Have you ever visited Tucson, Arizona? I used to live just north of there along the San Pedro River. Did you know the area from Tucson up to the Gila River wasn’t part of the land won from Mexico in the Mexican American War (1846-1848)? Nope, James Gadsden bought that land from Mexico for the United States in 1954, putting the Southern part of New Mexico and Arizona under the protection of the USA.
In researching my novella, Blessed Land, in The Immigrant Brides collection, I learned a lot about our Mexican heritage from the 1800’s. I thought it might be interesting to take a brief look at the rich culture that came from Mexico.
Times and people don’t change all that much, so the men in those days loved to show off their superior skills. Many of the games involved feats of expert horsemanship. One such game, Las Sintas, or The Ribbons, thought to have been brought over by the Portuguese, involved brightly colored ribbons attached to a horizontal pole. The riders lined up on their fastest ponies. They would race in to retrieve a ribbon without breaking it and take the prize to the beautiful lady of their choice. This proved to be a challenge since the ribbons were securely fastened and the riders zipped along at top speed. If the ribbon tore, the rider would be disgraced.
Have you ever heard the expression, “Let the Cat Out of the Bag?” Well, the cat races were a literal version of the phrase, and so popular in some areas that when the drums began signaling the start of the races, people would run to get a good place to watch. There are even accounts of young children left behind to cry while their parents watched. The cats were kept in a bag, or gunny sack, while the field was readied. Markers were placed about 100 yards apart and wires were run in parallel lines. Short moveable wires were attached to the parallel lines and then to a collar around the cats neck. The cats were slowly “let out of the bag” and the race was on. No one went home until the last cat had finished the race and been bagged once again.
Mexican folklore is as fascinating as folktales or fairy tales from anywhere in the world. These stories were usually cautionary tales meant to teach young people morality or wisdom. Picture the children seated at the feet of their Nana as she tells the story of a young wayward girl we’ll call Rosa.
Rosa was a beautiful girl with long, black hair, and eyes that sparkled like stars. She worked very hard at home, but longed to go dancing. Sometimes her feet would tap a rhythm of their own as she thought of the handsome cowboys and the dances held in town. One night, Rosa sneaked from the house and made her way into town. Dancers whirled in bright colors and Rosa heart sang to join them. One handsome cowboy sauntered across the room and held out his hand to Rosa. He was the best looking man in the room and only had eyes for Rosa. They danced and danced. Rosa knew she should go home, but she thought, “One more dance. Only one more.” Before she knew it, the clock struck midnight. Rosa’s handsome cowboy whirled around, his feet became cloven hooves, and Rosa knew he was the devil. Too late, she knew she should have been home where she would be safe.
There are many Mexican stories and customs from the 1800’s that are fun and fascinating. I would love to have time to share more with you. I’d love to hear from you. Do you have a favorite Mexican food? Do you know any other tales or games to share?
Thank you to Karen Witemeyer, who invited me to do a guest post today on Petticoats and Pistols. I’ll be giving away a copy of the novella collection, The Immigrant Brides and a tote bag. Thank you for joining me.