USC Digital Folklore Archives / Narrative
Legends

El Paso–Thunderbird

Main Piece:

The Participant is marked as BH. I am marked as LJ.

LJ: Can you tell me some history about El Paso?

BH: Oh, so…in El Paso there is this…legend that if you look up into the mountains as the sun is setting, you can see the shadow of a Thunderbird. And…one of the..as a result of the shadow that you can see in the mountains, one of the school’s in the city…their mascots is called the Thunderbirds. That’s pretty much all I know. I’ve never seen the Thunderbird myself, but it exists on the mountains…its has a really big wingspan.

LJ: Who did you hear it from?

BH: I had heard it from my boyfriend, but previously I had also heard it from other people. Some other El Paso-ans. They were old–like in their fifties.

Context:

I had visited the participant and her family in El Paso, Texas in March. This was recorded after.

Background:

The participant is a fourth year student at the University of Southern California. She is a firm believer in religion and likes “scary stories,” including television shows and hearing about hauntings. She grew up primarily in El Paso, Texas with her mom and two sisters.

Analysis:

So much history and lore in El Paso! The Thunderbird, according to the Wikipedia page (most refutable source that I could find on it), is a creature from North American beliefs. The other three accounts from El Paso (find them on my account) include a more recent ghost history in El Paso High and a perhaps older ghost story about a monk traveling along the mountain. This story ties not into the Western culture that came into Western Texas during the 1700s, but about the rich cultures that we almost wiped out.

They have transferred over  into the general pool of El Paso-an stories/legends. It might be a way to continue remebering the peoples that inhabited that land before Americans or even “mestizos” from Mexico.

Wikipedia Page:

Thunderbird (mythology). Retrieved 4/25/17. Web. wikipedia.com

Legends

California Poppy

I was probably like six years old, and out in front of our house in Campbell, at the base of the light post by the sidewalk, there was a clump of poppies. I saw it, and I grabbed one to pull it up, and my friend Joe Bloom who was a little older than me, probably 8, said “you can’t pick those, it’s against the law and you’ll go to jail”. Clearly that moment stuck with me. From that moment with forward, and I probably shared it with everyone that I came into contact with. Fast forward to when my daughter is the same age, she heard the same thing from her friends.

This is something I definitely heard too when I was younger, from my friends while I was in elementary school. In reality however, the law is that you aren’t allowed to pick any flowers on state property, so it’s interesting that this legend has persisted.

Legends
Narrative

Bloody Mary

I was probably in fifth grade, and my friends were describing how you would go into the bathroom, and turning off the lights – and this was on the playground at my elementary school – that you’d close your eyes, turn around three times and say “Blood Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” and when you open your eyes you’re supposed to see Blood Mary in the mirror. And the lore was someone’s cousin did it, and Bloody Mary came out of the mirror and killed him. My brother had nightmares for years around that stuff, because he heard the same stuff.

I heard this growing up as well, around third grade from a friend. I remember it very distinctly as well, because it was so scary at the time. I never wanted to be in a bathroom with the lights off, fearing Bloody Mary would appear even if I didn’t do the ritual.

Legends
Narrative

Mirror Shoes

When I was at Campbell Junior High in the 70s, there was this teacher that had been infamous for wearing mirrors on shoes. His name was Mr. B. He was rumored to use them to look up girl’s skirts and got in trouble with the school district the previous year. When I became a seventh grader, I heard that rumor. I was four years ahead of my brother, and I had never mentioned it to him. Fast forward four years, one of the first things my brother came home and said was that Mr. B had gotten in trouble for wearing mirrors on his shoes last year—the same story I heard when I was in school. I remember laughing so much because I had heard the same thing years ago.

This is a really interesting legend, as it was not only the content that persisted, but the time frame of the event happening “last year” that persisted as well. The informant likes this because it’s a bit of folklore he shares with many people who went to the same school as him.

Humor
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

The Cook and the Cowhands

There was a joke that my grandpa used to tell. It’s a little off color but not so bad. But he told the story, and then my mom told the story, and I haven’t really told it but I can tell it to you so you can hear it. It’s a little bit racist but you can take the race out of it and it works just the same. This is a story that my grandfather’s older brother and father told him. So there was a ranch in the West somewhere, probably Colorado or California. There were cowhands, and they were working all day on the ranch, and they had a cook named Wong. They thought they would play some practical jokes on him. When Wong was sleeping, the cowhands they would tie his shoes together with lots of knots. The next day they waited for a reactions, but nothing happened—he just fixed his shoes and didn’t mention it. The next day they put thumbtacks on his seat. They waited to see his reaction, and when he sat down he kind of grimaced, but just swept them away and didn’t really care. The next day they either short-sheeted his bed or soaked his sheets with water—I don’t really remember. They waited for a reaction, and no reaction. So they finally decided to talk to him. “So Wong, you’ve been a really good sport, tying your shoes in knots and putting thumbtacks on your seat, and messing with your sheets, so we won’t do that to you anymore.” In a different voice; “You no more put knots in my shoes?” “No, no more knots in your shoes.” “You no more put tackies on my seat?” “No, no more tacks on your seat.” “You no more soak my sheets in water?” “No, we won’t soak your sheets in water anymore.” “Good, well I no more pee pee in your soup.”

This story is important to the informant because of its history, and it having been passed down for multiple generations. It reminds him of how different the world used to be regarding the treatment of minorities, and their portrayal.

I find it interesting that the racist aspect of this narrative isn’t actually essential to the story– it could be told just about the same, without making stereotypical voices or mentioning the races of the characters.

general
Myths
Narrative

Yugong and the Two Mountains

Yugong was a ninety-year-old man who lived at the north of two high mountains, Mount Taixing and Mount Wangwu.Stretching over a wide expanse of land, the mountains blocked Yugong’s way making it inconvenient for him and his family to get around.

One day yugong gathered his family together and said,”Let’s do our best to level these two mountains. We shall open a road that leads to Yuzhou. What do you think?”

All but his wife agreed with him.”You don’t have the strength to cut even a small mound,” muttered his wife. “How on earth do you suppose you can level Mount Taixin and Mount Wanwu? Moreover, where will all the earth and rubble go?”

“Dump them into the Sea of Bohai!” said everyone.

So Yugong, his sons, and his grandsons started to break up rocks and remove the earth. They transported the earth and rubble to the Sea of Bohai.

Now Yugong’s neighbour was a widow who had an only child eight years old. Even the young boy offered his help eagerly.

Summer went by and winter came. It took Yugong and his crew a full year to travel back and forth once.

On the bank of the Yellow River dwelled an old man much respected for his wisdom. When he saw their back-breaking labour, he ridiculed Yugong saying,”Aren’t you foolish, my friend? You are very old now, and with whatever remains of your waning strength, you won’t be able to remove even a corner of the mountain.”

Yugong uttered a sigh and said,”A biased person like you will never understand. You can’t even compare with the widow’s little boy!””Even if I were dead, there will still be my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, my great great grandchildren. They descendants will go on forever. But these mountains will not grow any taler. We shall level them one day!” he declared with confidence.

The wise old man was totally silenced.

When the guardian gods of the mountains saw how determined Yugong and his crew were, they were struck with fear and reported the incident to the Emperor of Heavens. Filled with admiration for Yugong, the Emperor of Heavens ordered two mighty gods to carry the mountains away.

This is an interesting myth, and it seems like it tells more than just a lesson about morals, but also about the importance of lineage.

Legends
Narrative

Bigfoot

He’s just a furry guy that walks around the Santa Cruz Mountains. All I can picture is Chewbacca in my mind because they kind of resemble each other a bit. It’s something I remember from my childhood as being a big story, and they even have a museum in the Santa Cruz mountains. We used to go backpacking all the time when I was a kid, and it used to be a big thing, back in the 70s. It seemed like people were actively searching for him.

The legend of bigfoot is very popular and widespread, but I hadn’t heard the variation that he lives in the Santa Cruz mountains. I usually only heard that he lived in the Pacific Northwest, like Oregon or Washington.

 

Legends

Virgin Mary Miracle on the Moon

The following is an interview between me and of friend of mine, Anthony, over at the Caruso Catholic Center. He was getting ready to help host an event, but said he had a few minutes to talk about some folklore that he remembered from his childhood.

Anthony: “I remember… there was a–um– I don’t know if this qualifies, but, I remember in the… I think it was the 80’s or early 90’s… there was this–um– what people were saying The Virgin Mary was doing a miracle on the moon– with the moon, and that it was kind of like glowing or something like that– when I was a kid, yeah this was a thing, it was on the news and stuff like that. You might be able to find something about that.”

Me: “Do you know, like, what the significance of that was? Um– who did you hear it from?”

Anthony: “Well, like, I remember, um– people were going outside, uh, I don’t know if it was… if we were at church or whatever, but, um, people were like.. I think that we were at church, and they… in the evening…”

Me: “It was a Catholic Church?”

Anthony: “Yeah. And people were going outside to try to see if they could see it. ‘Cuz there were reports that… The Virgin Mary was… doing a miracle (laughs).”

Me: “Did anybody you know ever claim to have seen her?”

Anthony: “Um… it’s– I feel like like some people in the group, you know, I felt like, if I squinted I was like, ‘I think I see it!’ but I don’t know if as a kid I was trying to see it I was like, ‘I think I see it,’ you know, I didn’t really know.”

Me: “Did it give you any kind of, like, good luck or anything… to see it?”

Anthony: “You know, sometimes when I see the moon I’ll do the same thing, like… (squints and points) what, was that just it again?! Or is it just, you know, or is it more my eyes doin’ somethin’ weird. Um– But, I don’t know, that was an instance when I remember something kinda out of the ordinary.”

I thought it was interesting to see this report going around Anthony’s neighborhood as one of those things that sort of creates competition amongst children’s friend groups; where, if you saw this certain thing, it almost means that you’re special, or somehow attuned to the supernatural. Regardless of whether or not some kind of miracle was happening on the moon, the real folk activity happening is this competition of who can actually see her. Additionally, since the moon is so far away, it provides enough ambiguity for these children to say whatever they want, and no one can really prove them otherwise, especially since the rumor was shared and made socially credible by every individual who had seen the news report.

 

 

Legends
Narrative

The Cuco (Puerto Rican Legend)

The following is an interview that took place between me and my co-worker, Danielle, during our night shift at the School of Cinematic Arts Operations desk:

Danielle: “The Cuco is a Puerto Rican legend that basically, when a child misbehaves, the Cuco lives somewhere in the house or… in the surrounding area, and it’s basically, ‘if you don’t do what I say, the Cuco’s gonna get you.’ And it’s… like,  shapeless, and it’s whatever the child imagines it to be– to maximize the fear, and for them to do whatever it is that you want them to do.”

Me: “So, why do you know or like this piece?”

Danielle: “I know it because–um– a few years ago my friend… said it to her younger cousin–um–she, like, brought her cousin to my house and the little girl wasn’t listening, and my friend was like, ‘You have to listen to me or the Cuco’s gonna get you!’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and my grandma from upstairs, like– heard it and, like, perked up and she was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and my friend was like, ‘The Cuco.” My grandma was like, ‘Don’t say that in my house!” And I said, ‘Well do you know what this is?’ and my grandma was like, ‘Yeah, like, it’s a monster that my–,” –her mother had frightened her with, and so she promised herself she would never tell her kids about it. And so the first time we had heard it was because my friend used it–um– and my grandma was kind of upset. Uh, but that’s also kind of why I like it is because… I found it funny (laughs) that my grandma was personally offended to hear the name under her roof.”

Me: “That’s really cool. And, did you say you were from Puerto Rico?”

Danielle: “I’m from New York, my grandma’s from Puerto Rico. But, my heritage is Puerto Rican.”

I found it really interesting how individually Danielle, her friend, and her grandmother each had different ways of looking at how the Cuco affects people. Danielle’s friend used it as a means to babysit her cousin, while her grandmother sought to abandon the legend in how she raised her children because of whatever negative effects it had on her childhood. On the other hand, Danielle saw the Cuco as amusing, and a fun way to get to know her family’s, and more specifically her grandmother’s, view of their heritage.

Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Whoppers

The following is from an interview between me and my friend, Brie, while I walked with her to the grocery store. She told me about a tradition in her family of telling stories called “Whoppers”, which were kind of like campfire stories. Her grandfather, or “papa”, was the one to mainly uphold this tradition within the family.

Brie: “In my family we always told ‘Whoppers’, so we’d always tell, like, stories around the campfire.”

Me: “‘Whoppers’, it was called?”

Brie: “Whoppers. And basically they’re just not true stories. And… he was really good at that, my papa…”

Me: “Can you give me an example of a Whopper?”

Brie: “The Green Monster…”

Me: “The what?”

Brie: “He would always say, like, The Green— or, what was it…? The Shadow… my papa would do this voice, like (raspy), ‘The Shadow,’ and it was like… I’m trying to remember. It was just terrifying. But… hold on, let me think real quick…”

Me: “How do you spell ‘Whopper’?”

Brie: “‘Whopper’? Um– I think, like a– you know, like a ‘Double Whopper’.”

Me: “Oh ok, like Burger King?”

Brie: (Laughs very hard) “Yep. No, it was just a thing in my family, telling Whoppers. I never was good at it, but my cousins would come up with really good Whoppers.”

Me: “Do you know where–uh– where your grandfather got, like, the term ‘Whopper’ from? Did he just make that up or what was it?”

Brie: “So he grew up in, like, South Boston… one of eight kids, and… you know, Scotch family, Catholic, um… he… I don’t– I think it was his dad that began the Whoppers.”

Me: “What made a good Whopper?”

Brie: “A good Whopper was, like, got you on the edge of your seat, like… you know, it was kinda scary, kinda suspenseful, but also, like, funny and far-fetched. So a little of, like, all of that, kinda.”

It was really cool to see that, basically, just by assigning a name to the more general idea of campfire stories, Brie’s family created a kind of tradition that was all their own.

[geolocation]