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monday shuffle, tuesday shuffle!

As it turns out, nobody can truly ruin Mexican family Christmas by banning alcohol, for two main reasons: One, alcohol wasn't really banned, and two, everybody started talking about how my uncle's ex-wife tried to lay a santeria curse on him during their divorce.

In the spirit of the holidays, have a less-formal-than-that-last-time-several-years-ago installment of my intermittent series of reflective essays, Growing Up Guera.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a section of the police department in my family's South Texas town dedicated to stopping supernatural crime.

Namely, crimes committed in the name of santeria, more namely, crimes like my ex-aunt burning a schematic of candles in my uncle's house that have nails driven through them and trying to get his students to take current photos of him and give them to her.

My aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents all laugh at santeria traditions, but it turns out we have a certain amount of Mexican mysticism in our own family: When my grandmother was sick as a child, an aunt cured her through a combination of prayer and an egg under the bed, which "soaked up" her fever in a single night. Later on, when she was pregnant with her first child, two of her aunts dangled a needle on a thread over her stomach and claimed that this would predict the gender of her child: It was a boy!

... Actually it was a girl, my Aunt Lettie. My grandpa has been smug about this for years, even though I pointed out last night, after a single mimosa that basically wiped me out for the entire evening, "Uhhh, it's a fifty-fifty shot, guys."

What are practitioners of santeria good at? According to my family, they are good at predicting whether ladies are pregnant, baking weird-tasting food, leaving things on doorknobs for people to touch, taking personal setbacks poorly, and giving people personal affects that lie against their skin and cause runs of bad luck. None of my relatives would ever practice santeria or openly admit that it might be an effective spiritual tradition. However, there are a few pockets of superstition among our extended clan.

My aunts and uncles seem to genuinely believe in the bad luck part, and that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between accepting personal gifts from a practitioner of santeria and all that ill fortune. Aunt Lettie thinks she had a psychic student, a girl with an uncanny knack for predicting disaster and (you guessed it) pregnancy. Everybody, regardless of college education, geographical location, age or religiosity, thinks it's creepy to cast a love spell in your ex-husband's house when he's not there as a means of trying to repair your marriage.

And my grandma confided to me in the kitchen that there's another angle on the well-loved story of how she stole our grandpa from a friend of hers, whom he had been dating, and then married him six months later.

"You know mija, my friend, she always wanted to have her palm read, and it was in a bad part of town so I said, you shouldn't be going alone, and one day I went too. And the woman read her palm and said, you're dating two boys, a white one and a dark one--"

"Oh grandma, so you only stole half her boyfriends, that's chill!"

"And she said, but you don't like the white one, which was your grandpa. And then she said, I see from your lifeline there's going to be a wedding in six months, and my friend got all excited, but the woman said no, it's not for you, in six months the white one is going to marry the morena. And six months later, I married your grandpa."

"Oh wow, grandma! Up top!"

Then we high-fived. That's probably some kind of metaphor for intergenerational communion between Mexican women, but fuck if I know what it means, I just woke up and I really need a shower.

To circle back to my ex-aunt, we do not believe that she was a born-and-bred practitioner. She had a woman's phone number scrawled over a spell diagram my uncle found in his house, and he thinks she was just a client, approaching a real santera with her problems. To date, none of her efforts have restored my uncle to her. He is dating a nice-seeming lady with no magical inclinations that we have noticed; just this morning, he frantically attempted to understand Skype in order to call her.

(That part has nothing to do with magic, but it was funny. He kept crying, "I can't see you! Baby, I can't see you!" Leading me to throw a blanket over my head across the room and yell, "Uncle A, I CAN'T SEE YOU." It's hilarious if you've only slept four hours because of the heater in this cabin being cranked up to Par-Broil.)

I still don't know what a prosecutable santeria offense would be in South Texas, aside from killing your neighbor's chickens. I know there have been "santeria busts," but I don't know what was confiscated or if any charges were pressed.

What I can say for sure is that whether there's anything to this magic stuff or not, a lot of people down there-- including my smart, funny, generally sane, but also kinda whackjob Mexican family-- take it extremely seriously.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 28th, 2011 01:09 am (UTC)
... <3

i like your weird family stories.
Dec. 28th, 2011 02:52 am (UTC)
Perhaps it's only because they're not my family, but I'm in love with this post.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )