De boca en boca: Rumors and consequences
Illustration: Laura Pérez
What makes a rumor? Why do some stories spread like wildfire and others never catch a spark? One reason is fear — an existential threat to our family or community will ignite a panic. There's also greed, the fuel behind every gold rush and speculative bubble. And panic can turn to pitchforks based on a misunderstanding — or sometimes an outright lie. When the mob comes out, so does the crazy, and our stories this month certainly bring the crazy. We have fear-driven hysterias over werewolves, sinister graffiti pigs, and an alien invasion from space. And they all start with rumors spread de boca en boca (by word of mouth).
But our first story, Somos millonarios, is about greed. Cotuí is a small town in the Dominican Republic, one of the oldest in the New World, with unpaved roads and wooden houses and zinc roofs — and a gold mine in its proximity, now operated by a global mining company, on land that was long ago owned by Jacinto Rosario. In 2011, Mirabel, great-great granddaughter of Jacinto, asks a lawyer to help reclaim the land and inheritance she believes belongs to the Rosario family. But Rosario is a common name in the Dominican Republic, and soon 30,000 people are chasing this supposed fortune. This tale has so many twists and surprises, we need four episodes to tell it — our longest story to date.
It's April 2020, and the residents of Coita, a small city in the Mexican countryside, are gripped with fear. But not from COVID. At night they hear strange noises, and some tell of fleeting glimpses of something stalking the neighborhood. Luna llena sobre Chiapas tells how rumors and fertile imagination drove the locals, and the police, into the streets with rifles and machetes to hunt down a werewolf.
In case you're thinking that such fantastical beliefs could only take hold among rural country folk, think again. In Chanchocracia, set in Guayaquil, one of the largest cities in Ecuador, the story begins with the scattered appearance of thirty colored pigs on walls in middle and upper class neighborhoods. Soon after, a chain email sparks chaos explaining these images as coded messages of violence from a notorious gang called The Latin Kings. Schools cancel class and residents hide indoors as fear of retribution reaches fever pitch. Meanwhile, unemployed artist Daniel Adum Gilbert is watching his guerilla graffiti campaign spiral out of control, and wondering how much trouble he's really in.
Staying in Ecuador, Los extraterrestres reveals what happened back in 1949 when a radio station in Quito broadcast an adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds". As with the original faux reportage hoax produced by Orson Welles' in New York several years earlier, many listeners believed a Martian invasion was playing out in real time. When the radio station revealed it as a stunt, public panic became public rage, and mobs armed with flaming torches set out seeking revenge.
We hope you enjoy these stories and their twists and turns, while you improve your Spanish and dive deeper into Latin American history and culture. We love feedback: just reply to this email to get in touch.
What if your last name guaranteed you a millionaire inheritance?
Pigs on the walls and panic in the streets.
Luna llena sobre Chiapas
A full moon, a blood-curdling howl, and a town that can't sleep.
The Martians are coming! The Martians are coming (to Quito)!
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I have used Luna llena sobre Chiapas to introduce many topics in the classroom. First, it is an excellent story for a discussion on the ways social media can spread information as well as exacerbate fears and anxieties. I also like using it to start a conversation about cultural beliefs and how those beliefs can shape one’s interpretation of “the truth.” And finally, because it takes place during the beginning of COVID-19's spread across the world, it is a great episode to share should we ever need (somewhere in the future) an episode to talk about the world we are living in now. We hope you find the Activity Guide that accompanies this episode useful! Try it with your students, and let us know!
Director of Education at Radio Ambulante
Barbara is a language educator with more than 20 years of classroom experience. She holds advanced degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the University of Texas at Austin. She currently teaches Spanish at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine).