Tag Archives: rite of passage

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

East Fitzsimmon’s Road

MAIN PIECE

East Fitzsimmon’s Road

“When you want to be scared, you go down East Fitzsimmon’s Road.  It’s become sort of a right of passage for teens in Milwaukee to do.  It proves you’re no longer a baby to a lot of them.”

To walk down East Fitzsimmon’s road is a rite of passage many Milwaukee youths complete when they no longer want to be seen as a child.

BACKGROUND

DA, is from Madison, Wisconsin and has lived in the state all her life.  She knows this right of passage from doing it herself when she was a teen and said that it was definitely frightening and that there is a common belief that ghosts exist on this road.

CONTEXT

DA is a cousin I have that goes to college right now.  We sat down and I invited her for a zoom call.  She seemed a bit stressed about her finals, but she was very elated to talk and take a break from studying for her chemistry exam.

THOUGHTS

Ghosts are very popular in Southern culture, but you don’t hear as much about them in a big Midwestern city like Milwaukee.  It’s been proven, upon further research, that there are no ghosts that roam East Fitzsmmon’s road, yet for the thrills,  the belief they exist is still there.  The rite of passage aspect of this piece of folklore probably perpetuates the belief in ghosts as it gives it a reason why it is so “spooky”.

For a greater understanding of this folklore check out this article…

Hrodey, Matt. “Milwaukee Myth-O-Meter: 5 Local Myths, Busted.” Milwaukee Magazine, 30 July 2018, www.milwaukeemag.com/milwaukee-myth-o-meter-local-myths-busted/.

Frat Initiation: Fight Night

Background: The informant was born and raised in southern California. He is a sophomore at the University of Southern California and joined greek life in the spring semester of his freshman year. The following is a ritual that occurred at the end of his freshman spring semester just prior to his graduation from “pledge” to “active member.”

Context: This piece was collected in a casual setting in the informants apartment. It was a staged interview so it did not come from a completely natural recount of the ritual. We are good friends so the setting was relaxed, although the informant was adamant on retaining confidentiality surrounding his identity. 

Piece: 

The following is a summary of a conversation, including a few direct quotations, so as to protect the identity of the individual and his fraternity.  

After a semester of hazing, pledges (people who have pledged to join a certain fraternity but have not been completely initiated into the fraternity) the pledge masters (who are active members of the fraternity responsible for the hazing/initiation rituals) gather the pledges and any active members who are interested  in participating in a large room in the frat house. The pledges and active members then form a circle. One of the pledge masters then goes into the center of the circle and says, “Pledges, who do you have problems with?” 

The pledges then wait silently until one of them declares that they have a problem with another frat member (active or pledge). At that point, the member who made the declaration along with the member who they declared to have issue with enter the center of the circle along with the referee who is usually the pledgemaster. The surrounding frat members begin to cast bets on who will win while others bang on their chests and jeer. The fighting consists of “slap boxing” for three rounds regulated by the referee. Often if a pledge or active falls during the fight, the surrounding crowd will shout statements like, “Get the fuck up!” and encourage the continuation of the fight. 

While both active members and pledges make up the circle, only pledges are allowed to call upon other members to enter the circle. It is considered taboo to refuse to enter the circle after being called out.

The informant noted that the night was a time to release pent up anger against fellow frat members who had issues with each other. The event occurs in the final week, dubbed “Hell Week,” before the pledges are officially inducted into the fraternity. It is not uncommon for participants to develop broken bones or other injuries during the event.

Analysis: 

I wasn’t very surprised to hear that violence, an action that typically denotes masculinity in American culture, was so deeply intertwined in the tradition considering the heteronormative history of Greek life on university campuses. Although the ritual is violent, the informant was not bothered, often laughing as recounting the event and suggesting that the event is not perceived, at least by him, as a traumatizing event but is rather an empowering event. 

The ritual serves as a brief dismissal from the hierarchy within the fraternity and allows for retribution. By seeking vengeance for abuse (perceived or real) at the hands of other pledges and active members, the pledges are able to gain equal status and regain respect and dignity by evening the score. The taboo on refusing to enter the circle further ensures that pledges are put on the same stage as other members of the fraternity who may have brutalized them. It allows pledges (who are to be inducted very soon) an opportunity to exert power over other members for the first time.

Hick’s Road Blood Albinos

Context: The informant was speaking of odd legends around her hometown, San Jose.

 

Piece:

Informant: Alright so, I’m from San Jose California, but specifically a small town called Almaden within San Jose, and there is this really famous road in San Jose called Hick’s Road and it’s famous because there is an urban legend… this is real, I’m not making it up… that the road is haunted and that there are blood albinos that live there. Basically there are these albino people that supposedly live there and who like suck people’s blood— like blood sucking albinos. And they’re supposed to live there. And when you live there you just like always hear about the blood albinos at Hick’s road and its supposedly really scary and people like die there and it’s like in one of the more rural areas and you drive there and there is just not a lot of stuff there and it’s kinda dark. Once you become a teenager it becomes kind of a rite of passage to like go with your friends and like brave Hick’s Road.

Collector: Do people actually die?

Informant: Like no! Not that I know of, everyone goes there and because you’re so scared you like imagine stuff.

 

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, is from San Jose and has gone to Hick’s Road. The legend is part of her hometown’s dialogue and culture. It is a sort of rite of passage as a teenager to go to Hick’s Road.

Analysis: This legend is very reminiscent of vampires, but instead with blood sucking albino people. I have never heard albino folklore, so it is really interesting to see that the legend is basically a vampire story. The fearful nature of blood sucking and death that is part of the legend makes it perfect for a rite of passage. By going to the road as a teenager, as the San Jose folks do, you prove you are capable and that you are an adult. This also creates a bond amongst those who go together and those who have braved Hick’s Road, as if saying they are the ones who survived these legendary dangerous people. It is also important to note that she says the legend says that people die but then firmly states that no one has died from these creatures, indicating the liminal and truth questioning nature of legends. This site also attracts these locals in a way that resembles to ghost tripping but for the albinos that suck blood.

Berkeley Senior Steps

Context: The informant was reminiscing on traditions at her high school, Berkeley High in Berkeley, California. The senior steps were a major part of the folklore at her high school.

Piece: So in high school, there were these like these stairs, these steps with like a bench on them and we called them the senior steps. So like only the seniors were allowed to stand on them and if there was like a freshman or sophomore standing on the senior steps, people would like stare them down slash be like what are you doing on the senior steps? It’s inside of the school, and we actually had a meme page that has like 5,000 followers, ha weird flex, and like basically some sophomore actually a few weeks ago peed on the senior steps to like disrespect the seniors or something. And it was the biggest ordeal because like they’re just fucking steps and its like where the cool seniors eat lunch or meet up. Everybody knows the senior steps. And we had like rally day which is like once a year we dress up and everyone was drunk and high at school it was crazy and everyone was like yelling on the steps “Seniors, Seniors!”

I guess it’s just like a pride thing, and like I definitely like after three years of not being allowed you finally get to elevate yourself onto these brick steps. I didn’t really care but like a lot of people cared and like mind you these are gross steps like ugly and dingy. And like there was like tagged names or gossip written on the steps too. Ha it was so wack

Background: The informant, a 20 year old USC student, went to Berkeley High School, and experienced the tradition/rite of passage of the senior steps.

Analysis: This piece is a form of a rite of passage and ritual that was created surrounding these steps in her high school. The steps have become an honor that is bestowed upon seniors, as a form of status and privilege that they are entering the adult world. The steps create a hierarchy, showing that the school and consequently American society, pushes for the future and growth and moving up. In order to get to the privileges of the steps, you must work your way and finally get your status– which hows how the seniors will be leaving and moving into the future. The steps have been ritualized further by hosting the rally and the gossip markings, indicating its connection to school culture and spirit. The mention of more popular students being the regular utilizers of the steps indicates further this level of hierarchy ingrained in the culture of high school, and ultimately our society as Americans. By gaining the status, it serves as a stepping stone or rite of passage into the adult world.

Rise, Run, and Dip

LC: “So Rise Run and Dip was a tradition at Hotchkiss. At orientation your first year, one of the first mornings, everybody had to get up at about 6 in the morning and go for a run, and the run would be, I don’t know, 2 or 3 miles, and it would end by running down the hill, sort of from the top of campus to the bottom where there was this big lake, Lake Wononskopomuc. And you would run run run down the hill and just keep going into the lake and go for a swim. And this was in the foothills of the Berkshires, so it was generally very crisp. And then people also did this for various sports teams, like when you go for preseason practice. It, you know, it was one of those rites of passage, it was definitely difficult, and cold, and particularly unpleasant on the way back up the hill. But it was also kind of beautiful, and peaceful, and very memorable. It was meant to be a bonding exercise, something that everybody did, and that everybody at Hotchkiss had done at least once, in their time there.”

Background: Hotchkiss is a boarding school in Connecticut which LC went to for high school. This tradition has been going on since long before she went there, and continues to this day. She remembers it as a significant rite of passage that was both strenuous and beautiful.

Context: This tradition took place during freshman orientation, as well as at various points of the year for members of different sports teams.

Interpretation:

Rise, Run, and Dip is a fairly clear-cut rite of passage and initiation ritual. Through a shared ordeal, suffering in the brisk mountain air, freshmen and teammates bond with each other. The ritual is seen as important to becoming a real member of the Hotchkiss community, and becomes a shared memory of those who went through it. Additionally, LC mentioned that at the most recent high school reunion she went to, one of the scheduled events was Rise, Run and Dip. When calling back to high school days, the community recreates this event which marked the beginning of their high school experience.

Wall Quotes at HB Woodlawn

Abstract:

This piece is about painted wall quotes from graduating seniors at a high school in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.

Main Piece: (L is the informant and I is the interviewer)

“L: At my school when you become a senior and you’re graduating, you get to write a quote on the wall. In your group.

I: In your group?

L: In your, like, age group. Like the 2005’s. Or the graduates of the 2005’s.

I: What school do you go to?

L: HB Woodlawn in Arlington, VA.

I: Why do you guys get to do this?

L: Um, to have like your message to the school. So people can look at it. It’s not necessary to look at, but it’s not hidden away in a yearbook.”

Context:

The informant is a 13 year old girl who attends a middle/high school in Arlington Virginia called HB Woodlawn. She started attending the school in 6th grade and plans to graduate from the school as well. The school is small in comparison to the other local public high schools and can only be attended through a lottery system. The school is known as the “Hippie” School because of it’s nonchalant rules and artistic programs that other schools in the area do not have. This senior tradition at HB Woodlawn allows students to leave a quote or message painted on the walls of the school for future students to read, instead of having a yearbook quote.

Analysis:

Leaving your mark at this school reminds me of graffiti and leaving messages in that way as well. Since the school is artistic and focuses heavily on creative ideals, it makes sense to me that they would have this unconventional way of leaving senior quotes. In a way, this version of senior quotes allows for more students to view the messages over the years. For example, if you are a freshman looking at a yearbook, you will only see the quotes of the seniors from that particular year. You would miss out on the quotes from seniors in the years before you entered the school. However, in this version of senior quotes, you will see the quotes on the walls for years and years.

 

 

New York Baptism

Main Piece: A New York Baptism is either the first time you get badly splashed by a taxi in NYC or the first time mysterious droplets (which might not be water) from above trickle onto your forehead.

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. As stated in the main piece, OC has heard multiple different variations of the joke, both originating from New York City situations. She originally heard the iterations of the joke from her immediate family based in Brooklyn, NY and finds the sayings funny for their grudging celebration of uniquely New Yorker situations as well as their play on the concept of baptism, given that she grew up in a religious family but still remains skeptical of organized religion. She also has personally experienced a New York Baptism and delights in witnessing the bewildering baptisms of others.

Personal thoughts: The New York Baptism joke is essentially a coping mechanism to deal with the poor conditions of an overpopulated and polluted city. Baptisms are generally seen as wonderful ceremonies where you are reborn into the purity of God’s forgiveness and light, so to place such “negative” experiences on par with a baptism seems discordant and ironic. However, the juxtaposition between the uncleanliness of the city and the purity of religious experiences makes us question what the difference really is between a baptism and dirty city water. Who’s to say that whatever splashed onto your forehead isn’t Holy Water? Are our religious ceremonies really that “pure” anyways, or are we just placing arbitrary concepts of dirty and clean onto a world that will always, in some way, be dirty? To come back to my original point, the joke takes the undesirable concepts of mysterious substances and inconsiderate taxi drivers and turns them onto their head. Although New York is crowded and dirty, those conditions are out of any individual New Yorker’s control, so why not embrace them? People will always call New York home with all the love and devotion in the world, which is why mysterious liquids are not seen as something to be disgusted with, but rather cherished like you would cherish an annoying but lovable family member.

First drink at Stonewall

Main Piece: Many young LGBTQ+ individuals have their first legal or “official” drink at The Stonewall Inn when they turn 21.

Context: The informant is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. The Stonewall Inn is a now-popularized gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, famous for being the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969. It is said that the bar served as a catalyst for many of the leaders and thinkers of the Stonewall riots, as they would gather there to discuss queer theory and modes of action. The informant, who identifies as lesbian and has heard of this custom through her other queer-identifying peers, believes that there is much power in “doing what they did.” In other words, they pay homage to trailblazers for gay liberation and the sacrifices that they made by saving their first legal drink for the bar that, in a way, is partially responsible for their current freedoms.

Personal thoughts: This tradition is a perfect example of how folklore is performative. By going back to a place that holds much historical and personal importance to many people, and re-enacting those who started the tradition, they are truly performing. Those in the LGBTQ+ community who go to the Stonewall Inn Bar are not just discussing what their trailblazers said and did, they are also, in some way, actively taking part in and adding to their own history. As new ideas are brought up by new generations visiting the bar, the tradition and ideas behind it will continue to evolve.

Sari Ceremonies

  1. The main piece: Sari Ceremony

“It is the first time they tie a sari for a little girl. It’s just the first time that a little girl gets a sari, and the family makes a big event out of it. Maybe it was, in the olden days, you know, very very olden days, people got married when they were 9 or 10. This was when the girl was 6 years of age, so maybe people were letting them know.

“And by the way, there’s an equivalent boy’s ceremony. A dhoti, or pancha ceremony. Boys’ cloths are called dhoti, or panchalu, and this is from the Andhra people south of India. So it’s the same thing for boys also.

“Usually, we do it in odd years. 5, 7, 11. But you know, all Indian things are like that. We always give odd numbers of money as gift. And then, you just invite near and dear. That’s it.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“You know, I went to some of my friends’ sari ceremonies growing up, but I never had one. So I thought, okay, when I have my own daughter, I’ll have a nice sari ceremony for her. So we visited India and we had one for her, and we had her grandparents and aunts and uncles there, and it felt, what is it in English? Complete.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The sari ceremonies in Andhra Pradesh, a state in South India, are examples of coming-of-age ceremonies. In the very old days, they would have indicated that a girl’s childhood was complete, and that she was now available to be married. While the marriage connotation has definitely faded, the sari ceremony is still a marker of transition from helpless child to young person capable of decision making and responsibility. Wearing a sari requires a number of complex steps, and the sari ceremony also announces the girl has reached a certain level of maturity. The informant mentioned that her daughter’s sari ceremony brought many members of her family together, showing that sari and dhoti ceremonies have also transitioned into large community events.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.