USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘parents’
Folk speech
Proverbs

“The Value of Hard Work”

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions or sayings he remembers from his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, but that in particular, his parents have always emphasized the value of hard work. The subject stated that the proverb is a traditional Chinese proverb, but provided me with a rough summary as he remembered his parents telling him. After doing some research, the story comes from a Chinese idiom, “Shòu zhū dài tù”, or “Watching a tree stump, waiting for rabbits” (visiontimes.com). Additionally, the original idiom does not mention the farmer himself dying, so this could possibly be an alternative ending that the subject’s parents told him for extra emphasis. This seems like a rather graphic story to tell to a young child, but the proverb and the idiom it originates from highlights the reliability of hard work instead of luck. (Source url: http://www.visiontimes.com/2013/11/18/the-chinese-idiom-watching-a-tree-stump-waiting-for-rabbits.html)

Main Piece

“The jist of the proverb is about a farmer who one day luckily manages to catch a rabbit that runs head first into a tree. So instead of farming or working hard, he decides to sit by the tree every day and wait for more rabbits to run into the tree. Of course that never happens because that’s only a really lucky occurrence, so he starves and dies.”   

Folk Beliefs
Legends

El Cucuy

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description of a supernatural figure they learned about from their mom:

“El Cucuy was a monster that my mom told me was in my closet, and I had to close my door–my closet door–at night or else he would get me. And so, every single night- well I was- I would always leave my closet door open because I would forget and she’d be like, ‘el Cucuy is gonna come get you!’ She would like, slam the door shut and like, that was that. And um, I actually like- that was all that we talked about, about el Cucuy. Like that was the only interaction I had…it was very mysterious.”

Variants of a monster or ghost that hides in a child’s closet appear across various cultures and locations. Much of the folklore that children learn from their parents consists of vaguely threatening or scary legends that may or may not serve to teach children not to misbehave. For example, Rudy’s mother may have talked about el Cucuy partly to get Rudy to close the closet door and keep their bedroom neat.

A description of this figure, known alternatively as “el Coco,” can be found in the book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans by Rafaela G. Castro (Oxford University Press, 2001) on page 57.

Folk Beliefs

La Sihuanaba

The following story  is said to have occurred in Guatemala.

EO: “My aunt told me the story of the Sihuanaba and I’m not sure if it’s the wide one because like she told it to me very specifically, as if it were her that saw her. So it was like a first hand account sort of thing…I was terrified.”

What happened to your aunt?

EO: “She says she was riding a horse, and someone was ahead of her on a horse. And the person didn’t have a head or something. So they turned around, and it turns out the person’s hair was super messy, like a horse’s mane.” 

Did they interact?

EO: “No, she just looked at her, then went away. But that’s all I know about La Sihuanaba. She just looks at people and steals horses–so you can’t go alone.”


 

La Sihuanaba is a mythological creature of Guatemala and El Salvadoran folklore. Like many mythological creatures shared from parent-to-child, the story of La Sihuanaba is told by parents to convince their children not to roam alone away from the home.

Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tea Ceremonies in Chinese Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”

While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her if there were any particular rituals or traditions drawn from Asian cultures that she has incorporated into weddings in the past. She responded by describing tea ceremonies, which she has commonly incorporated in the weddings of individual’s having a Chinese cultural background.

“In a tea ceremony, the parents of the bride and groom are called up to the altar. Together, the bride and groom prepare a cup of tea for each parent. The mothers and fathers then each take three sips of the tea, after which they sit back down. I’m not entirely sure why it is important that they take only three sips, but traditionally that is how it’s done.”

My first question after hearing of this tradition was, “How do they boil water at the altar?” To which the informant responded, “Typically a kettle has been heated somewhere behind the scenes, and it is brought out for the bride and groom. Really all they have to do is pour the tea into a cup and serve it to their parents.” This ceremony seems to represent the newlyweds demonstrating their gratitude to their parents for all that they have done, as a wedding marks the transition at which an individual’s spouse now has more responsibility for taking care of that person than do his or her parents. It is also a way for the bride and groom to let the parents know that they will take care of them in the future as old age approaches. While the informant was unsure of the reason that the parents take only three sips of the tea, examining this tradition with a comparative lens that takes into account a broad range of folklore shows that many folk traditions come in repetitions of threes. This often dates back to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defined by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also removes the awkwardness that would arise if one of the parents took a great deal of time to finish drinking the entire cup of tea while the entire audience had to sit and wait for them to be done, as three sips can be taken much more quickly and at the same speed by all parents.

Childhood
folk simile
Folk speech
Foodways
general

Finishing your bowl of rice

The informant was asked about some sayings, proverbs, and customs in her family.

Informant: “A lot of families, to get us to finish all the rice on our bowl, they [parents] say that if you don’t finish the rice on your bowl, your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples and blemishes on their face, so every time, they always remind us of that story, like ‘you know how so and so has a lot of pimples? Their spouse must not finish their bowl, so you don’t want to do that. Mom and dad… they’ve been telling us this since we’re young so it’s expected that our bowls are clean. Otherwise the stories will be reminded every time there’s something in the bowl… what I’ve heard from my German friend, when you’re growing up, it’s either your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples, or there’s a lot of starving kids in Africa. But then I met a lot of international students while I was in college, and he actually says that his parents tell him because there’s a lot of starving kids in China. So there’s a lot of different countries there involved. ”

Collector: “Are Asians specifically more afraid of pimples than other people are?”

Informant: “I think that in Chinese culture we definitely do care about our appearance so having your spouse having pimples I guess it’s not really… it can be frowned upon in the community and since Asian cultures are very community centered, you want to look good so you don’t want… it’s always community centered so you need to care for your spouse’s pimples. You know, its not just about your pimples, it’s you know, you’re responsible for somebody else in the community”

A lot of people in the US probably recall being told by their parents when they were young to finish the food on their plate because there are starving kids in Africa who would be extremely appreciative of whatever food was on that plate. Thus, it’s quite interesting to observe an alternative version of essentially the same saying parents use to get their kids to finish their plate of food. There are likely many more variations of this well-known guilt strategy around the world.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Respect for your Mother and Father

Informant: “One ‘Ca Dao’ [longer Vietnamese Proverb/poem] that I’ve heard used a lot is

Công cha như núi Thái Sơn
Nghĩa mẹ như nước trong nguổn chảy ra
Môt lòng thờ mẹ kính cha
Cho tròn chữ hiểu mới là đạo con

This relates to the idea of, I believe in English the word is… filial piety…? The relationship or respect between children and parents. But in English, it’s not a common word, but in Vietnamese our word for that is hiểu, and that’s very common there too, like kids are named that and it’s a very common name, and a very common word we’d use. It’s not nearly as obscure as filial piety, which I’m still not actually sure what filial piety means, but I was told that’s the closest English translation to that word. Anyways, the best English translation for this is

Dad’s labor is as big as the Thai Son Mountain
Mom’s love is like water flowing from the source
With all my heart I respect and honor my parents
to uphold the [filial piety / hiểu] is my duty as a son/daughter

I heard this first from my parents, and they told me that their parents would say the same thing to them, and it’s supposed to show the sort of respect for parents and elders that exists in Vietnamese culture. I actually think I first heard this is the context of Buddhist Mother’s day, but otherwise it’s something that you would hear people say when you were growing up as a little kid.

Informant is a student at the University of Southern California. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam after the Vietnam war. She was born in the United States, and was raised bilingually by her parents (though she says that Vietnamese “Is definitely [her] primary language at home”). Most of her knowledge of Vietnamese culture comes from her upbringing in he Vietnamese family in an area where a lot of immigrants from Vietnam settled. Additionally, when she was growing up, she learned a lot about her Vietnamese heritage through “Temple School” which she described as “Like Christian Boy Scouts, except for Vietnamese Buddhists”.

Collector Analysis: One of the more interesting aspects of this particular piece of folklore, in this collector’s opinion, is the fact that according to the informant, this proverb contains words in Vietnamese which had no direct English translations. It’s strange to think that a language barrier could also extend to some degree into a culture barrier. Aside from this, this particular saying does a good job of showing the degree to which parents (and to an extent, elders in general) are respected and venerated in Vietnamese culture, to a point where they have need for one common word which serves a purpose that can only be completely encapsulated by two relatively obscure English words.

Folk Beliefs
general

Don’t Swim After Eating

The belief:

“If go swimming after you eat, you’ll drown.”

 

The informant doesn’t remember where he heard this rumor, but he thinks it was probably from a friend’s mother during his childhood. He doesn’t think it’s true now, though. In my opinion, I think this is a popular statement told to children by their parents so that they let their food digest before they get back in the water to swim. Another popular belief is that you’ll get cramps if you swim right after eating, so maybe the parents who say this more extreme belief are just trying to protect their children from painful cramps.

Game
general

Scary Hide and Go Seek

“D” is a 19 year old female student at The University of Southern California. She is a Chemistry major and interested in pursuing Pharmacy after college.  She is Vietnamese on both sides of her family and describes herself as very close with her sister, whom she shares many Folkloric traditions with. She played soccer up through high school and is currently active in the rugby community.

 

 

Transcript:

“D: So when we were little we used to play hide and go seek tag, kind of, but we were supposed to in bed. All four of us, our bedrooms are in the same wing of the house and so, we had to play when we were supposed to be sleeping and it was all dark and we had to be completely silent. So what we would try to do instead of actually just hiding, we would find the darkest clothing or blanket and just crouch in a corner and pretend we were like a rock or the wall. So the majority of the time it started off as hide and go seek, and  we’d try to find the other person, towards like, as we got older, it was like ‘who can scare the other person to get them to scream the loudest so they can get caught’.

Me: So the point was like, to not wake up your parents but still be able to play?

D: Yeah, yeah!

Me: Do you remember when you first started playing?

D: My brother and sister were older so they started playing first, I would say I was about six, so my sister was eight, my brother was ten.

Me: So from that other piece of Folklore you told me about before (titled “Siblings tapping though walls to talk to each other “, also in this database), you would tap on the wall with you sister to communicate without your parents knowing, she would come over there or you would go over there and you would try to scare the shit out of each other by pretending to be  rocks and stuff?

D: It started out as hide and go seek, than it was like ‘scare the shit out of each other!’ ”

 

Analysis:

Coupled with “D”s tapping through the walls to communicate with her sister, as featured in the other piece of Folklore mentioned above in bold, this game appears to be an attempt to extend play past when was dictated by her parents. By attempting to scare each other, they both acknowledged that they were in a situation they were not supposed to be in, and also implemented it into their game play, building a game around the environment provided to them. The use of scaring both allowed implementation of the taboo aspect of the game, while taking advantage of the lack of awareness provided by the dark, as the dark is conventionally very scary for children. “D”s being pulled into game play despite being one of the younger siblings allowed to bonding to take place by showing the younger sibling she was allowed to participate in her form of play.

 

general

Trot Trot to Boston

The informant is a 22 year old college graduate that is now working at a software company in Madison, WI. He grew up in Upton, Massachusetts until he left Upton to go to college in Los Angeles, California. . Upton is a small (population 7,542) town about 45 minutes south-west of Boston. He grew up in a loosely Catholic household with both of his parents and two younger sisters (3 years younger and 7 years younger).

I first heard this rhyming song before I thought to collect it, approximately 2 years ago when he jokingly performed the piece for me. I asked him to repeat the rhyme and asked him a few more questions about it on the date specified below. The song/rhyme is usually said by parents to their small children. He mainly remembers his father saying the rhyme to him and his younger sisters when they were small enough to easily fit on his lap but old enough to sit upright (i.e. they were not newborns).  The words are as follows:

Trot trot to Boston,

Trot trot to Lynn,

Watch out little baby,

Or you might fall in!

 

The rhyme is said while the child is on the adult’s lap. Overall, the rhythm of the rhyme is reminiscent of a horse’s gallop, which makes sense when you take the “trot trot” as referring to horses (not the child) trotting. As each syllable is said, the adult moves their legs by lifting their heels, creating a physical movement for the child that is very much like a what would be experienced during a horse ride. As the adult says the last two words (“fall in”), the adult moves their knees apart and lets the child drop slightly as if they are falling. The adult, of course, does not let the child actually fall and usually has their arms around the child to make sure this does not happen.

Both Boston and Lynn are cities in Massachusetts and are only ten miles apart, making a horse ride between them a feasible idea. The route between them is also near the coast, which may mean that “falling in” refers to falling in some sort of water or marshy land. The informant remembers his father saying this rhyme when they were being silly, so it is not an attempt to seriously scare the child by letting them think the adult would drop them. This plays with the feelings between of protection needed by children. By saying the child could fall, letting them fall a little bit but preventing them from completely falling to the ground, the parent is effectively saying “I’ve got you” without having to say those words.

There are several variations of this rhyme that use different cities in Massachusetts, some of which are published in a book called Trot-trot-to-Boston: Play Rhymes for Baby by Carol Ra. (the ISBN for the 1987 version is 9780688061906)

Though the informant does not have children or any nieces or nephews to tell this rhyme to, he does subject his girlfriend to the rhyme if he is in a particularly silly mood.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Protection

Evil eye sayings

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone  in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is

“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”

 

 

 

 

 

 

which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”

Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.
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