Modern folktales of New Mexico illustrate the past is with us today

An alternative American Dream

By Johanna DeBiase
Posted 1/23/19

Folktales are stories by the people for the people, passed down from generation to generation. In …

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Modern folktales of New Mexico illustrate the past is with us today

An alternative American Dream


Folktales are stories by the people for the people, passed down from generation to generation. In this way, cultural knowledge and ideas are preserved. Sometimes these tales are a means of helping people to cope with difficult situations by resolving a moral dilemma, or they may bring light to a challenging subject. Today, modern folktales can be found in print and generally follow the folkloric tradition of short stories about the common man. Author Nasario García presents modern New Mexican folktales in his newest book, a collection of stories titled "No More Bingo, Comadre!"

García is a folklorist and native New Mexican who has published numerous books about Hispanic folklore and the oral history of Northern New Mexico, including "Hoe, Heaven and Hell: My Boyhood in Rural New Mexico" and "Grandpa Lolo's Navajo Saddle Blanket: La tilma de Abuelito Lolo," both from University of New Mexico Press. He lives in Santa Fe.

Each story in this collection stars New Mexican characters, although the stories don't always take place in New Mexico. When the tales are set somewhere else, there is always a sense of longing from the characters to return home. In this way, the stories are very much about New Mexican culture, as well as the loss of New Mexican culture. The book takes place around the 1950s, a time when New Mexico was reluctantly modernizing.

Many of the tales are humorous, such as "Grandpa Lolo's Gay Rooster," in which Grandpa's new rooster ignores the hens. The rooster is replaced with one more helpful for encouraging the laying of eggs and at the end of the story we discover the hens are all drunk.

"Beyond the Bridge" is about a rancher who tricks the city sheriff by pretending he doesn't speak any English. Humor follows with name-calling and intentionally mistaken words. The sheriff asks the rancher to pay him a bribe, "You pay me, you go." And the rancher on his horse-drawn wagon replies, "The yugo (yoke to a wagon)?" The rancher is exasperated and yells, "I give up, I give up." The rancher agrees, "Yes, yes… Giddyup! Giddyup!" and takes off.

In "Don Remigio Visits a Doctor," a grumpy old man concedes to see a doctor about the pain in his knee, but he intends to complain the entire time. The appointment ends badly when he kicks the doctor in the huevos.

"No More Bingo, Comadre!" is more than just a good-humored anthology. An important underlining theme to these tales is about younger generations of Hispanic New Mexicans losing touch with their culture, particularly in cities. In the story, "Hey, Sis," Nemesia Domínguez moves from a rural village into a city where the children tease her for wearing old-fashioned clothes and not speaking any English.

"Nemesia continued to find all this gabble totally incomprehensible," García writes. "Even what sounded like Spanish didn't make sense to her. The city kids were undeniably different from those in La Ventana. Their language was different. Their attire was different. Even some of the girls spoke funny. Nemesia felt all alone."

The story "Charlie 'Iglesias' Church" most poignantly shows how the loss of culture, particularly Spanish language, can affect someone. In this tale, the title character, who dresses like an Anglo cowboy, changes his name from Carlos Iglesias to Charlie Church. He is made fun of by the Hispanic students and is glad to leave them and his family behind to move to California to reinvent himself. The story follows Charlie as he finishes university and gets a job. But when he falls for a woman from Spain, he is embarrassed that he cannot speak Spanish. In the end, he returns home to New Mexico and reembraces his cultural identity.

"His mother was both elated and sympathetic. 'Welcome back, mijo. A mother's affection for her children never changes. And remember, too: Primero viene la miel y después la jiel. (First comes sweetness, then bitterness.) That's what life teaches us, but hope is never very far away.' Carlos nodded his head yes and embraced his mother," García writes.

Many of the tales include folk idioms such as the one above or: "There are people on this earth who will set your house on fire just to see it burn" or "The truth is liked sowed corn. Sooner or later it comes out, at times in the most unpredictable and mysterious ways." As with traditional folktales, each story has a moral meant to convey universal themes. The stories are written in a common vernacular that mimics oral storytelling. Characters speak in Spanglish and translations are included.

Though television has replaced storytelling in many households, stories still hold a place in our homes and our culture. We tell each other stories every day -- about what happened at work or at the grocery store, a joke we overheard, a piece of news we read in the paper. Each of these tales holds significance for the teller and speaks to what is important to them. When we put these stories together, we discover our culture.


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