USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘family history’
general

Remembering your roots

Ther informant talks about her family saying that has been passed down from generation to generation of the family-owned lumber mill would tell to their children using very philosophical views to teach.

Informant: In 3rd grade, my grandfather came to stay with me when my parents went to Japan for 2 weeks. I heard my grandfather singing, when I went to compliment his singing, he scolded me saying that it was poetry. And he said my education was a disgrace, and he decided to teach me Tang poetry. He was incredibly well educated and opened his own school. They taught a lot of famous philosophers and martial arts. He began instructing me how to pronounce this poetry, but it was incredibly difficult for a little girl like me to learn.

he told me a story from Zuangzi 莊子, everyone should know their own ancestors and such. Just like the trees that our lumber mill production. We would cut the trees and put it into a river and pick them up downstream. However, when you put the tree in the river, you had to put the tree in the right way, the tip of tree trunk pointing upstream. This is so that it would go down smoothly if you don’t do it properly, then the tree will be confused. Even the trees know where their roots are, so all human beings need to know their roots/ancestry. As a tutor in traditional Chinese, everything with him was didactic, loaded with right vs. wrong, good and better, righteousness and all those Confucius values. This is a story that has been told by our family for the past I think 6 or 7 generations.

Just like trees, us humans need to know our roots and continue the legacy.

 

This was interesting, learning a little about my one’s ancestry and family teachings that have been passed down for many generations and knowing that using very philosophical views from a very famous philosopher in ancient China to be applied to a family that used to produce lumber in the past 2 centuries is somewhat amazing for me. I feel like the message that was mentioned really is important to not forget one’s ancestry and roots.

general

Moon Festival

The informant is my father who has always grown up in Taiwan but came to America for grad school. Understanding both cultures, he has a very wide understanding of the traditions in our household and its practices.

Informant:

中秋節 (Zhong Qiu Jie) – It is a celebration of when the moon is the biggest during the year. We celebrate it by eating 月餅 (Yue Bing) which is moon cakes. We also have a tradition to go outside and have barbecues with friends and family while enjoying the beautiful moon. In our family, we do not go do barbecues outside because it is too much of a hassle, so we usually just go to a barbecue restaurant to eat. After that, we always go home and eat fruits, one particular fruit we eat is pomelo. When you were a child we used to eat the fruit and use the shell of the fruit as a hat for you to play around with. As a kid, we even used the fruit shell as slippers to save money. It also has a great smell so we always leave it outside as a fragrance.

I have sometimes been in Taiwan during this time, I for one personally love this holiday because I get to eat delicious barbecue. I definitely do not remember doing such a tradition of putting fruit on top of my head, but it does sound like something I would do as a kid.

Childhood
Folk speech
general
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Bath Song and Family History

A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.

A: Um, I don’t know if this is a me parable or family parable but I really hated taking baths when I was little, so they used to sing a song about a little kid who wouldn’t take baths and would turn into a pig. Cause she was so dirty. But I think its real because it actually has a tune, like I don’t think my Grandmother actually made up a song, but the song is like “I’m a little piggy, cause I stink a lot,” basically in Greek. And it goes like “well you’ll turn into a piggy too unless you take a bath.”

Me: Aww

A: So yeah, I was afraid I was gonna turn into a barnyard animal. It was fun.

Me: But you took the bath!

A: This is true.

Me: Did they sing this to your siblings? Do you have other siblings?

A: I don’t, I’m an only child. And this was with my grandparents too, and I’m the only grandchild as well.

Me: Aw. But you’ll probably do it with your kids too.

A: Oh yeah. It was so much fun. It’s got it’s own song! My grandfather told me a lot of stories about donkeys, I don’t remember exactly what they contain, but every story that had a moral always involved a donkey. Like a donkey on an adventure.

Me: Your grandparents liked farmyard animals is basically…

A: You know what, my grandparents grew up in the village with farmyard animals, so I’m sure this is how their parents told it to them.

Me: So the songs and the stories are like based on that?

A: Oh yeah. And it’s definitely based on the old village, which is like way the heck up in the mountains, like I’ve been there.

Me: Is there a name for it?

A: Yes, Ayiosgiannis. So my last name is the name of the village, just shortened. The name of the village is St. John’s in English. Um, Ayios is St. in English and that’s where Ayiotis, my last name is from.

Me: Ohhhh

A: So the last names were very frequently based on the area where you are from or like what you were called in the village. So I’m pretty sure my great-grandfather made up that name.

Me: So that’s generally where Greek last names come from?

A: I believe so. A lot of them, like a couple of them, are professions, but a lot of the ones are places.

Me: So places and professions but mostly places?

A: Actually let me rephrase. If you got out of the village then it’s a place cause you wanted to honor your village, but for people in the village, why would they all have the same last name as the village?

Me: True.

A: So it was in the village it was by profession or by nickname or sometimes you will genuinely find people name “Andreas Andreou” like “Phillip Phillipou,” like people with the same last name as their first name, and it’s very funny. Um they’ll do like men’s first names as well as last names cause that was your dad’s dad. So basically common ways to distingush between people with the same name in a village.

Me: So your last name, does it change?

A: It can. We didn’t have last names until the British came and were like “why the heck do you not have last names?” And that was in the 30s, um the 20s. Yeah, Cyprus was a British colony up until the 60’s.

Me: Wow.

A:  Um that’s when they gained their independence.

Me: You didn’t have last names until the 20’s?

A: Yeah, why would we need it? We’re farmers, we’re farming.

Me: That’s true.

A: I remember my grandfather was born in like 1934 and he told me he saw a car in his village once when he was like nine years old and that was probably the only car on the island of Cyprus, driving through all the villages like “oh my god I bought a car!” So it was very…

Me: Secluded?

A: Yeah. And it’s still very farm-heavy. Its still agricultural.

Me: Is Cyprus an island off of Greece?

A: It’s an island actually closer to Lebanon than it is to Greece. It’s north of Egypt and south of Turkey in the Mediterranean Ocean, but since that area used to all be ethnically Greek in the Greek, Egyptian, and Ottoman Empire and since Cyprus is an island it saw less change over time as more people moved in and out because it’s harder to conquer an island. So the people who are Greek there, like our dialect of Greek is more similar to ancient Greek.

A talks about a song that her grandparents used to sing to her when she was little to get her to take a bath. This is a fond memory that she has and she said that it works, the song was effective in making her believe that if she were not to take a bath, she would turn into a pig. A also explains that the song might have to do with her grandfather’s origins, which are especially important to her as the root of her last name is the name of the village. Her grandfather lived in a very agricultural, farm-heavy village, and this is likely where the song originated. The dirt being the result of farming all day, and turning into a pig being the result of not cleaning yourself, so turning into one of your farm animals. The name, the village, and the song are all connected in one way or another.

Customs
Foodways
general
Material

Candy Family

The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature. 

The Candy Family

Informant…

“My family, we have been making candy for 200 years. Good Mexican candy. No one knows where it started but my great great great grandpa is who we believe started it and passed it down though each generation. Making Mexican Candy is how my grandparents survived through the Mexican Revolution. My grandfather use to say, “people may be poor but they are always going to have a couple of cents for candy for their kids.” That was how my family survived being poor then it turned into this thing that our family does. My uncle who lives in Mexico, is know as the King of Candies in that area and he was able to put his kids through college. My dad brought it here to America and that is what he did for the longest time, and once he retired he decided to take up the candy trade. Over here in this are my dad is known as the Ducero or the Candy Man”.

Analysis…

Family traditions are interesting and it is interesting to hear about the different family traditions that families possess. I collected from this informant and he was more excited to tell me about the traditions that his family has started and continue to do apposed to the scary stories or the legends and myths he shared with me. Family history, traditions, culture, and backgrounds are important to us because they give us a sense of identity and I thought it was neat hearing about how the informants family survived.

Mexican Candy is extremely popular, it has the sweet taste of regular candy but with an extra tangy bitter taste to it. The taste of Mexican Candy is so much different than any type of food combinations we may be use to, giving a nice flavor burst in our mouths. We enjoy different things and Mexican Candy is definitely different and I think that is what makes it so popular.

 

Customs
general
Legends
Narrative

Abuela Blanca

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Magic Abuela Blanca

Informant…

“It is a wide spread belief through santeras (witch doctor) is that if you were to catch lice that it was most likely from a dead person. Having lice from a dead person meant that you would carry that dead person’s spirit with you or you were possessed by them leading so you would be shunned from your family and society. My great great great grandma Abuela Blanca was a saint in her community. She was an amazing woman who taught at an elementary school in the country side. For a few days in a row one student, a young girl, wasn’t showing up to school and Abuela Blanca was concerned. She went to the young girl’s house and asked the parents why she hadn’t been to class and they proceeded to tell her what happened. The young girl caught lice from a dead person and the family was in the process of pushing her out of the home so she would be shunned from society. Abuela Blanca cared for the girl and didn’t accept the situation. Being the saint she was Abuela Blanca took the girl home, cleaned her hair and got rid of all the lice and sent her home. From that point on Abuela Blanca was talked about in the community as being a miracle worker or being able to perform magic.”

Analysis…

When I thought about folklore before, I didn’t realize that folklore could be held within and amongst family members. The specific informant gave me folklore that isn’t necessarily known widely by lots of people but rather held in her family and it is significant to her and important to the family because it actually means something to them. It is a story that tells them about their ancestor and the way that she lived her life.

Abuela Blanca sounds like an incredible woman. The way that she saw other people and was caring in her community really is an expression of her character. The informant expressed to me that she was amazing and I could tell by the way she spoke about her. Having a figure like her to look up to and try to live like is probably beneficial in a family. If they all look up to the same person and base their life after the same person there are probably a lot of similarities within the family.

 

Customs
Humor
Narrative

A Very Blind Engagement (Japan)

My grandmother was first told this story by her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, roughly fifty years ago.  The account is actually about my great-grandmother and how she met her husband, my great-grandfather.  Ever since she heard the story, she has retold my aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and other relatives as a piece of interesting family history.  With this entry, my goal is to illustrate the “telephone effect,” or alteration of the original story, that can occur after only three generations by interviewing my grandmother and my brother.  My brother has heard the story from both my grandmother and my mother, so his version is expected to be different from my grandmother’s.

The story as my grandmother tells it goes like this:

Your great-grandmother, Mitsuno, was born in Hiroshima and was the eldest child in her family.  Because she was the eldest, she was responsible for her younger siblings, so she stayed at home while her siblings went off to school everyday.  One day, when she was in her twenties, she heard about an opportunity to go to the U.S. and meet a husband.  She was probably eager to experience life outside her hometown.  She was given a picture of her husband-to-be and took a ship to Los Angeles.  He was from Hiroshima too.  It was common back then to marry within your region of Japan…  It was frowned on to marry outside your city… But anyways, when she got off the ship… Boy, was she surprised!  He was much older than the picture!  So… she got right back on the ship and went back to Japan.  Well, your great-grandfather, Sakuichi, went all the way over to Japan, found her and convinced her to come back to the U.S. with him.  She eventually did, they got married and lived in Los Angeles.  But it certainly wasn’t a happy marriage!

When I interviewed my brother, the story was altered a bit and also condensed:

I don’t think I’ve heard that story in a couple years or so… I interviewed Grammy for one of my Asian-American classes.  Um, I don’t really remember who it was or how we’re related to her, but it happened during the early 1900s, when there were early forms of ‘mail order brides’… Basically I think she wanted American citizenship, so she blindly traveled from Japan to the States to meet her husband.  When she got off the boat, she took one look at him and convinced the boat crew to take her back to Japan.  I guess he didn’t just take that lying down, and he sailed to Japan to bring her back….”

The two versions of the story present the same plotline, but are noticeably different.  My grandmother offers more information and descriptions, while my brother omits specific names and also adds some other details.  My brother seems to put it into his own context becuase the last time he said he heard the story, he used it to relate to an Asian-American Studies course.  These contrasting stories are expected though, since my grandmother knew my great-grandmother and learned the story first-hand.  Yet, still, my grandmother’s version may be very different from my great-grandmother’s account, and that account may be very different from my great-grandfather’s account.  After just three generations since the original story was told to my grandmother, only the “punch line” of the narrative has survived.  The case study demonstrates the multiplicity and variation that commonly defines folklore and how stories are transformed over time.

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