It’s hard to believe that I’ve written eleven installments of the Folklore Fun series! Yet, I knew that there was still a huge geographical region that I hadn’t explored yet: Central and South America, plus the Caribbean! One of the reasons I haven’t had any posts from this area is because there are several overlapping cultures and folkloric elements, which are hard to parse into tidy little blog posts. I knew I couldn’t let that stop me, so I checked out a pile of books and got to work!
Like many other parts of the world, the native cultures of the Americas were irreparably harmed by colonization. Many ancient traditions were suppressed, and the colonizers’ culture was introduced. Furthermore, slavery forced a variety of people groups together in a very abrupt way. Modes of communication and methods of survival had to develop fast, resulting in linguistic creoles and blended folk traditions.
In this blog post, I am going to focus on the Spanish-language folklore of continental America. In the future, I hope to make separate posts for Caribbean folklore and indigenous groups like the Aztec and Maya. There are many shared elements, and many people might identify with more than one of these categories. It’s important to remember that there are no hard and fast dividing lines, and these broad groupings include a tremendous amount of variation.
Sure, I’ve heard of el Chupacabra, the goat-snatching creature that has made its way into popular media. But during my reading, I was struck by how many folkloric figures were humanoid. Certain animals (coyote, owl, and others) still have significant roles, but there is a large cast of people–or monsters who once were people. La Llorona, the weeping woman, is perhaps the most widely known. I learned more from books in our juvenile fiction collection: la Lechuza, El Sombrerón, El Silbón, and others roam the pages. Many of them originated in cautionary tales, to encourage a variety of proper behavior.
In contrast to the legendary figures, ordinary people can practice Brujería. It is an expansive tradition that is often oversimplified into the definition of “Spanish witch.” Elements of indigenous cultures, African influences, and even Catholicism have intersected and combined to form many different practices and philosophies. In Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, brujas are connected to the souls of the land. In Season of the Bruja, brujería is used to combat religious oppression.
I’d like to highlight Donna Barba Higuera’s work, even if it doesn’t always directly feature folklore. The Last Cuentista (2021) won a Newbery Medal and Pura Belpré Award. This novel and her more recent Alebrijes are both set in a post-apocalyptic world, where characters are far removed from the stories of the past. Yet Spanish language and culture is at the heart of the story, and the books emphasize the importance of oral tradition.
It may be silly, but I love it when my blog posts are color coordinated. A lot of the covers featured here use purple, green, orange and blue. It’s all warm light and rich shadows, reminiscent of a sunset in the desert. Latin American tales, while incorporating elements from around the world, are unique to their region. After all, folklore is rooted in the land, and cultivated by its people.