Category Archives: Adulthood

Coming-of-age, courtship, marriage, weddings

Quinceaneras

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as LT. 

Me: What’s been your experience with Quinceaneras?

LT: When I was growing up, quinceaneras were just like a cute little party you had because at age 15 you’re kind of becoming a young adult, but I never thought it was too serious. It was just a cute day to celebrate you becoming a woman and you also got jewelry. My grandma, though, told that back in the day the qu8ince was very much tied to spanish catholic culture where you’re supposed to get married when you become a woman. Back in the day, my grandma before her quince, was taught how to weave and taught how to cook so it was clearly a set up for her to become a homemaker. But like, as we know now, 15 is absolutely not an age where you can get married but back in the day you weren’t really the one making those decisions, your family was. With that said though, quinces are still very tied to that christian base. You dance with your mom and dad, you go to church, so it’s still very much tied christianity but now it’s not tied to marriage. 

Me: So what do you do at a quinceanera? 

LT: So, you get very dressed up in a fancy gown and you get a tiara as well. But on the way there, I had to wear flat shoes so that my dad could put on my heels at the party, it’s kind of a little tradition. And then there’s food, you get presents, and then you have to do a special dance with your dad. Me and my dad were really bad so it was nothing too complicated but some of them are very elaborate. And then you just have like a regular party and celebration. 

Background:

Interviewee immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles as a teenager, however, she still returns home near Mexico City frequently. Her entire family is from and lives in Mexico, apart from her younger siblings and stepmother. She works as a translator in both Spanish and Italian. She is my older sister, so we’re very comfortable around each other. 

Context: 

This interview was conducted over a video chat between interviewee and I. Being that we are family, it was a very casual conversation just talking about some things we both did growing up, but her specifically in central Mexico. 

Thoughts:

The quinceanera is one of the biggest days in many young girl’s lives. The celebration varies culturally, but the Mexican version is typically very tied to religion and very ceremonial. Some of the ceremonies are spoken about here, the changing of the shoes and the father-daughter dance. However, depending on how religious families are, there is also usually a church ceremony and other aspects of the event that highlight the transition from young girl to woman. Originally, the purpose was to showcase the young woman as she became eligible for marriage. However, the purpose now is simply to celebrate a big coming-of-age and growing up.

Ukrainian Wedding Tradition

The following is transcribed from an interview between me and interviewee, referred to as MT. 

MT: In my country, when someone wants to get married to a girl, they have to first barter for her with her neighborhood, essentially. Usually the neighborhood people ask for booze and money and then in exchange they’ll let her go and give her to him. 

Me: So do potential grooms actually end up going and meeting the neighborhood people’s demands for their brides?

MT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, at this point it’s usually pretend, like, not serious but because it’s tradition we have to do it, you know? So usually the guy will just go and the neighborhood will play pretend like you have to give me stuff and at this point it’s just an excuse to get some booze and get excited for the wedding. Although, I have seen a neighborhood take it seriously one time and the guy had to actually go home and get money because the neighborhood wouldn’t let her go! 

Me: And why do they do the bartering before the wedding?

MT: Well, the neighborhood is losing a person so it’s like they should get something in return, you know? And it’s also a way to test and see how much the groom wants her like what she’s worth to him. 

Me: What if someone wants to marry her from the same neighborhood, though?

MT: Oh, no matter what they’ll make the guys barter for her. So even if they’re from the same neighborhood, they’ll then separate it by streets and he’ll barter with the people on her street. If they’re on the same street, he’ll have to barter with the family type of stuff. It’s just tradition. 

Background:

Interviewee, MT, is from LViv, Ukraine. His family is from a village called Rodatichi in Ukraine. He immigrated to America at age 13, but returns home for occasions. He has lived in Sherman Oaks, CA for the rest of his life thus far and has been happily married to my mom for 11 years. He has been to numerous weddings and seen this wedding tradition happen all growing up.

Context: 

This interview was conducted over lunch at our family home, so it was very casual. He has many stories about the customs of his country that he usually shares with me so it was just like any number of our usual conversations. 

Thoughts:

There are many versions of these wedding customs, but what I found interesting is that this specific tradition of bartering for the wife is unique to his region in Ukraine. Even in the Eastern part of the country, there are wildly different traditions but they all seem to center around the idea of testing the man of his dedication to the wife. I think this is interesting because in
America, we don’t have many of these traditions where a man has to truly win and earn his bride. It is also very interesting how much variation there is within this custom as far as what the neighborhood people ask for, whether or not the groom actually has to give it to them, and whether he is bartering with the whole neighborhood or just her family. 

Celebration of Springfest at an All-Female High School

Main Piece:

The informant explained to me that there was a tradition of celebrating Springfest at their all-girls high school. Each year the juniors would all wear white dresses and the seniors would wear dresses of any color. The whole school from grades 5-12 would go sit in the chapel, while the juniors and seniors would be a part of the ceremony. The organist would always play a sort of calming, “water” music on the organ. After the music had been playing for a bit, the ceremony would start. A senior and junior would walk towards one another. Then the senior would hand off an orchid to the junior and they would cross their paths, making them intertwine. The informant explained it was supposed to symbolize handing down the leadership of the school to the juniors. 

In addition to the ceremony, each year there was a Springfest Princess and a Springfest Queen. The Queen was always a junior and the Princess was a fifth grader. The whole school would vote for the Queen and as the informant explained “everyone would vote for the nicest person in the junior class”. The Queen had to wear a floor length, white dress that looked like a wedding dress, provided by the school. She had two flower girls and they would walk in front of her when she walked down the aisle. The Princess went before the Queen and would get a bouquet of flowers. Then the Queen from last year would be wearing a crown and standing at the end of the aisle waiting for her. After the Princess walked, the next Queen would walk and kneel down in front of the old Queen. She would place the crown on the new Queen’s head.

Background:

The informant attended an all-girls, Episcopalian school in the southern United States. This tradition has occurred since before the informant’s Mother went to the same high school. The school mostly consists of girls from white, affluent families.

Context:

The informant explained this tradition to me when they were reminiscing about their high school experience. This festival would always occur in April near the end of the school year, in the midst of spring.

My Thoughts:

Springfest aligns closely with other spring celebrations such as the Swedish Midsummer festival, as it celebrates the springtime with an emphasis on young women. Given that this is an all-girls school, the presentation of girls in all white feels closely to Vaz da Silva’s analysis of white in his article discussing “Chromatic Symbolism in Womanhood in Fairy Tales”. He states “white stands for luminosity and untainted sheen, thus for luminous heaven as much as for purity” (245). These girls are dressed in white to appear as the pure maidens, ready for entering a new stage of their lives. This festival mimics a wedding as the girls are walked down the aisle in all white, being presented to the school as the new leaders. Instead of meeting a husband at the end of the aisle, they are meeting new responsibilities. This moves them one step closer to adulthood.

Citation:

Vaz da Silva, Francisco. 2007 “Red as Blood, White as Snow, Black as Crow: Chromatic Symbolism of Womanhood in Fairy Tales”. Marvels and Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies. 21: 240-252.



Gray Thursday and Black Friday

Main Piece:

Within the private schools in the greater Memphis, Tennessee area the informant explained to me there is a tradition of Black Friday and Gray Thursday. This description is the informant’s personal experience with Black Friday. 

Black Friday was the day before the seniors were going to graduate. Before Black Friday the informant said they would have Gray Thursday where the seniors would stay overnight in the school. A few teachers were there to chaperone but as the informant describes it, “the whole thing was a shit-show”. The students would stay up all night writing notes to lower classmen and setting up pranks. The notes would be tapped to the lockers of girls and the next day it was like a popularity contest to see who got the most letters. The pranks were equally a big part. The informant said “one year they tapped all the phones to the ceiling, one year the seniors printed out every college rejection letter they ever got and hung it in the junior’s hallway”.

On Black Friday, after being in school the whole night, the seniors would come to class wearing all black and crazy makeup. Then they would interrupt chapel by saying the senior class had an announcement to make. The whole senior class would go up to the altar and sing songs. At the informant’s school, they would always sing “Tonight” by Fun! and “Wonderwall”. By the end of it, all of them would be crying in a big celebration of their graduation. After their ceremony ended, the seniors would all leave. The informant then said “juniors would then take off their sweatshirts revealing a class shirt they had designed and they would move up to the senior section of pews in the chapel”.

Background:

This occurred at the informant’s all-girls, private, Episcopalian high school in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an ongoing tradition that girls looked forward to every year.

Context:

The informant explained this tradition to me when they were reminiscing about their high school experience.

Thoughts:

This tradition takes place at a liminal moment in these girl’s lives. The Friday before graduation they do not have the responsibilities of a student but they are not technically a graduate. This allows for a tradition to be created, such as Gray Thursday and Black Friday, similar to jokes made at weddings and other liminal moments in people’s lives. The creation of this tradition allows the girls to be cathartic and find some sort of “closure” on this chapter of their lives. Also this example of Black Friday took place at a school that was for grades 5-12, so these girls had been with each other for a majority of their lives. This might explain the commitment these girls felt to saying goodbye in an exaggerated way.

Ojinnaka-Folk Title/Name

Context: This name was given to my dad by my grandfather or his father. This name is a title given to sons who have surpassed the expectations of their father. 

  • The name Ojinnaka means that he is greater than his age-mates because of his father. Meaning that the greatness of his father is passed down to his son.
    • Thoughts: This was something that I never knew about so learning about the significance of my dad’s given name was really eye-opening. Like I stated before with my mom, names in my culture are very significant because they are given on the basis of a wide variety of things. Names can be given based on traits and characteristics displayed during the time spent in your mother’s womb, you could be named based on the day you were born, the environment you were born in, or as a thank you to God for bringing you into the world. Every name has a meaning and is something that is very important when it’s given. My dad’s name was given to him by his father because he made my grandfather proud and wanted to mark this by bestowing the name Ojinnaka to him. I enjoyed learning about this because it really opened my eyes and made me value my name even more. Names are really cool because they carry so much weight in a variety of contexts and cultures. I believe all names have meaning and value, and learning about this reassured that belief.

“Isi buka ora ka Okpu”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community. 

  • “Isi buka ora ka Okpu”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Isi: head
      • Buka: big
      • Ora ka: struggle
      • Okpu: cap
    • Full Translation: No matter how big a man’s head is, we can find an alternative cap, meaning that we can always find a solution or alternative to any issue or problem.
      • Explanation: This proverb comes from my dad and he learned about this when he was a child growing up in Nigeria. This was supposed to be a saying that illustrated that no matter how big a problem was that a solution could always be found. When my dad told me about this proverb, he emphasized it as a teaching rather than a saying. He experienced a lot of hardships and adversities growing up, but he always remembered the words of his father in that there was no problem that he could not solve and to keep pushing forward.

Thoughts: Growing up this was not a saying that I would hear often here from my parents, but I recognize a lot of variations in English that they would tell us. It is interesting to think about how this one proverb could summarize the experiences of my dad as a child and his journey from Nigeria to the U.S. to start a better life for himself. Life in itself is riddled with challenges, but this proverb provides a simple and almost cheesy solution. If we think of problems as being impossible and that they can never be solved, then they will continue to plague and affect us throughout our life. However, if we address a problem with possible solutions from the beginning and speak into existence that a solution is near then no problem will be too great and we’ll always find a solution. The proverb is speaking clearly on the value of being solution-orientated and I agree with this message entirely. Given my dad as an example of what happens when you choose a path of solutions rather than problems, I hope to carry on the message of this proverb and apply it to the challenges I know I will face.

“Nwata adi ebu orika”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community. 

  • “Nwata adi ebu orika”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Nwata: child
      • Adi: does not or should not
      • Ebu: carry
      • Orika: heavy
    • Full Translation: A child should not carry the responsibility of the entire house or the responsibility of taking care of themself, meaning that parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children do not carry a burden that they cannot yet carry.
      • Explanation: My dad grew up in Nigeria and learned this proverb from his father[my grandfather]as a child. He remembers it well because it’s an important aspect of the community when he was growing up. He talked about the fact that “It takes a village”, meaning that it was important for adults in the community to support and help a child develop and grow. This is why it was stressed heavily that children must not be burdened by responsibilities that cannot carry.

Thoughts: I found this proverb to be quite compelling and that it really speaks truth to how I was raised. I am Nigerian American so I grew up hearing proverbs like this from my parents. This proverb is one that I have heard often, and I understood its meaning to be that as a child I should not try to overload myself or overextend myself. After talking with my dad about this, the meaning became more clear. While I should not overburden myself as a child, it also puts the responsibility on my parents to make sure that they handle their responsibilities and give me what I can manage. Indirectly this proverb has influenced a lot of my decisions because I always consult with my parents when I plan on taking on a new responsibility. Every decision becomes a dialogue and I always make sure that I understand now, that some things I cannot do by myself and I am grateful that my parents are around to alleviate and take on some of my burdens. 

Joint Marriages in Gujarat

Context: The following is an account from the informant, a family friend. She told this during a conversation at a get-together.

Background: This information was regarding the wedding customs of her village in the state of Gujarat in India. She had firsthand knowledge from her family and her own wedding.

Main piece: 

Informant: In our village, it is common and customary to have big joint weddings. Families will get together and plan to have five or six different couples getting married at the same time. 

Me: So do they know each other, or are they just random couples from the village?

Informant: Since most people in the village are either related to each other at least distantly or know each other well, people can coordinate without much difficulty. Everyone gets together to help, and my own grandfather helped cook the food in traditional cauldrons. Usually it ends up working well, and is much more economical since multiple marriages happen at the same venue, and the attendees who would have otherwise had to have been invited separately can all come at the same time.

Me: Wouldn’t there be extra attendees because there are so many families?

Informant: No, most of the villagers will come to any wedding that is happening anyways, so the number is about the same as there would be for just one couple getting married.

Analysis: This is a unique way of performing the wedding ceremony that seems to work well mainly due to the close-knit nature of the village, especially since many of the families of those getting married are actually relatives, whether close or distant. It seemed surprising at first because usually weddings are considered to be a special event for the couple, but this style of marriage seems to have more of a social aspect.

Call him Kuya

Main Piece

So these are “birth order titles”. Names for the oldest, second oldest, and third oldest, and the titles are different by gender. There are roles attached, so the first born is called Kuya (male) or Ate (female), and they are supposed to lead the family. They are the back-up mom and dad. This was slapped into us– if you didn’t use the titles, you were severely punished. The second borns are the back-ups to the Kuya and Ate, called Diko and Diche (male and female respectively). Third born is Sanko and Sanse, for boy and girl. So most Filipinos have known of and do the Kuya and Ate, but only what they call real Tagalogs (regional group) do the other titles. I was the third born, called Sanko. The other children don’t get titles.

Background/Context: My informant and father told this to me. He is Filipino, born in the Philippines. He comes from a large, close family.

Thoughts/Analysis:
The Philippines is a very family-oriented country. I have seen how major of a role these titles have played in their roles with each other. I think this reinforces a hierarchy among them, but also a sense of loyalty and responsibilty.

“Never Let the Blood of Your Unborn Children Cry to God for Vengeance.”

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Interviewer: Can you tell me some of the old stories or wives tales your mother told you?

Informant: The most gross one is about her – her mother, my grandmother, your great great grandmother told my mother about this rich lady that she took care of in Germany – she had a big ole mansion she took care of her, and I guess the lady – uhh, my grandma took care of her when she was dying. And, uhh, she kept telling her – I think her name was Marie – to go over to the closet! Because she kept hearing children crying. And uhh, so, my grandmother told my mother… to never let the blood of your unborn children to cry to god for vengeance. And she always told me. And I thought “what in the heck does THAT mean?!

Interviewer: (laughs)

Informant: I kn- I never – I mea- (laughs). What does that mean?! And then when I – I got older, and they talked about abortion, It finally, I finally put two and two together. The lady must’ve had a lot of abortions – because you know, they were wealthy, and they didn’t want kids to mess up their lifestyle, so she probably had an abortion, and then she – as she laid on her death bed, those little spirits haunted her – or she just had a guilty conscience, and she imagined that. So that’s a kind of weird icky thing.

Interviewer: Do you think that story is true? Or-

Informant: No, It’s true! It’s true. Because it was told to me by my mother, who never lied.

Interviewer: But either way it’s a story warning against abortions.

Informant: Yes.

Background: My informant was born and raised in southern Illinois to very strict Catholic parents. She has strong Irish and Italian heritage. Her mother was a devout and strict Catholic, and she has always been very religious herself, though she has never been overly strict with her children or grandchildren.

Context: The informant is my grandmother, and has always had a proclivity for telling stories, jokes, and wives tales. This piece was selected out of many from a recording of a long night of telling stories in a comfortable environment.

Thoughts: This story is not surprising coming from an “original” teller who was devoutly religious, especially nearly a century ago. The two ways in which the informant’s mother’s religion impact this story are funnily connected, though. I mean to say, I personally find it doubtful that this story was truthfully told by my great-great-grandmother, or that it happened to her. To me, it seems almost obvious that this was simply a tale to frighten young girls out of abortions because the teller was deeply religious, and that anybody could have made it up or spread it around. That is why I believe it to be folklore in the first place. But, my grandmother is nonetheless convinced that the story was true and happened to her grandmother also because of her mother’s religious nature – and feeling sure that she was not lying.