USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Asian-American’
general
Humor

Supplies Joke

There’s a German man, American man and a Chinese man who are all employees at a cement factory. When the employer comes along, he tells the German man to set the cement, he tells the American man to set the bricks, and he tells the Chinese man to get the supplies. When he comes back in an hour, the cement is all set and bricks are all in place, but the Chinese man is nowhere to be found. When he asks where the Chinese man is, the Chinese man jumps out of the bush and yells “supplies!”

The informant says she first heard this joke from a friend in high school when they were both on a trip. She says that although they are both Asian, they both found it extremely funny, because this joke plays upon stereotypes of accents that are often true within the older generation that came to America, not having grown up here. Although it is stereotypical, she believes that it is all in good fun.

It is interesting how this joke plays with the idea of Blason Populaire. The informant and the person whom she heard the joke from are both Asian Americans with parents who have accents that are similar to the one being made fun of in the joke. By laughing over the joke and taking the idea lightly, they are both identifying with a group, which reaffirms their identities as Asian Americans. Furthermore, this joke also uses the rule of 3, which indicates that it originated in Western culture.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays

Pepero Day — Korean Singles Awareness Day

Pepero (빼빼로) is a cookie stick, dipped in chocolates syrup, manufactured by the Lotte company in South Korea:

Pepero (빼빼로)

Pepero Day is an observance in South Korea similar to Valentine’s Day. It is named after Pepero and held on November 11th, because the date “11/11″ resembles four sticks of Pepero.

My informant spent her childhood in Korea and moved to Irvine, California upon her entrance into high school. Irvine as a city has a significant Korean population–as such, Korean and other Asian-American students at her high school celebrated Pepero Day every year. However, though it is unclear whether this is a regional or a Korean-American variation, Pepero Day at her high school focused more on people who were single than couples, because they saw the Pepero sticks as symbolizing people standing upright, on their own, without need for another person. This could be because of the nature of her high school, which, while ranked in the top ten of the best high schools in America, with its ultra-high SAT scores and proliferation of AP classes, was apparently sadly lacking (according to her) in the area of romance and relationships. “People were always too busy to date,” She said. “They were married to their grades, basically, and any other kind of relationship was a sort of cheating because it might bring their grades down.”

This was, obviously, not the case for the entire school, and she may have been exaggerating; however, it is clear that her Korean and other Asian-American friends had somehow shifted this day to reflect their own plight, making it a joke about their studiousness by labeling it a kind of “Singles Awareness Day.” Traditionally, my informant said, in Korea, the holiday is observed by young people and couples, who exchange Pepero sticks and other romantic gifts. At her school, people walked around with boxes of Pepero, handing them out to their friends and saying things like, “Better luck next year!” or “Happy Singles Day!” Oftentimes, people who were in relationships were denied Pepero sticks, and jokingly told, “You’re in a couple, you don’t need a Pepero for companionship!”

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

“I’m gonna do so badly on this” — Student Folk Belief

My informant is a Vietnamese student currently attending high school in Irvine, California in a predominantly Asian-American neighborhood. She was born in Irvine and has lived there all her life, and the high school she attends now, ranked in the top ten public high schools in America, is notorious for its rigor, and its extremely studious students. When I asked her whether she knew superstitions pertaining to her school, she jumped up with this one almost immediately:

I know it’s probably not just my school, and there are probably people that do this in schools everywhere, but I think it’s especially bad here because everyone does it and everyone really believes in it too. Like, before a test, you’re never supposed to say out aloud that you think you’re ready. Ever, like, it’s taboo or something. You’re always supposed to say, “Oh my God, I’m so screwed,” or like, “I’m gonna do so badly on this,” because otherwise, there’s this stupid superstition that you’re gonna fail. [Laughing] And it’s really annoying when the super-smart kids do it too, and you know they’ve studied for like the past week straight, and they’re saying things like, “Oh, I just started studying yesterday,” and I’m like, “No you didn’t!” Like, if you say you think you’re ready and you think you might do well, people kind of look at you like you’re being cocky or arrogant or something. And then people say all the time how once, they thought they were ready for a test and said so, and they ended up failing. And then the next time they like, lowered their expectations or whatever, and said they were gonna fail, and they end up getting an A-plus. Everyone does it. [Smiling] I mean, it’s stupid, but I do it too. What’s better than like, not having any expectations at all, you know?

In a school culture dominated by grades and academics, this superstition, which is, as she said, probably present in any high school, is intensified and ritualized. Saying, “I’m gonna do so badly on this” is a student trying to lower their expectations in case the test is more difficult than they had thought, and at the same time trying to disarm, in a way, “the competition,” as my informant put it. “People at my school are super-competitive.” She said. “It’s funny, like, there’d be people that would even argue about which one was more not ready, so that if they did get a bad grade it’d be justified or something.”  The lower the expectations, the less the disappointment would probably be–which is why it is such a good defense mechanism.

That these students even need a superstition like this seems testament to the immense amounts of pressure placed on them as high school students expected to advance to prestigious universities. By telling themselves and others that they aren’t ready for an exam, they push the blame for a bad grade on not being ready, instead of, perhaps, the scarier alternative, which is not being smart enough. A minor superstition, but its proliferation at her high school probably expresses a certain terror for not being capable enough–we can always try harder, but if we try really hard and we still can’t get a good grade, then where do we go? Are we just not smart enough? And that question is what these students seem the most afraid of.

 

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