Skip to main content

The Folklorist Next-door: El Día Que Se Apareció El Diablo



El Día Que Se Apareció El Diablo (The Day the Devil Appeared) was released Jan 27, 2023, as Episode 8 of Texas Folklife's Podcast Series The Folklorist Next-door.

Read Gerónima's blog post


El Día Que Se Apareció El Diablo

by Gerónima Garza

Geronima: Have you ever wondered about untold stories? Fractured memories with missing pieces?

With Stories from Deep in the Heart, join me on a quest to learn about the time que se apareció el diablo.

Picture a backyard in the barrio around 1965. Mamá is hanging clothes on a breezy December afternoon while the children continue a day long argument. Tired of it, Mamá issued a warning: "Si no dejan de pelear, se le va aparecer El Diablo."

That's my barrio. While other kids are told Santa Claus is coming to town, chicanitos in Cotulla are warned about El Diablo.

The barrio's official name is LaSalle Town, more often referred to as the Mexican side of the tracks. The LaSalle Town name was forgotten, but Spanish and cultural practices remain strong.

Mamá must have known El Diablo had been appearing at Don Tranquilino Miranda's pastorela.

It's a play of the shepherd's journey in encountering the newborn Christ. 

Did we listen? No, hombre, estos chicanitos no le tenían miedo ni al diablo.

While waiting for the play to start, you guessed it. El Diablo made his grand appearance. Red, angry, growling, and swinging a forked red tail.

Mamá showed absolutely no sympathy. So what was that all about? I've learned that El Diablo, who scared us, was an actor in Don Tranquilino Miranda's pastorela.

Saint Michael, the arch Angel announces the savior's birth to the shepherds, but El Diablo won't have it. Thus, the struggle begins.

Que es lo que platicaban del diablo? 

Socorro Rios: Que venía. Yo lo se. Salía el diablo, a perturbar a los pastores. Eso sí me acuerdo que decían. Y decían - yo me acuerdo mi Mamá dijo y "quien es el diablo?" Y dijo - pues no sabía. Y se vestían. Mas, quien sabe quien sería. Pero hacía de diablo. Si había quien. 

Geronima: Socorro Rios never attended a pastorela. Young ladies didn't attend night events. The pastorela started after midnight mass. However, her brothers, Jose and Andreas would tell her what happened. Don Tranquilino didn't just get the attention of unruly chicanitos.. He captured the attention of John Lomax, who in 1934 recorded pastorela music. In addition, Lomax gave us a glimpse of a Vaquero community in Mexican American history.

La "Corrido de Kansas" gives us a version, Hollywood never did. 20 Americanos couldn't load the wild steers. Don Tranquilino's pastorela however, taught humility. No claims are made that Juan Vaquero alone did the loading. So who was John Lomax? Lomax is best known as the folklorist with a vision for preservation of American folk music.

John Lomax wrote about Don Tranquilino Miranda. 

Actor reading Lomax's letter: In Cotulla, Texas, a Mexican farmer has kept alive a much older religious play, Los Pastores, which he presents each Christmas for the pleasure of his friends and neighbors. I shall never forget my first sight of this man. We had driven over miles of winding roads through mesquite and cactus thickets, and suddenly came upon a red field of newly turned red earth, which bore all the signs of a field dotted with mesquite stumps.

There in the center of this, a raw clearing, powerfully built man, his Tawny skin gleaming in the sun was hacking at a tough mesquite stump. Our friend hailed him and he came striving across the furrows with his ax. He greeted us with dignified words across the barbed wire fence. 

This is the director of Los Pastores. 

Geronima: Don Tranquilino may have hacked at mesquite trees by day, but his pastorela work is significant. 

Dr. Maria Elia Cantu, former president of the American Folklife Society, wrote her dissertation on las pastorelas. 

Norma Cantu: In my view, anytime that you have communal action activity where it entails collaboration, negotiating, uh, with each other to produce something, to perform something, There's benefit and several, I would say in three levels.

First at the social level because the, the strong community, um, lazos que existen - I don't know if your Spanish – 

Geronima: Yes. Yo hablo Español. 

Norma Cantu: Because I code switch a lot. 

Geronima: I do too. Haha. 

Norma Cantu: I think, mas que nada, it's just the bonding, the, the kind of, and it's the same families that do. Every year. So there's that continuity and it's passed on from one generation to the next. So there's also that, um, idea, the continuity, but also the idea of it being generational. 

Actor reading Lomax's letter: This man had learned the full book of the mystery from his father, he from his father. And so it had come from the past, down by word of mouth from one tough-handed Mexican farmer to the next. A whole libretto with all its songs, its cues, its costume and stage business.

That evening, this rural man of the theater and his troop came with their bell shepherd stays and sang for our recording machine. 

Geronima: Are pastorelas still around? 

Norma Cantu: I actually went to San Juan Bautista, because Teatro Campesino is a Chicano theater group that's been around since the sixties, and they started doing it fairly early, I would say in the seventies.

Every other year, one year they do the Guadalupe, and then the next year they do the pastorela, and they – every winter they do that. So it's been around for a long time. Uh, and that's still ongoing. I went to see it when I was living in California about 20 years ago, but I talked to, to Luis and I don't know when that was.

We were at a conference and I asked him, he said, oh, yeah, we're still doing, uh, the pastorela, it's very popular.

Juan Miranda: Mi nombre es Juan Miranda. Hijo del señor Don Tranquilino Miranda. Hacía el la pastorela, allí en Cotulla, Texas. 

No sabía yo como el podía presentar la producción, por que era una producción grande. Quizás hasta tres horas. Cuando salía del trabajo y empezaba a buscar la gente que iban a hacer pastores o diablos, o el ángel, o la gila, o la Virgen María, o el Señor San José. Y íbamos a hablar con esas personas y pedirles que participaran. 

Fue a Dile, Texas, por que había alguien allí que había participado. Y creo que a deber dicho a mi Papá que cuando hiciera el programa, que viniera a hablar con el. Y también me recuerdo que fuimos a Persal, Texas. Y me estoy recordando que, pues, teníamos familiares, y posiblemente uno de los parientes era los que mi Papa iba a hablar con ellos. Hasta ahorita todavía no se como mi padre podía dirigir una producción tan grande. Estoy muy orgulloso de el. 


Listen to the Folklorist next-door

Read Gerónima's blog post

This episode was hosted and produced by Gerónima Garza, a 2022 Community Folklife Fellow

The Folklorist Next-door is brought to you by Texas Folklife. Our technical producer is J.A. Strub. Our executive producer is Jeannelle Ramirez

You can learn more about the fellows and their projects at This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.