Mexican Game Songs

• Folk and Traditional Styles

Mexican Game Songs

Mexico is a country located in Central America bordered by the United States to the north and Guatemala and Honduras to the south. Its shores face east and west, to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, respectively. Mexicans take pride in a history that spans from a spectacular pre-colonial past to independence and beyond. Mexico had one of the most advanced societies in the Americas, the Aztecs, who followed other advanced societies such as when the Mayans and the Olmecs. When the Spanish arrived and took control of the region, the native population dropped drastically. Today most Mexican people are mestizo, of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry. (Click here for information on Mexican folk music.)

Children's Music

As in every culture in the world, Mexican children have a wide variety of songs and games they play and sing. Children obviously learn many songs from observing and playing with other children, but some game songs are introduced by parents. For example, while singing "Tortellita," parents hold and clap their child's hands or perform a sort of "pat-a-cake" hand movement.

Apart from their obvious entertainment value, children's songs and games are often important vehicles for cultures to transmit important knowledge to next generation. Song lyrics or game actions might provide models for cultural customs or family and other social relationships. They also provide general learning opportunities-for example, children might learn the names of body parts, or animals, or learn to count. These learning opportunities are often accompanied by a game or movement activity. Of course, children often sing folk songs that are popular among adults, too.

Because Spanish is spoken throughout much of Latin America, many children's songs have migrated from their original culture to other countries. Sometimes, these songs will change in their new home-for example, "Arroz con leche," ("Rice with Milk") originally from Mexico, is also popular in a slightly different form in Puerto Rico. The nearly universal reach of radio, recordings, and television has helped move this process along as well. As in the United States, Spanish-language television stations broadcast across Latin America and feature children's programming with personalities and themes devoted specifically to children. Mexican composers/performers Francisco Gabilondo Soler (known as "Cri-Cri") and more recently Tatiana, have become famous both in Mexico and in other parts of Latin America. Their songs, along with other composers like Jose-Luiz Orozco, have become a part of the children's song tradition.

Types of Game Songs

Children's game songs in Mexico fall into several different categories. There are many circle game songs, including "A la rueda de San Miguel," ("In the Circle of San Miguel") and "Arroz con leche." Circle game songs include many variants such as stone-passing games found in songs like "Acitrón." Counting songs are another type of game song. Some counting songs focus strictly on counting numbers, while others subtly involve more abstract math and number skills. "Los elefantes," ("The Elephants," also known as "Un elefante se balanceaba") is a fun game where one child pretends to be an elephant balancing on the web of a spider. Each verse adds an additional child on the web and singers must remember to change the numbers in the lyrics accordingly ("Dos elefantes . . .").

Because of the cultural influence of the United States, translations of children's songs from English to Spanish have become a part of the tradition. These include "Itzi, bitzi arena" ("The Itsy, Bitsy Spider") and "Estrellita" ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"). Others may have been influenced by games from other countries. In "Que llueva," ("It's Raining") two children form an arch under which all the other children pass until a child is caught and held, similar to "London Bridges." Like "Ring Around the Rosey" in England and the United States, some Mexican game songs have specific directions for the movement or actions in the lyrics, such as in "Matarile."

The piñata is an important part of many different children's celebrations in Mexico, from birthday parties to the Christmas tradition of Las posadas. Though often associated with Mexico, the tradition of hitting a candy- or gift-filled container comes from China, where it passed to Italy, Spain, and then to Mexico. There are several children's songs specifically for the piñata tradition, including "Dale, dale, dale" ("Hit, hit, hit"). In this song, children are reminded not to swing wildly, but to strike carefully and not lose their balance.

There are hundreds more children's songs and game songs found in Mexico, many of which defy broad categorization. Like children everywhere, Mexican children constantly adapt lyrics, activities, and movements-or simply create entirely new ones!