USC Digital Folklore Archives / Humor
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

Stubborn as a mule

The informant, J, is 18 years old born and raised in Coachella, California. His mom is from Delano, California, while his dad is from Indio, California. He is majoring in Print and Digital Journalism with a Media, Economics, and Entrepreneurship minor. He also considers himself Mexican.

J-“In the Mexican folklore there is a saying, ‘mas terco que una mula’. It means more stubborn than a mule in English”

What does the saying mean to you?

J-“It literally means what it translates to. It means that someone is being very stubborn or hard-headed and doesn’t want to change how they are thinking”

When would you use this?

J-“You would tell someone they are more stubborn than a mule, again if they are being really stubborn and don’t want to listen to reason. If they keep insisting about something and they want to be right all the time. I always yell this at my brother since he’s always thinking that he is always right”

Analysis- It can be seen that the proverb originated in a specific area of Mexico at a specific time. Mules were used to help with farming and pulling the ploughs. They are also known to be very stubborn and do not like to listen or do what the owner wants them to. Farming is also more common in northern Mexico. Therefore, the proverb must have originated somewhere in northern Mexico during the farming period before the industrialism changed agriculture and machines, instead of mules or donkeys, were used to turn the fields and harvest the crops.

general
Humor

Lights off on Elm Street

Folk Piece

“The movie nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in my town, on Elm Street. One of the things that’s been a legend on elm street is that cars would be driving on Elm Street, like at night, and there would be a car behind them and they could see it and they could see it, and then all of a sudden it would just disappear. And suddenly someone would appear in front of their car. It was just like super freaky, and I don’t know, that’s just one of the stories that I’ve heard. So my friend tried to like fuck with people at night because he had an all black car that was really quiet. So he could like drive up right behind people and when there was nowhere to turn or anything he would turn off his lights and just roll on behind them and people would like pull over and freak out that he was like gone, but he was actually there the whole time”

 

Background information

The informant began by saying “Well, my town is boring, I don’t think we really have many cool stories or anything… Well, we did have Elm Street from that movie.” She had said that she’d never seen the movie, but that it had an impact on the way that people thought about the street. Especially kids her age, that weren’t born for another decade after the movies’ premiere, would tell stories of Elm Street, but not necessarily ones that originated from the movie.

 

Context

“No, it wasn’t just my friend, a lot more people did it. But, like, he just drove down it a lot and yeah, he did a few times.” She said that the prank itself was done by a lot of people, mostly older high schoolers, though. She had never witnessed it herself, but only heard about it.

 

Analysis

Pranks, or practical jokes, are performed for a variety of different reasons. In this circumstance, the prank is driven by a legend about a mysterious figure that would appear in front of people’s cars on the street where A Nightmare on Elm Street takes place. The legend is so widely known, that the exploitation of a plot point in the story can lead to drivers becoming very scared. It is interesting to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have a scene where there are cars driving down the road and the lights turn off. The original authored story transformed the street itself into somewhat of a legend, which in turn was exploited as a prank. This transition from authored material, to legend, to prank could be explored further with more data from other town members.

Also interesting is that older high schoolers are the one performing this prank. Presumably, these are drivers that had just acquired their license and are given some autonomy. That they take this new found freedom and also exploit it for humor and rebellion shows why this might be such a popular prank in this town.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

If it bleeds, it leads

“If it bleeds, it leads” is a common saying in American newsrooms and TV stations.

My informant is my mother, a 60-year old woman who spent most of her career working in print journalism. She learned the saying upon entering the industry in the early 1970’s. It was often performed by one journalist to another to explain why something violent had recently ended up on the front page, as opposed to other pieces written that day. My informant explained the saying as thus:

“That’s really a TV thing but it’s certainly true with the paper too. It’s true with print also. So the idea is that if there’s been violence, if somebody was shot or killed or hurt, that that would be the thing that would take dominance in the news.”

I asked her what she thought of this phenomenon:

“Yeah, so that’s—it’s a very unfortunate development in news because obviously it means that we—not that the death of somebody isn’t important but the idea that that would be—that that would dominate over bigger issues is very harmful.”

Recalling this saying brought this thought to my informant’s mind:

“It’s interesting to think of how many death images there are. You have a deadline, things are killed, yeah…”

This saying speaks to the universal human interest in violence, and the way in which news outlets have adapted to meet that morbid curiosity. Furthermore, “If it bleeds, it leads” is short, unfeeling, and declarative. It’s an example of the cynical, tough-talking, macho atmosphere that my informant describes pervading newsrooms in America. I’m not surprised that she recalled this saying with a laugh. It probably reminds her of the intensity of her old journalist friends and the environment in which they worked. This phrase also speaks to the hardening of the journalist. They encounter a lot of awful things in this world, and must get used to it in order to write about them objectively. There’s also something morbidly funny about this phrase, and my mother laughed when recalling it. Reporters have to develop a sense of humor about things if they are going to, day in and day out, face and report on the cruelty of the world.

Folk medicine
general
Humor
Proverbs

Sana Sana, colita de rana

Proverb

 

Nationality- Mexico

Primary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Construction Worker

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 3/17/16

 

Sana sana, colita de rana, si no sana hoy, sanera manana.

Translation- There there, ass of a frog, if it does not feel better today, it will tomorrow

This proverb was told by Francisco Garcia, he has heard it from hundreds of people in his city Zacatecas, Mexico. He typically heard it when he was a child and injured himself. A lot of times, they could not afford medicine or any treatment so his parents would just chant the proverb and he would believe he would feel better and stop crying. He knows that a lot of people from different cultures use the same proverb in order to let their child know that the pain and injury is not permanent because it will heal and feel better the next day. He first heard it when he was about 4 or 5 years old and has told it to other children as well as his own. If he ever comes in contact with a child that has  hurt himself, many times all it takes is saying the proverb and the child will cease to cry or feel hurt.

When Francisco had said the proverb, he says it with a smile on his face to let the listener who that he is smiling because he knows everything will be okay. You usually have to rub the spot that is in pain or their head and maybe say it multiple times if it really hurts until they stop sobbing or focusing on the pain.

Francisco is from Mexico and has heard it many times where he is from. I have heard it hundreds of times as well as a child when I would injure myself. My mother, auntie or any other close relative would chant the proverb to me and I felt that I was going to be okay despite the pain. My mother and auntie are from Honduras and they have heard it when they were children as well. The proverb has almost been to every Latin American Country and has spread to the United States. That is amazing since it is just one sentence that has been able to travel so far and serve as a placebo for many children. The chant has not changed much either since it is very simple and difficult to alter.

Folk Beliefs
Humor
Legends

El Raton

Fairy Tale

 

Nationality- Honduras

Primary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Factory Worker

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 3/19/16

El raton

Translation-The rat

One day, when i was 6 years old and my first tooth started to wiggle. I told my mom and she said that i have to keep shaking it each day so it can fall off smoothly. And that once it came off nicely, I should put it under my pillow and “the raton” would come and get it and once it was gone, he would leave me some coins as a thank you. The first day I did, when I woke up i found 4 coins under my pillow and kept doing it until i was 13. Every time I would put it in my pillow i would get money and wondered how a rat was able to do that. I believed it had to be a magical rat. After i turned 13, I realized that it was my mom the whole time because I saw her putting money under my sister’s pillow when she was sleeping. My sister had just took out one of her tooths and put it under her pillow. Even though I figured that out, I still never told my sister because I thought she would enjoy the fact that the magical rat still comes to give her money, especially since she was 6. I told my mother about it and she was surprised when I told her i know but knew it would happen eventually. She also told me not to tell my sister and I agreed with her because I too still wanted my sister to believe in it.

Reina Centeno is from Honduras. She has lived there till she was about 20 and then moved to the United States. Her mother was the one who told her about the raton and made her believe in it. She loved believing in the raton because removing her teeth was one of the worst things she had to go through but knowing that she was going to get money and a visit from a magical creature made it worth it and try to remove her tooth as fast as possible. Having better teeth was a plus as well. She learned this fairy tale from her mother who learned it from her mother. It has been passed down two generations and she also told her son about it.

When Reina told me the story, she said it with a big grin on her face because it reminded her of the good times she had as a child and her time in Honduras. She has not been there in over 30 years yet still remembers everything perfectly. She tells the story with happiness and laughs at how gullible she was as a child. Along with the fact that she got her own son into believing it.

Hearing Reina tell me her story was delightful because my mother also told me the same tale when I was a child. Reina Centeno and my mother are sisters and maybe it was because of her not telling my mother that the raton was fake at an early age was the reason my mother passed it on to me. It is such a great tale since it really does make going through the teeth removal process worth it. In Honduras, many can not afford to go to a dentist so they have to tough it out and remove the teeth themselves. El raton is basically the same thing as a tooth fairy that is very popular in America considering there are a multitude of movies, books, and stories about it. Fairies are not very popular in countries like Honduras so they had to make another version which so happened to involve a rat. Obviously not as popular as a fairy which is why there are not any famous films abou it. But in spanish culture, he is very popular as “El Ratoncito Perez” or “El Ratoncito”. El raton had originated from Madrid in the 19th century and is still spread to this day. People who immigrate to the United States have only helped spread the folklore. It is amazing how a few stories can shape the way a culture thinks about certain aspects of life.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday Ritual

 

Primary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Factory Worker

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 3/19/16

Every Time it is someone’s birthday, you have to sing Haaaappy Birthday to you, Haaaaappy Birthday to you, Haaaaapppy Birthday to Anthony, Happy Birthday to you. Ya queremos pastel! (Translation- We want cake now!) Shortly after you blow the candles, everyone chants, que lo muerda, que lo muerda (Translation- bite the cake) and when they go in for a bite, you grab the back of the person’s head and slam their head into the cake. After that, we start to cut pieces off the cake where the face did not touch and give a slice to everyone. In Honduras, it was the same tradition except we said feliz cumplanos which is just happy birthday but in spanish.

The happy birthday song alway brings a smile on anyone’s face because it is the time of the year where you celebrate the day you were born. Reina loves to go birthday parties and sing happy birthday, especially the recording of when their faces get plastered on the cake. She learned the song when she was in Honduras from her mother who would sing happy birthday to her along with her other relatives and bought a cake to eat as well. The song means a lot to her because in Honduras, they did not have the money to throw any parties but they had enough to buy a cake so to be able to do the same here and much more makes her feel happy and remember the celebrations she had with her mother.

When performing the happy birthday song, you must say it with a group a people while the birthday person sits in front of the birthday cake. While the candles are lit on the cake, before they blow it, you must sing the song, let them blow the candles, and tell them to bite the cake. Even if they do bite the cake, it’s tradition to just smash their face on the cake either way. Then everyone screams from laughter, takes pictures, and eats the cake that does not have any face on it.

I have had a lot of experience from this birthday celebration since my aunt Reina has celebrated almost every birthday with me. Her husband has usually been the one who bought the cake for us. I have also had an enormous amount of cake in my face. My mother also sings the same song and everyone does the same performance at any hispanic birthday party. It even happens for grown people because the tradition will most likely never change. There are a couple alterations such as saying cha cha cha after you say happy birthday in the song, but in our family, we just clap three times instead. One thing that will most likely never change is the fact that the birthday person must get cake on their face somehow. Finding the root for the tradition through history would be difficult, there is also no particular reason for why it happens. It is all in good fun and just keeps the party going. The face smashing also creates memories in which tons of pictures are taken. The singing is also very special because everyone can have a meaningful birthday celebration despite their income with the song and a cake. The photo uploaded is a picture of my last birthday party where my family and friends completely masked my face with cake. There is almost no chance of escaping so sometimes it is best to just take it in and laugh at it later. This long simple tradition will be maintained in my family for generations to come.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Foodways
general
Humor
Material
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

The Story of Pina (Philippines)

Michelle De La Cruz

25 Years Old

 

 

The Story of Pina

 

“There is an old story my grandmother use to tell me, it was about pineapples and working hard. I’m sure the details vary, and I am positive the names were ones my grandmother chose because it was names from her favorite books as a child I think… these names were familiar to us in a lot of her stories. It loosely went something along these lines: Once in a mystic jungle near the beach on the sands of the Philippines lived a man and a woman named June, and Mara. They weren’t very rich, they weren’t very powerful, but they were two of the hardest working people in their village, and everyone loved them for it. Every day they would farm and work hard to keep a healthy livestock, to sell back to the village, and the village appreciated how hard they worked. One day, while sitting in their hut, enjoying dinner, Mara turns to June and says (I have great news, you’re going to be a father!) “aking mahal ako ay may magandang balita , ang iyong pagpunta sa maging isang ama” They cried tears of joy, and for the first two years they lived in pure bliss with Pina, their new baby girl. Sadly June grew sick, and when Pina was only two they lost his light from the family.

“Poor Mara had to continue without him. She was a hard working woman who always did what she had to make sure little Pina never grew up without a thing, she worked to always put food on the table and made sure the house was always clean for her daughter. Though she never asked for much from Pina, Mara rarely complained, because she was always willing to do what was needed to have ends meet. As the years passed she began to do everything for Pina. So much that Pina never wanted to do anything for herself. She grew lazy and refused to look for things. Mara would ask Pina to help her with sweeping the hut, but Pina said she could not find the broom sitting right in front of her. Mara asked Pina to wash her clothes, but she said she couldn’t find the soap. Pina was so lazy, she said she couldn’t find things sitting right in front of her nose.

“One day her mother because very ill. So ill she was stuck in bed, crying from pain. She yelled for Pina to help. “Pina, please help me, I am took sick to do it my self and I am so desperate for porridge. “ Pina heard but did not reply. After several minutes of silence Mara grew angered and called for Pina to come to her room. “I’m too weak Pina, please, I need food.” “That’s so much work, I don’t want to make you food,” Pina replied. “Don’t be lazy Pina, all you have to do is put water and rice to boil, and stir it with the ladle every so often. I just need food to eat. Please Pina, I am too weak to make it myself. “ Pina didn’t like hearing she was lazy, so she ran into the kitchen and began banging around drawers and pots. “I don’t see the ladle. This is too hard for me right now. Its not fair!” “It’s in the drawer Pina, it’s always right there! Just look! Please.” Mara sighed and cried to herself, “I wish you would grow a thousand eyes all over your head! Then you can find what you’re looking for. Maybe then you won’t have any excuses!” an hour went by and Mara suspected Pina had been too quiet- she must have run away to play with a friend. Mara pushed herself up from bed and sluggishly went to the kitchen and began cleaning up the tantrum Pina had left behind. She slowly looked around at the mess and sighed, “She probably went to a friend’s house so I wouldn’t make her clean all this up.” She made her food and went back to bed.

“She slept with a fever all night, and in the morning when she woke, her fever was gone. She walked outside and called for Pina, but still no response or Pina. She looked out into the backyard and saw a tree growing from the Pina’s favorite play spot. For weeks she mourned over the thought of her daughter running away because she thought she was so terrible, she vowed she would never make Pina do another thing again. She broke her back cleaning the house, and every night she made Pina’s favorite food, in hopes she would forgive her and come home. One day, she was sweeping the backyard where Pina used to play, for months now the strange plant had been growing and by this time the leaves of the plant had fully opened. Inside, she saw this strange yellow fruit that resembled a child’s head with a thousand eyes. Mara shrieked as she walked towards the fruit remembering what curse she wished upon her daughter. From this day on the Magical fruit was named Pina or Pineapple, celebrated as a reminder to always work hard and not be lazy. As well as reminding you to never wish harm unto others, and learn to control your temper when mad.”

 

“Sometimes I think I work really hard and really put my all into things because I the back of my mind I don’t want any one turning me into a lazy pineapple. As a kid I enjoyed eating pineapples, this story made me feel like when I did I was eating lazy kids. Didn’t really freak me out though, and to this day that is why some times I am myself lazy, because I ate too much of it right out of pineapples as a kid. My grandma would always joke, pineapples aren’t before work food, they are an after work treat for that reason. If you eat them before you do your work, it will never get done. She used to always say that because pineapple have so many eyes they are good for you to see better… so she would say “Chelle, clean your glasses off and eat some pineapple, maybe then you will see…” it was always a weird thing to my friends, but I still relate this story to why pineapples are my favorite fruit and why I always think of it as a fruit to eat in celebration of a job well done!

“My grandma used to tell us these stories while we cooked. And this was one she chose when ever we wished harm on one other of if none of us helped out she would threaten to wish us into pineapples. Also some times when we wanted to eat pineapples we would make her tell it so we could joke about eating kids and being lazy cannibals… my cousins and I are really weird haha! I can remember most the words in fluent Tagalog, but as the years passed and I grew less fluent it became more and more English .. except for that one line I remember verbally in Tagalog. My grandma would always say that line as if she was saying it to grandpa. I know for sure my grandma changed stuff because she always gave character names but I remember another friend at church told me she had heard of it when she was young. So I think the story exists in other families too. I don’t think my grandfather’s side has that story, though. I remember we talked about that at her funeral reception.”

 

Origin: as far as Michelle knows, there are many stories based on fruit in the Philippines.

 

Analysis: This seems to be a cautionary tale for children, as well as an entertaining one that explains the origins of a popular fruit. It is a good bit of narrative family folklore, and although the names were chosen at will by the grandmother, the story itself is fairly well known in the Philippines. As they were immigrants, it was a helpful way to keep oral traditions alive and tie them back to the community they had left. It is a fable, as it tries to impart lessons onto the children that they carry with them: do not be lazy and don’t wish harm unto others rashly.

 

For another version of this story, please see Philippine Myth on the Origin of the Pineapple, online at http://www.philippinesinsider.com/myths-folklore-superstition/philippine-myth-on-the-origin-of-the-pineapple/

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“And the Volga empties into the Caspian Sea”

Alexey Sinyagin

 

Proverb:  “Волга впадает в Каспийское море”

Phonetic: “Volga vpadayet v Kaspiyskoye morye”

“Yeah, and the Volga empties out into the Caspian Sea”

 

Meaning: This proverb is used in a sarcastic way, as a way to signify that you are stating the obvious.

 

Background: This is used between any people in Russia, and references their formal geographic education, which is very strong in Russia and is sometimes mocked because it often lacks practical uses. In addition, Russian formal education often focuses on rote memorization of facts, and knowledge like this would be an example of pointless information that nonetheless everybody knew.

 

Analysis: This mockery of the redundant brings attention to the Russian value of brevity and modesty: at least in respect to not showing off useless facts. Russian humour is often wry and employs irony, so overstated or over-important people will often find themselves mocked. At the same time, the fact that everybody knows a fact like this is a reference to the fact that Russia is such a huge land that learning all of its geography is something many students resent. Comparing such unwanted knowledge, which is also commonly known, is more likely to make the person stating a different obvious fact feel ashamed, and likely feel like a teacher or authority figure. These figures are not usually seen favorably in Russian society on the part of those who they teach or are supposed to control.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“Con el nopal en la frente”

Araceli Del Rio

“Con el nopal en la frente”

Translation: “with a cactus on the forehead”

There is a phrase,”con el nopal en la frente,” used when a person who looks very “Mexican” and by Mexican I mean native looking, and they don’t speak Spanish. And people will say, ‘she says she doesn’t speak Spanish, “con la nopal en frente.”’ This is like saying, “she says she doesn’t speak Spanish and she practically has a cactus growing out of her forehead.” Cactus being one of the utmost symbols of Mexican culture. It’s on the flag. It’s tied heavily into stories. Into meals. It’s everywhere in Mexico.”

 

“I think the meaning of this is pretty clear- there is a huge current of judgement and people basically despise people who leave behind their culture, as they try to assimilate. Especially when children and adults stop speaking Spanish. You are heavily judged and shunned. I have heard and used this phrase when I grew up as a Mexican in Los Angeles, referring to other kids and people who wanted to assimilate too much.”

 

Analysis: This is a folk metaphor, pertaining specifically to Mexican immigrants in the US who attempt to assimilate by casting aside their native culture. It is also a way of stereotyping by Mexicans based both on physical characteristics and a common perception of loyalty to the country of origin. While sometimes these stereotypes might judge too harshly- for example, a person might be of Mexican descent generations back but doesn’t identify with the culture anymore, or looks ‘Mexican’ but is actually Middle Eastern, etc., they also are a response to betrayal Mexicans and Mexican-Americans feel when members of their own culture deny that culture.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

“Comen frijoles y erutan pollo”

Flor Speakman

 

“Comen frijoles y eructan pollo”

Translation: some people eat beans but burp chicken

“In El Salvador, this is used to describe people who are very pretentious or fake. They try to show off stuff they don’t really have, or pretend to be higher than their actual social class. This expression is pretty disdainful and is meant to put them down, deflate their egos.”

Background: This is told amongst the people of El Salvador, whether in the country or abroad. As humility is very valued in the country, as there are not too many material resources and it is considered somewhat poor, this is one way to mock those who become prideful.

 

Analysis: This is a form of folk speech that mocks people who try to put on airs and pretend to be above their station. As humility is valued in El Salvador, this is one way of enforcing this mentality. However, it is also mocking those who lie about their station and pretend to be more than they are rather than the actual rich and influential. This signifies that striving to succeed is not as looked down upon as pretending to be there already and being falsely proud.

[geolocation]