Category Archives: Gestation, birth, and infancy

Generally up to the first year.

Scissors on the bed during pregnancy

HK: When I was pregnant my mother in law said that I shouldn’t have scissors on the bed because then that will make you have a miscarriage. So don’t cut anything on the bed, don’t put anything that can cut on the bed. Related but not the same, it also means no remodeling, no hammering, no knocking down walls or anything. 

MW: And what did you think of this?

HK: Well…you don’t wanna believe it but when they tell you stupid shit like that…it’s like walking under a ladder. You know nothing’s gonna happen probably, but now you wonder about it. And then it leaves this little scab in your heart when you do do it, because now you’re like, ah, well, what’s gonna happen to me? It just always makes you wonder, you know? So annoying.

Context:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. This story was collected over a Zoom call when she was talking to my mom.

Thoughts:

The “little scab on your heart” that the informant mentioned is interesting because it makes me think that that must be how superstitions get perpetuated. While people might not believe on an intellectual level that it will happen, if you do it it will still stick with you, like a residual fear that clings to your mind; so because of that, it’s easier to just not do it in the first place. I think that’s important to realize, because sometimes the negative effect of the superstition might just come from your own guilt (or at least be related to it).

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

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: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

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.

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.

Using Yerba Buena to ail colicky babies

Main Piece

Informant: That was my situation, I got married at 18 and at 19 I had my first daughter. That is when all of the wives tales emerged. All of my family members shared with me their tips and tricks. My first daughter was very colicky so the first one I remember was feeding her Yerba Buena. It was very hard because Doctors told me not to give her anything, but my family was telling me to. From a science perspective I knew that was ridiculous, but at the end of the day I did it because what harm could be done? 

Interviewer: Can you guide me through what they told you to do? 

Informant: First of all every woman in the family had Yerba Buena, so my Mom called me and told me to come over when I told her my daughter was colicky. She gave me my own little sprout, and a pot to plant my own because she told me that I was gonna need it. First you wash them really really good because they’ve been out in the dirt. And then you put 2-3 leaves and boil it and it’ll turn a light brown, but don’t let that scare you. You have to cool it before you put it in the bottle. I tasted it, it tastes like mint and water. No sugar. You don’t put sugar, you just let the leaves lose in the water. 

Interviewer: How much would you feed her? 

Informant: No more than an ounce, I would give her more as she grew up but usually just an ounce. 

Interviewer: Did you see it work? 

Informant: Yes, I saw it work. You have to burp the baby after they drink. When they have colic they are tense and crying– usually that’s how you know. You will see the relief in them, they will start relaxing- at least she did. She was able to calm herself. 

Interviewer: What does this practice mean to you?

I think this is where the conflict between Americanized medicine and, I’m forgetting the word, what do they call it now? Alternative medicine. We used to call it home medicine, back in the day that is how we had to go about treating it when medicine was new. People knew this stuff, and even today some of it is true. 

Any other comments? 

No. I just think when you are a young mother you just want your baby to be happy. I was skeptical when my family told me about this, but I saw the proof in my own eyes. So, I guess I started to, um, trust the remedies more.

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

My Mother and I often joke about how horrible babies we were, and she often tells us the stories of the different practices that my Nana would teach her to calm us down. My grandmother lives in our house in San Diego and still practices many forms of folk medicine and plants her Yerba Buena in our garden to this day. Over the phone I asked my Mom about the different practices we would talk about to understand the context better. 

Analysis

As the informant points out, this is a perfect example of folk medicine as it can not be proven with “science” but has passed down in our family for generations. Since the informant has worked in the healthcare industry for most of her professional life, she is often conflicted with following these home remedies even though they work because she is around medical professionals on a daily basis. However, I believe that she still practiced many of them and tells my sister’s who now have children of their own to practice them not only because they work, but to preserve our Mexican culture and roots. 

Rubbing the belly of a pregnant woman to absolve it of “El mal de ojo” or bad energy

Main Piece

Informant: This one is weird because strangers can just come up to you and ask to rub your belly. It happened to me. If a woman has an impure thought or is envious when they see a pregnant woman, usually it is about them not being able to have a child, they ask the pregnant woman if they can rub their stomach so that their child doesn’t have “Mal de Ojo” or any bad energy. The Mal De Ojo is between the woman to woman, but the baby is caught in the middle, so they rub the stomach to absolve the baby if that makes sense. I have never seen a man do it, that would be kind of..weird. Oh! And the woman rarely discloses why she rubbed the belly, it is more about absolving their conscience so when it happens you just kind of let them rub it so your baby can get cleansed. It is very odd, it is kind of scary because you find out these women are having bad thoughts about you. It is even scarier to think about the ones who don’t rub the stomachs and just let the bad energy impact the baby.  

Interviewer: Did this ever happen to you?

Informant: One time. The person didn’t even know I was pregnant because I wasn’t showing. I just think she was talking ill of me and found out I was pregnant and rubbed my stomach. She probably thought I was just getting fat haha haha. She was an acquaintance of my ex-husband’s family, so that explains a lot haha. 

Interviewer: Can you explain more about El Mal de Ojo?

Informant: It is interpreted as an evil eye. In the sense of pregnancy the evil is are the ill thoughts of the woman, only she knows why. To try and remedy their conscience they rub the stomach, and disclose if they may “ay no lo quiero dar el mal de ojo, me permites?” (“I don’t want to give the baby the evil eye, may I?”) You do it in an apologetic way, to secure the baby and to get forgiveness for having those bad thoughts. I think its humanity. I think it is an immediate remedy to perhaps absolve an ll thought. People have ill thoughts all of the time- jealousy, comparison. So they do it to apologize in a way, and to save the baby from these ill thoughts, because they don’t deserve that. 

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

My whole life I have heard of this premonition, and saw it for the first time when my sister was pregnant and a stranger at a store came up to her and asked to rub her stomach. With that story in mind, I asked the informant more about it and she explained. 

Analysis

This is a very interesting form of folk magic, superstition, and protection. At the end of the day, this practice stems from a belief of magic harming the baby just from a glance. However, I think it is interesting that the act of this practice requires someone to admit that they were sending bad energy in the first place. However, as the informant describes it is more to protect the baby who doesn’t deserve to be impacted by that bad energy. This demonstrates the link of witchcraft to women, and is also a form of superstition present in Mexican communities.

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.

The more salsa you eat while pregnant, the hairier the baby

Main Piece

Informant: Some Mexican families believe that when you are pregnant the more salsa you have the hairier the baby is gonna come out. I didn’t like salsa a lot, and I was pregnant at the same time as my cousin and she loved salsa, she would chug it. So our family would joke that her baby was going to come out with a full head of hair and mine was going to be bald. 

Interviewer: Was it true?

Informant: Yeah, all my cousins’ kids had a lot of hair, even on their back- they looked a little monkeyish haha. Mine had hair but it was normal hair, no back hair though. Plus, it all falls off so does it really matter at the end of the day? … Do you want your child to be born with hair? If you did, then eat salsa! I also think about pregnancy cravings and trying to make something out of it. It reminds me of the saying that spicy food puts hair on your chest, but in this case it is a baby. 

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

It is often a running joke in our family that the informant is the only one who could not handle her spice, and when this is brought up my family jokes that she is the reason all of her children came out to be bald. Wanting to learn more about this joke and its superstitious origins I asked her about it in the interview that we had. 

Analysis

I think this superstition is impacted by the dietary qualities of Mexican food as well as pregnancy cravings that many expecting mothers have. Usually, the spicier food or salsa you eat the tougher you are viewed to be, and this thought could have transpired to create the origins of this folklore. I also think it has to deal with the masculin stigma revolving around what “toughness” constitutes, and usually hair is a more masculine trait so the tougher the baby the tougher/more masculine the baby.

Korea’s First Birthday Tradition, Dol-jabi

Main Piece:

This is a translation from a conversation with my mom about first birthday traditions in Korea. She is identified here as M and I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Dol-jabi?

M: Dol-jabi is a tradition where you get the baby to grab something on their first birthday to predict their future. Like, they’ll become this kind of person or become someone who likes this. This has been a tradition for a very long time. First birthdays were a big deal in Korea because there weren’t many babies who lived past their first birthday due to the harsh, poor conditions of living many families faced. So, the first birthday Dol-jabi was celebrating the baby for living a whole year and predicting their future.

For you and your brother I placed a ball of thread, money, pencil and rice-cake.

Thread means that you’ll live a long life because the thread won’t snap. Money means you’ll become rich and pencil means that you’ll study well. Rice-cake means that you will grow up not worrying about food.

IC: What did my brother grab?

M: Your brother grabbed money and pencil. Normally, you grab one and it’s done but I waited for one more, because why not?

IC: Do you remember which one my brother grabbed first?

M: I think he got money first.

IC: What about me?

M: You grabbed thread first and then money. But nowadays, that has changed and parents will put a lawyer’s gavel, stethoscope, microphone and other various things to predict specific jobs since a pencil is vague.

IC: What I find fascinating about this is that a one-year-old baby don’t know anything, and they just grab something out of curiosity, but adults will look and be like ‘yay, our kid will become a doctor!’ It’s fun, but in a way also strange.

M: Yeah, that’s true but it’s just fun and traditional. That’s why we do it.

Background:

In Korean tradition, first birthdays are important and and dol-jabi is a traditional Korean activity. It can be somewhat translated to an occupational reveal activity since it is more specific to types of occupations now. But this translation would have been inaccurate during my generation and older as it wasn’t specific to an occupation.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I had remembered about my mom telling me about this tradition and thought it would be an interesting collection for this project.

Thoughts:

I think this tradition was supposed to be something fun for the parents and relatives to predict their child’s future. Because it used to be broad and related to general success in life, it was a casual activity. The kind of activities they place now has changed and I kind of feel a generational difference. With my generation the meaning of items were broad but now it’s specific to jobs and it’s more likely that it won’t be accurate.

Red Egg Party

Main Piece:

According to RE, a traditional Chinese celebration for newborn babies is called a Red Egg Party. “The red egg party is to celebrate the one month birthday of a new baby. You rub their head with green onion sticks and a red egg, and throw a celebration with red dyed eggs. Right of passage sort of thing. Belief of good health, intelligence, long life etc.”

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:

What immediately comes to mind when I think of this is its similarities to a baptism. The purpose of both is a right of passage into a new light and they are both typically done in the first month of a human’s life. One thing I was not able to investigate into is why a red egg and green onions. Though theses are to represent “good health, intelligence, long life etc.”, I was not sure why. This as a right of passage makes a lot of sense. It instills Chinese values into the child one month into their lives and brings them into the culture.