is something we think about a lot more than we want to admit. The posts I have written on race all try to address some sort of misconception I encountered as a teacher or an interpreter.

My posts on Suriname get a little traffic, maybe because few people have been there and have written about it in English. My posts on malaria get very few visitors, probably because most people would rather hear what the CDC has to say about it than what I have written - and it´s ok, I understand.

I love comments, positive AND negative. I really like hearing what other people have to say about the topics that most interest me, even if they disagree. So, always feel free to comment on the posts, just keep it nice.

Net Inspection

Photo by John Stanmeyer
Arusha, Tanzania 2006

A woman inspects a mosquito net for flaws at a factory.

Related Posts:

All Malaria Posts