Author Archives: Morgann Ramirez

Hat indoors

My informant heard this from her Vietnamese mother as she was growing up

“Wearing a hat indoors makes you shorter”

My informant is pretty short, so she uses this as an explanation of why she is short.

Asians are, on average, shorter than Caucasians and Blacks, and height is seen as a favorable attribute.  Plus, it is impolite to wear a hat indoors, possibly because it means that you do not intend to stay or do not trust your host (you are hiding your face).  Combining those ideas creates this idea that wearing a hat, or being impolite, will have a negative effect on how you appear to other people.  My informant likes to wear stylish clothes, including very pretty hats, and uses this saying as a joking justification for why she is the way she is.  It implies that she would have been taller if she could have resisted the temptation for stylish hats.

Potato Tacos

This is how my paternal family makes tacos.  They are known in Spanish as tacos dorados, tacos de papa, tacos frítos. In English, my informant calls them potato tacos.  My great-grandmother came to America from Durango, Mexico and my grandmother learned from her.  The most important and unique thing about these tacos is that they are made with potatoes mixed with meat and are then fried.  These tacos are typically made whenever, as my informant tells me, her family is there and wants tacos.  Since potato tacos are difficult to find outside of a heavily Latino populated area, the tacos represent family ties and our Latino identity to my family, especially since all of my grandmother’s children moved very far away.


Prepare meat for texmex tacos, because this is texmex

First you put a pan with how many cup of water it depends on the pan

I just fill it up half way with the potatoes

And you put the 6 potatoes, peel and slice then you put them to cook and I say at least an hour until they are soft. You put a fork in them to check. And like I said you have to touch them with a fork because you don’t want them to harden.

The meat sho8ld be fried and drained in an hour.

This is about 3.8 oz. I’ll take half of it so that’s…about 2 oz. of raw meat

I’ll start boiling the oil

The rice you put two table spoons of oil on a pan to fry the rice. I just pour; I don’t measure when I cook anymore. Put 1/3 of oil to fry the rice when you have a cup and a half of rice. This is where you have to be very careful with this one’s. Sometimes it gets stuck at the ends and that’s when it burs really fast so you have to keep stirring it till it gets a light golden color

Sometimes it pops like popcorn; it’s cute when it looks like popcorn

Make sure it doesn’t stick to the sides or the bottom because that’s when it burns

When you like the caramel color you take it off the fire and add the opinions and tomato sauce

You put about 1/4 of tomato sauce and a cup of water with it.

Almost, not quite. I want to see one pop

You put too much tomato sauce it’s going to become pink. So it’s easier for you.  You use two table spoons of tomato sauce.

Stir it from the outside in.

About two cups and a half cup of water

Let me see how the salt is

You boil it until it gets really hot then you cover it and let it steam. That’s how the rice gets real nice.

I’ll move this back and start on the meat

With an onion mija you only need half of a small onion. You don’t need that much onion.


When it’s boiling hard you have lower it than cover it. And that’s how it steams real nice.

This is about a table spoon of oil to cook your meat. And then you have to drain it.

Here you put in the garlic (like that) get more in the middle and where you missed spots

Now the pepper, be careful it doesn’t get in your nose. I just squeeze it like this. Now you stir it.

Ok, let’s put the top on. If you have more time you can turn the fire up and cook it faster.

The potatoes are almost done but we’ll drain them when the meat is ready

Now we’ll just let those cook a little bit more

See how they cook fast

You have to check them every once and awhile to make sure they don’t burn and get dry

When to potatoes are done I turn them off

You just have to wait for them to cook

You take the water off of the potatoes and then you drain the meat and then you mix them all together.

Get a fork and taste it. If it needs salt or pepper, add it.

I’m going to heat up the tortillas and you fill them with the meat.

Use a spoon. Don’t get too close to the edge or the oil with pop and you get a scar like this.

(What do we fry the tacos in?)

About a tea spoon of oil

If you have a cast iron like this …or any where you can fry

I usually use, how much is that. A cup and a half of oil. You don’t want to use too much or else the meat will fall out.

And then I do this (flips taco) don’t you do that

I think I put in too much oil, so be careful about that

Roll up the lettuce and cut it.

(Oil pops) Eyi, I hate that. That’s where I get all the burns on my arms and my face. I wish I had a sifter for the meat

I have to be careful with that one. When the tortilla was putting up it got a little hole in it

Oh sush (to the tacos)

The slow one is going to go in first like this


Beans are done. Rice is done. Tacos are done.


I learned the cooking from my mother. My mother had all three

Whenever there is family that wants to eat tacos that night

Because it please my family and I enjoy feeding them

Black Bird sign

While my informants grew up in Los Angeles, my informant’s family is from Yucatan, Mexico and he frequently goes down to visit his grandparents who live on a ranch.  He heard this information when he was a child visiting his grandparents. His grandfather taught him this:

“A black bird appears, you’re getting bad news or someone is dying.”


My informant says that, according to his grandparents, it happens very often.  The birds are common in the area and will appear by themselves and in flocks.

Many Central and South American countries have high poverty and mortality rates, so bad news and death is very common.  The people expect something bad to happen fairly regularly, so it is not surprising that a fairly common bird is the harbinger of death and destruction.  This also fits in with similar accounts of black birds, such as crows or ravens, being messengers of death in other parts of the world due to such birds being carrion eaters and associated with the dead and dying.  Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven had a black bird who taunted the narrator with the death of his beloved Lenore.  This belief is seen in many European countries and those colonized by those countries—Mexico for example.

Colorful Birds

While my informant grew up in Los Angeles, my informant’s family is from Yucatan, Mexico and he frequently goes down to visit his grandparents who live on a ranch.  He heard this information when he was a child visiting his grandparents. His grandfather taught him this:

“If a Colorful birds like parrots, appear in your yard, it means there is good news coming”


My informant says that he learned this after he saw a parrot in his grandparent’s backyard when he was a child.  His grandfather then told him this sign.  According to my informant, parrots are rare in the area of Yucatan where his family originates.

This is similar to another Yucatan saying where black birds are premonitions of misfortune.  It also reflects the other saying in that while black birds are common, colorful birds are very rare.  This might mean to the people who live there that trouble and misfortune are very common and good luck is rare.  This is in accordance with many areas in Mexico having high mortality and poverty rates and thus more likely to experience hardship.

Pooping Dogs

While my informant grew up in Los Angeles, my informant’s family is from Yucatan, Mexico and he frequently goes down to visit his grandparents who live on a ranch.  He heard this information when he was a child visiting his grandparents. His uncle taught him this:

“If you see a dog poop, you’ll get an infection, like a pimple, in your eye”


My informant says that it comes a lot from the community in Yucatan. He said he did not know why this particular belief existed, but he did say that his uncle liked to tease him.

This belief is playing with the obscene and gross. One disgusting thing leads to another.  Dogs are common in many places in the world, so having a dog poop in front of you is not too unlikely.  The idea behind the belief is that disgusting things can rub off or effect you if you witness them.

Ghost House


“I didn’t grow up in Detroit. I lived in this small town outside of it.  It was really nice. All those big houses and really rich people.  There was this one family.  Dad was always out working. Two kids. The daughter had married and moved out.  The mom as home all the time and she got really depressed.  I’d met her once and she was very quiet.  I didn’t know it, but she was an alcoholic and eventually she drank herself to death. Her liver failed.  Her son was left alone.  During the summer, the Dad had to work. So he asked a friend of mine if he could look after his son.  My friend agreed, but he didn’t really look after the kid and we had parties in the house.  One day while we were there, we were telling ghost stories and my friend said, ‘I’ve got this weird one to tell you guys’.  A few nights ago, he had been in his room and he fell asleep.  As he was dreaming, he realized that he was outside of his body.  So he decided to walk through the house and when he came into the kitchen, the entire family of the house was in there—including the mother who had died.  My friend went up to her, and her face was bone white. She was dead.  The mother was holding this little baby.  My friend asked her if she wanted to go and she said, ‘I want to go, but somebody has to look after this baby.’  He woke up right after that.  We were all freaked out by the story.

About a year later, I remembered the story and I asked him about it.  He said that when the father got back from his trip, he told him about his dream.  The father had given him this strange look and said, ‘No one knows this, but my daughter had a baby who died of crib death in this house.’”

My informant is catholic and believed that the mother was trapped in the house to pay for her sins of drinking and leaving her son behind.  She had to take care of another child in the afterlife.  He also believed that the baby couldn’t go to heaven because it was so young and it still needed someone to take care of it.  He said that he liked the story because he liked to believe the stories of rich families with hidden pasts in those big houses.  “You never really know where all that money came from” he said.

My informant’s analysis of why the child and mother were in the house really corresponds well with ghost belief in the church.  A mother who sinned is punished, but the child who hadn’t been christen yet is trapped as well.  A baby is not really a member of the community until that moment and thus is in a state where it is vulnerable.


My informant grew up in Texas and was raised by her white and Puerto Rican mothers.  She said that this was a holiday that was celebrated in her Puerto Rican mother’s family and they still celebrate it.  It is also called día de los reyes which translates to three kings day.  It is when the three kings visited Jesus and gave him the gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  It is typically on January 6th, or twelve days after Christmas*.  The night before, my informant and her brother would place shoes on the porch, traditionally full of hay but they would use grass, for the camels. Similar to leaving carrots for Santa’s sleigh or leaving cookies for Santa.  In the morning, the hay would be gone and there would be little presents in the shoes.

My informant says that this celebration is traditional in Hispanic countries, such as the one her mother is from.

This holiday ties to the biblical story of the three magi and is found in very catholic countries.  It is a feast day, but on the thirteenth day, or after the mini month of the year.  It is a very liminal period as it includes the New Year.  The presents given to the children can represent good fortune for the coming year and be a way of celebrating making it through the transition time from one year to the next.  It is a mini new year after the mini month.

*The song “Twelve Days of Christmas” counts down the days from Christmas to Epiphany.

Sana Sana

My informant grew up in Texas and was raised by her white and Puerto Rican mothers.  This is a healing chant that her Puerto Rican mother would sing to her whenever she had a scratch

Sana Sana

Colita de rana

Si nos sena ahora

Senaras mañana


In English it translates to:

Heal heal

Little frog

If you don’t heal today

you’ll heal tomorrow


My informant had a version that she would sing:

Sana sansa

Colita banana

Si nos ahora




This song is a way of calming down the child when the child is hurt, but also invoking a bit of magic to help heal the child.  This version of the song comes from Puerto Rico, a very tropical place where little frogs are common.  This is an endearment to the child that also reminds the mother and child where the family is from, especially since the mother has moved away from her home and culture.  The second one that my informant would sing is a parody of the original in fractured Spanish which she did not speak fluently as a child.  It combined the “a kiss will make it better” with the Spanish song, much like her home which was combined with American and Puerto Rican cultures.  She made it rhyme like the original but it gets more and more jumbled as she goes on.

Fruit Ghosts

My informant heard this from her Vietnamese grandmother when she was a child.

“When a fruit bruises, it’s because a ghost bites it.”

She thinks it’s weird and funny. She likes the image of a ghost trying to bite a fruit.

Ghosts are much more natural and interact more with the world in Asian cultures than in western ones.  Also when a fruit bruises it means its gone bad or damaged which ties in with death. It is as if the ghost cannot fully interact with the world and leaves destruction behind instead.  It can’t quite bite through the fruit but it is enough to leave a mark. Fruit is also left as an offering at graves, so it shows that the spirit of the dead person the offering was left for is enjoying the gift.

Spoons the Card Game

My informant first played this game in middle school and played it through high school.  His friend taught him when they were hanging out together.  He told me the rules as we played a small game together.  It was typically played with four people, but could be played with more.  To play, spoons are placed in the middle of the circle and there is always one less spoon than players.  It doesn’t have to be spoons, but it is the most preferable.  Each player has five cards. The first player draws a card from the deck and discards one next to him. The next player picks up that card and discards one of their own. And it goes on through the circle.  The goal is to get four of a kind and when you do, the player with four of a kind grabs a spoon.  Once one player grabs a spoon, all the others quickly try to grab one as well.  One player will not have a spoon and they lose.  The game can be played with elimination, but casual games just keep track of who lost the most times.

This game is not like typical American games where there is one winner.  A player has to rely on the other members, but at the same time tries to trick them. What you have in your hand depends on what the person ahead of you has given you and to not lose, you have to pay attention to the other people in the circle.  However, a player wants to be the first one to get four of a kind so that they will defiantly have a spoon and not lose. At the end, everyone who does not have four of a kind must compete with each other to get the spoon. This game is typically played at a time where kids are starting to learn how to interact with others in a way that is mutually beneficial, while still a bit self-serving.  It teaches that there is a balance between the two, and good players know how to work that balance to their advantage. You don’t have to be lucky to win this game, just fast and good at reading people.