How do I go to the Mexican grocery store and bakery to buy supplies for our Día de los Muertos party without looking like I'm doing the kitschy-goofy thing I'm doing? I walk up to the register and smile ingratiatingly, saying "Gracias" as usual—but a basketful of sugar skulls and other themed items, hefted to the register in my Irish-mutt arms, isn't subtle. I don't really mind looking stupid, but I don't want to offend anyone.Lost Me Lucky Charms
Chicano yaktivists will cry holy Aztlán because you're appropriating Mexico's holiday for revering the dead, but screw 'em. Go ahead and miss the point of Día de los Muertos, Lucky Charms: You know better than anyone else that America doesn't truly accept its immigrants until ethnic cultural feasts get warped into besotted celebrations attended by opportunistic politicos, and people forget the original meaning behind the occasion: Wasn't St. Patrick the guy who drove the Jews out of Amsterdam? Similarly, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is fast becoming corporatized, with do-it-yourself sugar-skull kits available at craft stores and hipsters building altares not to honor the souls who rest with God but because they read about it in Lonely Planet. Enter the Mexican grocery stores and bakeries with pride, Lucky Charms: You're multicultural! You're having a fiesta! You don't know que chingada you're doing! Really, the Mexican isn't too bitter about your cultural imperialism—you're just fulfilling the prophecy that is the "Irish I were Mexican" T-shirt.
I work as a physical therapist, and I've encountered Latinos from different parts of the world in my work. Whenever I hurt myself as a child, my mother would always tell me, "Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana." I always thought that the saying was regional to my homeland of northern New Mexico. However, I've met people from Cuba, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Mexico who are familiar with "Sana, sana." What's up with this? It sounds like an incantation from a bruja or curandera. Can you or your readers shed some light on this?Lupita la Brujita
Dear Lupita the Wabby Little Witch,
While my gentle readers are a sharp bunch of wabs, gabachos, chinitos, and negritos, I use them only for cheap labor and contraband smuggling. Besides, I doubt many of them are familiar with the origins of the refrán (saying) you cited, which translates as, "Heal, heal, tail of frog. If you don't heal today, you'll heal tomorrow" (alternate versions substitute culito—anus—for colita). You're right in noting its popularity throughout Latin America—folklorists have documented mothers reassuring the boo-boos of their niños with "sana, sana" from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to Chile to the Dominican Republic and even Spain, but haven't yet determined its age or deciphered its meaning. What's obvious is the refrán's theme of curanderismo, the use of centuries-old folk remedies to remedy for pesos what modern-day medicine charges in HMOs. But don't worry, gabachos: Though this column dealt with death and the occult, Mexicans aren't always that morbid, and the "sana, sana" chant is as harmless as an English nursery rhyme—and we all know how innocent those stanzas are.