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Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Despojos, Azabaches and Other Rituals

Submitted by on January 2, 2012 – 9:34 am34 Comments

dios me bendiga azabache pin for mal de ojo

Cleansing el Mal de Ojo

There was a beautiful white-robed Santa Mercedes statue in my grandparent’s living room. It was on a wooden bookcase and always surrounded by fresh flowers and a glass of water.

More times than I probably can remember, I was stood in front of it and given a despojo for mal de ojo.

My great-grandmother, Mama Maria, an elegant, little bird-like woman, would say quiet prayers over me, while lightly slapping a handful of basil on my brown head.

I always tried to understand what she was saying in those low whispers. I would listen hard as she prayed, tapped my head and spun me in an effort to cleanse and sanctify me, rid me of el mal de ojo that had allegedly made me sick.

Forty years later, I can’t smell basil without thinking of those despojos.

Growing up Cuban, we’re used to los espiritus and Santeros and rituals and concoctions to protect and cleanse. A Cuban-American baby is most often still in-utero when the future Abuela purchases the black onyx azabache pin that the baby must wear on every single outfit. Dios te ampare if you take that baby out in public without her azabache.

All of that is normal for me.

But, it was a long time before I learned this sort of stuff — this magic, this espiritismo — just isn’t normal for everybody.

I’ve shared these stories with non-Latino friends — from the Midwest to the West to the South — and most go slack-jawed. They laugh uncomfortably. Make a little fun.

“So, your family thought that someone had looked at you badly and you got sick?”

“You believe that someone can give you the Evil Eye because they’re jealous?”

And, no doubt that in the South — where talk of anything beyond the love of Jesus and the power of prayer, can be sticky — at least a few people have probably prayed for my poor, confused, seemingly un-Christian Soul.

I admit, I have been embarrassed by the questions, the surprise, the mocking.

The Power of Belief

It is hard to explain the power of belief, the ties so strong to patterns generations old, to people whose childhoods don’t include water glasses under the bed. You know?

I still won’t walk over any bag in the street. I was taught that someone could have thrown out a trabajo, and I’d pick up the bad ju ju, too, if I walked over the bag.

And yet, I am not crazy.

We’re not crazy.

It’s just what we do.

Just what we know.

Why am I telling you this today?

El Susto

Partly because the New Year’s Eve rituals of 12 grapes, mopping the house, suitcase by the door, has brought some of this up, and mainly because  I’m giving you a heads up about an essay about el Susto coming this week by Angela Fregoso, whose family has owned a Texas-based Botanica for more than 60 years.

She has great stories and information about cleansing rituals and traditional supplements that our culture long has used, long has believed in.

Cuerno ‘Pa Tus Ojos

So, my great-grandmother taught me that when someone offers me an extreme  compliment, I’m supposed to say “Cuerno para tus ojos.” Like, whatever you say to me, goes back to you…like a poke in your evil, envious eye. It’s a way to protect yourself from this dreaded Evil Eye.

I have to say, I’ve never been able to go there.

I struggle with the concept of Evil Eye, of believing someone could harm another out of jealousy, envidia — even if they have no idea they’re doing it.

In all, I guess some things are easy to believe in.

And some, are not.

Just don’t make fun of me for the regular house despojos.

Those, I believe in.



Share, por favor!


  • “A Cuban-American baby is most often still in-utero when the future Abuela purchases the black onyx azabache pin that the baby must wear on every single outfit. Dios te ampare if you take that baby out in public without her azabache.”


    PLUS I still have my 19 yr olds original azabache.

    ::smile:: Don’t you just love being Cuban?

  • Carrie, I think I’m going to make my bf read your post. He’s Latino but doesn’t believe in any of my superstitions and it seems I have a lot and he thinks I’m a little nuts! :)
    Mercedes @BeChicMag´s last [fabulousness] ..Chic New Year Resolutions

  • Amiga, I’m one gringa who totally believes in el ojo! My hubby didn’t grow up having to put a glass of water under his bed, but we’ve heard all the stories from la primera generación and yes, many…even Latinos…often see it as brujería. I don’t know…I have mixed feelings. On one end, it’s very endearing, because I grew up with similar stories and don’t see it as being that different, but at the same time…I do guard myself from the evil eye…lol. It’s definitely not all fairy tales. ;) Hey, my MIL could make anyone believe in ojo. ;)

    Great post! I love hearing about all the little cultural elements that make up our daily lives. That’s what make your site so special…and it’s also why I love Latinaish. ;)

  • Unknown Mami says:

    I say I’m not superstitious, still some things I do just to be safe you know? I mean why take chances?

  • I love this post, Carrie! My husband is Turkish so I’m very familiar with the whole “evil eye” concept. In fact, when our eldest son was born, we took him to visit our relatives in Turkey. One day my mother-in-law took him for a walk around the neighborhood. When he came back, he had all these little gold charms and “boncuk nazar” (the Turkish blue eye) pinned on his onesie. I still have those Turkish charms. And I’m now very careful not to coo over a baby too much or give a newborn too many compliments – just to keep that jealous mal de ojo away.

  • it’s interesting: i don’t believe in despojando ni nada de eso, but since I was a child, the 12 grapes, sweeping the floor, suitcase by the door (and even walking around the n’hood, banging casuelas) was our way of receiving the new year! still, this year, we did it all the same with all of our crazy Cuban friends. It was fantastic and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, they all did it the same way. I was in bed by 10:30… praying for and despojando los malos de la semana anterior! ;)

  • We have the “mal de ojo” here in Mexico too! Complete strangers will walk up to you and touch your baby “para que no le de mal de ojo”. They believe that if they stare at a baby and don’t touch it, the baby will get “mal de ojo”. And instead of el azabeche, some people use “ojo de tigre”.

  • Ohhh the Evil Eye…My family members were at one point great believes in this…perhaps many still are. My mami once threw me into the sea “para limpiar mi espiritu” after she believed someone had given my curly locks the evil eye…..come to think of it my hair hasn’t been tamed since.

  • RubyDW says:

    My grandmother was one of the biggest to educate me on all the rituals and precautions we would have to take when dealing with sustos, empachos, mal ojos, and any other maldad. She had her own concoctions of home remedies as well as the hands of a healer. People would come from far just to have my NANA curar them. The power is strong and i still believe… my Black husband on the other hand has a hard time understanding my so called “superstitions” i get frustrated and yell “es que tu no sabes” probably not the best way to make him understand lol

  • Melek says:

    Great Post Carrie!

    I think that much of this has to do with positive and negative energy . . . I think that most of us at one time or another have felt “uneasy” or “uncomfortable” around a person without really understanding why … for me that has to do with the “negative energy” or “negative vibes” we are getting from them . . . whether or not they are intentional or not.

    Instead of the “Cuerno pa’ tus ojos”, I taught my children what I also do. As soon as we receive someone’s compliment, we silently say “May God protect me” . . . we actually use the Arabic phrase: “Mashallah”! (From my Lebanese roots – LOL) In a way just like the “Dios me bendiga” engraved on the azabache pin.

    Justine, my husband of almmost 28 years is also Turkish. I learned that Turks, like Cubans, and many other cultures are quite superstitious. I love the Nazar Boncus (Evil Eyes)and have them everywhere . . . and of course I have to explain that they are called evil eyes to wear off or cancel negative energy, not because they are “evil” . . . the belief is that you can’t buy a “nazar boncu” for yourself. It has to be received as a gift. If it breaks or you lose it, that means it protected you from something bad.

    When I was in college, I had elderly neighbors who were Portuguese. They had a couple of birds and one day they explained to me that we should always have some “being” weaker than us in our home, such as a fish, bird, etc. because if there were to be negative energy in the home, the weaker being would absorb it instead of us. This is also very much the belief behind puting a “Nazar boncu”, Black Coral, Italian horn or Brazilian figas, or any type of talisman on newborns or younger children . . . since they are the “weaker” members of the family and “need” the extra protection.

    May 2012 bring y’all health, harmony, prosperity & happiness

    :) Melek

  • Itzel Yagual says:

    Some of these I wasn’t even aware of…My husband, who was born in the United States and is half Costa Rican and half Ecuadorian would get a kick out of these! I am very superstitious and so is my mom and often times, he just things we are paranoid and so not true! Thanks for sharing! I say, if you believe, the chances of it happening are very possible so take all safety measures in consideration.

  • I didn’t grow up with any of these beliefs. But I learned them through friends as I grew up.

    I’m not a believer, but I would never make fun of someone who did. I don’t believe it but I’m smart enough not to test it.

  • Have you heard of the egg thing?

    Para los ojeados, rub an egg all over the person’s body while praying the Lord’s Creed and then crack the egg open in glass of water. If it appears to have a lot of nettings in the water the person definitely has el mal de ojo. Then you must do the egg thing again for two more days to be “cured”.

    It sounds weird but I know it works…I always felt better after the 3 egg deal my mom and grandma did on us :)

  • Uchi says:

    hehehe! I love your post! I’m not superstitious, but still some things I do just to be safe ! my mom is very superstitious… yo solo la sigo con algunas cosas!! hehe!
    Thanks for sharing

  • jai says:

    I’m there with you!! I lost my azabache a few weeks ago that an old co worker gave me. She was a sweet old lady. I freaked out so bad that one of my non-Latino friends caught me searching for the azabache and got me one for my birthday. I haven’t taken it off since I’ve gotten it. Call it a security blanket but I truly believe in the evil eye and things of that nature. In my family, if you say something nice about a baby like “que lindos ojos” you’re supposed to say Dios lo bendiga and if that person doesn’t the parent or whoever nearby will. You’re right, it’s what we do. And it gets passed from generation to generation.
    jai´s last [fabulousness] ..New Year’s Skincare Event at Ulta

  • Tracy says:

    I’ve never seen/heard of the azabache, but in El Salvador babies wear a red beaded bracelet which protects them. I have a photo of one in this post:


    I actually never let my boys wear them because I feared more that they’d rip them off and choke on them. LOL.

  • We latinos are not the only ones that believe in the evil eye. The middle eastern indians do as well, and my mom has there blue eye hanging all over the house….

  • Eva Smith says:

    Oh that evil eye! I remember growing up with it. I don’t believe in it now, but I certainly was raised believing in it and many other traditions. The different beliefs bring back memories from time to time. It’s really interesting how we live our lives a lot by the way we were raised and we pass it down from generation to generation.

  • When bad luck followed someone we called them “salados” and we had to take them to get a “limpia” with the curandera. Silly things we did. But strangely enough, the bad luck would go away. Hmmmm…

  • I’ve really enjoyed reading all these comments and learning more about how different cultures ward off the “mal de ojo”. Melek, so cool to meet you here! I know – the term “evil eye” is confusing’
    boncuk nazar” makes more sense. Do you have a blog somewhere? I’m looking to connect with other Turkish-American families or people married to Turks. Patty, when I first read your comment about the ritual with the egg, I mis-read it and I thought you cracked the egg first and I thought “ick”. :-) But now I see it’s with the whole egg and THEN you crack it in the water.
    Justine Ickes´s last [fabulousness] ..Cross-cultural Family of the Month: La Famille Diez

  • I gave my mother a turkish amulet against the evil eye yesterday. Those things always make me feel safer, although I think its really your mind and energy when wearing it what keeps you protected.

  • Tia Mirtha says:

    I used to work with an Jewish-American girl, who was married to a Cuba-Jewish guy. The first thing he did when they had their first child was to go the store and get an Azabache, just like the one picture in this article. I could not believe it, he said “I am Cuban first and Jewish second”. I don’t think people who give “mal de ojo” knows that they have it.
    Carrie, you don’t remember, but that day that someone gave you “mal de ojo” you were a baby, she said”que linda esta”.. and 20 minutes later you were volando en fiebre. Your eyes roll back and that’s when Mama Maria came and did the prayer a “San Alejo” y think that’s the name of the Saint. After that the fever came down and you were ok. So.. I know it does happen, I saw it. I have 3 bracelets, two from Turkey and one from Greece. They all have the eyes. I am cover. LOL..

    • Abuela says:

      Mirtha, you are more than cover,you have you indios,las africanas,las Mercedes and new years you wore white from head to toes,tiraste el balde con agua,las 12 uvas what else would a girl want???hija,keep the faith.

  • We have a lot of traditions, rituals, or superstitions in Haiti. A lot of my cousins still follow them with their own children. I haven’t really followed them but occasionally I’ll share something with my own children. I’ll have to do a better job of passing along the traditions. One of my goals for 2012!

  • Carrie says:

    Thank you all for the wonderful commentary. I love learning more about our culture, and others, in these types of posts.

    It is why I love el tiki tiki!

  • This was a great post, Carrie. An article such as this one is one of the reasons why I keep on reading TikiTiki.

    I grew up the same way. Did you ever drop ice and have to sweep it to a corner? We had to do that because a spirit could easily get into the melted water and if you picked it up then you would pick up it’s energy.

    Awhile back I stopped doing a lot of rituals my family practiced. It just happened on it’s own. Then I became Muslim and I learned that the evil eye was not just in my culture but in many, as well as in Islam. Whenever someone says a compliment we say, MashaAllah, which means by God’s will. This is used as a protection especially when talking about babies and positive events in one’s life.

    I still have my azabache in my drawer and I meant to put it on my son after he was born but I forgot. Maybe for the next one.

    • Carrie says:

      Thank you so much for your response and the kudos for the Tiki Tiki…We do aim to hit the cultural touch points.

      I also always appreciate your perspective and love knowing the Muslim way of protection….we’re all more alike than not. I love that.

      Oh, and I don’t remember the ice cube in the corner, but I will ask my Mom. She knows the espiritus rules.


  • adrianne says:

    I know how you feel. It’s a little embarrassing to explain the meaning behind half of the stuff I do.. My grandma told me that if anyone said my baby was beautiful and didn’t give them una bendicion , tell them Que le bese el culo y cagado! LOL

  • alice says:

    Hi! when my daughter was a baby, we had gotten her a azabache. it was taken from her,after that my daughter got ill. I believe in the power of prayer. thank God that she is ok. while shopping in a store this lady told me that my daughter still had evil eye as the rest of us. so whats to do? she told me of a remedy bath to do. But I forgot. I still stay strong in prayer & Faith for healing. But a little help doesn’t hurt, should I get her a new azabache? & do I have to get it Blessed?

  • Mari says:

    Love your blog. I just have one comment: azabache in English is jet not onyx. Though both are black stones they are different materials.

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