USC Digital Folklore Archives / April, 2016
Foodways

Mexican Stew

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in Mexico and currently lives in Brazil. She came to visit me.

Informant: Even though we live in Brazil, we always eat Mexican food, my mom always found a way to make it. She made sure that we didn’t lose our Mexican identity through food. It was kinda embarrassing to invite your friends when we had stew.

Collector: Why was it embarrassing?

Informant: Because to people that don’t know it and haven’t tried it before, it doesn’t really smell appealing. Like I once made a friend of mine eat it, and I was so scared that she wouldn’t like it, but she did, thank God.

Collector: What is in this stew?

Informant: Well, there’s different soups, but the one my mom makes the most is this one with pork belly. It has corn, onions, a special pepper, garlic, and green sauce. The ingredients are what make it smell gross, but I’m used to it like I grew up with it. It’s something we also typically eat at Christmas, it’s a Mexican thing.

Collector: Is there any special reason why you eat this at Christmas?

Informant: I mean, it doesn’t mean anything s pecial like it doesn’t represent anything. It’s just because it’s warm and it’s cold outside. It’s funny, if I don’t have anything spicy in a period of a week, I start to lose it. I get mood swings, or I start feeling desperate for it, spicy food can actually be an addiction. I used to bring chili powder to school. (She laughs) I actually have a purse size of the chili powder, so I put it in my purse when I go out.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because my family makes it and I’ve been eating it since I was little so I’m used to it. My first memory of it was when my grandmother made it in Mexico on Christmas. It’s always reminded me of home. It’s like a part of my identity.

I think that my friend’s story about her Mexican stew and how embarrassed she was to show it to others who weren’t Mexican was really interesting. It shows how she has such pride in her culture, that she doesn’t want anyone tearing it down because they don’t understand it. I personally always like to show people my Brazilian food, and I get upset when they don’t like it. I found it really interesting and enlightening how food can be a big part of our cultural identity.

Legends
Narrative

Scaremongering, HIV, and Fruit

I requested the informant to recount some pieces of folklore, some being ones that they have told me before. This is an urban legend they heard in middle school about how someone contracted HIV.

 

The informant says that this teenager bought a cup of chopped fruit from a street vendor in his neighbourhood. The next day, he started feeling sick and throwing up. When he went to the doctor, they told him he contracted HIV. As the story goes, the fruit vendor had HIV and had accidently cut through his gloves and into his hand without noticing. The boy did not notice the blood when he was eating it.


As some people still hold a lot of misconceptions and ignorant ideas about HIV, I am not entirely surprised that these almost scare-mongering, horror stories still exist. Presumably, people will drop these misconceptions as they grow up and learn. Information often dispels fear, a driving force behind these legends. For example, the informant later learned that one cannot contract HIV through consumption of infected blood, unless one has an open wound in the mouth seeing as HIV-infect fluid needs to enter the bloodstream. Having said that, it is possible that the person from the story had an open wound on their mouth.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bruinitized

The informant shared this information at my request. They shared this with me when I asked if their college, UCLA, had anything superstitions and such.

 

The informant said that before someone starts their first year at UCLA, they have to touch this inverted fountain to get “bruinitized.” They’ll also have to touch it one more time after they graduate; however, if they touch it before, the superstition goes that they’ll stay an extra quarter. The informant also mentions that incoming students were told to do this at orientation.


Most colleges have their own folklore. This follows the general pattern of a few I have heard before, where there is a threat of being held back. This also fits another pattern college folklore tend to have, where first-years may have to go through a ritual of sorts before they are considered a “full” Bruin for example. The fact that this was something new students were pushed to do at orientation also supports the idea that these rituals are there to help newcomers feel included.

Foodways
general

Bloody Worms

The informant shared this information at my request. They told me about how some people used to sell “bloody worms” in high school.

 

The informant said these “bloody worms” were simply gummy worms in red Kool-Aid. They were also typically in a small, plastic bag. They also mentioned that students also sold a variation called “bloody bears,” which used gummy bears instead.

 

They’ve never actually bought them, and is not entirely sure how or why students came to this specific combination of sweets. If they had to guess, the informant would say it might have given the food items more flavour.


I see this as an example of young people trying to make their way through life. Here, they would like to make money, so they are selling items easily accessible to them. I would guess that this folk dish came about after one takes two loved snack items, both full of sugar, and combine them into an even sugarier snack.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Carnival de San Miguel (Festival)

My informant is Alice. Alice is 50 years old and was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador. She lived there until she was 18 then moved to the United States and proceeded to live in Mexico for a short time before returning to the states.

 

Alice: “The festival is called ‘Carnival de San Miguel’ – the carnival of Saint Michael. It’s basically a town party, San Miguel is a city in El Salvador and there are a ton of coffee plantations around there and at the end of the coffee harvest they have this festival in the middle of the town like a big big party. Everyone goes and they get dressed up, well they used to now not so much, and dance and it’s very, very hot. There’s drinking and dancing and all kinds of merriment”

And this has been going on as long as you remember?

Alice: “This has been going on as long as I remember but there was a long period of time where people from the West of the country couldn’t go to that part of the country because of the war. So I missed this carnival for much of the time that I grew up because I couldn’t get there ecause of the war. When I came back after college I went for two years in a row. But my mother and my grandmother and my aunts and uncles all grew up going to this carnival”

Was it like a carnival here?

Alice: “No they call it carnival but its more like a big party, a dance”

What does this festival mean to you?

Alice: “It just means that it’s the end of a lot of hard work for a lot of people and you get to see everyone socially, people you know. It’s just a fun event, it’s a celebration. And depending on your age was how long you got to stay out and party. As a kid you would go with your parents and leave early but when you’re older you stay until like 4am and party. It’s like a rite of passage”

 

This festival, the ‘Carnival de San Miguel’, seems like a really fun celebration and like a very well known one in a small country like El Salvador where people would travel to come join the celebrations. Alice’s mother and her other’s mother all grew up going to this festival and she even claims it’s a rite of passage. All ages attend this celebration and it just sounds like one big party. This form of folklore is interesting because it is an annual celebration but they continue to do it and naturally it would change every year just a little bit, but from 50 years it could be completely different. Alice notes the change in wardrobe as people used to dress nicer to the festival. It’s also a cool form of folklore because it is something you can visually see take place and physically be a part of.

 

Folk Beliefs
general

Chinese Zodiac and Charms

The informant gave out the following piece of folklore at my request. They are of Chinese descent, and the setting was casual.

 

They said that for people born under the Year of the Ox, wearing a rat, rooster, or snake charm is “good” for them. When asked what that meant, they said that the charms are like friends.


This was interesting, because most charms I hear of are for good luck, wealth, and similar ideas. But similar to them, it may be a charm for more friends in the future, in addition to an animal figurine actually being a companion of sorts. The informant also mentioned that it does not have to be a charm; one can wear the complementary zodiac animals in any form.

Festival
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Lunar New Year

The informant gave out the following piece of folklore at my request. They are of Chinese descent, and the setting was casual.

 

They said that a long time ago, there used to be this creature that wasn’t quite a spirit, or like the guardian lions. These creatures were called “年” aka Nián, meaning “year” in Chinese. They would come down and attack this town every year to steal food, and eat humans. The humans heard that these creatures were afraid of loud noises, so they lit fireworks to scare them away. After seeing how Nián never came back, they began to light fireworks every year.

 

Some variations also include the color red and masks to scare off Nián. What was interesting about this interaction was the informant’s reaction when I said I, a person also of Chinese descent, was not familiar with the complete legend behind Chinese Lunar New Year. It reminded of the discussions the class had about what it meant to be of a certain identity.


One thing to clarify is that while several nations and cultures observes the lunar calendar, there are usually a few distinct differences between how one culture celebrates it, and how another celebrates it.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Flipped Over Shoes

The informant is Catholic, and of Irish descent. They agreed to meet up with me, and share pieces of folklore for this project.

 

“So this is like- It’s not actually like my personal heritage I guess, but, um one of my neighbours is, uh African and whenever we went to her house, she would tell us… We were close with her, like I went over there a lot. Um, that like if your shoes, or like with the soles, the bottom of it is facing the sky, then it’s like really bad luck. It’s like it means you’re gonna die or something. So, she would always make us turn our shoes over, and then like we started doing it at our house to cause we got used to it.”

 

This could perhaps stem from how having the bottom of shoes facing up creates a dissonance of sorts with the environment. Perhaps like how “up” is good in the U.S., having something normally facing “down” face up simply feels like a bad sign.


I also thought it was nice how easily this habit transferred over to the informant’s family.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Bandeja Paisa

The informant, S, is 18 years old and from Miami, Florida, but he grew up in Cartagena, Colombia (Northern, Columbia). His mom is from Barranquilla, Columbia (Northern Columbia), while his dad is from Cartagena, Columbia. He considers himself a Latino Columbian and is majoring in Civil Engineering Building Science.

S- “Ok so my Colombian culture has a lot of folklore, um primarily food. One of the main dishes is called Bandeja Paisa. It’s uh in my opinion a very good dish.”

What does it consist of?

S-“It consists of usually white rice and egg on top the rice. You have your steak and then you have an arepa, which is like a flour and corn thing. And usually we have chicharron (pork rinds) on the side and the dish usually also has patacones, which are also known as tostones (fried plantain slices)”

When do usually eat it?

S-“Anytime usually when you go out to a Columbian restaurant this is your go to dish”

Does your family make it?

S-“Yea my mom makes it all the time, but we go out to eat it from like the different Columbian restaurants from Miami, where I’m from”

Would you say each family has its own different recipe or it’s the same everywhere you go?

S-“Just like any recipe it can be tweaked here and there. Like for example the steak can be either carne asada (steak) or carne molida (ground beef), so it’s two different kinds of steak. And some people don’t like having the arepa on the side. It depends on the time when you have it. For example if you’re having it for brunch then you’d have the arepa and if you’re eating it more towards dinner then you wouldn’t have the arepa present on the dish”

Are there any other sides that go with it?

S-“Um yea I actually forgot to mention they usually have frijoles (beans) or lentejas (lentil) on the side so you can put it with your rice”

Analysis- The dish consists of many of the local and plentiful types of food that are present in the area and in the country. It is also evidence of the impact different cultures have left there over time, mainly from the conquistadors from Spain, France, and Britain. The name also is part of the country as it consists of the area it originated from (Paisa) and its appearance of a bandeja (large pot or bowl). While there may not be one official authentic bandeja paisa, due to the fact that it can be tweaked and no one can for sure know which is the original recipe, the people don’t seem to mind this, for they even go out their ways to try it at different places.bandeja Paisa

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Irish Fest

The informant is Catholic, and of Irish descent. They agreed to meet up with me, and share pieces of folklore for this project.

 

What is Irish Fest?

 

“Um, so…I- In Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I’m from, they have this thing called Irish Fest every year, and- because there was a really big population of Irish people in Milwaukee, and Irish fest is the biggest festival for Irishness outside of Ireland and- Like a lot of people from Ireland actually come to Milwaukee for it because it’s, um like a bunch of Irish music and stuff is played there, and they don’t gather as much in like Ireland. Like it’s the biggest music festival for Irish music. Um, so me and my family, every year we go to Irish Fest and, um well- I don’t know. So there’s like Irish dancing and, um there’s Irish music and we always eat reubens, which are like an Irish thing. It’s like corned beef.

 

Do you usually eat reubens outside of Irish Fest?

 

“I… We do, but not as much. We usually eat it on Saint Patrick’s Day, and… and Irish Fest.”


This ties into when the class talked about how heritage is inherited, something one is born into. Despite how the informant does not live in Ireland, they and other Irish descendants seem to feel drawn to the festival as a way to feel connected to their heritage. I also found it interesting how people from Ireland fly in for the festival as well.

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