Author Archive
Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Westridgettes

CH went to an all girls private school in Pasadena, California.

CH: “So basically since we didn’t have a football team or any men’s sports teams we didn’t have any cheerleaders cause there was no point ya know? So we had something called the Westridgettes, there were 9 skirts that each meant something different. There was the Asian skirt, the glee club skirt, the captain skirt, the soccer skirt, the drama skirt, the tiger, and the skinny bitch skirt, the preppy skirt, and the black girl skirt. We told administration the skinny bitch was something else though cause they wouldn’t like that. Basically all of them were seniors but every year they would will them down to a girl in the class below them and every girl would add her name to a pleat of the skirt. So it was like a green skirt covered with names and the people who wore them were basically cheerleaders that would lead the pep rally and would do a provacative dance in front of the whole school to show how cool and fun they were. There was a lot of nepotism, the cool group of girls would have the skirt and pass it sown to other cool girls in the younger class. But then adminstration caught on and made them diversify the skirts so it went to a bunch of random people.

Why do you think this tradition started?

CH: “I think to enhance school spirit which is hard at an all girls school. We didn’t have any big football games or anything so it’s hard to have school spirit at an all girls school. Probably like fostering sisterhood too and creating a tradition of passing down the skirts”

I think this is an interesting initiation ceremony representing the liminal time of high school. Especially since the skirts are largely exculpatory, it creates a sense of being included or not. It makes sense that the “cool” girls would be selected because this ritual allowed them to join a lineage and stand out from other girls.

Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

New Jersey Alphabet

Joke:

“How do you say the New Jersey Alphabet?”

“Fuckin’ A, Fuckin’ B, Fuckin’ C….”

I was told this joke by RG, who is originally from a small town in New Jersey called Bergenfield.

Who told you the joke?

RG: ” I think someone out here (Colorado) actually told me it”

What does it mean?

RG: “Well that’s just what people say out there (New Jersey) because you say “hey want to go to the movies” and I say “fuckin’ A!”. It’s definitely a New Jersey joke, it’s based off the expression. “Of course I want to!” is kind of what it means. Like if I say “Wanna go have a cocktail?” and you say “Fuckin’ A! Of course I do!”. I don’t know why that’s just how it is there, it’s standard New Jersey language which has a lot of that type of talk in it. That’s the lingo I grew up with, different than how people talk out here (meaning Colorado)”

This joke plays off the stereotype of people from New York and New Jersey as being more aggressive and vulgar. I thought it was interesting that someone from out of state actually told RG the joke, but he thought it was so funny because it fit well with what he grew up with. Even though the joke played off stereotypes, the stereotypes were accurate enough that someone from New Jersey found it funny because it was true.

The sense of regionalism that the joke evokes is also very interesting. The fact that RG said it was”different than how people talk out here” shows how even though New Jersey and Colorado are both in the United States, what is appropriate to say in one state is not necessarily appropriate in the other. As someone raised in Colorado, I can agree with RG that people from Colorado probably would not find the joke very funny because of its vulgarity and their inability to relate. I think one of the reasons RG found the joke so amusing and enjoyed sharing it with others was because it was a way to reconnect with his roots and remember where he came from. Although Colorado and New Jersey are within the same country, there are still regional social cues that need to be picked up on. Telling the joke would be a way to give people in Colorado a sense of what New Jersey is like in an amusing and entertaining way.

Game
Humor
Musical

Skiing down a mountain

JG describes a game she learned from her mother and would do to kids she babysat

What was skiing down a mountain?

JG: “So you know how little kids love to be bounced up and down on people’s knees? Skiing down a mountain was basically just bouncing a little kid on your knee but with a background story. Mom used to do it to me, but she was the one who made it up. She said she wanted to put a background story to it to make it more interesting because it made more sense if there was a story. And then I really liked it so I would do it to kids I baby sat and you when you were a baby”

What do you do?

JG: “So you put a little kid on your lap and bounce them around like normal, but then you say “skiing down a mountain” again and again. Eventually you yell “TREE!” and you swerve your knees to the side like you’re avoiding a tree. There was some other ones too, like rocks and moguls. For moguls you would do really big bounces. It was kind of open to interpretation. All the little kids loved it, it was a lot more exciting than regular bouncing a kid on your knee. Sometimes I’d do you and your cousin Louisa at the same time, you guys loved it. I just remember really liking it when I was little and I would watch Mom do it to Justin too when he was little. So then I did it when I started watching kids”

This piece of folklore displays the importance of regional differences. While bouncing a child on your knee could be adapted to have many different stories, it’s significant that this story involved skiing, mainly because the game originated with JG’s mother in Colorado where skiing is very prevalent. A child would immediately recognize the parts of the game because most children in Colorado learn to ski at a very young age.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Legends

Morning Stretches

The informant, RD, recounts how her mother used to stretch her out every morning to make her taller

RD: ” My mother would tell me to hold onto the headboard and then she’d grab my feet and pull really hard, it was supposed to make me taller or something. My mom made me do all kinds of weird stuff when I was younger and I’d always do them. She told me to eat prunes in order to restore blood levels too.”

Did her mother do it to her?

RD: “Yes. Her mom used to do it to her back in China. They think that in the morning you are at your tallest so if you get stretched out when you’re at your tallest you will get even taller. I think my mom knew even then that I was gonna be short.”

Did she do it everyday?

RD: “No, it was only when we had extra time in the morning. I’d say a couple times a week, it wasn’t like an exactly timed thing”

How long did she do it for?

RD: “I think from when I was in elementary school until I was in about 7th grade? I don’t know, sometime in middle school. I think she realized I was just gonna stay short.”

Do you think it did anything?

RD: “(laughs) no it was just some weird thing my mom made me do.”

 

I thought this piece was interesting because it showed a clash between the Chinese culture and American culture. Obviously for RD’s mother, who lived in China until she was an adult, it made sense that stretching someone out in the morning would make them taller. She also must have believed it worked if her mother used to do it to her and then she did it to her own daughter. However, RD, who was born in America, thought it was preposterous and would never work. I think this demonstrates Americans supreme belief in Western medicine. It would probably seem silly to most people in the United States that yanking on someone’s body would make them taller because they believe being tall is something you get from genetics. This could also be an example of dying folklore because folklore has to contemporary. Since RD thought it was an outdated practice that didn’t work she probably won’t do it to her children and it will die out in her lineage.

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The Red Whistle

MG describes an urban legend from her home town of Bergenfield, New Jersey in the 60s and 70s.

MG: “There was a deli in town that also sold candy, I think it was called Bob’s. The urban legend was that if you went into the candy store and asked him for a red whistle the guy behind the counter would go crazy and chase you out of the store. It was a dare if you could go into the store and ask him for a red whistle. It was mainly a boy thing, I heard about it from my brother. He did it once.”

What happened when your brother did it?

MG: “He got chased out of the store! He had to run for his life! But that was part of the fun, he was a grown man and the boys were in 8th grade, no one knew why it was a trigger point but it was the standing challenge so all the boys had to do it”

So no one knew why he would chase you out of the store?

MG: “I don’t think so, maybe someone 10 years older than me knew but all I knew was that you had to go ask for the red whistle. Someone told me it was because he was a child molester, but I don’t know if that was true. All the kids that I knew knew about it”

This legend was interesting because it was an example of how it is unclear whether the legend or the action came first. It isn’t clear whether the man would chase kids out of the store because he had been asked about the red whistle so many times and was fed up, or if there was an underlying meaning to asking for the red whistle that made him angry in the first place. The addition of the fact that they thought he was a child molester was a weird twist and maybe made their actions more ethical: they could continuously bother him because he was a bad guy.

 

Customs
Folk Dance
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Musical

Mongolian Folk Dancing

The informant, RD, describes a mongolian dance class she took when she was younger. The dance class took place in Palo Alto, California. RD is of Mongolian and Chinese decent: her father is from Mongolia and her mother is from China.

Where did you learn the dance?

RD: “I was in a mongolian dance class. We had these velvet, red towels with gold chain and coins on them  on them and you had to twirl them around your fingers. It was like a big choreographed dance, there was a group of us”

How did you find out about the class?

RD: “My mom found out through her church I think”

Did you ever perform the dance, like at a festival?

RD: “We would perform in an auditorium for our parents. It was pretty much only parents there, not like an outside group of people”

Was everyone who participated Mongolian?

RD: “Mainly Chinese. Everyone was either Mongolian or Chinese. There was definitely no white people, they would definitely get freaked out by the music (laughs)”

What was the music like?

RD: “We danced to traditional Chinese/Mongolian music. It had a mixture of both languages, so parts would be Mongolian and parts would be Chinese. I think the background was traditional Chinese instruments.”

Is Chinese and Mongolian a common mix in Palo Alto?

RD: “No no no, it was just headed by a committee that had some Chinese people and some Mongolian so they kind of fused the two cultures. I don’t think I’ve ever met another person who is mixed Chinese and Mongolian, it’s not common. Everyone was one or the other.”

I thought this was particularly interesting because of the mix of Chinese and Mongolian culture. The fact that the music being used was a mixture of Mongolian and Chinese was very interesting, especially given the fact that RD said she had never met another person who was both Mongolian and Chinese. It seemed very unlikely that everyone there was either separately Chinese or Mongolian when the performance itself was a very balanced mixture of the two. I also thought it was interesting that she thought it was funny that white people, or members of any other ethnicities, would be a part of the dance. When I first heard her describe it I thought it was for the purpose of sharing their cultural heritage but based on the performances it seems like its main purpose was to preserve and pass on their traditions.

Customs
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Scooter Day

KB is from Denver, Colorado and graduated from high school in 2013.

Could you describe senior scooter day?

KB: “Senior scooter day was during the seniors last week of school. Basically each senior got to bring a razor scooter to school and ride it around all day. In one of my classes a guy made an entire presentation on his razor scooter, it was awesome. It was also super cool because our campus was big, we had 4 separate building so a scooter was really convenient. And everyone would know you were a senior. But then people were getting hurt on their scooters or hitting people or something so they tried to get rid of it. The year before I was a senior people tried to be rebellious and still ride them, but the deans would take them away. Then when I was a senior they said you couldn’t walk at graduation if you were a senior. So senior scooter day is basically gone now, in a couple years they probably won’t remember what it was. I was super pissed we couldn’t do it, but I don’t think anyone tried. I think they gave us a senior party in the quad instead, but senior scooter day was way cooler”

Senior scooter day is interesting because it relates to the liminal period in a person’s life. Senior’s are on the brink of starting a new life after high school so there are all types of rituals to distinguish the seniors from everyone else and also to celebrate the next chapter in their life. I think this ritual is particularly interesting because it is slightly anti-authority. It was discouraged before it was completely banned which I think goes hand in hand with it coming at a liminal period. The activity would only become more appealing because it allowed seniors to feel powerful and above high school.

Customs
Game
Kinesthetic

The Power Song

RS is a member of the group WYSE. WYSE is a student organization on campus that stands for Woman and Youth Supporting Eachother. Each week members of the group go to a local middle school and teach health classes to a small group of 8th grade girls.

RS: “We usually just call it power but basically it’s a song and a game that we play during the breaks. Basically all the girls stand in a circle and we say the chant “P-O-W-E-R we got the power cause we are the women of WYSE”. Then one person goes in the circle and like if I went into the cirle I would say “My name is Reegan” and everyone would else would say “Yeah” and then I say “and I’m next on the list” and they go “yeah” and then I go “and I get my reputation cause I do it like this” and then I do a goofy dance in the middle and everyone repeats “and she does it like this” and repeats the move.

To make it more clear:

Middle Person “My name is —–”

Everyone “Yeah”

Middle Person “And I’m next on the list

Everyone “Yeah”

Middle Person “And I get my reputation cause I do it like this” (dances)

Everyone “She does it like this” (copies dance)

How long does it go on for?

RS: “As long as people keep jumping in the middle. A lot of the girls are pretty shy and take some convincing. It’s a good way to get them not to be so embarrassed. They always want to play but sometimes it takes a while to convince them to go in the middle”

Do you know where it came from?

RS: “I think it was just a basic chant and someone decided to change the words to make it about WYSE. I remember doing a similar one at cheer camp over the summer. Everyone in WYSE knows it though, you just kind of learn it once you go to your school site. They do it and you just kind of have to join in”

Folk speech

The Harlem drag ball scene

JG describes lingo used within the gay community that arised in the 1980s but wasn’t mainstream until more recently:

JG: “A lot of the terms you will see on RuPaul’s Drag Race. One is called “executive realness” which is when the men are supposed to dress in drag that looks like a business woman. So you’d be giving “executive realness” if you look like a business woman in charge. Another one is “throwing shade”. This is when you say something “shady” or bitchy. Like if I said I thought Jenny was a slut then I’d be throwing shade at Jenny. They are terms usually used in the gay community but I think they are spread outwards by shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race where people who have never seen a drag queen in real life can learn their lingo”

Do you know where these words came from?

JG: “They came from the underground drag ball scene in the 1980s. The only reason I know that is from the documentary “Paris is Burning”. Basically the terms have been around for a long time but it was avant guard back then cause the drag scene was more underground. It was big in the downtown gay club scene but didn’t make its way into the mainstream until 20 or 20 years later.”

Customs
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Theme

KB: “Each year all the senior girls would get into groups and decorate overalls to wear on the first day of school. Basically you wold buy painting overalls and paint them red and blue because those were our school colors. Then you would put like your last name and other fun decorations.”

When would you wear them?

KB:”You would wear them on the first day of school and on game days and stuff. They were supposed to show school spirit because they were our school colors. But it was also a way to see who was friends with who because each group of overalls would look different. My year the popular girls did theirs tie dye so everyone could tell them apart.”

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