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Cultural Superstitions Affect Behavior
Article first published in Vol. 11, 1993.
By Yolanda L. Gonzalez, Maria Herlinda Chavez and Monica Mora
Step on a crack and break your mother's back," children can be heard chanting as they carefully jump over every crack on the sidewalk. Adults tend to think of superstitions as childish or even uneducated beliefs--and they may be. However, superstitions abound all over the world, each influenced by the cultures of different people. Here on the border things are no different.
Writer-historian Edward S. Gifford, Jr. calls the evil eye, or mal de e ojo, or simply ojo, is well known in Mexico and is shared by many Mexican-Americans on the border. Mal de ojo can cause misfortune, illness, and even death and destruction to material objects. The evil eye is cast mainly by strangers who are born with "strong vision," which can harm a person or thing that they admire or desire.
That is why many Mexican-Americans are especially careful when it comes to their children. In the Mexican culture, those who admire a child must touch the child with their hand to show the absence of envy or desire.
One common superstition among both Americans and Mexicans is the belief that making a wish, or three wishes, on a falling star will make the wishes come true. Other superstitions warn against counting stars because doing so will cause your eyes to look like those of a fish. Or counting stars might cause corns on your feet.
The moon also plays a major role in many superstitions. A well-known superstition says that a pregnant woman shouldn't touch her belly during a lunar eclipse. Doing so will cause the baby to be born with quite a noticeable birthmark.
Folklorist John O. West describes another superstition among Mexican-Americans involving pregnancy. If pregnant woman goes out during a full moon or lunar eclipse, her baby will born with a harelip or with the features of a wolf. To prevent this, West adds, the woman should carry a bunch of keys around her waist so that they hang over the baby and deflect the light.
According to local folklorist Jacinta Gonzalez, many superstitions "relate to important occasions in a person's life, such as weddings." For instance, if it rains on the night of a wedding, the bride will cry throughout the marriage.
A border superstition says that a honeymoon bed sheet should be blue. This will insure a good sexual relationship throughout the marriage, for blue represents masculinity and the husband's sexual urge. Another common superstition practiced by woman in this area is keeping a head of garlic wrapped in a red cloth and tied with a gold ribbon in their purse to keep it from being stolen. Women should never set their purses on the floor if they want their money to last. The floor represents hell, the ultimate bad luck.
According to West, many beliefs have come about through observations that have been made throughout the years. If nothing else, they help make life a bit more interesting. "If beliefs, like salt in food, give flavor to a culture, one must agree that the Mexican-American culture is certainly flavorful,' he says.