An Eye Across Immigrant Cultures

v i s u a l i z i n g   i m m i g r a n t   P h o e n i x

Ileen Younan

May 2017

Within Mercado de Los Cielos in Desert Sky Mall, which caters to a clientele shaped by the predominance of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants living in the Maryvale section of Phoenix, a small booth, Curiosidades Mexico Lindo is waiting to be discovered. Small objects with spiritual affiliations are displayed throughout, whether they be candles with crosses painted on the sides, small baby angels, or bracelets with either the Virgin Mary or Jesus. However, regardless of a person’s beliefs, anyone can still enjoy visiting; there are even bracelets to show support of a sport’s team or ones with a single letter to represent someone’s name.

What caught my eye was all the nazars or eye-shaped amulets attached to bracelets, necklaces, and key chains. In many cultures, it is believed that these amulets, shaped like eyes, can protect against the evil eye. The evil eye is a belief that one can be cursed if another person has ill intentions in their heart and glares at them. Belief in the evil eye and the amulets to protect against it may have originated in the ancient Middle East, and spread throughout the Mediterranean under the Ottoman Empire. It is deeply embedded in Spanish culture, whose colonists brought it to the New World where it took root in Latin America and the Caribbean (see Wikipedia for some info about this; NCUIRE team member Cynthia Canez also discovered these amulets at a Greek Festival in Phoenix).

I recall receiving an evil eye charm when I was much younger and I was excited to see them once again here. My parents are from Iraq and we’re a family of Assyrians, but, it’s still amazing to see how other cultures can have the same meanings for symbols.

At the Mercado, a young woman named Luz Ortiz was taking care of the shop while her parents were busy. She was kind enough to explain more about the eye amulets for sale in her shop.

The amulets are used primarily on children to protect from Mal de Ojo, or the evil eye curse, because children are looked at as the most unknowing and susceptible. Luz explained that red amulets are commonly used for babies to differentiate from the traditional blue ones. They often come on horseshoes for good luck or saints icons for more protection. When someone is cursed, the eye is supposed to fall and the entire bracelet or necklace thrown away and replaced with a new one. She mentioned that it was common for customers to buy multiple ones at a time so that they could replace them right away if one needed to be discarded. However, people do not stop there, often opting to hang them in cars, on hand bags, and any other place it is convenient and that may need protection. Then of course, there are also those interested in purchasing the amulets as souvenirs or for the aesthetic appeal.

So, the nazar is really something for everyone, carried to many cultures along the global currents of empire and migration.