Author Archives: Timothy Chen

Buntot mo hila mo

Translation: It’s your fault, bear the consequences.


This Filipino proverb came from the harsh upbringing of my informant’s family as her mom was raised in the lower-middle class near Tondo in the Philippines. It was something that my informant’s mom used to say a lot while she was working several jobs while raising her six children. As a result, my informant didn’t have a regular childhood and she spent most of it helping out her mom. Since she was the youngest in her family, she had help from her older siblings, but they also had to tend to their studies as well. My informant had to learn all her lessons the hard way and suffering its consequences, so this saying had tremendous impact on her life.

The proverb, to me, thus also reflects the harshness that life gives people. It reflects the brutality of the sort of lifestyle under which my informant grew up in and had to endure until she matured and acquired a stable job. Even then, the saying also reflects on the simplicity of life in how there is no avoidance of responsibility, and it instills a simple moral which some people wouldn’t want to face.

Kahirayan ay hindi sagabal sa tagumpay

Translation: Poverty is not a hindrance to success.


This Filipino proverb was passed down from my informant’s mother, who worked several jobs and had to raise six children on her own. She believes that it reflects the lifestyle in which she grew up as a child in a low-middle income Filipino neighborhood where people were less prosperous than most Filipinos, let alone Americans. As a result, my informant spent most of her time working and helping out her mom. As she was the youngest child, her brothers would also do the same thing and eventually most of them would move to the US, where they encountered varying degrees of success. This proverb was also passed down to her child, who managed to enter USC through scholarship.

I believe this proverb is reflective of this family’s history, showing how they encountered success despite coming from a non-affluent background. I also think that the generality of this statement can also be applicable to other situations outside this family since it shows that the American Dream can actually come true and proves that social mobility can occur in other places outside America.

Treat others with respect

This proverb was passed down to my informant from her mom who learnt it from her parents. My informant believes that the proverb means that one has to be able to work with others well in order to get many things done in life. Furthermore, she believes, if you treat someone nicely, they will treat you nicely back. I asked her mom about where she got this as well, and she said that it came back to how she and her family were raised in New Jersey, since they grew up in a tough neighborhood and had to learn respect this way. According to her mom, this was how her family had learned respect from very long ago and this saying was acquired through experience. Thus she passed it down to her kids hoping they would do the same.


I believe this proverb reflects the lifestyle of the family’s past, and it functions as a model for how to live properly. This was knowledge which was passed down from the experience of my informant’s family and they believe it to be simple wisdom. Thus when they pass this proverb down to younger generations, they hope that they can learn from it as well as they did when they were younger.

No deies para mañana loque puedes alsair oi

Translation: Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today


This saying according to my informant has been passed down from his mom’s grandpa’s generation. It gives optimistic spirit about what he does everyday and makes everything more challenging. Supposedly, there was more to this saying but my informant regrettably could not remember what the rest was, despite me asking him multiple times. But the overall gist involved, in his words, the god-given duty of supporting his family. Seeing that his family is very close and supportive of him, I can see how this proverb is very close to ‘carpe diem’ in its connotations and implications. The family part, I believe, comes from the upbringing of a close family.

Chinese New Year

My informant used to receive Chinese red envelopes when she was a child growing up in San Francisco in Chinese New Year. On those occasions, upon receiving them she would give some traditional Chinese greeting like 恭喜发财 (Geng hei fat choi – congratulations and be prosperous) and 新年快樂 (sun li fai long – happy new year). She says that there were lost of other greetings she said but she couldn’t remember them very well anymore. But after she reached sixteen, her parents stopped giving her envelopes, she assumes that they forgot, and she stopped asking for them because she thought that it was rude.


I think that the parents of my informant stopped giving her Chinese new year envelopes because she reached an age where she no longer needed to ask for them. Also, I believe that her family, since she and her parents had essentially grown up in San Francisco, there was less urgency to keep up a Chinese tradition which had no place in modern American society.

EL Cielo Pobrado


My informant’s great grandfather on his mom’s side once invented a successful Columbian product and it apparently is all over South America and the world. It’s called ‘El Cielo Pobrado’, which is a type of ceiling texture that had never existed before. He successfully started a house construction company that focused on this.


My informant finds pride as a Columbian in this legend as there is a successful ancestor in his family. Despite the fact that he seems to firmly believe that this is an actual product, after researching on the internet, I found that there is no such product. When I told him that, however, he said that his mom also believed this story and that it was passed down from the mid-late 1800s. Thinking about it, perhaps this family legend might have been created to bolster the family reputation. It also gives the family a sense of pride. If this story was true, however, then, in my interpretation, the product’s success may have been bloated as it was passed down from generation to generation.

Three moon Werewolf

According to my informant, his brothers and sisters used to tell him that werewolves existed. But there was a specific condition for them to appear. In fact, he said, there were supposedly three full moons, and on the third full moon, the werewolves would appear. When I asked him how he could tell when it happened, he recalled it had something to do with the lunar cycle and how he used to believe that there were three types of full moons, each of which appeared at different times of the year. That every time this moon appeared, it would be a different type of moon. But on the third full moon, the werewolves would appear. They looked like conventional werewolves, bipedal wolves that seemed human in quality.


Looking at the origins of this story, it seems like my informant’s siblings used this story to scare him as a child. But the belief that strange things occur on a full moon isn’t an uncommon belief. As this article ( suggests, animals may tend to act stranger when the full moon approaches. Furthermore, on some supernatural websites, people believe that on the blue moon, which is what I assume my informant meant by third moon since he couldn’t recall what that actually meant, werewolves would appear due to the rarity of the occasion. I believe that this shows how earthly events can have an effect on our belief systems, and how something like the werewolf can be tied to it. Since people tend to be afraid of what they can’t understand, the blue moon makes the werewolf story even scarier.

El Cucuy

According to my informant, El Cucuy was a creature similar to the boogeyman with a red cape, fiery eyes , sharp teeth and sharp claws. In the middle of the night, if you were a child wandering in the streets, you were not supposed to be found by him. He would often hang out in a plaza and try to void his presence. If he ever caught a child, he would take him to his cave, where there would be many skulls and dismembered limbs. This was what remained of the kids he captured before. And nobody would ever know what happened to the children because they never returned.

My informant described this as a story to scare rowdy children into obedience. It also, he joked, made for a very good horror story with all the blood and mystery that happens. But more seriously, he also said that this story was told to him by his mother when he was a kid. Being someone who grew up a Mexican-American, this story scared him as a child and he always obeyed his parents.


This story reflects some elements of La Gerona, in that it is a story which is used to tame unruly children and make sure they respect the words of their elders. There also happens to be death involved when they get caught. But I feel that the main difference between the two is that while La Gerona is more sympathetic and tragic, El Cucuy seems to be more psychopathic and more intentionally killing children. This factor makes the story much more chilling than La Gerona, instilling more fear into the child the person is talking to. I think that this story seems to be a little exaggerated, especially the addition of the red cape, which seems superfluous. But since this story was told by his parents, I assume that this was a feature which was recently added either by the informant, who tends to exaggerate a bit, or by his parents.

Tooth Fairy story

This is a variation of the tooth fairy which my informant’s parents used to tell my informant and her brother. According to her parents, she had a tooth fairy named Sophocles while her brother had one named Socrates. In the night, if one of them lost a tooth,he/she would put it under their pillow. Then the corresponding fairy would come by, write a note, and leave money. It was usually a simple letter saying thank you, and in response, the person who lost the tooth would have to write a note back saying thank you for leaving a gift.

According to my informant, her fairy had 5 kids and a dog. Both she and her brother lived in the far away kingdom of Xanthus where, in her words ‘No ship, rocket, or plane could get there because it’s a magic kingdom’

My informant said that when she was young, this story excited her and made her believe in the myth. At one point, when she was in 4th grade, she wrote a story about her tooth fairy and she actually won a prize. Unfortunately, she forgot what it was. It wasn’t until her last tooth fell out in 8th grade that she stopped believing in the tooth fairy.


This version of the tooth fairy myth is specifically tailored to these children, in my opinion. In accordance with usual practices, the tooth fairy still leaves money under a person’s pillow and takes their tooth in the end. The differences lie in the backstory of these fairies, and that they differ a lot from most traditional narratives of the tooth fairy. The story is tailored to whet the appetite of children and get them to believe in the story. Furthermore, there are also many humanizing elements about the fairies, including having kids and dogs, which makes the fairies much more sympathetic to humans and make them resemble less of mystical creatures. In the end, I believe this was done so that my informant’s parents could keep the childish wonder alive.

Walang hirap walang ligaya

Translation: No pain no game


My informant says this was something her mom would often say to her while growing up. Due to a lack of affluence while growing up, her mom had to make a living in the city working several jobs while caring for six children. Her mom’s and dad’s family was also not very rich, so they had to toil in order to get to where they were in the world. This was a similar experience for my informant and her brothers, who had to balance both school and work in order to encounter success after graduation. Eventually, most of them were able to move to America and make a living there, which shows how hard work can pay off at the end of the day.

I believe the proverb has an important place in this family, as it recalls the youth of my informant and also reflects the past which the family had to overcome in order to reach success in America.  It also comments on the belief of the American Dream, and how social mobility can positively benefit people through hard work.