Author Archives: Jessica Stempel

Legend – Mexico

The Legend of Pancho Villa

“There was a man named Pancho Villa who was a Mexican revolutionary. He was a leader. He didn’t agree with certain laws set by the gringos. He stole from them, he stole like important things that they were using like weapons, food, money, and he gave it to his people, (Mexicans). Pancho Villa was mostly known because he helped the people- but not only that- he got away with a lot of shit. But in the end his people gave him up, they set him up because of money that the gringos bribed them with. This motherfucker was smart, he put his horseshoes on backwards so that the gringos would follow him the wrong way. The most important part of Pancho Villa though, he had skills with guns, that made him powerful. He could kill people blindfolded. This type of shit you don’t hear in college. My uncle told me the real shit because he’s related to Pancho Villa. American history- they don’t like Pancho Villa. Who would like a Mexican to be smart?”

In the eyes of many descendants of Mexican ancestors, Pancho Villa was a hero. To them, they hear Pancho Villa’s story and feel a sense of pride of the heritage. Just as we learned in class, no actual linkage can back their connection to Pancho Villa to anyone who lived during those times. However, the story is passed down though generations to spark feelings of appreciation for Pancho Villa and resentment towards the white man. Even today there are tee shirts, murals, and other dedications to Mexican revolutionaries done by first or second generation Americans who still feel a strong sense of hostility towards the “gringos”. There are many racial conflicts that exist especially in Los Angeles today. Passing down stories of “heroes” who killed the white man allow future generations to remember what happened to “their people”.

Although I describe this in a questionable light, I can appreciate to the stories of glorified underdogs whose people are being repressed. As I have learned in one of my classes, “Religions of Latin America,” the Spanish conquest of the Indigenous peoples in the 16th and 17th centuries were absolutely horrible. Millions of innocent indios were beaten, forced into slavery and killed over their land to which they naturally inhabited. If the same new generations of Mexican-Americans hear about this story adjacent to the legend of Pancho Villa, it is with obvious understanding that Pancho Villa will be looked at as a hero.

There will always be numerous angles in which Pancho Villa is remembered, positive or negative. But Frank’s interpretation of the legend of Pancho Villa is funny to me. It uses modern day slang to tell a story in which others might find boring in history class. He is a first generation American with Mexican roots who definitely appreciates Pancho Villa in ways to which he can relate.


The Bermuda Triangle

“Some people say that ships and airplanes have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. My teacher told us about it because she passed through it but noting happened. I believe in it but I’m not scared.”

To be honest, I had never known of the superstitions of the Bermuda Triangle. I always thought the Bermuda Triangle was a name for a triad of islands. In fact, it is a triangle of islands with an eerie reputation. The apexes of the triangle are relatively Miami, Florida, San Juan, PR, and Bermuda. Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Bermuda Triangle as a “section of the North Atlantic Ocean off North America in which more than 50 ships and 20 airplanes are said to have mysteriously disappeared”. While this encyclopedia leaves an unbiased opinion, there are many firm believers, as well as many firm disbelievers.

According to encyclopedia Britannica, reports of missing vessels dates back to the mid 1800’s. Recovered ships were found abandoned without explanation. Then, with the rise of airplanes as a means of transportation, reports of missing airplanes started to come through over that area and still have not been recovered.

With unexplained circumstances, theories rose about the Bermuda triangle. Some thought it was the work of the supernatural. This superstition is one in which believers are not identified to any specific race or religion, just a shared belief due to their interpretation of the information. Others discount any paranormal activity and with that, many scientific theories have arose. Most common is the role of geography and the environment. According to the Naval Historical Center’s website, a strong current called the Gulf Stream could be the culprit. The Gulf stream, they say, is very “swift and turbulent and can quickly erase evidence of a disaster.” Likewise, discounting the superstitions, they also say that in the past, the combination of hurricanes and the lack of detection equipment for them on boats could leave the ships unaware of a disastrous storm until it was too late. Other explanations they offer include the variations in topography of the ocean floor; and the fact that many ships have been wrecked around the world, and that they occur more frequently in the Bermuda Triangle because it is a popular place with more traffic.

The Bermuda Triangle mystery remains an argued and unsolved mystery today. Like many unexplained events, people will always have opposing theories based on their personal rationalizations. Just like Area 51 or the Lock Ness Monster, unexplained events will always try to be solved and therefore always yield a variety of explanations. However, one conclusion can be drawn- these mysteries make great storylines for Hollywood movies. In addition, they spark curiosity and leave people wondering.


“Bermuda Triangle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 30 Apr. 2008 <>.

“The Bermuda Triangle.” Naval Historical Center. 11 Apr. 2007. 30 Apr. 2008 <>.

Holiday Tradition


“On Easter we hunt for eggs. After hunting eggs we get more eggs and hide them and ask our Mom and Dad to find them. We go to my cousin’s house and we play there and then we paint Easter eggs and then we go on the monkey pars with our hands ful of paint. After we do everything we eat chocolate eggs and cupcakes- I like the chocolate cupcakes.”

This interpretation of Easter makes me confused. There is no evidence of any church going or celebrating the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on Easter. However, observing this child’s room, I find a shrine dedicated to La Virgen Guadalupe, adorned with rosary, bible, and pictures. She tells me she prays every night before bed. Yet, her account of Easter has no religious significance whatsoever. The non-religious westernized interpretation of Easter is spot-on to Roxy’s accounts.  Easter seems to have lost its religious significance to many modern day Americans. While in fact, as we discussed in class, Easter is also a celebration of spring and fertilization, for a Catholic girl, I expected her account of her Easter to include at least some mention of Jesus or reflection on the past. Yet for children, the ideas of eating chocolate and decorating eggs probably sounds much more enticing than going to church.

But as an elder, I feel religious holidays should be a happy medium of remembrance, sacrifice (if called for), and then celebration. Although I cannot account for personal opinions to Christian holidays, I can relate to the variation of religiousness in my faith. As a conservative Jew, we have Passover, which bans us from eating leavened bread for eight days. Likewise, on Rosh Hashanna, the New Year, we fast to cleanse our bodies of sins. Then, after our sacrifice, reading of the prayers, and perhaps synagogue services, we feast. But, this comes only after we have done what is required of us as loyal Jews. Yet I have come across a few, (though not as abundant as those Christians I have met) who call themselves Jewish yet choose to skip the holidays which actually require some effort and sacrifice. Instead, they may get presents on Chanukkah, the most non-religious holiday in the Jewish faith.

While folklore draws on the way in which people celebrate and does not show a critical eye, I cannot help but think when evaluating this account of celebrating holidays that perhaps they have lost some of their significance. However, I cannot be one to dictate how people choose to spend their days, nor can I judge their overall devotion to their religion based on accounts like this.


Slim’s Dirty Joke

“A girl playing golf came home and her husband said to her, ‘how was your game?’. She said, ‘not too cool’. He said, ‘what happened?’. She said, ‘I got stung by a bee’. He said, ‘where?’. She said ‘between the first and second hole’. He said, ‘maybe your stance was too wide!’

To give a proper interpretation of this joke, I first have to give a proper explanation of whom it came from. Slim is a homeless man very notorious around USC. He usually can be found at the corner of 28th and Figueroa hollering at all the students who instantly recognize him and usually reply with a “Hi Slim!”. There have been articles written about him in the Daily Trojan and someone even created a facebook for him, to which Slim proudly tells everyone about.

He told me this joke in exchange for three dollars, to which I happily obliged. He told this joke to me and I was impressed. Although Slim is homeless and enjoys the daily case of beer and whatever else, he told me this joke, which not only has a good punch line, but it derives from a dual meaning inside a multi dimensional joke. The humor in the joke comes from the fact that the husband misinterpreted the wife’s account of the location of the bee sting. While it is probably obvious, the wife was referring to the first and second hole on the golf course, while the husband read her description as telling the location on her body in which she was stung. I do not want to go into too much detail about the whereabouts of the husband’s belief of the location of the sting, but the punch line concludes that it is within a close distance of the woman’s genitalia.

This joke can be classified as a “dirty joke” or a “sex joke”. It does not completely surprise me that Slim chose a joke from this category, as he often tries to get a peek up female students’ skirts. However, dirty jokes are a very popular genre of jokes in the present time because they are a bit of a taboo and perhaps because sex is something enjoyed by a very large age range and percent of the population. While it came from a homeless man, I could have easily gotten many similar jokes from people of all professions and age ranges if I had asked. In the past, my parents have even told me dirty jokes.



“A closed mouth won’t get feds.”

“A closed mouth won’t get money.”

“If you don’t speak up, you won’t earn a lot of money.”

Slim, a homeless man around USC, notoriously popular with the students told me this proverb in exchange for three dollars. He told me that his parents said this to him when he was growing up and he firmly believes it. Slim is a very outspoken and animated man, though I am not sure how much influence the numerous beers that he drinks has on this. Regardless, I was a bit suspicious of how well he lives by this or how much luck he has had with this motto. This is because he is, well, homeless and therefore most likely does not have very much money, although he definitely does not have a closed mouth. However, after thinking about the times that I have observed him, his technique of asking for money requires some talking, and his success rate is the highest I have seen of any homeless man. Unlike other homeless man who just asks for change, slim has a friendship with many wealthy USC students, which he has acquired by simply showing his strong personality as they walk by. Without anything but his whits, Slim has managed to find a way to wiggle into the hearts of many with his talk alone. This then results in happily obliging students who spare their extra change.

So in the end, I guess Slim does live by his motto. His successful acquisition of money, or “feds” indeed comes from his big mouth. Consequently, this motto can be used for anyone, even in the work force. Speaking up and standing out can definitely help in one’s career, whether it is landing a job or getting promoted… or asking for money.

Saying – Yiddish

Yiddish saying

“For Gezunt”

“Fort gezunteheyt”

“travel in good health”

This is a yiddish saying that has been in my family on my mother’s side for some time. I heard my grandma and my mom say it since I was little before we went on a plane. The person that is traveling is the one that you are supposed to say this to. Literally, fort, in yiddush, means travel, and gezunteheyt means in good health. Gezunteheyt is also said after someone sneezes. I knew I wanted to share this saying for my folklore project but I was not sure if it really was true yiddush or if my family just made it up. But with some research, I found that in fact it is a real saying. I was skeptical because I had never heard anyone outside of my mother’s family. However, only TWO results turned out when I “Googled” it. One of them was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddush.

For some reason, along the way in our family, we shortened it to “for gezunt” or sometimes just “for”.  According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish, however, “for” is the yiddush command for travel, so it makes sense to say “for” instead of “fort.” I guess my family’s saying is legitimate after all. My Great Grandfather was, after all, an orthodox rabbi, so I guess I underestimate our knowledge of this ancient Jewish language. In fact, since I could only find two results in Google, maybe our family is one of the last to use these two yiddish words together to form a saying. The other reason that so few results were yielded, though, is maybe because I typed in the English- sounding version. This is because I have no clue how to type yiddish characters.  I hope to discover more about this saying, as my mom has said it to me since I was a little girl, and in return I find myself saying it to her when we/she travel(s).


Blech, Benjamin. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish. Alpha Books, 2000. Google Book Search. 30 Apr. 2008 <,M1>.

Folk Holiday

Guy Fawkes Night

“Guy Fawkes Night is on the 5th of November. It is celebrated with bonfires, fireworks and burning ‘guys’, figures that look like Guy Fawkes- He plotted against Parliament and the king- he was going to blow up the Houses of Parliament”

This is the first time I have ever heard of Guy Fawkes Night, and Jayne has been my nanny for 18 years. From this, I conclude that Guy Fawkes Night is not that important of a holiday.

However, it is unique. There are no other celebrations alike to this of my knowledge. Instead of celebrating a hero, they celebrate the burning of an evil man. This holiday is not religious, but instead is intended to give a strong sense of national pride and understanding of the history of England.

As I further researched Guy Fawkes Night, it becomes clear that the reason for bonfires and fireworks is due to the way in which Guy Fawkes planned to attack the Parliament. He and his conspirators had stored gunpowder in the basement of the parliament. The fires and explosions set forth by the celebrations symbolize the gunpowder, and the burning of “guys” as Jayne describes seems to be a ritual that allows the British people to symbolize making his plan backfire year after year. They are almost throwing it in his face even though this happened in 1605 and he is long gone.

There have been seventeen assassination attempts on US presidents and none of them are celebrated with a national holiday. This is why I find it strange that such a day exists. Although it is portraying Guy Fawkes in a bad light, it is almost making him a national household name and I do not know if I think that he deserves to be recognized so widely.

Regardless, this is a very unique holiday that is very different from the celebrations that we use fireworks for in the US. But, we share this in common, the idea of firework displays during national holidays. The bonfire burning is almost cult like and not readily accepted in the US. The burning reminds me of old European counts of people burning at the stakes. Though this happened in colonies as well, I do not feel that the US would accept such an act to take place as part of a modern day ceremony for inappropriateness it would convey to children. It might also raise the crime rates if the US allowed such acts to be recognized.


“The Traditions of Guy Fawkes Night.” Hall of Festivites. 30 Apr. 2008 <>.

“List of United States Presidential Assassination Attempts.” Wikipedia. 21 Apr. 2008. 30 Apr. 2008 < assassination_attempts>.

Folk Speech – Haverford, Pennsylvania

Elbow Grease:

“I was at my friend’s house and we had dinner and they always had to do the dishes, the mom made them do chores. They didn’t have a maid or anything like that. After dinner, my friend went to do the dishes and I said I would help. I was with a sponge at the sink wiping a pot and her mother saw me and said ‘you have to use some elbow grease on that’ and I looked under the sink trying to find it said ‘where do you keep it?’”

This story symbolizes my mother’s ignorance towards anything domestic. Growing up, my mother was privileged and had a maid to clean up after her and her five siblings. “Elbow grease” is a common term used to emphasize the forceful way in which someone performs a laborious task, usually involving scrubbing and cleaning. However, my mother Linda thought that elbow grease was an actual physical object, perhaps a cleaning agent.

Her ignorance shows that she was not used to putting “elbow grease” into much of anything, as she had people to do that for her. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my mother had an African American maid and driver. Though it is not to say that she was stuck up. She did, after all, offer to help with the dishes.  Perhaps she even had cleaned dishes before, but was unfamiliar with the term “elbow grease”.

The term is a folk saying that originated some time in the mid 1600’s. I tried to research its origins and only found one questionably credible source that gives

multiple theories for the use of the term. says that elbow grease may have originated as another word for sweat. Another theory the website provides is that perhaps the word comes from the fact that if joints are not moved, they become stiff. But if they are in motion, the synovial pads in the elbow joints produce lubrication, or “elbow grease”.

No matter where the term derived from, this story shows how the lifestyle was for privileged kids growing up in suburban Philadelphia, which is my hometown (my mother never moved out). I must say that I can relate to her, as growing up I too was privileged to have someone working for me that cleaned the dishes. When I got to college, however, I am now forced to use “elbow grease” to clean my own dishes, although the dishwasher does most of the work.


“Where Does the Term, Elbow Grease Come From?” EduQnA. 2007. 30 Apr. 2008 <>.

Food – Jewish

Jew Food

“Food was very important in out lives. There were always great smells coming from our kitchen. Our table was round and when all 8 of us sat around it, there was a lot of reaching and grabbing the platters. We were 6 kids and had pancake eating contests sometimes for breakfast. There was a blackboard in the kitchen and we would keep score on it. Our Sunday morning breakfasts were legendary.  There would be bagels, lox, smoked salmon, herring, kippered salmon, and whitefish.”

The above describes the food my mother ate at home growing up. She grew up in a privileged Jewish household and a cook was employed to prepare meals for the family. The story about the pancake eating contest surprised me because my mother as I know her today is not one to participate in any eating contest.

The contrast between my mother’s eating then (plentiful and taste-based) versus today (health conscious and small portioned) can be explained due to a few circumstances. She grew up in the 50’s and 60’s when health technology was not as advanced. There were a lot fewer worries about cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity was not as prevalent. Perhaps this is why her family’s lifestyle was not that of what my family’s presently is. Also, however, my mother was a child and children do not have as much sense of eating right for health reasons or aesthetic reasons. Also, the thinness that is “in” today was not nearly as dramatic back in those days. Fashion models were not the stick figures that they are today, but yet beautiful, curvy, and healthy looking. Finally, my mother did not have the influence of my father, who is extremely health conscious and runs seven miles a day. Instead, she had the influence of my late Grandfather who loved eating the most fattening foods and later developed diabetes. However, he lived life to the fullest and I doubt he would ever regret eating all those delicious meals.

The latter part of her account of eating is relatable to many Jewish people in the United States, if not around the world (to which there are very few). The typical ethnic Jewish foods are smoked fish and bagels. To an outsider it might sound strange and perhaps not be appealing upon trying it, but growing up with lox and bagels, as I did, makes it a delicacy for many Jews. Still today, our extended family gets together once in a while to share a meal of fish and bagels. To Jews, as it is for most ethnicities, food is an agent for bringing people together.

Folk Belief – Jewish


“I don’t like to give a “kinehora..” I don’t say things like “I have never had a broken bone.” I feel that would be to tempt fate.”

Kinehora is a yiddush word that means “a curse in reverse”. It is something to which many people would “knock on wood” for; or to which an audience would reply, “never say never”. There is of course, no conclusive scientific proof to verify that if someone makes a remark about, for example as my mother said, never having a broken bone, that all of a sudden they will indeed break one just for cursing themselves. It is a superstition that many people use while going about their everyday lives. My mother describes avoiding saying the “curse” altogether, while others “knock on wood” (although many people end up knocking on any surface around them which usually is not wood) to redeem themselves. This avoidance of “kinehora” is probably one of the most popular superstitions in the US. From my experience, I find educated, wealthy, and even naturally skeptical people not wanting to curse themselves. I find people knocking on wood if they reverse curse themselves or loved ones. It has become a very popular gesture in American culture, and probably worldwide. I know that in England they often say “touch wood.” Of course, as well, “kinehora” is a common yiddush saying describing the same superstition.

Regardless of its lack of validity,  I think that people find themselves avoiding cursing themselves or “touching wood” to redeem themselves because it is a little gesture that, if by any stretch of the imagination it does happen to prevent the terrible from happening, is worth little effort that is required to be set forth. It is just one of those things that if it helps people get through their day, then all the power to them.