Category Archives: Material

Banging on Pots Invites Family Tension Superstition

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: So my mom, when she’s stirring something, a sauce or whatever, she says you should never tap the spoon on the edge of the pot or pan. Apparently it creates some sort of bad energy, like from the friction created, and it basically invites bad spirits into your food. It creates like friction between family or whoever eats it, and creates fights in the family. You’re adding friction to the food, so you’re supposed to use something else to scrape off the extra or whatever. 

SW: Do you know where she heard this?

NS: No, it’s just something she’s always done and believed.

Thoughts: 

I hadn’t heard of this superstition before, but since NS’s mother grew up in the Philippines, I suspected it was because she had picked it up there before coming to the US. I like the literal nature of the superstition, that friction causes friction. I wonder how this superstition came to be, and whether its inception was simply the result of a chef trying to reduce noise in their kitchen. NS’s mother is Catholic, as she was influenced by her surroundings in the Philippines, but things like this show a blurring of lines between religion and spirituality. 

Informant: Shut the box is a game I picked up from a friend. She just liked collecting wooden crafts and games she had in her childhood. I think she had this while in France? It’s been a while since I asked her about it.

Interviewer: Do you remember when she first told you about it?

Informant: I asked her about the game one Thanksgiving because it was out on a counter as one of those party games. It looked like a homemade set, I wanted to know if it was easy to make.

Interviewer: And then she was the one who taught you how to play?

Informant: Yes, it was a long game but a lot of fun.

Interviewer: How do you play it?

Informant: Well, you need 2 dice and the specially designed box. In the box is a row of numbers counting from 1 to 9. The object of the game, as the name suggests, is to shut the box. To accomplish this the player whose turn it is has to roll the dice and add up the dice to get a total. With that number in mind the player has to use the numbers in the box to make that same total, this is indicated by flipping the numbers in the box down. If a player rolls a total they can no longer make with the numbers in the box, that total becomes their score. If a player manages to flip all the numbers in the box down, they have won the game and have the satisfaction of shutting the box. If no one manages to shut the box, the person with the lowest score wins.

Interviewer: Is there a limit to how many people can play?

Informant: No, this game is played one person at a time so as long as everyone is patient you can have as many players as can sit ’round a table.

Background: My informant learned about and how to play this game from a friend on an unspecified Thanksgiving. It is now apparently played every year by both the informant’s friend and herself. It drew attention because it appeared homemade. When asked, the friend allegedly said that it was part of her childhood while growing up in France and wanted to share that memory with her children.

Context: It was a casual interview setting, playing games when the informant’s husband brought this specific game, prompting me to ask about its origin. This specific copy of the game was a handmade set by the informant’s husband.

Thoughts: There is something appealing about the game. There’s definite satisfaction in flipping the tiles down, and even more so when one is lucky enough to shut the box. A lot of the game seems to rely on luck and an understanding of probability.

For more instructions, please see: Allan, Sean. “How to Play Shut The Box: Games Rules, Strategy & Instructions.” SiamMandalay, 25, Sept, 2017.

The Catholic Cross and its Influence

Abstract:  

Background: H is a student at the University of Southern California who’s experienced this traditional ceremony from her transition into womanhood. She’s lived in California her entire life and is a first-generation American and her family keeps many of their traditions from Mexico alive in her life.  She believes that the way her Quince was conducted is very traditional but also has a few twists that are uncommon to the format. The topic was brought up during lunch while discussing our family roots and how important religion is to their family. 

Interview:

H: Continuing on with the religion in my household above my bed and the bed of parents which is the holy cross which is a great symbol for us especially the religious part. Its another reminder of religion to us and we sometimes pray with them or pray while facing them. 

P: Are they blessed or have you taken them to a church? 

H: Yes, we took them to the church where I was baptized to get them blessed by the priest of the church who is a nice friend of ours, and then we hung them where we did. It’s a nice symbol because it also gives us a lot of hope when we’re down and shows us there are better days ahead, especially during this lockdown. 

Interpretation:

From this, it seems that this cross has the ability to bring families together and connect them through faith almost a magical power. This Folk Item represents the Hispanic ideals of carrying the catholic faith and continuing to practice it even in the home. The fact she mentions they blessed the cross as well shows the blending of a folk item and magic since the blessing requires an enchantment or a prayer to be said to be blessed. This folk item holds a lot of significance since it’s in multiple rooms and it was mentioned that this item is taken down and used when prayers are said especially prayers for a lost one or for one to feel better. This powerful item is a clear part of their family’s traditions and will continue to be for future generations. She also mentioned that the cross in her mother’s room belonged to her great-grandma so it been around for a while.

Fita do Senhor do Bonfim

Abstract: The incorporation of a bracelet with the magical power to grant wishes to the user who wears it. The bracelet is always decorated a certain color representing a spirit or a feature of Brazil and it always has a catholic prayer or saying listed on the outside of the bracelet. It was made out of cloth and woven together with the phrase placed on top.  The goal was to wrap up the bracelet somewhere on your body and then perform a few steps to ensure your wish comes true.

Background: MC is a Brazilian currently living in Florida and is a student at the University of Southern California. She’s an advocate for Brazilian culture and expresses it by speaking highly of their myths and legends and even partaking in the semi-religious activities such as wearing bracelets with powers to grant wishes to the wearer. She describes one of the few stories heard from parents when she was younger and details it below.

To gain a wish:

MC: First you take the bracelet and you figure out a spot where to tie to your person. 

MC: Next you have to come up with 3 wishes before you start to tie it on.

MC: Now you wrap it around you so, for example, I’m using my ankle and you have to make 3 Knotts with it, each symbolizing your wish and basically knotting it to you so you don’t lose it.

MC: Make sure you say each wish in your head before you start the next Knott and then once it’s tied up you leave it. The bracelet will fall off over time and when it does, your wishes will come true.

Interpretation: 

It interesting to see that the catholic faith has overtaken the traditions and meaning of items in Brazil. An item that grants wishes but has a verse from the Catholic bible written on it is a blend that shows the mix of Brazilian ideals. The idea of tying this to your person could be a way of carrying the faith and trusting in the Catholic God and as time progresses and the bracelet “matures” or gets old, so does your feeling of being used to having the bracelet on you. Shows that you can grow in the faith just like you grew into wearing a bracelet on you. From this burden of having the bracelet and it eventually falling off shows how your bond exceeds that of Knotts and you’re rewarded with having your wishes come true. 

Chinese Red Eggs

Piece
H: Because the infant death rate was so high, people used to celebrate the baby’s birth after one month, so one month is actually their birthday. If they can, there is a big party and everyone gets red eggs. Ah-ma’s family was too poor to have a big party, but they give red eggs to the neighbors instead.
J: Why red eggs?
H: They’re a symbol of good luck and fortune. Also chicken eggs and chicken are a special treat in Taiwan. So the eggs are chicken eggs and red is for good things. [pause] You give them to people for other birthdays too, particularly for older people. Grandparents. Parents. Like 50 or 60. You give them red eggs too. You make red rice cakes stuffed with red bean. Anything with red bean paste. Mold it and make it the shape of, umm, the word doesn’t come out, a, a turtle! The rice cake in the shape of a turtle to symbolize long life. And if the person is older than you, you bow to them. When it’s their birthday, you bow to them.

Context
The informant learned this traditon from their mother who was born in Taiwan where this was a practice in their village and aided in throwing the red egg party for their neice.
This story was shared upon request by the collector when asking about various cultural traditions.

My Thoughts
I vaguely remember a red egg party for one of my first cousins. We dressed in red, fancy clothes and brought gifts. We ate red eggs and many other delicious foods and treats. Everything was red from the paper banners to the tablecloths to the food.
While red being a good color in Chinese culture is nothing new to me, I was surprised to hear at least some of the reasoning behind the eggs. In America, chicken is pretty cheap and easily available. Yet, for the informant, having chicken or chicken eggs was special and for celebratory occasions only.

Bah-tzan Legend

Piece
During celebrations, we eat bah-tzans. The reason we eat bah-tzan is because there was a story. There were two friends, they were very good friends. Normally you stay in your town, but these two friends were in different towns, so they said they would meet by the river. One would wait by the river and the other would come. The story is that the friends are so loyal that even when there was a flood, he waited. But he died in the flood but the friend want to remember him so he made so many bah-tzan sand threw them in the river so that the fish would eat them instead of his friends’ body.
Context
A bah-tzan is sticky, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is more commonly called zongi in China. There are many different types of this type of dumpling depending on the region as different foods are mixed in with the rice such as meats, egg, peanuts, and mushrooms.
The informant learned of this story from their mother during a celebration in her childhood. The story was interesting, however when asked about how they felt about it, the informant responded with, “wasteful” and while an entertaining story, not significant to their personal cultural identity.
The family was eating a different kind of bah-tzan than normal and so one member asked about the different types and if there was a story behind bah-tzans.
My Thoughts
My initials thoughts were in line with my informant, it seems wasteful to throw so much food into the river. And while I admire the friends’ loyalty to one another, I feel that one must have a certain amount of discernment in dangerous weather and trust that the friendship can stand a missed meeting. This story says a lot about Taiwanese culture which heavily values loyalty, family, and friendships. Self-sacrifice for others is highly praised in Taiwanese culture, thus this story has appeal to them. Furthermore, the story shares the importance of the body when honoring a deceased individual.

Japanese New Year Feast

Piece
Every year, the informant cooks a Japanese New Year Feast for their family. It is an all-day affair where hundreds of guests, friends and family, can come and go to eat lunch and/or dinner and socialize with those present. The informant makes the following traditional dishes:
Ozoni (rice cake in vegetable soup) is the first thing eaten on New Year’s day and wishes good health and prosperity to the family
Gomame (dried sardines) to bless attendees with health
Kombu Maki (rolled kelp) to bring happiness and joy
Kuri Kinton (sweet potato or lima bean paste with chestnuts) to bring wealth
Renkon (lotus root) as a symbol for the wheel of life
Daikon (white raddish), carrots, and other root vegetables to promote deep family roots
Ise ebi (lobster) for the festive red color and to symbolize old age and longevity; note: the lobster must be served whole and cannot be broken lest the spine of the old ones break
Context
The informant learned to cook and serve these dishes from their mother and has trained their daughter in how to give the feast. To the informant, The New Year is the most important holiday of the year as it is when the entire extended family comes together. Food preparations begin weeks before the event and there are leftovers for days after as a result of the concern that the table could run out of food.
My Thoughts
Some of the foods look similar to an object such as the lotus root looking like a wheel or the lobster’s spine curving like the spine of an older person while others symbolize good things for their cost or how the word for the food sounds similar to the word for whatever it symbolizes. The feast was a time to celebrate and welcome the New Year and do things that would hopefully ensure prosperity. It was a time where social barriers could be crossed and family meant everything. The extensive amount of time taken to prepare the foods probably shows the care that the family and friends have for one another and the desire to serve each other. The pursuit of good fortune in the food symbolism is an acknowledgement of the lack of control that they have over many aspects of their lives, particularly for the peasants who depended so much on the rulers of their areas.

Another variation of the infamous Quarantini

The following is a transcribed interview between interviewee and I. Interviewee is hereby further referred to as MH. MH was speaking about some of the things that Trader Joe’s, a local supermarket is doing for the COVID-19 pandemic.

MH: Today I made a sign for the store advertising quarantinis LOL.

Me: What does Trader Joe’s consider a quarantini?

MH: Oh, well a quarantini is just cinnamon vodka and apple cider. I’m not sure if that’s everyone’s definition of it, but that’s the recipe that all Trader Joe’s across the country are sharing. You should try it, it’s delicious and cheap and they’re flying off the shelves, everyone’s doing it. 

Me: No way, I have to get on that LOL.

Background: 

Interviewee works for Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain that has been providing food services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trader Joe’s, along with many other supermarkets have been essential businesses during the pandemic and the community of food service workers have been impacting daily life because they are one of the few who are still working. Further, supermarkets are one of the only in-person businesses still running, where many people will interact. 

Context: 

This interview was conducted over a video call between me and Interviewee, MH, so it was very casual. We are long-time friends and she works and goes to school in San Diego, CA. 

Thoughts:

It’s interesting because this definition of quaratinis is different from others I’ve heard. She says that it’s a specific recipe, but there are so many others. Some, like in an earlier interview I conducted, don’t think that it is a recipe at all, but a concept for any mixed drink made at home. It is interesting how much variation there is in this drink even though the people I’ve spoken to have all been from a relatively similar region and in some of the same communities.

Masks As Folk Art

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as CC.

Me: How have you been covering your face in public places due to the coronavirus?

CC: I just made a mask out of a bandana and two hair ties because I couldn’t get any other pre-made masks in time. 

Me: How did you do that and how effective is it?

CC: Well, it’s super easy and stays in place nicely so I don’t have to touch my face when I’m out and about. So, yeah, I’d say it’s effective.

Me: And how do you make it?

CC: Oh yeah, ok so basically you just lay the bandana out and then fold it a few times so it’s a long rectangle. Then you like put the hair ties around either end and move them towards the middle until as big as you want the mask to be. And then you just fold over the edges, I try to like fold one edge into the other so it doesn’t come loose but it’s kinda hard to get that part right. And then you just put it on with the hair ties around your ears and adjust if you want it bigger or smaller. I can send a step-by-step pics if you need help.

Me: Yeah that’d be great, thanks! And where did you get this idea?

CC: Not gonna lie, I saw some facebook post about it and copied it but honestly it’s kinda become a viral life-hack! 

Me: Cool, thanks.

Background: 

Interviewee is a long-time friend of mine who attends a school on the East Coast. She is an American who grew up in Las Vegas, NV. 

Context:

This piece of folklore was collected during a video call between me and interviewee during the Coronavirus Pandemic. I have known the interviewee for many years, so the conversation was casual. 

Thoughts:

I have seen many youtube videos and facebook posts about this method of making a mask quickly and without sewing for those who don’t know how to sew or don’t want to. I’ve tried it and I think it works pretty well, too. Going around to the grocery store and such, I see quite a few people using this method of making a mask, and because there are so many kinds of fabrics you can make it with, people get really creative and you can show more of your personal style than with a classic paper mask. 

To see how she makes this mask and with what kind of cloth, see this: https://www.allure.com/gallery/bandana-face-masks-covid-19-coronavirus

Yearbooks as Folk Art

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (MS). 

MS: So, a yearbook is traditionally issued at the end of the school year when you’re in elementary school through high school… and they have pictures of everyone in the school taken throughout the year… and you’ll usually write messages in your friends’ books.

LT: But not all messages are equal (laughs). 

MS: Yeah, like in elementary school, everyone just wrote their names because we didn’t know how to write many things, but generally, in high school, it’s bad to just write “HAGS,” which means have a good summer… you want to write something more heartfelt because people often keep yearbooks and will want to be able to reminisce on memories and stuff in the future, so you need good messages. If someone writes “HAGS,” they probably don’t know you that well. 

Background: 

MS is one of my best friends, and she grew up in Los Angeles. She got her first yearbook when she was six years old, at the end of Kindergarten. She often jokes that she’s a “hoarder” because she keeps a lot of things for their sentimental value, including yearbooks. She actually just read through all of her old yearbooks the night before our interview since she “wasn’t doing anything better during quarantine.” Her favorite thing about yearbooks is reading the messages. She likes to think about who she’s still friends with and who she doesn’t stay in touch with. She also likes the messages that remind her of memories she wouldn’t have thought of on her own. 

Context:

MS and I normally see each other most days at USC, and we’ve been continuing to FaceTime often during this quarantine period. This piece was collected during a “Zoom Happy Hour” with our friend group. 

Thoughts:

In American culture, we often stress the importance of being “cool in high school.” Media often promotes the idea that an American teen’s self worth can be measured in how many friends they have. Yearbooks are a physical way we can quanitize that. I remember reading through my mom’s old yearbooks as a child, and I was so impressed by how many people had signed it. When I was in high school, I would actually get stressed and feel pressured to make sure every blank page in my book was covered with signatures. Now, as a college student, I don’t even know where most of my yearbooks are. In MS’s case, it’s nice to reminisce about the memories with dear, old friends. However, she doesn’t particularly care about the messages written by people she wasn’t close to. Yearbooks symbolize the things that felt so important as a teenager that don’t particularly matter later in life. Inherently, yearbooks are a really sweet tradition that should be treated more authentically.