Vivaporu’: For many Latinos, memories of Vicks VapoRub are as strong as the scent of eucalyptus

By Esmeralda Bermudez

Many people have memories of Vicks VapoRub from childhood. But for many Latinos, the gooey salve is close to legendary. Here are a few of their stories.
They call it Bibaporru, Beep Vaporú, El Bic, El Bix, El Vickisito.
And many think of the sticky, stinky menthol goop as their own, even though it’s used around the world.
In the Latino community, Vicks VapoRub inspires a curious, nostalgic devotion — for its many nicknames and uses far more creative than relief for the common cold and muscle pain.
“If I say to someone, ‘Hey, bring me El Vah-po-ru!’ they’ll know exactly what I'm talking about,” said Luciano Roldan, 78, of El Sereno, who has been rubbing VapoRub all over, including up his nose, since he was a kid in the countryside of El Salvador.
Since the ointment was invented as a croup and pneumonia cure by a North Carolina pharmacist more than a century ago, many have relied on the little blue jar to solve all sorts of problems: athlete’s foot, stretch marks, stomach aches, earaches. Some telenovela actors even rub it on their eyes to bring about tears. Others scoop it into their coffee or their tea.
Online, there are countless tributes to its mighty powers. Some testimonials are real, some are jokes — meant to mimic and spoof those with limitless faith.
Latinos have created vivaporu hashtagsmemesemojiscomedy skits and, for those still scratching their heads at the love affair, explanatory videos. Some have written about their nostalgia in dissertations, poems and published essays.
Others have dressed up as the iconic Vicks container for Halloween or celebrated mom’s birthday with a cake in its image.
You can buy T-shirts, paintings, pins, candles and greeting cards — all featuring the little blue jar.
 Daniel Olivas holds a jar of Vicks VapoRub near his office in downtown L.A. When Olivas caught a cold as a child, he recalls, his mother pulled the blue jar from the medicine cabinet, slathered the ointment on his chest and put him to bed in a haze of eucalyptus. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Mysterious rash? Vivaporu!
Broken arm? Vivaporu!
Broken heart? Put Vivaporu on that, too.
When “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted a selfie from Puerto Rico in January, holding a tub of Vicks (“I knew I wouldn’t get through the nine show week without peak remedies”), the response was exuberant:
abuelitas everywhere are cheering for this post
That is the brownest thing I’ve ever seen you say.
Nothing like that Veevapuruuú.
‘If I say to someone, “Hey, bring me El Vah-po-ru!” they’ll know exactly what I'm talking about.’
Luciano Roldan of El Sereno
In 2017, a man who was accused of attempting to sell 2,000 containers of fake Vicks VapoRub across Illinois and Wisconsin did not escape attention.
Carlos Barraza, 23, was charged with violating the Trademark Counterfeiting Act after he got busted at a store called Dos Hermanos in a little town south of Chicago.
“Blasphemy!” declared Latina magazine. “We don't know how Barraza pulled this off. … Be careful out there, folks.”
Of course, not everyone is a fan.
Some people can’t stand the smell or carry clammy memories of catching a cold.
Daniel Olivas, 59, doesn't recall protesting as a kid.
Each time he caught a cold, his mother would slather his chest with the salve as if she were icing a birthday cake, then put him to bed in a haze of eucalyptus.
“I would just succumb to it,” said Olivas, now a lawyer and writer.
He thinks his mom used VapoRub because it was affordable.
“Moms had to come up with ways to heal the family,” he said.

 

 

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