Author Archive
Adulthood
Customs
Gestures
Holidays
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Satin Donation Bag: Italian Wedding Tradition

Joanna Estrada is a special needs teacher living in Los Angeles, California. She is 60 years old and has three daughters. Joanna has lived in Southern California since birth, moving from Redondo Beach to Torrance in her mid-twenties. Her father was Irish and her mother was Italian; as such, she grew up surrounded by multiple cultures and was brought up in the Catholic tradition. In the excerpt below, Joanna describes a tradition that would take place during Italian wedding receptions. After the wedding ceremony, guests would congregate at the appropriate reception location and pass around a bag made from satin material. They would place money in the bag, and then present the donations to the newly wedded couple as a collective wedding gift:

Joanna: “It was customary to collect wedding donations during receptions. At all of the traditional Itaian weddings, someone would pass around a bag made of white satin. The guests would put as much money as they wanted… it could be a small donation of $5 or a big donation of $100 or more. They’d put it in the bag, and at the end of the reception, someone would present the bag to the couple. It was always fun to watch because it was kind of unexpected.”

Here, Joanna describes a folkloric wedding custom. Collecting money in a satin bag is both a folkloric gesture and ritual; it qualifies as a gesture because it is a widely recognized and encouraged practice that involves a specific action (i.e. collecting money in a specific type of bag); it also qualifies as a ritual because it takes place during weddings, which are largely considered to be special holidays. If one were to donate money (via satin bag) to a newly married during their reception, they would be demonstrating their familiarity with Italian wedding customs and taking part in a collective activity.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Russian Whistling Superstition

Melanie Holpert studies History and Film at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois but now lives in Los Angeles, California for school. Her parents are both Russian and practice Judaism—they have strong ties to Russia and are very committed to preserving their heritage. As such, Melanie’s parents and extended family imparted a number of Russian traditions to her and her older sister. Of these, Melanie most vividly remembers the superstitions. Below, she recounts one of the superstitions she observed while growing up:

Melanie: “You can’t whistle indoors because it’s considered bad luck.”

Isabella: “Why is that?”

Melanie: “I’m not entirely sure, but I was always yelled at if I whistled while I was inside. There wasn’t any kind of remedy if I did whistle inside, but I was warned not to do it again.”

Here, Melanie describes a superstition that she does not entirely understand. This inexplicable quality underlies many superstitious beliefs; most practitioners do not understand why they observe specific superstitions, but they do so nevertheless just “to be safe.”

In the transcript, Melanie also notes the absence of a conversion ritual. There was no compensatory gesture that Melanie could use if she did whistle inside; instead, she just had to endure whatever bad luck she brought upon herself.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Russian Injury Superstition

Melanie Holpert studies History and Film at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois but now lives in Los Angeles, California while she attends university. Her parents are both Russian and practice Judaism—they have strong ties to Russia and are very committed to preserving their heritage. As such, Melanie’s parents and extended family imparted a number of Russian traditions to her and her older sister as they grew up. Of these, Melanie most vividly remembers the superstitions. Below, she recounts one of the superstitions she observed while growing up:

 Melanie: “If I’m describing an injury, or like an illness to another person, I can’t show it on my own body.”

Isabella: “Why is that?”

Melanie: “They say it’s going to happen to you if you describe it using your own body. You can only describe it verbally.”

Here, Melanie describes a superstition that warns against discussing injuries. This superstition implies a great concern for physical health in Russian culture, or at least a particularly strong aversion to sickness and injury. It also suggests that Russians view injury as something that is controlled by other forces (i.e. the Gods, the universe, etc.). The superstition described above serves as a way to avoid any unnecessary injuries or sicknesses.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Russian “Foot-stomp” Tradition

Melanie Holpert studies History and Film at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois but now lives in Los Angeles, California while she attends university. Her parents are both Russian and practice Judaism—they have strong ties to Russia and are very committed to preserving their heritage. As such, Melanie’s parents and extended family imparted a number of Russian traditions to her and her older sister. Of these, Melanie most vividly remembers the superstitions. Below, she recounts one of the conversion rituals she learned as a child:

Melanie: “Well, I’m Russian… and especially Russians Jews are like this… if somebody steps on my foot, well if its in a big crowd I won’t do this… but I have to step on them with the same foot that they stepped on me with.”

Isabella: “What happens if you don’t reciprocate the gesture?”

Melanie: “I have no idea. Nobody really knows, but it’s supposed to be bad luck.”

Here, Melanie describes a conversion ritual that is supposed to preemptively prevent bad luck. Though Melanie admits to not understanding why she practices this tradition, she practices it nevertheless and feels uneasy if she does not reciprocate the gesture.  There is often an inexplicable quality to superstitions and this conversion ritual typifies that aspect of them.

This particular conversion ritual is interesting because it has the potential to evoke poor reactions from people that are unfamiliar with it. One might be upset if their foot is stomped on, simply because they made a mistake and stepped one someone else’s foot. Unlike other conversion rituals, this one demands participation from both parties involved.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic

Mexican “Gaze” Superstition

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California once she began school. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes some Mexican superstitions regarding babies:

Leah: “Something that’s weird… I don’t know if it’s a Mexican thing, or if its just my family… but, you aren’t supposed to look at a baby while its sleeping, because it takes their beauty away apparently.”

Isabella: “Does this apply only to newborns?”

Leah: “Just like a sleeping child… maybe until they’re like, a toddler. So you can look at them, but not for a prolonged period, I guess. So, a quick glance is okay… like, to make sure they’re still breathing.”

The superstition Leah describes here is unique in that it violates normal parenting techniques. One might expect a new parent to observe their newborn as they sleep, so as to ensure that they are breathing properly, or to simply look at them in appreciation of their beauty.

The superstition also reveals some values; it emphasizes the importance of beauty and warns against any action (i.e. gazing at the baby for too long) that could compromise a child’s appearance. In a society that disregards outward appearance, one would not expect to find a superstition like the one Leah describes here.

Folk medicine
Foodways
general
Homeopathic
Material

Mexican Tea Remedy for Menstrual Cramps

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California at a young age. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes a tea remedy for menstrual cramps that is used in place of pain medication:

Leah: “My family in New Mexico boils the corn hairs… like, the corn silk. You make a tea out of it when you have menstrual cramps, and it’s supposed to be a remedy for that. It tastes like shit though. It’s solely for the functionality of it.”

Isabella: “Does anyone like the way it tastes?”

Leah: “I think it depends on the sweetest of the corn, so that the silk can taste better. The silk is the little hairs… you know, when you shuck corn, you have the little hairs… little fine fibers that are underneath the husks. They’re yellow, and that’s what you make the tea out of.”

Here, Leah describes a homeopathic remedy that is used to treat menstrual cramps. Though she admits to disliking the tea’s taste, Leah still drinks the remedy when she needs relief from menstrual pain. Both she and her family acknowledge the health benefits associated with the tea; moreover, its main ingredient (corn) is tremendously important amongst Latin American communities. It is a food staple throughout Central and South America so it is not surprising that it appears throughout homeopathic recipes.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

“The Devil Beating his Wife”

Owen Lord studies Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He is originally from Columbia, South Carolina but currently lives in Los Angeles, California while he attends university. Owen’s southern upbringing led him to adopt a number of southern customs. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he was immediately struck by the differences in the way people speak, how they behave, and the traditions they practice. Many of Owen’s favorite folkloric phrases were lost on his new peers in Los Angeles. Below, Owen describes one example of folk speech that is used to describe weather conditions:

Owen: “In the South—the American South, South Carolina to be specific—we had certain terms that I didn’t realize were a little shocking until I used them outside of the South. Like when it’s a sunny day and it’s raining, we’d say that the devil is beating his wife. Which um, non-Southerners have found to be a little inappropriate.”

Isabella: “Why were people offended?”

Owen: “Um, I think the references to domestic abuse. And… people aren’t used to talking about the devil. And, in the South, we attribute everything to either the devil or God. So yeah, it was a little shocking to other people.”

Here, Owen reflects on a folk metaphor that is unique to the American South. Owen acknowledges that this metaphorical statement does not resonate with people who are not from the South, and attributes this to the cultural differences between the two areas. As Owen notes in the transcription, Southerners are more likely to reference the Devil and God in everyday speech than people who live in other parts of the nation.

This folk metaphor is used to describe the weather, which highlights its prominence and popularity amongst Southerners. It also reveals some key distinctions between Southern culture and west coast (i.e. California) culture. References to domestic violence are embedded in the metaphor, which suggests that jokes of this nature are normalized in the South (not necessarily domestic violence itself).  This metaphor speaks to the topic of sensitivity in humor — in places like Southern California, fears of coming across as politically incorrect might dissuade someone from reciting a metaphor like the one described here.  However, in the South, it is perfectly acceptable to joke about certain taboo topics.

Customs
Gestures
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pinning Money to the Bride’s Dress: Mexican Wedding Tradition

Nicolas Estrada is a Mexican-American lawyer working in the greater Los Angeles area. His parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico before he and his sister were born. They settled in Southern California and quickly began to assimilate to the new culture. Nicolas’ parents imparted both Mexican and “American” customs to him and his sister, but they placed a stronger emphasis on American culture. For example, they raised Nicolas with Spanish as his first language, but encouraged him to speak only English in public. This strong emphasis on assimilation influenced Nicolas’ relationship with Mexican culture, but he can still recall some Mexican traditions being practiced in his home and at family functions. In the excerpt below, Nicolas describes one of the traditions he would observe at Mexican wedding receptions:

Nicolas: “Everyone would be at the reception after the ceremony ended. The couple would come out and they’d be present for the first time and a married couple—or as “man and wife.” And about mid-way through the reception, the bride would go to the dance floor and mingle with all of the guests. Everyone would be drunk by this point. And then guests would pin money to the bride’s dress with clothespins—not safety pins because that would probably damage the dress. But this would go on throughout the reception and by the end of the night, the bride would have a pretty significant amount of money pinned to her.”

Here, Nicolas describes a folkloric wedding custom. Pinning money on a bride’s wedding dress is both a folkloric gesture and ritual; it qualifies as a gesture because it is a widely recognized and encouraged practice that involves a specific action (i.e. pinning the money on the dress with clothespins); it also qualifies as a ritual because it takes place during weddings, which are largely considered to be special holidays. If one were to pin money on a bride’s dress during a reception, they would be demonstrating their familiarity with Mexican wedding customs and taking part in a collective activity.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Gestures
Homeopathic
Kinesthetic
Protection
Signs

Vicks Rub and the Sign of the Cross: Mexican Healing Gesture

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California at a young age. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes a specific gesture used to cure sickness that relates to her family’s Catholic background:

 

Leah: “So when your kid has the flu… for some reason, Mexican moms like, obviously use Vicks [vapor rub for decongestion], but if you put it on in a cross-shape, it supposed to… help. Like, they’ll apply it in the shape of a cross on your feet or your forehead or whatever.”

Isabella: “Does that signify God helping you recover?”

Leah: “Yeah, and it expels the demons. It has a lot to do with the Catholic tradition.”

 

Here, Leah describes a folkloric gesture that has religious overtones. In addition to applying Vicks vapor rub to help their children recover, Mexican mothers will supplement the healing process with a religious gesture. This practice marks a synthesis between American and Latin American customs. Those who practice this tradition acknowledge the utility in Western medication (i.e. the Vicks rub), but they also feel these treatments are more effective if they are supplemented with Catholic symbols and gestures.

 

Though Leah is not religious herself, she still practices this tradition at times. It has acquired significance in her life because she associates it with her mother and her childhood. This typifies cultural inheritance between older and younger generations.

 

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic

Rocking an Empty Cradle: Mexican Superstition

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California at a young age. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes a superstition that discourages expecting parents from rocking an empty cradle:

Leah: “You can’t rock an empty cradle… its bad luck.”

Isabella: “Why? What are the implications?”

Leah: “It’s just bad luck… I think like, bad luck with your child… if you haven’t given birth yet. Like, if you have a nursery that isn’t inhabited yet. It might cause complications during the pregnancy.”

This superstition provides insight into Mexican values. It suggests a degree of anxiety surrounding pregnancy; and from that, one can infer that childbirth and reproduction are important hallmarks of life. This relates to the strong Catholic influence present in many Latin American communities. Catholicism recognizes the importance of reproduction and encourages its practitioners to have children as often as possible. Many of Leah’s family members have large families, which they regard as a symbol of prosperity.

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