Author Archive
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

My brother claimed to know the story of La Llorona and recounted it here:

“In some poor part of Mexico, supposedly some lady went crazy and drowned her kids or killed them somehow.

And now she goes around crying ‘n shit about her kids.

And if she sees a little kid being bad or something… bad to parents, she snatches them away and takes them. And then she probably does to them what she did to her kids.”

I’ve heard many versions of this tale. In some she is intended to be more believable than in others. In this one she is a less developed character so her actions are given more attention than her motives. She punishes children that are out of their parents’ control without personal reasons. This suggests to the children that their transgressions are so grave they will not go unnoticed and are the concern of greater powers. Parents tell their children this tale to instill a fear in children they hope will make them more obedient.

Customs

Korean Food Generosity

An informant who is from a Korean family was explaining her family’s tendency to try and overfeed guests as a sign of being a good host. Here she recounts an experience she had with food during a visit in Turkey:

“When I was in Turkey they do a similar thing where they offer you way too much food and they just keep offering it to you.

But one difference I found there between the way Korean people and Turkish people do it was that Korean people eat everything on their plate and it’s rude not to eat everything on their plate.

Turkish people will keep giving you food if you eat everything , so they always leave a little bit on their plate to show, ‘Oh I’m good’.

So they kept giving me all this food, and I just kept eating it all. And it’s like rude not to eat it, like to me. So I just kept eating it, and they just kept giving me more!”

My informant also recounted how people at Korean restaurants would get into fights over who would pay the check and how this was due to a concern with generosity. It seems that the confusion in this encounter was because generosity was a very important part of etiquette and appearance for both cultures. The same extreme concern could be found in Turkish culture as her experience shows. However, each culture had a slight variation on how generosity was controlled. Turkish people seemed to let their guests determine when they’d had enough, while Korean hosts would have to at some point determine to stop feeding their guests.

Customs
general
Gestures

Colors & Hand Signs in the Latin Kings

A friend who grew up on the South Side of Chicago explained a few of the meanings of iconography for the gang the Latin Kings:

Their colors are gold and black. Gold is supposed to represent like Life for the members. And black is supposed to be their blackness absorbing the other rival gangs.

Then they have the 5 Point Crown. The five points…each point stands for something. So it’s like Love, Unity, Knowledge, Respect and Honesty.

It’s either a 3 or 5 point Crown. It depends on the gang. Gangs that have more Mexicans have 3 points. The gangs that have more Puerto Ricans use the 5 point Crown.”

The existence of so much symbolism in gang iconography is part of the bonding of the gang. Unity is a major part of developing a gang mentality and symbolism can be employed to establish unity as an almost natural state outside of the manipulation of the gang. Discipline is also important to the success of a gang and the Latin Kings are known for their close knit control on their members’ discipline. The virtues expressed by this symbolism suggest a strict discipline if not moralism, although this may be relative to who they are interacting.

Folk speech
general

Cigarettes

A friend who has moved around the United States frequently during lifetime noted that there was a vast number of ways to refer to cigarettes.

In New Orleans, where he lived the most substantial part of his life, they were referred to as “Joes” :

“When I first got there people would ask, ‘Can I bum a Joe?’ ”

After his confusion subsided he realized Joe was not a person, but merely another coy way to ask a stranger to donate a cigarette. In different parts of the country he has also encountered:

Stoges, stogies, cigs, fags, and cancer sticks.

The regional renaming of cigarettes is a common phenomenon, particularly in places were smoking is still deeply entrenched in the culture.  People use these alternate terms to identify themselves, and potential test others, as frequent smokers who are intimate with the terminology of smoking of their region. Opting to use a term other than cigarettes is also used when someone is “bumming” – asking for a cigarette without anything in return. It is implied that if you yourself are a smoker you will understand the need to acquire a cigarette when someone has to ask to bum. People don’t necessarily want to bum, so if they are it is because they absolutely are fiending. As a good smoker, identified by your knowledge of alternate terms, you are expected to comply.

folk simile
Folk speech
general

As All Get Out!

The following Southern expression was explained by someone who has mostly lived in the South (U.S.). He first, and most frequently encountered it in the state of Alabama:

“It’s really an emphatic expression. Basically you can say something [any noun] is as something [any adjective] as all get out!

For example, ‘That’s as cool as all get out!’ “

The informant has no background knowledge on the source or meaning of the phrase, and recognizes that it is definitely a rare one even in the context of the South.

Despite it’s apparent rareness this phrase showcases some of the most important characteristics of Southern speech. The phrase makes an active effort to avoid cursing, while still suggesting that the enactor was tempted to. That makes the phrase an expression of extreme feeling whether excitement or disapproval. You would be alerted to the severity of whatever prompted the phrase by the employing of Southern speech to express it properly. The phrase is also composed so that it may be reusable, any number of words could be inserted and although the meaning would change, it would remain a distinctly southern phrase.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Hiccup Remedy

I’ve never found an effective remedy for the Hiccups and a friend offered the following :

“You’re supposed to eat a spoonful of peanut butter. My grandma told me about this, and it really works!”

Since there is no real scientific procedure to cure hiccups, I’ve subjected myself to many folk remedies in an attempt to find one that will actually work including but not limited to: holding your breath, breathing heavily in a paper bag, chugging water upside down, rubbing your head while rubbing your tummy and having someone pour water down your throat. Most never work for me although their proponents still claim their efficiency.

People seem to often derive their hiccup remedy from heritage, be it family or location. Most importantly, the hiccup remedies that people are most familiar with are held by them to be the ultimate cure. My family never had a designated hiccup remedy so I’ve spent a lot of time looking for my own, this one seems to work the best.

Customs
Protection

Luck on A Game Day

On Home-Game Saturdays during the Fall semester, USC’s main campus is covered with tailgate parties. These range from tame alumni and fan cookouts, to blackout-inducing keg stand ragers. Regardless of the University’s opponent, a few things remains constant: drinking, eating, rivalrous talk, and superstition. As kick-off approaches the tailgates begin to wind down and the tailgaters head en masse to the Coliseum. Most tailgaters will head to the Coliseum through Trousdale, the small brick street in the middle of campus, regardless of where on campus they were actually tailgating. A graduating senior explains the ritual that follows this procession to the Coliseum :

” So you walk down Trousdale past Tommy Trojan, and Shumway fountain and then when you get to the very end of Trousdale right before Expo there’s this big lamppost. Right before crossing the street for the Coliseum you kick the the lamp post. But you kick it with your heel, so backwards. If you miss you’ve given the whole game bad luck. If you don’t kick it and you’re a USC student that’s bad luck too. So everyone who walks by and is walking to the game for USC has to kick it. Sometimes you have to wait ’cause  it gets kind of crowded. And people can kick you by accident sometimes. I guess that’s bad luck too.”

This ritual reflects and anxiety of the vast population of USC students and aficionados. It is amazing to see the number of people who are otherwise unaffiliated with USC who go to tailgates and participate in this ritual. Undergraduate students seem to take the superstition particularly to heart, often reminding each other to enact the ritual or scolding those who do it wrong.

In a game where spectators invest so much (financially going to games & funding tailgates, physically enduring the long hours of tailgating and exposure during the game, and emotionally) in the success of their team it must be frustrating to have the entire outcome out of their control. Participating in such rituals gives them a sense that the outcome is also to a certain extent out of their teams control – and therefore they can not be held completely responsible. Loosing then becomes a matter of bad luck instead of choosing the wrong team. It also gives a little more control to the spectator as their individual actions can finally contribute to the outcome. By kicking the ‘post USC fans are doing their part in fighting off any bad luck to plague their team.

Folk Beliefs

SuperSkank Doppleganger

One of my friends was especially concerned last year with a potential Doppleganger. She had never encountered evidence of her Doppleganger until she came to USC. Here she explains the first instance she heard about her other’s existence, and her most recent experience with her Doppleganger’s antics:

“Freshman year during welcome week, I was with my friends at one of the events and I was eating a snow cone and a guy came up to me and asked me how my snow cone was and started a conversation in a way that seemed like he already knew me, which was confusing, then he introduced himself to the girls I was with and asked me for my name again, though he hadn’t gotten my name the first time…he then told me that we should go to chipotle again sometime soon. This was extremely odd because I had never been. My roommate looked at me and asked ‘When were you at chipotle?’ and I responded that I wasn’t at which point the guy told me that there was a girl on campus who looked just like me.

At one point last year at a block party, the girl was there as well. I kept having random guys come up to me and “reintroduce” themselves. I even had a man try to kiss me. Everyone was dancing in the street and all of a sudden a guy I’d never seen before dances over to me, grabs my head and tries to kiss me. I didn’t really know what to do. I pushed him off and he got all confused and asked ‘Aren’t you the girl in my class.’ I was not. But apparently my Doppleganger was and she would’ve been okay with this dude making out with her. So not only do I have a doppleganger, I have a superskank doppleganger.”

A Doppleganger is a German “double goer” – a physical double of someone who lacks their soul and is therefore some kind of spiritual void. It is believed that when a person encounters their Doppleganger, they will die. Fyodor Dostoyevsky explored this frightening superstition in The Double (1846).

My friend took a class freshman year that introduced her to the concept of Doppleganger’s and the imminent death associated with their presence.  After the bombardment of sightings of her Doppleganger last year my friend had the following conclusion, “I have to kill her.” She of course didn’t actually kill her, in fact she has never seen her Doppleganger herself. But after she started joking about this her look-alike never resurfaced and hoards of strange men stopped assuming she would be okay with them kissing her.

general

Death on an NY Subway

A New York native heard the following story recurrently during her high school years – mostly from fellow students but also from a larger population including adults and strangers:

“They were sitting on the subway and someone across from them was asleep. You know their head was bobbing along with the subway.

And apparently this person was on for many stops and so finally someone notices and gets up to check. And it turned out they had no pulse.

I heard this every once in a while not just from school but people in New York in general.

I wonder if someone just like imagined, ‘Hey what if the person on the subway across from me is dead’… and then the story just caught on?”

This story might be recurrent in New York’s subway system in particular because of the city’s notorious crowding. New York’s subway experience more use than those of other metropolitan cities, certainly LA, and it makes sense that lore would rise from such a distinctive method of commuting within the city for most residents. The concern with overcrowding spills out of just the subway system to the city in general. As the pseudo-farce political party to emerge from New York The-Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High suggests, overcrowding has become a serious problem in New York. This story reflects the fear that overcrowding isn’t only uncomfortable and inconvenient (often driving the rent ceiling way up) but also an interpersonal problem when residents stop interacting.  Even though the subway would likely have been packed during the dead man’s entire trip no one manages to notice he is dead for a substantial amount of time. The issue then becomes the isolation experienced by residents despite, and possibly because of, the overcrowding of New York.

Initiations
Legends

Mindfuck

This initiation ritual is actually not a true one. It was told by a participating pledge to my informant and explained that at the time of their initiation they were not aware that the ritual described here was untrue and in fact were expecting to have to go through it :

“They tell them that at some point they’re all gonna have to get into a room and in the center of the room is a goat.

And no one can leave the room until someone fucks the goat.

But whoever fucks the goat…is automatically out.”

The ultimate goal of initiation is to prove yourself worthy of joining the organization which is testing you. You undergo horribly straining situations most often physical or moral to prove your worth, but most importantly, your willingness to be a loyal member of this organization. This particular supposed initiation used for fraternities plays on fears of transgression and exclusion. It also acts as a riddle and in this sense tests not just the physical endurance and integrity of the pledges as most initiations do – but also tests their mind.

Since pledges are alerted about this upcoming initiation beforehand by their older “brothers”, they would certainly begin discussing methods of facing this challenge. Some would hope to simply sit out the challenge in solidarity with their pledge brothers, but older brothers would complicate this by saying if no one has sex with the goat then no one passes. The fear instigated by this initiation’s seeming impossible nature and certain shame and failure to the pledge who sacrifices for his fellow brothers creates a conundrum initiation for all the pledges.

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