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The borlo


Órale, we’re gonna to talk about witchcraft for the month of May. Siról, a lot of the context underlying Caló is what is referred to as magical realism in Latin American literature, where people casually interact with devils, navigate curses and cast spells. In Caló, the devil’s always right there acting all mentotote, and pos you have to do something. The devil tries to put a spell on you, and you fight back with your own brujería. If you practice, you can come out ahead. If not, gatcho.

This onda is called burlo or burlar. In Romaní, it means game. In Spanish it means to make fun of somebody. In Caló along the Rio Grande, it means to engage in The Borlo, where you try to be more devilish than the devil.

The vato learned how to do spells as a young child. It happened quite casually one bright warm day in late winter.

“Keep your little sister out of my way as I go in and out the door with the laundry,” his mother commanded him. It was laundry day.

As she trotted in and out of the house with armloads of wet damp clothes, he semi-kept an eye on his sister, but he was focused on his favorite pastime of sticking a big nail into a patch of loose dirt.

In the middle of his pastime, the vatito looked up and saw the rickety ruquito who lived a few houses down was standing in the middle of the big cross road. He was standing on the middle stripes, a Styrofoam cup of coffee on one hand and a long walking stick on the other, waiting for a break in the traffic. Cars zoomed past him in both directions. He looked tentative and vulnerable. The vatito looked on for a long time, expecting the ruquito to be swept away by a speeding car. The ruquito unexpectedly looked back at him, and they locked eyes. The vatito quickly looked away and went back to his nail.

He had mastered the dagger throw and decided to move on to the flip, where he tossed the nail upwards in a way that made it rotate in the air before it fell downward and stuck in the ground.

“Can you do the diablito?” a man’s voice said out of nowhere.

The vatito looked up startled. It was the ruquito. He had not only crossed the busy road, but had also quickly made his way down the neighborhood street and silently snuck over to the vatito’s front yard fence.

“Give it to me, and I’ll show you,” he said.

The vatito handed him the nail, and the ruquito took it with his teeth, swung his head up then down and let the nail fly out of his grip and stick into the ground, much to the vatito’s astonishment.

“The borlo isn’t about witches or black cats.It’s about shifting what’s thought to be real. Sometimes you can do it with a small gesture or just a few words,” the old man said as he walked away.

The vatito watched him walk back to his house, this time quite gracefully and deliberately. From then on, he saw the ruquito as an entirely different, much more powerful man.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.