Author Archives: bdevera@usc.edu

City Kid Morals

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as WC.

WC: This is just—a, a little banter between different moral codes that exist within my own consciousness because I come from an environment in which the law of the land may be one thing, but how I feel on the inside is an entirely different set of morals. To survive this environment, you do have to adopt the law of the land. The saying goes “the boys outside are takin’ lives, but can’t run and hide. Say if you’re scared, go to church, but they’ll put me in the dirt if I testify.” Which basically just means that things happen that may be a little scary but you’re living in an environment that if you try to tell on somebody because something scares you, the scariest thing possible can probably happen to you. That level of paranoia kinda, maybe sometimes will guide people away from their nature. You know? Because there’s usually problems that we want to solve, but people run from problems because they don’t want more problems.

BD: Did you come up with this?

WC: No, the words I came up with, but the idea is something that has existed generations before I was even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes.


 

This is the second piece of folklore I collected from this particular informant, and it is interesting how his folk beliefs seem to center around karma and attitudes towards what will happen in the future and what is under one’s own control. This particular belief is one that stems from his life growing up in Oakland, where he witnessed a lot of violence and crime. He did not want to share specifics or allow me to record, but he did relate that it was rough growing up in the inner city, and as a result he coined this saying, which embodies a few of the ideas and “rules” of growing up in such a place.

 

Creative Karma

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as WC.

WC: This other theory that my father received from my grandfather, and it’s very simple, I think many people share this same perspective. He believes—because my father is a creative, and my grandfather was a creative and a professor—that when he gets a new or innovative idea, and they speak it into the universe but they do not act on it, it opens the door and someone within a very short time span will act on that idea and receive all the credit for it. Like my dad wrote music. He would write a song and sing it for people and let them hear it, but never actually record the song and put it out there. The he’d hear a song eerily similar on the radio. This theory basically teaches you to act on your ideas and instincts that you have. And honestly I can’t say they’re wrong!

BD: So you would say you believe this theory too?

WC: Yeah, I have evidence in the universe that I’ve thought about things that didn’t in fact begin to manifest, and then it manifested without me.


Analysis:
While this is a bit of a downer belief, it does push those who believe it to execute their ideas. It is interesting how it runs through a family with creative vocations and modes of thought. It is likely they would not have held onto this belief if they had not been in the arts.

 

Pork and Parasites

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as WC.

WC: My father has an interesting theory about eating pork. Especially because of my own personal beliefs, I don’t believe in eating pork, and he says he know that pork can carry parasites, but parasites don’t eat pork. So his stomach will be fine. I don’t know if it’s some type of weird reverse osmosis type of situation going on, but he believes that because he eats pork, and worms don’t eat pork, pork being in his stomach protects his stomach from worms.

BD: Did he get this from one of his parents?

WC: One of his older mentors, when he was growing up, just had all types of quirky theories about a lot of things.


Analysis:
This is an interesting logical fallacy that instated itself as a personal system of belief. It is also interesting how the informant is now vegan, rather than a eater of pork, like his father. There is also not much scientific backing to it, which explains why the younger generation is hesitant to believe in it. However, both the informant’s father and his mentor believed in it, showing that there is some hold to this belief.

Eating All Your Rice Yields a Clean-Faced Spouse

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as MT.

BD: So tell me about why your mom always tells you to eat everything.

MT: In Vietnam, if you don’t finish your bowl of rice, the number of rice grains left in your bowl corresponds with the amount of acne on your spouse’s face. My mom believes this superstition. I don’t know where she learned it from. It’s common among most Asian cultures.

BD: Does everyone in your family believe it?

MT: Yeah, pretty much. Though it’s silly, I think it’s one of those things you never acknowledge, but you try to maintain. But I’m mostly just hungry. So I eat everything anyways.


 

Analysis:
I had heard a similar idea from my mother, and I found it interesting to hear the same idea in another culture. Though most people here in America say to finish all your food, because there are people who go without, this is an entirely different perspective on a reason to finish food. This belief also reinforces the values of Vietnamese culture, the future-orientation towards one’s future spouse.

Caught the Sun

“Looks like you’ve caught the sun.”


 

Analysis:

While the meaning of this saying seems quite obvious—to have caught the sun is to be sunburnt, but I had never heard of this phrase before. The informant has not lived in America for longer than two years, so I thought this saying originated from the UK, however, I cannot find any evidence to its origins.

Korean Fan Death

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as DS.

DS: In korea, if you sleep with the fan on, there’s a myth that you’ll die.
BD: Why?
DS: I don’t know.
BD: Who told you this?
DS: My mom.
BD: Where did she get it from?
DS: Her mom.
BD: Is it common in other Korean households?
DS: Yes, it’s very common. But everyone thinks of it as a joke.
BD: Does your mom actually believe it?
DS: No, she doesn’t. But she still always tells me to turn the fan off when I sleep.


 

Upon hearing this piece of folklore, I had thought it had a very clear scientific basis of belief—a fan would provide a slight breeze as one sleeps. Thus they could catch a cold and get very sick. But after reading more about this idea, Koreans do not have a clear scientific backing behind what they call “fan death.” They believe electric fans can actually kill people. The Atlantic discusses fan death and its origins in a recent article: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/05/is-this-going-to-kill-me-fan-death-korea/528243/. Historically, a man had been found dead with two fans in his room. Frank Bures, a writer on illnesses, believes this incident is from where the belief stems, but we really do not know for sure.

Cakewalks

“I learned this probably when I was about ten, in Florida, from other kids. There’s this thing called a cakewalk. I’ve only seen it in the south, never ever heard about it here [in California]. Basically, usually within religious functions, you would go to an event and they would have cake. And they would play music, and you would literally just walk around and they turn off the music and there are chairs. It’s like musical chairs. So you sit down as fast as you can, and whatever number you sit on on the chair, you got the cake. I don’t understand it at all—you’re getting free cake for doing nothing. I first saw it when I was like ten, first at a 4H function, and later at a church function. And it’s like everywhere in the South, but only there.”


 

Analysis:
I have heard of the cakewalk, despite never having lived in the South. Upon doing further research into this game, this game has very deep roots into American culture. It was first performed by slaves, pre-Civil War, and these dances were judged by the plantation owners. The winners of the dance would receive a cake. Now when we use the term “cakewalk,” referring to a task, we mean it to be something that is easy to accomplish. But winning these cakewalks were very hard—the idea they were easy came across because of how skilled the dancers were.

NPR covers the background of cakewalks in the following article: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/12/23/256566647/the-extraordinary-story-of-why-a-cakewalk-wasnt-always-easy

Sardines Game

“There’s this game called sardines, how it is is the hider is the person that everyone is trying to find, so it’s not like hide and seek, and so once you find the hider, you have to hide with them in the same spot. As people keep finding you, you keep getting larger in your group. So as the first hider, you have to find a spot that’s really good, so that people can’t find you, but then also good enough that if people start clumping in, they won’t be seen.”


While listening to my informant tell me how “sardines” is played, I began to think of how similar it is to hide-and-seek, despite her insistence it is not. I have also heard of this folk game, and it must be quite common across different communities in California, at least, if not the rest of America.
Huffington Post groups both hide-and-seek and sardines together as the same kind of hiding game, in the following article: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/08/01/fun-traditional-games-parents-played-when-children_n_7553124.html.

Wordless Bloody Mary

“I learned this from my mom, it’s like a superstition, I think. If you’re ever in the dark, don’t look at the mirror, and I have no clue why, because she never said what would happen, just that i should “never, ever look in the mirror in the dark, because something bad will happen.” I guess it’s a ghost superstition similar to Bloody Mary, but you don’t have to say anything. Ever since then—even though I don’t believe in it—I still don’t look into the mirror when it’s dark, just in case.”


 

Analysis:

This belief is incredibly similar to the “Bloody Mary” superstition, as the informant noted. Despite not believing in the superstition, the informant still tries to not look into mirrors, which shows how deeply the belief has pervaded culture, especially within her own family.

The Guardian covers a few of the variations on the Bloody Mary beliefs in the article below.
https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/jul/06/top-10-urban-legends-myths-james-dawson

Nature and Garden Spirits

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as AD.

BD: So tell me about the spirits that live in nature.

AD: So, my mother, in her house’s yard, there’s a swing outside and some grass. They say that there’s something that lives underneath the ground. Every time you have to be careful and not step on the roots, or you have to say “excuse me,” which in Tagalog is “tabi tabi po.”
Anyway, spirits that live there, outside and underground, and if you accidentally step on them and you don’t say excuse me, bad things happen.

BD: Like what?

AD: People get sick. And doctors don’t know why. Bad things like that. But when this happens, and it’s unexplainable by regular medicine, they call a man from the community and he does “tawas.” I don’t know what the term is in English. But only certain people can do it. This person who knows how to get the sickness out of your system. They use a bowl with water, and they use a candle. What they do is put the bowl in front of them and the person who is sick, the bowl between the two people. They light the candle, and pour the wax into the bowl of water. And it forms a shape. Whatever shape it forms—sometimes it’s in the shape of an animal—that’s the spirit that is harming the person.


 

Analysis: Growing up, I heard this belief often, because I am Filipino, and my grandmother’s yard was rumored to have some of the spirits in it—all nature does. Even now, when I step on tree roots, I whisper under my breath “tabi tabi po,” in hopes I will not be cursed. A more personal, in-depth look at the process of tawas can be found at: www.lifestyle.inquirer.net/177916/diagnostic-rituals/. The informant personally knows four people capable of tawas, proving it is not an uncommon practice, and many Filipinos still believe in both ideas—the initial superstition and the folk medicine that can cure transgressions by the superstition.