USC Digital Folklore Archives / Childhood
Childhood
general

Haunted Air BnB

EC is a freshman majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marine Biology. This story takes place approximately six years ago.

“While my Dad was waiting for his new house to be built we stayed at Airbnb’s for a few months, usually one per week. I got a really bad vibes when I walked into one of them, and could tell something bad was there. When I went to bed the first night I jolted up from a dream and so did my dog after hearing a loud sound. I fell back asleep and woke up again, but I couldn’t move, and there was a silhouette of a person next to the bed. The next day when my brother and I left for school, we locked the house, but when we came home the door was unlocked and wide open, but my dad was away on a business trip.”

EC’s ghost story has many common ghost elements, including the dog’s reaction to the sound and the brother acting as a witness to the strange events. The story also takes place in a liminal space – the Airbnb is not home but it is not a hotel either.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Najar: The Evil Eye

“We were probably like – I was probably like 11, and [my sister] was probably 9-ish so it was kinda long ago, but I remember we were at my grandma’s house [in India], and she had three different stories. No one goes on the second story; it’s just like boarded up. And then the third story is a terrace. So, we go to the third story, and we’re just talking and my sister said something like ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ or something, like literally those words. And so I was like, ‘Oh my God, dad’s gonna get so mad at you, you said a bad word, blah blah blah.’ Usually she would be like, ‘ok stop, you’re not being funny,’ but like legitimately she was like, ‘oh my god, you’re so right,’ and she just starts bawling. She’s crying, she’s losing it, she’s like freaking out, like legitimately I thought she was going crazy. She was like ‘I have to tell dad I said it!’ and she’s like running everywhere and she’s like ‘when’s dad coming home, when’s dad coming home? I have to tell him, I have to tell him, he’s gonna be so mad at me.’ And like, she’s nine years old, so she’s old enough to where it’s like ‘ok you’re being weird.’ And so, like no one thought much of it, and then my dad comes home, and she’s like ‘dad, I said “dumb”’ or whatever the word was. And he was like, you know, like, ‘don’t say that word again’ and whatever, and she was like ‘I know, I’m SO sorry.’ She just starts crying and crying. And she was doing weird stuff like that for three or four days, and we were like ‘ok what’s going on?’

“[It started] since she was on the terrace, I guess – because – we had gone somewhere, we had like taken the train somewhere and it’s super common knowledge that the train stations are like  the most haunted places in India because people commit suicide and stuff; they jump off while the train is coming. And so, they think that she got some “bad air” – so like a ghost, like, spirit thing. Because they don’t – it’s not like a ghost possessed you, but it’s just like you picked up on some bad aura or like a bad spirit from the train station and it kinda like made her go crazy. So like, I was freaking out. I was like, ‘Get her away from me. I don’t want her in the same room. She can sleep outside!’

“But yeah, so we took her to the pandit, which is a priest, and he like, did all this like, fire smoke stuff, and like put it around her and stuff. And he like gave her this bracelet and was like ‘okay, after doing that, this bracelet will collect the bad spirit inside of her, and then you take off this bracelet and you like dispose of it.’ If you were in India, you would throw it in one of the holy rivers, but we were going back home [to the United States], so he was just like ‘just put it in a river anywhere.’ I honestly think we took it to the Trinity River, I’m being so serious. It sat in our garage for a while. But yeah, he put that bracelet on her, and a couple days later, she was like fine, like it immediately went away. So I don’t know if it worked or like she was doing it to herself, like a placebo-type thing. I don’t know, but she was just acting super weird for a couple of days, like freaking out about things that didn’t matter. She was like losing her mind over stuff, like she couldn’t get over it. So yeah, I think that she picked up on some…some sort of bad air.”

 

When I was researching Indian ghost belief, I came across the belief of “najar” which roughly translates to “evil eye.” I asked my Indian friend that I knew from Texas if she knew of or ever had an experience with “najar,” and this is the story that she gave me. I find it interesting that her sister never caught this evil eye while in the United States, but it was only a trip to India that spurred this occurrence. I asked her to elaborate more on “najar,” and she told me a bit more about how people typically act when they have new (cute) babies.

 

“If you have a child – and some babies are ugly, but some are super cute. So if you have a baby and everyone’s like, ‘Aw, your baby is so cute, blah, blah, blah,’ – my mom would like freak out. She hated that, she would not let people like – you know how sometimes you like see a cute baby at Walmart and you’re just like staring at it like ‘aw that baby is so cute!” and you just look at it? – she would not like that at all. She would like turn her kids, us, around. She always said that if people were staring over you, like gawking over you, they’re gonna get jealous because you have this cute baby. And that jealousy is like evil, you know? And so your child is going to catch that evil eye.”

 

My informant also told me a bit about the steps that mothers would take to protect their babies against the evil eye, other than just staying away from potentially jealous people.

 

“Babies will sometimes have black dots on their foreheads to protect them from the evil eye. I guess it’s just symbolic of evil, like evil is black. You [also] always have this silver bracelet with black beads; I’m pretty sure my mom still has all three of ours. Because like, you wear it for a long time, until you’re older. Because I guess as an infant, you’re more vulnerable to the evil eye because you’re younger.”

 

In conclusion this interview, my informant expressed uncertainty as to whether her sister was affected by a spirit or simply rattled from leaving home for a prolonged period of time.


“I don’t know if it was actually a ghost or if she was just like being weird, but she was acting really weird and spooked me out too. There’s so many things; it could’ve been like we’re home now and she’s calmer; we had been gone a while. Or it could’ve been like the ghost left her on the plane or something. But yeah, she was back to normal when we got back home.”

Childhood
Game
general
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary (All-Boys School in the Philippines)

Informant: Enrique is a 19-year-old boy, born and raised in Manila, Philippines who now attends college in California. South Ridge (the school in his story) is a Catholic all-boys school in Manila which he attended from kindergarten through until 7th grade.

 

Original script:

Informant: So when I went to South Ridge, [all boys school in Manila, Philippines] there was a super scary bathroom on the top floor of the school. No one ever used this bathroom because there was a rumor that someone had died inside the bathroom years ago. On special occasions, our classes would have sleep overs at school and during one of these sleep overs, one of the older batches went up to that bathroom in the middle of the night. The rumor goes that if you say Bloody Mary in front of the mirror in that bathroom four times, Bloody Mary actually shows up. So when one of the guys that decided to go into that bathroom did the ritual, she actually appeared and when he left the bathroom, he was covered in cuts and scratches.

 

Interviewer: Do you know what Bloody Mary has to do with the guy that had died in the bathroom?

 

Informant: She was apparently the one who killed him.

 

Thoughts about the piece: It is extremely interesting that the Bloody Mary ritual would occur at a local all-boys school in the Philippines. Especially considering the context that we discussed it in during class wherein we saw that the ritual is most popular among pre-pubescent girls usually in Western countries. We took this to be part of girls growing up as womanhood is bloody, thus, girls are basically looking into their future (by spinning and looking into the mirror) and trying to understand it by performing the ritual. I too attended school in the Philippines however it was an international school with many American and European students- here too I noticed that only girls would take part in the Bloody Mary ritual. Thus, it is intriguing that this would be such a big sensation (seeing as how no one wanted to use the bathroom because they all know what had happened there) at a local, Catholic all-boys school.

Something else that it interesting about this version of the story is that Bloody Mary actually physically harms the people that perform the ritual whereas usually, you are said to simply see an image of her in the mirror.

Childhood
Tales /märchen

Big Cookie Hero

 

My informant is an American from Minnesota, who has ancestors from Czech republic and Sweden, back to 1880.

“My grandmother used to tell me a story of a big cookie that could roll around and have adventure.  Sometimes it was oatmeal cookie sometimes it was a chocolate chip cookie, but they would roll around have adventures, save kids…She may have the story come down from her ancestors. Sweets are big product in Sweden. She may possibly hear this from her mother. It was like a bed time story. The big cookie was the hero. He would roll down the streets and rescue a lot of stupid kids. I think the cookie did talk, say things like ‘you stupid kid, how did you stuck in the mud? how did you lock yourself in the room?'”

“My grandma, who lives in St. Paul now, she still always has a mass amount of cookies and pastry that she baked before we came. So much culture pass down through food. ”

As an animation filmmaker and teacher, Christine loves this kind of tales that she heard from her family, which has also inspired her a lot in her creation.

I think this kind of folklore tales is really playing a positive role in people’s childhood, which could make the children grow up happily and imaginatively.

 

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red pocket money under pillow

My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.

“You know, red pocket money is one of the biggest tradition during Spring Festival in China. But in my family, not only we get red pocket money from people much older than us, we also put them under our pillow at night. It’s like really coordinating with the word “压”(push down) in “压(push down)岁(age)钱(money)” (red pocket money). And my grandparents would also put ivy leaves inside there, just for good luck.”

“I know they are many superstitions from Chinese family, especially my family haha. But we still do that, I don’t think the truth matters that much in this case, I like these traditions.”

I think it’s really interesting that in both asian and western culture we have this kind of gift thing for kids during important festivals. Hoping for good luck with ivy leaves inside red pocket money that placed under their pillow to Chinese children, waiting for christmas gift to be put inside the christmas sock for western children, they both serve as a good method to give them hope and believes; as well as for better sleeping quality since they all happen during bed time.

 

Childhood
general
Legends

“El Justo Juez” – The Just Judge

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. Her father grew up in El Salvador, so Salvadoran culture has been engrained into her upbringing and has influenced things that she learned from her parents.

 

Main Piece: So growing up in El Salvador, my dad heard this story about this ghostly creature, called the Just Judge. Um so according to the story, he was um he would appear only in the night, and he would be riding a black horse. Um and when you got close to him, you would realize that he had no head, just like um a cloud of smoke coming out of his neck where his head should be. Um so it was said that um that if you approached him, he would say to go back inside your house. You would only see him very late at night when no one else was around. And he would say that the night belonged to him, and that you shouldn’t be there. My uncle actually claims that he saw him, and that when he tried… and that he saw this figure. He saw like this cloud of smoke on the street when he was walking out at night on like a very deserted street, and when he went through it, he claims he saw that figure in the cloud of smoke, and that it walked right through him, like the horse walked right through him like it wasn’t made of anything. Um so he panicked and he ran back home. Um but since that day, he’s kinda rationalized it by saying that it was an optical illusion or that it was a cloud that was really low, so he doesn’t actually believe in it. But it’s always fun to entertain the idea.

 

Performance Context: This tale is usually told from parents to children to keep them from staying out too late. It was probably a cautionary tale, so they came up with this frightening creature to keep kids from staying out past their curfew.

 

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people have come up with such legends in order to precaution their children against doing certain things, yet these stories become so integrated into society that people believe they have seen or heard the characters described in these legends. This legend almost seems reminiscent of the Sleepy Hollow Legend with the headless horseman.

Childhood
Life cycle
Proverbs

Un hombre con pelo en el pecho vale dos

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. Her father grew up in El Salvador, so Salvadoran culture has been engrained into her upbringing and has influenced things that she learned from her parents.

 

Main piece: “Un hombre con pelo en el pecho vale dos,” “A man with hair on his chest is worth two”

 

“So this is a proverb that my father told me- he’s from El Salvador. To me as a joke-it’s not something he believes, just something he heard growing up and he thought it was funny so he decided to share it with me.

 

Basically what the proverb means is that you are more of a man if you have chest hair! It’s a parody of the more recognizable proverb that exists in both Spanish and English since It’s a comedic take on the proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

 

It was something he would hear a lot growing up from his dad and brothers, as well as something that got repeated a lot and is all boys school. It was usually said to tease boys who didn’t have facial hair yet as that was seen a sign of immaturity or weakness. My dad says that to get revenge, sometimes the boys who were teased would shave their bully’s’ chests in their sleep! It was all in good fun though – this wasn’t a proverb that was taken very seriously or meant to be truly insulting.”

 

Performance Context: This proverb would be told usually among men, from older men to younger boys.

 

My Thoughts: I think this proverb better reveals Latin American society’s attitudes towards boyhood, masculinity, and coming of age. It is definitely used in a way such that growing chest hair makes a person part of “the group,” as the person now has something that all of the other members of the group have.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

 

K-“Ok so we were told the story of La llorona, and for us it was basically like uh the background was that this woman this beautiful woman in this indigenous pueblo uh she fell in love with the Spanish conquistador and had children but then the conquistador left her for like another woman. Because she was in love with this man so much, every time she saw him in them, the children. And that’s the whole reason she drowned them in a like. After she drowned them, she like mourned them so she would go around at night saying ‘oh mis ninos’ (my children) and supposedly she kidnaps kids at night if they’re near the lake. And she is still a ghost that haunts that area where she used to live”

When did you first hear this story?

K-“Um I heard it in elementary school I think I was in 4th grade”

Have you heard this story from other people as well?

K-“Yup, I heard it from my family and the kids at school. Kind of all the same, all the same versions”

Did you use to live near a body of water or some forested area?

K-“No”

Analysis- This version of the story is seen as a way to ensure the proper behavior of children. The legend is specifically aimed to children, as it is the children that get drowned and the children that get kidnapped. The fact that she did not live near a body of water, which is where according to the legend is where the ghost appears, proves that this is a story told by the adults to make children behave. The legend is also given credibility by introducing some history into it in the form of the conquistador and the traditional Mexican woman. This legend would, therefore, not be easily accepted and used in other cultures.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Birthday Customs

The Main Piece
A person’s birthday is a special day. A day of celebration, where said person should feel unique and get treated differently than all others. In the Jones household they uphold this tradition, but in their own unique way. They have set a couple of rules that each member of the household must abide by. The birthday person is allowed to choose every meal that the family will eat for the day and are “chore free,” which is claimed to be the second best part of the privilege. The number one benefit is known as “room choosing.” The birthday person selects any room in the house the night before and is able to totally rearrange it or decorate it in whatever way they want all at their beckoning call. Thereby, they can move furniture around, add curtains or mattresses, anything their heart desires. This room represents their throne, their palace, a place of luxury for the special birthday person. This is all done in celebration of the birthday person and everything is organized by members of the family in a collaborative effort to appease the birthday person.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. Nile’s family has been performing this tradition ever since her eldest brother, who is now twenty-one years old, was six years old (therefore fifteen years of tradition). The Jones family has come to love the tradition as it is performed for each child and adult. Niles’ mother came up with the idea when she saw that her son was crying over not getting enough attention on his birthday. To get him to stop crying she told him that the day would be especially dedicated for him, and he continued to expect it to be so ever since. To make things equal she continued the tradition with each child.
Context
Nile told me this story as we were sitting together discussing her life at home. I found so many elements of her life differed from mine, I had so many questions to ask. It was casual conversation as we were simply chatting like normal friends. Hearing stories about my friend’s different lives has expanded my mind as I learn about their different lifestyles.
Personal Thoughts
Everyone, including myself, shares the commonality of celebrating birthdays. However, it was refreshing to hear that not everyone celebrates birthdays the same, drab way. The Jones family had their own take on what a birthday should entitle and expressed it through the traditions they practiced. I have learned that a family’s beliefs and ideals are often portrayed through the traditions that they practice.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Jade Bracelet

  1. My friend when she was little was wearing a jade- a jade bangle on her left wrist I think, and a gold bracelet on the right. Her mom never told me what that meant… or if it had any significance or anything, but she also remembers like, reading a novel and- with a Chinese American protagonist and it said… it’s suppose to bring wealth to the child in the future. And you have to like take off the bangle… before it gets too small for your wrists.”
  • She knows this because she needed to collect folklore for a project and this happened to be something she learned during the process
  • She learned this from a friend of hers that she interviewed for the project
  • It’s just another Chinese folk belief of how to ensure prosperity for your children
  • The context of the performance is that she and I were merely discussing the different types of folklore we’ve found over the last several weeks.
  • I think it’s interesting how much of an emphasis is put onto making sure children have their best chance at the future in East Asian cultures.
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