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Mitote by the river

Órale, we’re gonna keep with the witchcraft theme we started on last month. But we’re gonna focus on a single spell told in four episodes. Simón, it’s gonna be a spell cast as a story. The witchcraft of it is that it exposes a distortion in time and, with that, changes current reality. The distortion is an event that recurs every few generations, same event and exact setting and context and occurs often enough to keep being passed down from one generation to the next. Because it recurs, it’s timeless. A pillar of reality. All else comes and goes, but not this event.

The featured word for this episode is mitote. It’s a Nahuatl (Aztec) word that means a ceremonial event. In Caló, it means a big to-do, commotion, or disturbance. In this case, the mitote arose from an encounter between two raqueteros, people who spin yarns and webs of intrigue.

Two raqueteros improbably came together on the banks of the Rio Grande one day. One came from the north and the other from the south. On their way there, they told everybody they ran into about their intended encounter. The people dropped everything they were doing to go to this mitote.

Most people love good raquetas, tricky, mesmerizing and fantastical stories. Not so a raquetero. They hate them, most especially those authored by another raquetero. The more fabulous the story, the more they hate it. The meeting of these two particular raqueteros meant a clash between the two greatest raqueta haters and the greatest raquetas of the day.

The encounter started slow. The two raqueteros camped on the river bank out of earshot of each other. People gathered at both ends. And the stories began. At first, they lobbed subtle indirectives against each other, and the people went back and forth between the camps to report what they’d heard, prompting the raqueteros to torque up their slights. This drove them to move closer to each to more easily hear and respond to the other’s invectives. This went on until the two raqueteros were facing each other in a common camp.

The raquetero who came from the north, because he was from the north, told funny stories touching on human frailties and taboos. The one who came from the south, because he was from the south, told stories of heroes thrust into chaos and violence, sometimes overcoming great odds, and sometimes succumbing to a violent fate. The protagonists evoked each other more overtly with each story.

The mitote headed to a grand finale when the raquetero from the south suddenly moved to vanquish his competitor by telling a story about stupidity.

“Simón, in the south valley any horse race is a mitote. In the north, a mitote’s watching a menso bet on a race everybody already knows how it’ll ends,” he said.

His competitor responded.

“Pos then let’s see what you know about horses.”

“Órale, here’s one where the men run and the horses watch,” the northerner declared.

“Arrancate,” the southerner said.

The crowd stirred.

“Eee!” several mitoteros yelped.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.