Category Archives: Signs

Prognostications, fortune-telling, etc.

Naming your children with things like water for good personalities

HK: Chinese people are really superstitious about how you name your child––so all the Chinese children have like, names that are made up of Chinese characters, right? And within those characters, there are characters that mean certain things.

MW: What’s your name?

HK: Well, let’s just say that basically my name has a lot of fire character in it. Too much probably, that’s probably why I’m such a bitch.

MW: Haha. So then what did you name your kids?

HK: All my kids, we decided, had to have water in their names. In Chinese you know it as the part of the character, the “radical,” known as san dian shui. It’s basically three dots at the edge of some characters that denotate that the character is related to water. We did that so they would balance me out. Cause now I’m such a bitch, by my kids are pretty cool. Keeps the family balanced.

MW: And how does this make you feel?

HK: Well, again, it’s that superstition feeling where you feel like you should just do it because if you don’t you worry about what might happen, and then otherwise your mother in law can blame everything bad that happens on you because you didn’t name your kids water or whatever. But they all have nice names. I like them.

Background:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. 

Context

HK now lives in Texas––I collected this story over a Zoom call. She has been one of my mother’s closest friends since college, and often, they would commiserate together with all of my other Chinese aunties about certain things their Chinese parents would make them do, or general annoyance over Chinese tradition. This was one of those calls.

Thoughts:

With a lot of other superstitions from any culture, you do it to avoid a consequence; but with names, it’s more fun, especially if you’re born in America. American names generally don’t have any meaning, or at least any meaning that everyone knows. In Chinese, every name means something, and generally, everyone knows that meaning. So of course there will be superstitions surrounding names because the meanings are so clear, but it adds a lot of beauty to the literal title of your identity. It’s something that I feel like a lot of Americans might miss out on.

Gender predictions

Background: Informant is a Mexican-American mother of 3. Her knowledge of this gender prediction comes from her mother.

Main Piece:

Informant: When I was pregnant with my second child, everyone told me I was having another boy. They said my stomach was “carrying low”, which is an indicator of a boy. My mom really believed that I was having a boy, but I was certain I was having a girl so my mom told me to try some gender predictions.

Interviewer: What kind of gender predictions?

Informant: She told me I should first, try and see if my son was more attached to me, because if he was then that is suppose to mean I am having a girl. Another prediction she told me was to grab a thin strand of hair and loop it through my wedding ring, and hold to over my palm. If the ring started to circle it means a girl, and if it swings side to side then it means boy.

Interviewer: So did the gender predictions predict boy or girl? Were they right?

Informant: They both pointed to signs of a baby girl. They were right, but I don’t really think they are accurate. I really just had a gut feeling I was having a girl and did the gender predictions for fun.

Context: Interviewer asked informant about gender myths.

Thoughts: Gender predictions do not seem something to take too serious. They seem like, harmless fun games to do. Especially with modern technology their is fast and easy ways to actually find out the gender. I think gender predictions shouldn’t be trusted for accuracy.

Mexican proverb

Main piece: 

“Más vale que la lleves y no la ocupes a que no la lleves y la necesites” 

Transliteration:

More better that the takes and no the uses to that no the takes and the needs

Full translation:

It’s better to have it and not use it than having to use it and not having it 

Background: My informant here was my grandma who’s staying with us during COVID-19. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico but lives in the U.S. with us for the most part. This recorded proverb wasn’t really an interview. I heard her say it to my mom during mid sentence and I was able to catch on to it. After I asked my grandma to repeat it for me so I can jot it down. She added that she learned it “a long time ago” and that because of it she’s always prepared for everything. 

Context: My mom was going shopping and paying bills. It was mid to late afternoon and the sun was still. She was saying bye to us when my grandma asked “do you have a sweater” to which my mom replied “no, it’s still kind of warm” and my grandma countered with the transcribed proverb and my mom ended up taking it (although I think she did just to please my grandma). 

Thoughts: I’ve heard the proverb many times, usually because my mom tells it to me when I go out. And after analyzing it a little more, I guess it’s true. It’s better to be prepared, even over prepared,  than to need something and not have it (unprepared). For example, in the case of taking a sweater when you go out. Sometimes you don’t use the sweater and you just carry it along with you. But other times, maybe it gets cold or it rains and you happen to take the sweater, so you put it on. It is in these scenarios where you benefit a lot.

Crow Heralding Visitors

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father. He was introduced to  this during his childhood while travelling to his grandmother’s village.

Background: This information was about a common superstition that he heard from his grandmother when he arrived at her house. Upon his arrival with his brother, his grandmother exclaimed that she had already known visitors would arrive because she had seen the signs described in the superstition below.

Main piece: 

If a crow comes and sits down somewhere in front of the house and begins to caw vigorously, it means that a visitor will be arriving shortly.

Analysis: This is an interesting superstition because it seems to be a Hindu or at least an Indian superstition. Although the people are majority Muslim in Pakistan, Hindu and Indian superstitions and ideas are still very ingrained in culture. However, some sources say that the cawing of crows heralds uninvited or unwanted visitors, while my father’s grandmother was very happy to see them and attributed their arrival to the cawing of the crows. Perhaps this is a slight difference in that she didn’t view the omen as negatively as some might. 

Saying “Merde” Instead of “Break A Leg” for Ballet

Main Piece:

Saying “Merde” to ballet dancers in place of “Good luck” or “Break a leg”

Background:

This saying was told to me by my informant who has participated in various dance groups for close to 13 years. She is most formally trained in ballet through a local performing arts center known as KCYA. She learned this saying growing up through this system and hearing it said by those with more experience as well as through her mother who used to perform ballet as well. The idea is that traditionally, ballet dancers would perform in large operas visited by upper class individuals and nobility. Due to their primary method of transport being horse-drawn carriage, the ideal situation was to see a lot of horse droppings outside as it meant a lot of people were coming to see the performance and merde means shit in French, where a lot of ballet originated. While obviously this does not apply now, it stuck around as a method of saying good luck for ballet specifically.

Context:

Having known my informant for several years, I knew of the phrase but did not know the context or the literal translation for several years until she told me after a performance. I asked her to tell me even more during a recent phone call conversation which is how I got most of my information above.

Thoughts:

I feel this piece examplarizes the use of folklore as a means of determining who is in or outside of a community. While ballet could be as easily grouped in with other performing arts, those within the community use this a way of identifying themselves as unique. This identity is also supported by the phrase’s history with ballet as it goes as far back as the perceived glory days of ballet where it was performed for nobility. In this regard, saying merde to other dancers is a method of keeping the tradition of ballet alive. Finally, my informant believes that the use of this phrase over the traditional “break a leg” is also in part a result of avoiding any superstition concerning any bodily harm coming to the dancer. Ballet dancers must endure severe physical exercise to perform their dances and while “break a leg” does not mean to literally break a leg, the superstition is that by even saying that it might cause one to suffer an injury and be unable to dance ballet again. In this regard, the phrase also shows the elitism sometimes displayed with ballet wherein they require those with the most skill and physical ability to be able to perform.

Using a string and piece of string to predict the gender of a baby

Main Piece

Informant: So you put a ring on a string. You loop it and then you hang it in front of the pregnant woman by her stomach-but don’t let it touch the stomach. If it motions sideways then it means it is a girl, but if it motions front and back it is supposed to be a boy. They say the energy of the baby swings the ring, that is kind of what they say causes it.

Interviewer: Was it ever done on you? 

Informant: It was never done on myself, but I saw it done on others. It was really popular at baby showers if the Mother was dying to know, and it was almost like a game. I guess before sonograms that is how they did it, haha. I just think the unknown of wanting to know the gender before the technology caused it. Is there any scientific proof that will cause the ring to sway a different way, I don’t know. 

Background

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

I remember seeing this practice done at one of my older cousin’s baby showers, and I asked the informant more about it. From what I remember, the ring accurately predicted the gender of the baby as it was before they revealed or found out the gender of the baby.

Analysis

This folk belief is a perfect example of signs, and using material objects in order to predict the future. I think it is interesting that this practice is usually done at baby showers almost as a game, as it continues to foster the belief that magic and witchcraft are associated with the female gender. This practice is still used in our family and in baby showers as a fun game, and it is one usually passed down in Mexican families as well.

Champagne Cork Game

Main Piece: Informant recalls the game of catching the champagne cork

Informant- So whenever we have champagne to open my sisters and I immediately run outside and prepare for the fun cork catching game. My father stands on one side of the yard and my siblings and I wait on the other. He opens the champagne, the cork flies, and we all scramble around trying to catch it. Whoever catches the cork is given good luck! 

Interviewer- When do you play the game? 

Informant- Usually whenever my dad pulls out the champagne, we are celebrating something. Whether it is good weather, luck with work, or a simple good mood the champagne represents happiness and celebration in my family. This drink comes with the fun lucky game of catching the cork. 

Interviewer- Do you try to win? Do you believe in the luck of the cork? 

Informant- Oh I always try to win. I love any opportunity to mess around with my siblings. I usually win the cork and love the feeling of catching it. I dont know is I particularly believe that it brings me luck but I feel great and love the celebration! 

Background: The informant is the eldest daughter of a large family with two younger sisters. She recalls playing the game with her sisters many times throughout childhood. She explains that as the eldest child she always wins and gets the corks good luck. She learned this game from her father and shares it with her friends. She remembers using the game as a playful release, pushing over sibling or wrestling for the best spot to catch it. The game is important to her because it is a happy way to celebrate opening champagne with friends or family. 

Context: The informant is 25 years old and the oldest of three daughters. The piece is recorded from her memory of playing the game. She recalls playing the game outside because the cork could break something or the champagne could spill. The game is usually played with a group of 2 or more ‘catchers’ and one person opening the bottle. She explains that her father is usually the one opening the bottle and she takes that role when playing the game with friends. 

Thoughts: This game was an important part of their childhood connecting the siblings as well as the father with his kids. It is important for parents to pass down fond memories, connecting them to their own childhood. The game is very simple and the folk belief is carried with the lucky powers of the cork. I am unsure if the player who catches the cork is given luck in reality. But this does give the person a chance to be celebrated. 

Green Doors at Loyola University

Main Piece:

TF, a freshman at Loyola University Chicago, explains the lore of the Green Doors at Cudahy Library.

“So there are these green doors to our library and they only open on the first day of classes and on graduation every year. So on the first day of classes, freshmen will walk through them into the library. Then on graduation, the seniors will walk through them out of the library.”

Context:

TF is a freshman at Loyola University Chicago. She is a relative of mine and is in her first year in college. As a freshman she would have participated in the Green Door tradition very recently.

Thoughts

As a USC student, we do not have many traditions like this one. These is not many things or places that we can only go at certain times in our education. The concept of going through the doors represents how they are starting and ending their education through the same doors of the university. What this reminds me of is my college tours during my junior and senior year of high school when tour guides mentioned similar things such as seals and places that you are forbidden to go with the risk of not graduating if you go there. For Instance, Boston University has a legend where stepping on the university seal can put your graduation at risk (see http://www.bu.edu/articles/2019/boston-university-seal/).

Chinese Housewarming Tradition

Main Piece:

According to RE, there is a Chinese tradition for when you buy a home. “When you first buy a house, before you enter for the first time you have to throw new, shiny coins into the house then the first three items you bring in is oil, sugar, and rice. The meaning behind it is that the coins bring money into the house. Oil sugar and rice bring prosperity.”

Context:

RE, is a sophomore at USC and is familiar with Chinese traditions. She is very invested in this culture and knows a lot about it. This was taken from a conversion over text regarding these traditions.

Thoughts:

I think this traditions is interesting. One thing I know about eastern cultures is that they have values and traditions that have to go with omens. One trend I notice is that omens play a big part in their lives whether good or bad. Symbolize matters a lot and this piece speaks to that part of Chinese culture. Throwing new coins into the house as the first item is obviously a symbol of money, which is a goal for people in life. Another symbol is the oil, sugar, and rice. These being signs of prosperity make sense as they are basic ingredients in food. Prosperity is the idea of living a good life and the start to that is always having food on the table. This helps add to the idea that symbols play a huge role in Eastern Asian culture.

Bottle Flipping – Find out if girls like you

Main text:

BR: At my old high school, we’d do this thing called bottle flipping…

MW: Oh yeah! We did that too. Was that just like a NorCal thing or…?

BR: I mean I don’t know, but we’d do it and kids would be flipping these dumb bottles everywhere and the goal was to flick a plastic bottle upwards and have it land on its bottom again. And they boys would be like, oh, if I flip it and it lands right it means she likes me…

MW: Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve never heard that version before…in my school we just did it to do it, you know? There’d be bottles, like, stuck in weird places because of it…

BR: haha. Yeah, all the band kids did it. It’s actually kinda funny because it’s actually kinda hard to get the bottle to land right, so it means, or like was implying, that girls weren’t liking guys back. Especially the band kids.

Background:

The informant, BR, was born and raised in the Bay Area, specifically El Cerrito (the East Bay). He remembers this tradition specifically because it was a fun bonding activity, and also a meme at the time. He looks back on this memory fondly. 

Context

This story was brought up in a FaceTime call. I asked the informant what traditions he remembered in high school, to see if we could cross compare since I went to high school not too far from where he did (San mateo).

Thoughts:

Upon further research, I believe that bottle flipping was done across America, maybe even more globally. It was perpetuated by the internet and made into one of the most popular memes of 2016. I think that BR’s school’s addition of having a girl like you back is really funny because it is so reminiscent of other children’s superstitious games. As we talked about in class, a lot of childrens’ superstition (especially girls’) revolves around who you will marry or relationships, etc. I think it’s just so fascinating that something as seemingly dumb as bottle flipping was able to work its way into that same pattern, probably just because it’s something the youth was doing. It’s also interesting to note that this phenomenon applied mostly to boys getting girls to like them back, as usually it’s a “girl’s game” that involves relationship fortune telling, as we talked about in class. 

(For an example of bottle flipping, please see this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp5QMSbf-a0