KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.
KM was raised in a Christian household, where her family said “grace” before dinner every night:
“I have four siblings and we always ate dinner together with our parents. We’d sit around this big round table and every night, we would take turns saying grace before eating…we were supposed to come up with something original, like something that had to do with the day or different events going on in our lives, but usually my siblings just defaulted to ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” I always tried to have an interesting one, but I think everyone else just wanted to eat.”
I asked KH if she still says grace in her family, or if she and her siblings carried their religious traditions on in their new nuclear families:
“Ultimately I was unsuccessful in getting my kids to go to church. My husband grew up in a Catholic family and now wants nothing to do with the church, and I couldn’t get my kids to show much interest either. I don’t think anyone else in my family still goes to church…except my parents. They’ve been going to the same church since they met.”
Religion is one of those things that can either define a family, or be irreconcilable when two families come together. In KH’s case, religion’s importance started to waver amongst her and her siblings, despite the traditions of their parents. The “grace” prayer in her family shows one generation trying to pass on their beliefs through a ritual, and the next generation participating half-heartedly, or just to please authority. Eventually as they started their own families, her siblings decided the tradition wasn’t particularly important to them, and refrained from instilling it in their own family. More broadly it seems to symbolize the diminishing importance of their religion, and maybe a certain progressive movement amongst families to not force it on their children.
The informant, AA, is from a Vietnamese family. While she was born in California, her parents are first generation immigrants who escaped the Vietnam War. While she is Christian herself, many of her family members are Buddhist. AA describes a funeral tradition that combines elements from both religions:
“So when my grandpa passed away, we followed Buddhist funeral traditions as well as our own. My grandpa was Buddhist, and so was my grandma- my older relatives were all Buddhist. In Buddhist tradition, you’re supposed to cremate the body and put the ashes in an urn. So we did that. And a week afterwards, we went out to sea on a boat, and a pastor was there. He delivered a sermon and we all said prayers as we were spreading the ashes into the sea. Basically it’s meant to symbolize this idea of- taking souls across the sea into another world, the afterlife so to speak.
It was just a way to mourn and respect my grandpa. I think that for my parents it was a great relief to be able to spread his ashes and let him be free. They didn’t want to keep him an urn. It was a very liberating gesture.”
Is this specific tradition particular to your family or is it commonly done?
“The spreading of ashes, I think, is commonly done in a lot of traditions. It’s definitely common for Buddhists. What’s special about this funeral is that we incorporated some elements from our own religion- Christianity- with my grandparent’s old Buddhist beliefs. There was a bunch of different people at the funeral. It was a very mixed group.”
My thoughts: This personal account shows how religious practices can take place outside of the established church doctrine and combine many aspects from different religions. There are some recognizably Buddhist practices that took place at this funeral, such as the scattering of the ashes in the sea. The idea of having a pastor and a sermon, however, appeals to the Christian members of AA’s family. They have created a completely new funeral tradition that is a composite of different faiths and is ultimately unique to this family. Every family expresses their faith differently- there is no one standard way to be a Buddhist or a Christian.
“The Rangerette Prayer was a very special prayer to our team, and we said it before every performance on the football field or dance competition or wherever we were or whatever we were about to do. We would get in a circle, and um cross our arms, right over left, and hold each other’s hands with one foot pointing toward the middle, facing the middle. Um and basically the um seniors and juniors would sing like uh the first part of the song and have the freshmen and sophomores imitate the second part, and essentially we had to learn it that way, we learned the song from the seniors and juniors. And the prayer was the Lord’s prayer and we sang it in a more dragged out kind of tone, and we were never really taught the tune, we just sort of had to pick it up from the juniors and seniors. We also had like a special ending that was, “In the name of the Father who created us, the spirit who sanctified us, and the son who redeemed us,” or something like that and then we all said Amen. It was kind of funny because the ending we all did not know very well because the seniors and juniors said it so quickly that we didn’t even really know what we were saying until much later.”
Informant: The informant is a nineteen-year-old college freshman from Dallas, Texas. While in high school, she was a member of the Jesuit Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team. She attended the all-girls Catholic high-school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas, the sister school of Jesuit Dallas (an all-boys Catholic school). She began dancing when she was three, performing ballet, jazz, and lyrical styles of dance, which eventually led her to the high-school drill team. She currently attends Oklahoma State University.
The Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team is an extracurricular activity unique to Texas and a few other southern states. The team performs at the half-time of football games on Friday nights, as well as at basketball, soccer, and rugby games. They wear leotards with fringe skirts, fringe and sequin overlays, gauntlets, a belt, white cowgirl boots, and sequined cow-boy hats. The season does not end with football season; rather, the team continues to perform at Jesuit events and participates in two dance competitions in the spring. Because this team is a year-long commitment, there are many extenuating traditions that serve to unify and “bond” the members of the team, in order to foster a spirit of sisterhood.
I think that this practice exemplifies the bonds that the members of the Rangerettes are supposed to have. Because members of the team attend an all-girls Catholic school, there is an emphasis upon prayer. By holding hands in a circle and singing a prayer, the bonds of the team are exhibited through this practice. The holding hands in a circle solidifies the bonds that hold a team together, and also represent the sisterhood that is supposed to be in place. A team cannot succeed if they are not unified, and by demonstrating their unity before a performance, they are striving to succeed in their performance. Also, if this ritual is not practiced before a performance, there is a possibility of failure or bad luck when the team performs. This once again reinforces the need for the team to be unified as they are dancing as one team and must be on count.
In addition, the manner in which the team members learn the prayer is representative of the way in which the team works. The older, veteran members, always juniors and seniors begin the prayer. This demonstrates their “seniority” and their authority on the team. They have been there before, and understand the importance of this ritual, and are in turn passing it on to the next generation of team members. As the younger, new members, always freshmen and sophomores, echo the seniors and juniors, they are reflecting their need to learn from the older members in order to become fully part of the team so that they might continue to pass down this tradition over the years. It is also interesting how the juniors and seniors never formally taught the prayer, but rather expected the new members to simply pick it up.
This may not be unique to simply the prayer ritual on this team, but could also extend to the rest of the ways in which the new members are expected to become acclimated to the team. The veteran members expect the new members to simply “pick up” what they already know, without overtly telling them. This could be concordant with rituals that decide who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to members of the team, as well as the attitudes that older members generally had toward the new members. The idea that the older members were wiser due to their experience might have been carried out not just through this prayer ritual, but through other practices on the team as well.
I collected this piece of folklore from my dad while he was visiting. We ended up just sitting in the car in a parking lot while he shared some more Chilean folklore with me.
Dad: “When we were little, my mom and my dad were very busy, so they left the Nana with us. The empleada.
Dad: “And she used to sit with us and tell us all these scary happenings, like, she used to say there were sometimes babies abandoned in the middle of the road at night, and you walk and you hear this noise, a crying baby, and if you hold the baby, the baby is so sweet, and you get, ‘Oh! Poor little baby!’ But in reality, it was the Diablo (devil). The Diablo, who became a baby, to catch your attention and get out goodness out of you, and you feel compassion and then, a lot of bad things start happen to you if you hold that baby. Then the baby disappear and you cannot explain what happened, and then in one way, the baby choose, make you fall down in that trap, and because you became good with the baby, but the baby was bad. Then a lot of bad things start happen to you like, you can lose your job, your income, some relative dies, you know, all of this stuffs.”
Me: “It’s a bad omen. Can you reverse the omen?”
Dad: “The omen?”
Me: “Can you reverse the bad luck?”
Dad: “Ah, I guess, you know, the religious mentality show you that if you carry a cross with you, you are free of this devil, bad things that can happen to you.”
Me: “Oh, so the point is to try to get everyone to wear crosses.” (laugh)
Dad: “Exactly, well that is the idea.” (laugh) “Kind of. So in reality, a lot of Chileans without education, well even with education, you believe that a cross, that mean Jesus Christ, keep all this bad energy far away from you.”
Me: “So it’s to keep people in the religion?”
Dad: “Yeah, well, it’s probably an idea to keep everyone scared, and then if it doesn’t happen…”
Background and Analysis
My dad was raised in Rancagua, Chile, which is a city outside of Santiago in the 1950s and early 1960s. Back then and still today, religion has a very strong presence in Chile. When he was a young boy, my dad’s Nana would tell him and his brothers these stories, and at that age they believed it all, of course.
Going off of the legend, my dad also describes how, as a child, he was always told that when anything bad happened, if you just wore a cross or made a cross, everything would be okay. But to him, it’s all mostly psychological. This is very true, in that if you believe in something, it probably will happen. If you envision bad things happening, they will happen to you. If you envision good things happening, they can occur as well. What the legend is pushing is that religion can save you, even from the devil, but the mind is just as powerful a weapon.
The informant’s family originated in Samoa, his parents were born and raised there before traveling and moving into the United States. He takes many visits to Samoa and is very in touch with his Samoan heritage and culture. He shared some common folklore with me that he could think of off of the top of his head.
“Fa’amuamua Le Atua”
“A common saying that is used pretty religiously in my family goes:
Fa’amuamua Le Atua meaning: Put God first.
My family is extremely religious and we use this pretty often. We believe in the high power of God and we realize that we wouldn’t be where we are today or blessed with what we are blessed with if it weren’t for God. We use it as a reminder to help us line up our priorities with God and our duties to God being the first thing on the list [priority list], to be grateful for what he has done for us and will continue to do, and to remind us that without him being in our lives we wouldn’t thrive. ”
This statement is definitely not new to me. I have heard it before and it has also been expressed to me from my parents and their parents. I think that this statement on how you should essentially run your life is widespread throughout the would because of the common christianity that many cultures have. It is interesting that other cultures besides our own use similar sayings and statements that mean the same thing and are interpreted the same way. This statement in particular “Fa’amuamua Le Atua or Put God First” is translated and applied differently by different people but essentially it means the same thing and can be applied the same way.
The informant, who is Buddhist, gave a presentation at a recent retreat on spirituality that I had gone on. I asked to meet with him to talk about other Buddhist principles and lore that he had not gone over at the retreat.
Informant: So I’ve heard this in various forms. It’s the Golden Rule. Uh, which is to, “Do unto others what you would like done to you.” And this is the kind of, uh, general rule of thumb. And that’s something that like I think my parents espoused on me. And I grew up as a Buddhist, so a lot about, you know, the passion, kindness, love, in that form, was always definitely valued. What was interesting is, I’ve heard it in a different form, one time at a Buddhist summer camp. Um, it was flipped around to say, “Do not do unto others what you would not like done to you.” Um, the whole premise being, like, don’t, you know, don’t project your beliefs or values onto another person, um, because the previous iteration of that would have you projecting, like, “Oh, I like this thing. So thereby you must like this thing as well.” But that’s flipped to be the other way, where you don’t assume you know what they would like, but recognize what you would not like, and then respect those boundaries in other people as well. And I think, I think that’s a good way of flipping it. And I think it’s also a very Buddhist way of flipping it, in that like… Oh, you know, to mitigate suffering for other people, recognize where suffering comes from and like, just don’t do it. But definitely the first time I saw it, I think was like a poster in the middle school, a really like, tacky, general quote that people have. Like inspirational things. And then like, I read it and I was like, yeah, that’s a pretty good proverb.
The Golden Rule is a teaching from the Christian Bible that concerns how to treat other people. The informant shared with me the Buddhist version of the Golden Rule. The teachings between the two versions are similar, but the Buddhist version focuses on how to not treat others rather than on how to treat others. The Christian version of the Golden Rule is popularly known and used, and, like the informant mentioned, many people learn it at a young age. Versions of it appear in various places, from Bible verse Matthew 7:12 to Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies to the song “3-Way (The Golden Rule)” by The Lonely Island. Versions of this principle taught by other religions, however, are lesser known.
Context: The piece collected is a myth about Our Lady of Guadalupe, known as the Blessed Virgin Mary to all the Americas. The informant first heard of this story at least 30 years ago, prior to moving to where she currently resides in Arizona. When she did move to Arizona, though, she went to a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was on December 12th, and there was a big feast and mariachi band. She said that the story is much more prominent in Arizona. She also came across this story when visiting San Ildefonso Cathedral in Merida, Mexico, where there is a shrine and stature erected in Our Lady of Guadalupe’s honor.
“This is my understanding of the whole story. A lady of Guadeloupe was the Patron saint of the americas. There was a peasant named Juan Diego. He was a farmer. He was praying, and the blessed mother appeared and told him to make a church at a certain place. No one believed that the blessed mother appeared to him. And he even went to the bishop. Bishop said that you have to find proof to show me that the Virgin Mary really was there and told you this stuff. So he went back to pray where he had visions of the blessed mother, and he told her what happened. When he was getting ready to leave, there were roses growing in the snow. He brought the roses back to the bishop and the people began to believe that he did see her. Then they did build the church in her honor and things got better for the farmers.”
Interpretation: My grandmother knows a very butchered version of this story. I looked it up online later (the link is attached below), and I discovered that it a very well known, sacred story to Latin Americans. The story is clearly based in Christianity. I am Lutheran, but have never heard this story told before. Even in the butchered way that she tells it, the moral of the story, to trust and put faith in the Blessed Virgin Mary, is still very clear. There are statues, school, churches and shrines all dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and people living in Mexico would undoubtably be very well versed in the story.
For a more comprehensive version of this story, see:
Anderson, Carl A., and Eduardo Chávez. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love. New York: Doubleday, 2009. Print
Informant S is 21 years old from Boise Idaho. He is a Philosophy major who also plans on attending Medical School. He is half Columbian and half American. His grandmother is an older Colombian woman lives in Bogotá. She has a strong religious background as a Jehovah Witness.
S: My mom had certain superstitions like if you clear your mind the Devil will get into your head and um when I was really young my mom wouldn’t let me collect anything “demonic” or um anything with horns like Pokémon cards, Digimon. Anything that indicated a tie to Satan. Her mother, or you know my grandma, was a hard-core Jehovah Witness so she sorta reinforced that in my mom. I found it incredibly annoying but it sorta scared me when I was a kid too.
Me: Do you have an example of something you tried to collect but your mom said no?
S: No but my sister did. My sister got this dollar store um crystal ball and it came with a set of really shitty cheap um foreign made tarot cards, yeah they’re like these um cards tied to paganism, they represent like if I remember correctly sort of essentialistic aspects of human culture, no its not Paganism its Hermeticism. Honestly I’m not 100% sure. But they’re the pack of cards you see in like movies where a fortuneteller flips them around and they say things like death, Prince, God, and the fortuneteller ties them together and tells you your fortune. Jehovah Witnesses are hard-core into researching Christianity’s origins and when the Roman Empire split there was supposed to be a fusion between a lot of Christian and Pagan themes in the eastern Roman Empire. So they tried to avoid those sorts of things in their religious practice, the Pagan ones. So when my grandmother saw that she bought that set she freaked out and gave my sister like a 30-minute tongue lashing about how she brought the Devil into our home. It was kind of terrifying to see how livid it made her.
Analysis: Here S talks about how his religious grandmother has superstitions especially about the Devil and how that came into conflict with something his younger sister had bought. For his grandmother these beliefs are very important, but they are less important for S and his sister. For him, the most terrifying was his grandmothers reaction to the cards rather than the superstitions themselves, mostly because S is not religious with a strong belief in the Devil, but it shows how important it is to keep the Devil and anything associated with him out of the home for his grandmother. He says although he finds this grandmothers religion annoying, it also made an impression on him and scared him too.
ABOUT THE INFORMANT:
My informant is a father of three who lives just outside of Boston with his wife of over 30 years. He is originally from Cambridge, MA, but moved to central MA when he was younger. Graduating from Tufts, Northwestern, and the getting his PHD at MIT, he is an engineering professor.
Interviewee: I was out fishing with my father-in-law, Billy, on the lake in New Hampshire. He has a house up there. Well not him, but his mom. It is a big house where that side of the family has family reunions. And it’s right on the lake, so me and him go fishing up there a lot.
Interviewer: What type of fishing?
Interviewee: They have like a small boat. It’s almost like a tin can. I mean sometimes we’ll do trout fishing in the brook up there, but not during the family reunion. It’s too much of a hassle.
So anyways, we were fishing and I caught a small fish. Like a small, it wasn’t like a sunfish, you know? Because those I can never get. Especially out there, that deep. It was like a small bass. But it was too small to do anything with; I wasn’t gonna eat it or anything. So I carefully tried to get it back to the water, you know? Took the hook out slowly, made sure I didn’t hurt it.
Interview: Because they’re fragile?
Interviewee: Yeah, exactly.
So, I’m taking care of this fish, and Billy, he’s just watching me. And I let it go, and he says, “If St. Francis saw you he would be so proud.”
And I say, “If St. Francis was here he’d have the fish jumping in the boat.”
So we go back to fishing. I put another worm on my line and everything. Cast it out. Next thing you know I got a big bass on the line. And it’s putting up a big fight. The tin can boat is rocking, I’m reeling and reeling as hard as I can, and then I feel it go under the boat. Suddenly the line goes slack. And then I just here this big “Billy” laugh. A belly laugh, his whole body laughing.
I turn to see what’s so funny, and he just points down. I look and sure enough there was the fish flapping around in the boat. It had jumped in the boat!
The informant went on to tell me that this particular story has been repeated and told by people in the family who were not even there. It has even been performed as a skit for the family. It is considered to be one of the classic stories of New Hampshire and of this family.
First when dissecting this story it is important to note the obvious religious connotations. Both Billy and my informant were religious, though not strict practicers, so when this happened there was definitely a part of them that wondered what just happened. That is of course what makes the story so compelling. Is it a coincidence or is it a story about Saint Francis showing his presence at that moment to those two men? That mystery makes it enticing.
It is interesting because when and where this took place probably has a lot of reason as to why it is so popular to this family. That location is very special to them, so for them to feel like they and that place is blessed makes sense. They feel blessed to be around their family, and fortunate to have had so many happy family reunions there. If someone said God or a supernatural presence was there, I’m sure that they would buy it more than if you told them they were somewhere else.
“Okay, so, I’m Greek Orthodox, um, and there’s a number of, like, traditions in the Greek Orthodox church that, um, are not found in a lot of other Christian churches. Um, Greek Orthodox is very similar to Catholicism, um, maybe a litter stricter, um and on Easter… First of all Easter is not with the Western Calendar, um, they go off of a different calendar, um, and so their Easter is not, um, always the same Sunday as, um, regular Easter, I guess, or what most people think of… the Western Easter. Um, or the Easter found in most other Christianities. Um, and so it’s normally, like, 3 or 4 weeks after, sometimes it’s before, a couple times it’s, like, coincided, um, but so you– we have lent and everything, similar to Catholicism, um, but you’re not supposed to eat meat at all, there’s no meat at all, it’s not just a no-Friday thing, uh, and, um, so, during the week of— I guess during Holy Week, leading up to Easter you’re supposed to… So Easter is always on a Sunday. But the Orthodox Church does their Easter service on Saturday night and it’s normally at, like, ten o’clock Saturday night and it goes to about 12:30am, um, sometimes later, um, and afterwards at the Church there’s normally, like, a big feast. Because you haven’t eaten meat the whole time and you come at, you know, one o’clock in the morning and everyone’s eating and has the big, like, breakfast celebration. Um, and then the next day you’ll, like, get with your family and have another big, massive feast with a lot of meat, um, so that’s fun. And normally the services, like the Mass services, last at least two hours, um because its different in, like, Catholicism the, the priests have to, um, they prepare all the communion stuff beforehand, before everyone gets to mass. Um, in the Orthodox Church, they do it in front of you. So when you get there, you’re watching the priest set up and they have a lot of little, like, rituals they have to do um in order to prepare the communion, um, so that’s why it lasts so long. Partly because in the beginning, it’s just a lot of rituals and things like that and a lot of people come in, like, halfway through the service so it’s not uncommon to see people coming in like halfway through um and then normally the homily is a little longer than it would be in a, um, Catholic church.”
My informant is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, a faith she inherited from her mother’s family. My informant is well versed on the practices in the Catholic Church as she attended a Catholic high school. Her understanding of additional branches of Christianity can be contributed to her father’s Protestant faith. My informant feels most connected to the Greek Orthodox Church and remains connected to her faith, even on the USC campus.
As a student who also attended Catholic school, I find it interesting that religions who are very closely related belief-wise have so many differences in practice. The manifestation of faith is as diverse as the people who practice it.
The calendar that my informant was referring to is actually two calendars. The Greek Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar.
Read more about the calendar of the Orthodox church here: