JH is a senior at a all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives with his parents in Pasadena, CA.
JH sat down to talk with me about a ritual he and his friends began practicing as early as middle school – taking the train to Chinatown in downtown LA after school.
“Some of my friends started going in eighth grade…our middle school was really close to a Metro station, and we could just say we were walking to my friend N’s house and just go there instead. Tickets were only like $1.50 each way and it only takes like, 15 minutes to get there. I only went once though I think…and we just walked around and looked at stuff, they had those little turtles and firecrackers and shit, I don’t even know if anyone bought anything.
“I went more with friends in high school though, like freshman and sophomore year a bit. We could still take the Metro after school and just told our parents we were staying after school to do homework in the library or had a club meeting or something. My friends would also buy cigarettes at these little smoke shops there, and there was like, always one that kept getting shut down or they kept changing the name…it would pretty much be a different woman every time, like ‘Kim’s’ or ‘Annie’s’ or something. And they wouldn’t ask for your ID or anything, my friends would just like buy whatever their friends bought, like red Marlboros or American Spirits and stuff. They had pieces too [for smoking weed] and bongs, so sometimes my friends would get the cheap glass pipes, they were like $10 each or something. I know some people would go through the markets where they had clothes and knock-off jade stuff, and there was this one little stall hidden behind clothes that sold a whole bunch of weapons. We mostly just went and looked but some people bought things, like ninja stars or big knives…people said these guys supplied the Chinese mafia, or something. One time someone said they saw a warhead…like the kind of thing you put on top of a missile. For awhile one of my friends had like a plywood board in his garage, and we’d take turns throwing the ninja stars at it.”
I asked JH why he thought Chinatown was so popular for younger high school kids, and what it said about their youth culture:
“I don’t know…I don’t know when they built the Metro, but I guess it was probably pretty new. And in like 8th grade, beginning of high school, no one can drive, but you kind of want to start going out and exploring…beyond Pasadena, outside of just your neighborhood and school and stuff. And then the Metro only really has a few stops that aren’t in totally random places, like yeah you could get on different lines and go to Hollywood and stuff but we only had a couple hours after school and going too far was probably too…intimidating or scary when we were only like, 14. And then obviously older kids were doing it and that’s where they were getting dumb things like cigarettes that they had at parties, and I guess we just wanted to see what they were getting into, and it just seemed really cool going to a kind of sketchy place and knowing we were breaking all these rules. Probably just like, typical teenage rebellion, sneaking behind your parents’ backs before we could drive and really start getting into trouble. Plus, in Pasadena I think we all know we’re super sheltered in this really well-off community, and everyone’s had pretty comfortable and safe lives…which I guess adds to the danger part.”
I think this type of ritual is typical among teenagers, especially younger ones, who are just starting to become independent and want to push the boundaries their parents have set so far. The ages of 13-16, 17 really define the liminal period in American culture, when kids start to feel more self-sufficient but aren’t ready to take on all the responsibilities of adulthood; parents struggle with the transition too, knowing they should start preparing older children to take care of themselves, without wanting to kick them out of the nest so fast. Kids toeing the line, and learning to take advantage of their parents is nothing new, and here we see them trying to navigate the larger (and more adult) world using public transportation, coming into contact with drugs and drug paraphernalia, and doing so with an air of secrecy and defiance.
Additionally, it starts to separate “cool” or “mature” kids from those who are happy to obey authority, and some feel pressured to challenge their parents instead of their peers. Sneaking out and experimenting with illicit activities (drinking, drugs, sex, etc.) is a large part of the American high school experience, and this ritual demonstrates one foray into that world.
JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives in Pasadena, CA.
JH talked to me about a school retreat he just went on, which they host every year:
“We have a different retreat every year, but the senior retreat is called ‘Kairos’…we spend like the last week of classes at a center near Santa Barbara, but they don’t really tell us where we’re going…we just left after school one day. It’s pretty religious-based and we talked a lot about God and the Catholic Church and stuff, but more of it was spiritual, like we talked about our personal relationship with God and spirituality and stuff. On the second day they surprised us with letters from our parents, and both of our parents had to write us a letter with stuff they may not have told us or with like, things they wanted us to know…some people got letters from siblings too, and they mostly talked about how we’re at an important transition in our lives, talking about becoming an adult and stuff. And then we all had to share a lot too, and people talked about really awful things that had happened in their past that we had no idea about, and our teachers and the priests did too…I think we all got a lot closer, opening up like that…I wasn’t expecting to really buy into the whole retreat thing, but I think I learned a lot in the end. When we got back, they led us into the auditorium where all our parents were sitting, and they were cheering for us, and we went and sat up on stage where they talked a little about the week, and then we all had to go up to the microphone and talk about our experiences that week, and then we would go and sit with our parents.”
I asked JH if he felt it was more of a religious retreat or a school/class retreat:
“Definitely more about our class than religion. The religion was a big part of it, but even just going to a Catholic school they were never necessarily trying to convert us or anything, and they were really inclusive both at the retreat and at the school like in general.”
A lot of high schools that have the resources put on these “retreats” for their students, especially at the end of senior year, or the end of their high school career. It helps usher these students through the liminal period, or help them slow down and understand the importance of the transition they’re in the midst of, and by emphasizing parental involvement JH’s school highlights the community aspect, where families would play a big role in celebrating the child’s transition to adulthood. This is actually the first kind of retreat I’d heard of that gave parents such a role – usually it revolves more around the school’s influence and presence in the students’ lives.
Informant: USC alumni
“The USC fountain run is a tradition for graduating seniors. They are not allowed to go into the water of any of the fountains at USC or else it is said they won’t graduate. But on the last week of class, they all get together, drink, strip down to their underwear or swimwear, and run through every single fountain at USC. It is this big celebration of achievement and a right that only graduating seniors have. Usually some people get too drunk, but it’s all about celebrating freedom and no more rules. It’s something you do with your friends, and something people reminisce about years later when they meet other USC alumni.”
Analysis: This is a ritualized tradition for separating a ‘privileged’ group of students from the rest. Only seniors are allowed to do this, because it is a right of passage- you cannot participate if you have not completed all the obstacles and challenges that the last four years brought. It entails formally breaking taboos, such as going inside the fountain before you graduate. This superstition also underscores that its a privilege that only people who have completed USC can partake in. After the formalized, restrictive education process at University where rules must be obeyed or else expulsion, students celebrate on the brink of freedom while they are still technically bound to the student body.
The tradition started in 1905 when Norway got its independence, and it’s sort of a combination of celebrating the end of high school and independence day (17th of May). Basically in their sophomore year or something, very early on in high school, kids get together in groups of like 20-30 girls and 20-30 guys and start saving money to buy a bus (party bus) in their senior year. Basically each group picks a project to work on over the two years that will help them raise enough money to do it (typically about 200,000 dollars per group.)
Not everyone does it, but a lot of kids do. And basically with these busses, you create your own theme so one bus could be called just weird names like sin city or vice city, or one bus could be called champions league and umm and you renovate the bus create it and decorate it in your own theme by re decorating the whole inside, changing the seating, sometimes adding sofas in the bus, adding speakers, lights, bars, and some people put karaoke machines inside their bus, thats a new thing.
And basically then there are different competitions between busses: who has the best sound systems, exterior, interior, etc and the competitions are regional or countrywide.
I’m from east of Norway and its more of a cultural thing where I’m from, and most parts of the country if they can’t afford it do it with busses so they just do it with like minivans.
So then there’s different festivals around the country- these are called “literally translated its called country meet ups and then the name of the place” and at these FESTIVALS (which last for like 2-4 days) have performances and concerts by artists, and the busses are all set up in the same huge space and the best busses usually have a large set up around their bus with light shows and a stage and you can imagine, and they are judged not only on the bus but also the set up. I would say they put a lot of money into the busses. Basically throughout high school each person ends up spending like about 7-12 thousand dollars on the whole thing.
And the festivals happen right before you graduate and they happen from like April 20th through sometime in May but not all at the same time, sort of spread out through that time period and all over the country. And then when the busses aren’t at their specific festivals they just get driven through the cities all month and the kids party on the bus.
Every bus also has a name that goes along with it’s theme and all the people on it have headbands with the name of the bus on it and wear them to the festivals to represent their busses. And each person also orders different colored pants, these are special pants, and you can have pants that could be a one pieces or suspenders like overalls that are called “russebukse” or anything like that and they’re usually either red, blue, green, or black, most popular are red and blue. It used to be based on your major or whatever you were planning to study after high school, so IT and Media would have blue pants and general subjects would have red, and green would be if you were like doing agricultural stuff and black would be for those who were doing labor subjects (plumber).
I would say that graduating high school is a really special part of a teenagers life even more so than in other places because we have this crazy tradition that is also mixed with our independence day. People that celebrate this holiday
For more information on this celebration see video below or article Norwegian Russ- Silly Season is Here, Life in Norway by David Nikel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lSeznt_3Ng
The informant, a fellow peer, told me this story on a long bus ride we were on together recently. While the folklore itself is engaging and definitely meaningful to anyone who has had a high school graduation celebration, the most entertaining part of the story was just how excited the informant was as he was telling me about it. He really did seem prideful about this piece of folklore that is so specific to his country and its culture and traditions.
Description: “Basically the bride price is just like, it’s part of marriage culture and tradition in Nigeria where the person who’s proposing would pay the woman’s family just with money. That way they’d have the right to marry that woman. In some places it’s very very expensive. Some places it’s cheap. Some places don’t even have it at all. I remember when my dad was marrying my mom was getting married to my dad he had to pay a bride price but it was a minimal minimal price just cause like her family is like the Bride Price shouldn’t be put in place to just like restrict you from marrying our daughter. People still do the bride price though. It’s very prevalent. That’s just one thing.”
2. My friend experienced this from the retelling of how his parents became engaged.
3. I walked into his dorm and he was just about to go to sleep. His roommate had fallen asleep and I asked him if I could grab some quick folklore from him before he crashed. He said sure.
4. This perspective is interesting because it’s from the outside looking in. My friend is even closer than a second hand account because he experiences the people who practiced this tradition on a daily basis. He views the way they act and talk and think, and all these things change his perspective on the cultural practice. He spoke frequently how it was stupid and it’s progressive and good to get away from it. However, it’s very possible that if his father had paid a huge price for his mother he may have considered it to be some sort of honor.
Haley Croke. Haley is a first-year student at USC studying in Annenberg. Haley grew up in Denver Colorado and is familiar with certain Colorado legends. She also has an important and unique point of view, since she is a Millennial, which seems to be the most “out-there” and transformative generation we have seen thus far. Because of this, Haley is a perfect informant, as she holds a modern and up-to-date perspective. All interviews were held in a study-room on campus.
“There was this super weird rumor when I was in elementary school regarding ‘Bloody Mary.’ Basically, there was this legend that if you go in the girls’ bathroom and turn off the lights and then face the mirror, and say something like ‘Bloody Mary, cross my heart and hope to die,’ a certain amount of times, the Virgin Mary herself would, like, appear in the mirror in Blood or something like that. Obviously, I never saw anything. But me and my friends would fib and say that we always saw it! And everyone in my class would do the same. It was pretty childish.”
Analysis: When I grew up, I experienced something similar. I think it was more inclined to girls, as the rumor I heard also revolved around the girls’ bathroom. Upon further research in addition to class discussion, it seems that this folklore arrived from girls’ transition into womanhood and experiencing menstruation for the first time. Hence, “Bloody Mary” and the rumor taking place in the girls’ restroom. We can see this old phenomenon present in cultural folklore today in addition to popular mediums such as television and movies.
Title: Chaldean Ululation
Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): The interviewee and I are sitting in a coffee shop in San Diego, taking a break from our daily activities to have some coffee midday and talk about some of his and his families traditions.
Piece of Folklore:
Interviewee- “So within my family, and really most Chaldean families, we have this practice of, I think it’s called ululation in English, not sure about that. And so what we do is we make this high pitched noise, and then we use our tongues to make it stutter, and it sounds really cool.”
Interviewer- “When do you make that sound?”
Interviewee- “Special occasions mostly. We don’t go around doing it at Wal-Marts and stuff! I think that would seriously throw most people off and probably even scare some other people. It can get really loud. So once example is we always do them at weddings. Always. And it is usually the women that do it, and they love doing it, especially if they have been drinking a bit. They go, and they get the wife, and they go off and do the thing, and everyone cheers them on. Really it’s more of letting emotion and happiness out, it’s something that we use to show that we are really emotional about something.”
This practice is unique to Middle Eastern countries and peoples, and it is something that has carried on into the United States when those families immigrated here. This cultural practice has not ceased, and if anything, has grown even more predominant in these families because it reminds them who they are, where they are from, and how they should live their lives, according to their culture.
Tags: Chaldean, Ululation, Ceremony
“So at my high school we had a senior lawn and senior patio. And in everyone wanted to go on it but only seniors could go on it because it was a special privilege when you reached that age. Each year, there would be a big ceremony on um the last day of classes before finals in which that years seniors handed the lawn and the patio to the juniors.”
Where did you first hear this story?
“When you got to the high schools, one of the first things they tell you is to not step on the senior lawn or patio. And from that, you hear the story of how the lawn and patio are passed down on the last day of classes from the senior class to the junior class.”
What happens when you step on the lawn or the patio?
“You get thrown in the pool. Two seniors will pick you up and throw you in the pool. I saw it once.”
“It was a joking thing; they were using it to demonstrate for that year as an example. They had a little seventh grade boy. They recorded this and showed it at morning meeting to the whole school. They did that every year. Every senior class would have a ‘Don’t step on the senior patio’ video.”
What do you think this means?
“It is a just a privilege that has to be earned. It is embedded in tradition, it has been carried on since the schools founding many decades ago. It is an initiation for senior year. It kicks off senior year. Everyone is really excited and they feel really accomplished. Its something you have been longing for three years and the anticipation has been built up.”
Who generally tells this story?
“Seniors will generally tell you this story. Any upperclassman when you come in as a freshman.”
This story shows a unique way that a community determines maturity. We can see that the patio distinguishes the mature, older group from the younger kids. The passing of the lawn represents that the younger group have finally reached a level of maturity and an age deserving of this important lawn. The informant made the lawn appear to be a facet in the “coolness” of being older, a prize to work towards throughout high school. The lawn and patio signify an important turning of age for this informant.
“So Chinese women typically wear red wedding dresses because it symbolizes good luck … happiness and good fortune. Also it signifies a prosperous marriage.”
When did you first learn of this tradition?
“I first learned about this tradition when flipping through old photo books of my grandpa’s wedding to my grandma. My grandma was wearing a bright red dress and I asked my dad why, and he told me that it symbolized good fortune for the marriage.”
Will you personally follow in this tradition?
“Personally, I will probably stick to the American tradition of a white or ivory dress because I grew up in America.”
What does this story mean to you?
I” personally, directly I don’t have the tradition, and I’m probably not going to follow it when I get married, but knowing that my adoptive family has been following the tradition of wearing the red dresses really roots me to where I was adopted from. I was adopted from Southern China.”
Who usually talks about this story?
“Mainly my dad’s side of the family who are all Chinese Americans. Every time someone is married, there is a child born, or Chinese New Years it just intertwines with traditions in general and we usually talk about it then. Red is a very prominent color in Chinese culture because it represents good fortune.”
I’ve heard a lot of references about the color red symbolizing good fortune in Asian culture, but I was surprised to find out how interwoven it is into some of the Chinese traditions. The story of the red wedding dress demonstrates the informant’s connection to her Chinese background. While she does not think that she will follow in this tradition, the informant still values the history and family connection to the dress color. The red wedding dress also symbolizes an initiation into maturity, and granting good luck in this process of marriage. I also think it is unique that her adopted family and her biological family all have connections to this tradition.
Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.
I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.
L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”
I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics
L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”
I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it
L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.
I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.