USC Digital Folklore Archives / May, 2015
Folk speech

The Harlem drag ball scene

JG describes lingo used within the gay community that arised in the 1980s but wasn’t mainstream until more recently:

JG: “A lot of the terms you will see on RuPaul’s Drag Race. One is called “executive realness” which is when the men are supposed to dress in drag that looks like a business woman. So you’d be giving “executive realness” if you look like a business woman in charge. Another one is “throwing shade”. This is when you say something “shady” or bitchy. Like if I said I thought Jenny was a slut then I’d be throwing shade at Jenny. They are terms usually used in the gay community but I think they are spread outwards by shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race where people who have never seen a drag queen in real life can learn their lingo”

Do you know where these words came from?

JG: “They came from the underground drag ball scene in the 1980s. The only reason I know that is from the documentary “Paris is Burning”. Basically the terms have been around for a long time but it was avant guard back then cause the drag scene was more underground. It was big in the downtown gay club scene but didn’t make its way into the mainstream until 20 or 20 years later.”


The Power Song

RS is a member of the group WYSE. WYSE is a student organization on campus that stands for Woman and Youth Supporting Eachother. Each week members of the group go to a local middle school and teach health classes to a small group of 8th grade girls.

RS: “We usually just call it power but basically it’s a song and a game that we play during the breaks. Basically all the girls stand in a circle and we say the chant “P-O-W-E-R we got the power cause we are the women of WYSE”. Then one person goes in the circle and like if I went into the cirle I would say “My name is Reegan” and everyone would else would say “Yeah” and then I say “and I’m next on the list” and they go “yeah” and then I go “and I get my reputation cause I do it like this” and then I do a goofy dance in the middle and everyone repeats “and she does it like this” and repeats the move.

To make it more clear:

Middle Person “My name is —–”

Everyone “Yeah”

Middle Person “And I’m next on the list

Everyone “Yeah”

Middle Person “And I get my reputation cause I do it like this” (dances)

Everyone “She does it like this” (copies dance)

How long does it go on for?

RS: “As long as people keep jumping in the middle. A lot of the girls are pretty shy and take some convincing. It’s a good way to get them not to be so embarrassed. They always want to play but sometimes it takes a while to convince them to go in the middle”

Do you know where it came from?

RS: “I think it was just a basic chant and someone decided to change the words to make it about WYSE. I remember doing a similar one at cheer camp over the summer. Everyone in WYSE knows it though, you just kind of learn it once you go to your school site. They do it and you just kind of have to join in”

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Scooter Day

KB is from Denver, Colorado and graduated from high school in 2013.

Could you describe senior scooter day?

KB: “Senior scooter day was during the seniors last week of school. Basically each senior got to bring a razor scooter to school and ride it around all day. In one of my classes a guy made an entire presentation on his razor scooter, it was awesome. It was also super cool because our campus was big, we had 4 separate building so a scooter was really convenient. And everyone would know you were a senior. But then people were getting hurt on their scooters or hitting people or something so they tried to get rid of it. The year before I was a senior people tried to be rebellious and still ride them, but the deans would take them away. Then when I was a senior they said you couldn’t walk at graduation if you were a senior. So senior scooter day is basically gone now, in a couple years they probably won’t remember what it was. I was super pissed we couldn’t do it, but I don’t think anyone tried. I think they gave us a senior party in the quad instead, but senior scooter day was way cooler”

Senior scooter day is interesting because it relates to the liminal period in a person’s life. Senior’s are on the brink of starting a new life after high school so there are all types of rituals to distinguish the seniors from everyone else and also to celebrate the next chapter in their life. I think this ritual is particularly interesting because it is slightly anti-authority. It was discouraged before it was completely banned which I think goes hand in hand with it coming at a liminal period. The activity would only become more appealing because it allowed seniors to feel powerful and above high school.


The Generous Jesuit Ghost

“So I have this friend who goes to Fordham, and I live in the Northeast so I’ve visited plenty of times, and she told me this popular legend around the school. There’s a church on campus since it’s a Jesuit school, and one day some girl saw a priest in the church that she hadn’t seen before. She was looking for tutoring in the field of his expertise, so she befriended him. He tutored her for weeks until the end of the semester, but something wasn’t quite right. At the end of the semester, she went back to thank him for all of his help, but she couldn’t find him. So naturally, she looked up the name of the priest in the school’s records, and found the name and picture of the priest who had helped her. The funny thing is, he had apparently been dead for almost 90 years!”

I got this from one of my friends who is from Providence, RI. Her friend is a freshman at Fordham, and keeps in regular contact with her. According to my friend, the legend circulates among Fordham students, and it’s a local legend that that building is somewhat supernatural. Having gone to a Jesuit high school, I kind of have an insight to this legend. The Jesuit priests at my school loved stories like this, and they always told kind of tongue-in-cheek stories about Jesuits helping people, so I feel like this may have originated with the Jesuits themselves.


Vietnamese Dragon Origin Myth

“The legend goes that Lạc Long Quân, the King of the Dragonkind, lived in and reigned over Vietnam in about 3,000 BCE. Sometime in his life he married Âu Cơ, who was a goddess of birds. Quân fathered 100 children who all hatched at the same time with Âu Cơ. Once they were all born, the King and his wife realized that they could not live together anymore and raise all of the children together, so they split and the King went to the coast with 50 kids and the wife went to the mountains with the other 50. According to the legend, all of the Vietnamese people of today are directly descended from these 100 children, making us all dragon people.”

This legend was collected from one of my friends. He is fully racially Vietnamese, and both of his parents emigrated from Vietnam to the US when they were adults. He said his parents try to keep their Vietnamese traditions alive, mostly through cooking traditions, but also through some stories. This is the only one he really remembers clearly. To him, it’s important because his parents identify strongly with it. They don’t actually believe that they are part dragon, but the myth takes on a more significant metaphorical meaning. I don’t really know enough about Vietnamese culture, but I could imagine that this myth provides the Vietnamese with a sense of unity as well as a divide between the mountainous peoples and the coastal peoples of Vietnam.


Sugar Creek Smallmouth Bass

“There’s a creek that goes through my hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana called Sugar Creek, and they say it has best smallmouth bass fishing in the country. Apparently in the 80s, some high school kid went down to the Creek after school and caught four 8lb smallmouths, and a massive 12 pounder in an hour. Ever since kids always go down there to try to catch some huge ones, and I’ve caught a couple big ones myself, but nowhere near the 12 pounder he caught.”


This is from my friend who comes from a small town in Indiana with a lot of folklore traditions. He’s lived there all of his life, and apparently there are a lot of these little local stories legends about his town which is awesome. He said that this one particularly resonates with him and gives him a sense of nostalgia because it reminds him of his times fishing during his childhood and looking for legendary bass.




“So Vardavar is an Armenian holiday that dates back from the pagan times, and back then they worshipped a god Astghik who was the goddess of fertility and love and water. Since Armenia is pretty arid, they celebrate the harvest time with water mostly. Originally, people would collect flowers like roses and vartivers, some kind of yellow flower, and throw them everywhere. The flower thing kind of died out, but they also had a ceremony of just pouring water everywhere, just dumping it on random people. That’s the big part of it today, and you can douse children, women, men, anyone, and they all enjoy it. It’s basically a way to celebrate Armenian cultural history and remember where we came from.”


This is from my roommate who was born in Yerevan, Armenia, but he and his family moved to the U.S. in the late 1990s, before he was even five years old. However, he has spent most of his summers back in Armenia, visiting family and whatnot. He is fluent in Armenian and speaks it at home. He grew up with Vardavar because of those summers spent in Armenia with relatives, so he always participated in it. To him, it’s a celebration of his culture and history, and just a fun holiday, and for him it brings back memories from his childhood summers.



The Night Marchers

“The legend of the Night Marchers takes place on the west coast of Oahu, on a beach called Keawa-Ula Bay. Basically, a few days of the year the spirits of dead Native Hawaiians march from the mountains to the ocean in order to somehow reach the afterlife. They pound their drums and carry torches, and anyone who gets in the way of their march is never seen again, so people are supposed to stay inside if they ever hear the marching. My parents told this one to me when I was a kid, and they taught about it in elementary school too. I think it’s mostly used by parents to warn their kids from going outside at night, at least that’s how it was for me.”


The person I got this from is one of my 19-year-old friends at USC. He’s lived all of his live in Hawaii, and even though he isn’t racially Hawaiian (half Japanese, half Guatemalan), he and his family are very immersed in Hawaiian culture. To him, this legend evokes memories of his home and childhood, and it reminds him of his cultural


Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Special Dumpling

Informant was a 20 year old male who was born in North Carolina and moved to Santa Monica at an early age. He attends the University of San Diego and is an old family friend that came to visit.


There’s this Chinese New Year tradition that a bunch of dumplings are made and a coin or a peanut is placed into one of them. Everyone knows that one of the dumplings has a coin or peanut, but nobody knows which one. Whoever gets the special dumpling supposedly has good luck for the entire new year.

Collector: Is it true?

Informant: The luck? I don’t know, I’ve never found the coin, but I think it’s probably bullshit.

Collector: So you’ve done this several times?

Informant: Yeah, at a friend’s house. Only my mom is Chinese, but she doesn’t really celebrate the Chinese New Year. My friend’s family does, though, and I think it’s kind of fun to just go over there and participate.

Collector: So it’s a real Chinese tradition, this dumpling thing? Not just a family tradition?

Informant: So I’ve been told. Since my friend is the only one I know who does this I’m not sure. I think my mom has said that it is, but I don’t really remember…I should probably listen to her more (laughs).

Collector: Does it have to be dumplings?

Informant: Yes. I think.

I believe that the informant is trying to connect with his Chinese heritage by participating in this New Year tradition. It’s that whole ethnic identity thing. Since he’s half Chinese, he probably feels like he should participate, although, it does seem like it’s something that he enjoys doing. I know of several traditions that are similar to this one (one involving having money in one’s pocket at the stroke of midnight, and another involving running around with a purse) which indicates to me that many people truly believe that there is something magical about the new year. It’s a liminal line of sorts that requires a ritual in order to pass successfully.


The Field

Informant was a 20 year old male who was born in North Carolina and moved to Santa Monica at an early age. He attends the University of San Diego and is an old family friend that came to visit.

Collector: Do you have any legends you may have heard about? Some story someone has told you?

Informant: Well, in elementary school we had the Katherine D. Vickes field, and one day the principal came up to me during recess and said it was named after a woman who had died there twenty years ago.

Collector: Really? Did he tell you how she died?

Informant: Yeah, but it’s actually really weird and I’m not sure he was telling the truth.

Collector: So it could be considered….a legend?

Informant: I guess. Well, he said that there was a little girl who used to go to the school, like 8 years old or something like that, and she had a mom who worked in a nuclear power plant. The lady got irradiated and died and she started to haunt the field at her daughter’s school. He said it was so she could keep an eye on her, but I don’t really know. This was a long time ago. (In a conspiratorial whisper)  Some people still think they can hear her voice, gently murmuring, on particularly still nights.

Collector: Jeez, what school did you go to, sounds crazy as hell.

Informant: Grant Elementary.

So, this story is pretty odd, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt since most legends don’t make a lot of sense either. I assume the principal was merely attempting to make friendly chatter with my informant by divulging this story he knew. The fact that it is so weird leads me to believe that this is a highly passed along narrative, since the more a story is passed along, the less sense it starts to make and the crazier the details become. Variation, indeed.