TO is a junior at the University of Southern California, and spent most of her childhood in San Antonio, TX.
TO described a popular festival that took place in her hometown:
“Fiesta is just a giant celebration held right around now in San Antonio, and it’s supposed to celebrate the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The whole thing is really colorful: people wear colorful clothes and decorate everything with bright flowers, and they have these things called cascarones, which are hollow eggs filled with confetti that you’d crack on e=people’s heads. They also have this ‘Battle of Flowers’ parade, where they literally have a calvary, and they pick a bunch of local girls to be ‘princesses.’ The princesses wear these huge colorful gowns covered in flowers with really long trains, and they each ride on a float.”
I asked TO if having the parade in her hometown made it less special over the years:
“A bit, yeah. The whole thing was really fun but I didn’t really participate much. The public schools would always get school off on the day of the Battle of the Flowers, like it was a holiday, but I never did. I was always a little weirded out by the princesses, and I knew a couple girls who participated in that, but I was never really interested. You had to be a part of a very old San Antonio family to be in it, and honestly be pretty wealthy. It kind of had a debutante ball vibe, like you were presenting yourself to Texas society.”
Fiesta San Antonio sounds a lot like other festivals around the world, with parades, cavalry and a princess “court.” This had it’s own Texas coloring though, and as someone from southern California I’d never heard of most of these traditions, or things like the cascarones. It was interesting to learn about the vivid relationship the city has with the Texas Revolution, and it almost makes San Antonio seem like a different kid of American city – the old Mexican influence is still very prevalent there, unlike a more modern influence in Los Angeles. The local history clearly still impacts citizens today, but the novelty can wear off after awhile for people like TO.
Agarita is a Texas bush with sweet red berries protected by spiny leaves. The informant describes the family procedure for collecting and using the berries:
“To get enough berries to make jelly, you lay a blanket around the base, then hit the bush with a stick so that all the berries fall off. Old ladies used to then put all the collected berries in an apron, then toss them up to let the wind blow away all the debris, while the berries fall back down into the apron. My mom at some point decided to set up a fan on our porch, so we could just pour the berries from one bucket to another and not have to worry about tossing them. The fan worked much better.”
5 1/2 pounds agarita berries (late May)
1 1/2 cups of water
1 box of Sure-Jel
7 cups of sugar
Crush fruit with a potato masher, add water, cover, simmer for 10 minutes, and crush again. Strain, measure out 5 cups of juice, add 1 box of Sure-Jel, and bring to full rolling boil. Add 7 cups of sugar, bring to full rolling boil for 1 minute, then pour into jars. Use water bath to sterilize jars and seal lids. Yields around 4 pints.
This folk recipe is made from a plant which grows in a very specific geographic area, mostly in Texas, and it’s interesting that throughout time the practice has evolved with new technology available (the fan), allowing for more jelly to be produced. Even living in Texas I’ve never seen agarita jelly sold at the store, so it’s interesting that it’s mostly a small family process passed down, and was never commercialized.
“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.
“The Aggie Joke would be: How many Aggies does it take to change a lightbulb?
And the answer is: One, plus twelve to turn the ladder.
And this has an interesting context to me because polish jokes were the same, or very similar. For example, in the lexicon of south-side of Chicago, it would be how many “polacks” does it take to change a ladder. That was how people used to take before political correctness. I grew up in Chicago and of course and it was very ethnically divided and intense city like New York, or many other places in the country where a lot of immigrants came, and there were a lot of specific neighborhoods: the Polish neighborhood, the Lithuanian neighborhood, the Italian neighborhood, the Irish neighborhood, and they all had their own Church, and if you were Polish you didn’t walk across a couple of streets to go to the Italian Church and everybody kind of kept in their own little neighborhood or enclave. And back in the day, when I was growing up, of course political correctness had not reared its head, and so it was very common and not really thought much of for people to refer to people of other nationalities in a way that would today be considered horrible. You would never today call an Italian person a “dago”, you wouldn’t call an Irish person a “mick” you wouldn’t call a Jewish person a “kike,” but that was very common back then and nobody thought much of it, so that kind of language is no longer acceptable.”
Informant: the informant was born in Chicago, and attended high school and college there, graduating with a degree in English. After marrying and having one child, she moved to Dallas, Texas where she raised three children with her husband. She is of Irish descent, her father being from Ireland, and her mother was born in Wisconsin after her parents moved from Ireland, and her heritage and tradition are very important to her. She is a grandmother of five children.
To me, it seems like the cultural context of this joke is well-captured by the informant. Aggies, which is a name given to those who attend Texas A&M University, are usually considered to be their own group of people. If you attend A&M, as people refer to it in Texas, you are an Aggie and are now associated with that group of people. There has long been a rivalry between the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M, a rivalry that could have given way to Aggie jokes.
It is fitting that the Aggie joke fits that of the Polish joke that the informant, who is seventy-six years old, was used to. The joke was meant to be derogatory toward a specific group of people. Within the context of the informant’s age it was the Polish group, because this was a time in Chicago when ethnic groups kept to themselves and formed groups and lived in the same neighborhoods. Because it is meant to point-out how one group is slow-witted, this joke is especially belittling.
Therefore, in the state of Texas, it is no surprise that such a joke would be made with the Aggies as the subject. This is due to the rivalry with the University of Texas, because it has often been understood that it is harder to get into the University of Texas than Texas A&M, giving way to “dumb Aggie” jokes like this one. To me, this emphasizes how a joke pointed at one group can be changed to target another group, thereby continuing to be popular despite the changing times. Although it is no longer directed at Polish groups, this joke is still able to be told because it points at Aggies, something that is culturally accepted, especially in Texas. This demonstrates how a joke can keep its basic framework but vary in context and change to fit the modern culture.
Original Script: “When I was younger, after Christmas…probably about two or three days after Christmas, me, my dad, my sister, and my brother, would collect Christmas trees for a Christmas tree fort. We would wait till people started to leave Christmas trees out in their drive ways, and we would go and drive around our neighborhood in our big car, with rope, and tie the Christmas trees to the back of our car, and make a couple rounds, so we were dragging the trees. We would have over 20 trees, sometimes more, and he would create a perimeter in our backyard of rope and lean the trees against the rope and then put them on their sides to make an infrastructure of different rooms and hallways, and he would stack the trees on top of each other so their would be a roof. Me, my brother, and sister and would crawl into the rooms and trim the trees to make the rooms bigger. We would sometimes spy on the neighbors through the fort, with binoculars. And when they came over we would throw berries at them. It was huge, basically we would declare war on neighbors, sometimes we would let other kids play in it. When it was time to throw the trees out, we would put them outside our house—it basically covered up the whole driveway.”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jessica Patrick grew up in a predominantly Irish household. Celebrating Christmas every year with her family. Now that the kids are older–her and her brother in college and her younger sister a junior in high school—they do not do the tradition as much as they use to do it when they were little. While everyone in the household did celebrate Christmas—it was usually the father, Jessica, and her siblings that did the fort building.
Context of the Performance: Past Christmas traditions celebrated in Dallas, Texas with all the children in Jessica’s family.
Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Jessica, I found it interesting how I have never heard/seen anything from this tradition before. While it is not necessarily a representation of heritage, it is a mode of activity that represents the past and has interesting motifs about the past—which is also considered tradition. For example, the building of a fort (a house) made out of entirely logs, the kids helping the father build the house, even the kids acting that the fort was their home—even though they had a perfectly acceptable house—with a heater—was all representations of the past. It also represents that of a celebration in a narrative format: the tree hunting being the ritual, the playing in the house being the main event, and the taking apart of the fort and putting the trees in the front yard would be the closing ceremony. Furthermore, I believe this event represents a classic “American Dream”(commonly known as the Horatio Alger myth) building a home for oneself, a dream, out of nothing. This tradition can also be correlated to group identity, especially with the practicing of the ritual and the exclusion to other groups: “sometimes we would let other kids play in it.”
My informant is a freshman at USC. He is half white and half Puerto Rican but was raised solely by his Puerto Rican mother and grandmother along with his younger brother in San Antonio Texas.
“So it’s supposed to be a mixture between like a vampire and a wolf. So its supposed to be like, a demon-dog kind of? La chupacabra. People’s sheep and cows and stuff started to die mysteriously and…they would like, have weird bite marks that they couldn’t identify on them. It never tears up the animal, there’s just these like…just like these two bite marks in them. That’s why they think it’s a mixture between a mixture between a wolf and a vampire…that’s what it lives off of. And it’s not supposed to be too big it’s supposed to be around like, two feet long and a foot high. But its really vicious with like red eyes and hairless…it, it looks like a rabid coyote pretty much…like a rabid fox. And its…its, people have claimed to have found the Chupacabra multiple times and they’ve found like…dog looking things but most of the time people find “Chupacabras” its like a diseased coyote or a rabid dog. And so, there’s been like sightings of it in Mexico and South Texas—where I’m from—which is where I heard about it. And my grandma you know, used to like scare me you know, saying like, ‘If you go outside at night or if you walk around’ like if I got out of bed at night, ‘the chupacabra will come and get you.’ So I guess that’s where I heard the story from.”
Analysis: The legend is said to have originated from from the mysterious disappearance of peoples livestock. Unexplained bite marks and animals that had been completely drained of blood were unsettling sights in the areas where La Chupacabra was rumored to have been sighted. The legend has taken on the purpose of scaring young children as a means of preventing them from wandering off or getting up in the middle of the night. Mothers and grandmothers would tell their children the story of La Chupacabra to instill good behavior. Given the graphic nature of the way in which La Chupacabra sucks the blood from its victims, the story seems scary enough to keep little children in bed at night and prevent them from engaging in bad late night behavior. Another version of this story can be found on Animal Planets “Lost Tapes” section of their webpage:
“Basically, you take a piece of meat that’s probably pretty tough, but thinly sliced, you salt and pepper it, coat it with flour, brown it in a little bit of oil in the skillet. Um, you do this with as much meat as you’re going to cook. You put all the meat back in the skillet, barely cover it with water, and simmer it for as long as you have, an hour or two, ideally. Um, and the long simmering helps tenderize the meat and the flour forms its own gravy around the meat without any other extra work. And in Southern cooking gravy is always required. So, the classic recipe is kind of a hand-sized steak that, you know, is a serving for, you know, for each person. Um, by the time I knew about it, um, my mom had taken that recipe and changed it quite a bit. Uh, or in subtle ways, I guess. Uh, the salt and pepper became a classic, a family recipe of seasoned salt. So a special mix of, you know, herbs and spices, um, and the beef that was traditionally used for this, uh, we were hunters in our family and, uh, we started to use venison instead. And the deer in Texas are white-tailed deer that are smaller and so it’s hard to actually get many, um, large even hand-sized steaks out of a deer. Uh, so the pieces of meat became much smaller. Often bite-size pieces of meat. And often we would use the tenderest of the deer, what we call the backstrap which is the tenderloin of the deer, um, to, uh, make this recipe. Uh, and it was always one of the favorite recipes that my mom would cook for anyone, so, um, as I grew up and got married and started trying to cook this for myself, S and I would make our own modifications to it and the seasoned salt didn’t set well so we went back to salt and pepper and added some thyme in. Um, we didn’t have as much access to venison, being in California, so we moved back to either beef or lamb or, you know, that was pretty much it, but it works with just about anything. Um, and, uh, I guess that’s, that’s about the changes we’ve made. The other, you know, so that’s the basic recipe and evolution of it.”
The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. He is extremely interested in grilling and cooking and often cooks for large groups of people recreationally. His parents have owned various pieces of rural Texas land over the years, ending with a cattle ranch an hour outside of Austin. His mother grew up in Louisiana and East Texas, meaning “there’s a lot of both Southern and Cajun roots in what I learned from my parents.” The informant calls this a “class Southern recipe” that he used to make when he would help his mother in the kitchen. This is a recipe the informant learned from his mother and that he thinks she learned from her mother. He describes it as “an any-meal dish,” that he often has for dinner now. One of the biggest “three or four holidays” for his family growing up was “opening day of hunting season,” when they would go out hunting early in the morning. When they returned to the house, his mother would have smothered steak, biscuits, and eggs cooked for everyone. He describes this as a “traditional, kind of, fancy winter breakfast” for them. Of this experience, he says, “You just can’t imagine coming in out of the extreme cold, being out for several hours in 25 degree weather and coming in and having this meal.” He makes it because “it tastes really good” and it’s a dish that he has never seen anyone else cook the way his mom taught him to cook it, and when he cooks it for other people they are impressed by it. It “typically gets eaten until it’s gone.”
This recipe was collected while I was home for Spring Break and was told to me while I was having a drink with my father in our living room. I have had this dish many times throughout my life and it is one that is often requested by other families when my father is cooking a meal for them. I think one of the main reasons it is such a hit is that it really is amazingly tasty when it is done right, but it also appears startlingly simple to the casual observer. This is especially true in Northern California, where the emphasis in cuisine is on bright, fresh, and organic meals that are presented beautifully. Placing a large skillet of smothered steak next to these things can provide quite a contrast. I think all aspects of it appeal to people’s “rustic sensibilities,” by which I mean they feel they can indulge themselves and be Southern for a meal. I think the informant cooks it so much because it is fairly simple and because it reminds him of the ranch where most of his family still lives, 1700 miles away.
“The other thing I remember is my grandmother on my dad’s side, when we would go eat dinner with them, well first of all it was called ‘supper.’ ‘Dinner’ is lunch and ‘supper’ is supper and there would always be at least three meat dishes on the table. So you’d always have, like, venison, there was always fried fish, and there was usually like ham or a roast as the third meat. And then for dessert there were always at least three choices for dessert. And the saying was, ‘You have to clean your plate.’ So . . . yeah, I never felt that great after eating there. So full. But ‘you have to clean your plate.’ If you put it on your plate, you have to eat it. So then you just learn to put less on your plate, unless you’re just gonna make yourself eat it. You can’t throw anything away.”
The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. She learned it from both of her grandmothers who “both grew up in the Great Depression and during the war when there wasn’t a lot of, when they used coupons to get their food.” She thinks this proverb is “about not wasting any food. And they didn’t have iceboxes, or well they had iceboxes which didn’t keep the food as well.”
I included the details about central Texas supper because it struck me as interesting and unusual that there always had to be three different kinds of meat on the table. I have no idea why this might have been, but it seems like it was a pretty hard and fast rule. I also thought it was interesting that different people refer to different meals differently, even if they reside in the same country. I agree with the informant that “Clean your plate” is probably related to the time period in which the two women grew up. In addition to there being the Great Depression and WWII, food was generally less abundant in all times before this one. I have often heard this saying in American households and I think it reflects the negative attitude most people have towards wasting food.
Informant: The Catholic church in the small, South-Texas town of Brownsville went up in flames late one evening, after mass had finished. It was a 5-alarm fire, and all local fire stations were called on to help save the little church. The Brownsville fire department arrived first at the scene, but the flames were too intense for them to do anything other than stand by and watch the—the devastation. No more than two minutes later, the Matamoros, Mexico fire department arrived, engine going full, top-speed and lights blaring. The Brownsville firefighters stood back and watched in awe while the Mexican fire department drove their truck right into the flames and managed to put out the fire, saving this historic church. As a token of appreciation, the citizens of Brownsville collected $5,000 and, in a ceremony, the Brownsville Fire Chief handed the Mexican Fire Chief the check and asked him, asked the Mexican Fire Chief, to say a few words to the crowd. Well, he didn’t speak much English of course, but The Chief—in his best English—thanked the crowd for the money and said, thank you, but really, they had just been doing their job. When someone in the crowd shouted out, asked what the plans were for the money, the Chief said, “Well, de furs’ ting we gonna do… we gonna buy new brakes for de fire truck.”
The informant (my mom) was born in Texas but spent most of her childhood traveling from country to country, specifically in South America and regions of southeast Asia, due to her father’s work as a banker. Her first language was Spanish, and today she is fluent in both Spanish and English.
This joke was told to the informant by her mother, who was born and raised in Texas. Brownsville is located on the southern tip of Texas, directly across the boarder from Matamoros, Mexico. The joke plays on economic disparity between the towns, as well as some of the racial bias Texans may have towards Mexicans (this racial bias seems especially prevalent in the punchline, when the performer uses an over-the-top Mexican accent to imitate the Chief of the Matamoros Fire Department).
My roommate grew up in Houston, and she told me a piece of folklore from her time at a Girl Scout camp in Texas. She participated in the production of the folklore while she was at camp, but it is not something she believes is true now.
“I went to this girl scout camp, Camp Agnes Arnold, which is a little bit outside of Houston, kind of in the Conroe area. But we had a marker that everyone assumed was a grave for Indian Joe. And you always had to give the grave a very wide berth on your way back to the cabins, because if you stepped on it, it was going to rain for the rest of the week and your entire week would be spoiled because you stepped on Indian Joe’s grave”
Q: Who told you about Indian Joe?
“I…think it was probably a camp counselor at first. Either that or one of the older girls, because I had been going to that camp since I was eight or something, so I don’t necessarily remember the original source. But I remember I would warn other girls to stay away from Indian Joe’s grave so that we would have nice weather”
Q: Did anyone know who Indian Joe was?
“I want to say… I don’t think it was anything more than the basics. He was an Indian who had settled in the area and it was his land and then he had eventually died and been buried in that area, and it was just one of those things, like, show respect for the Indian grave”
In areas where Native Americans once lived, the foklore seems to come from two things: fear and respect towards the Native Americans. In this example, stepping on the rock will result in something bad (the stereotypical “Indian curse”) but it also seems to stem from a desire to be respectful to the grave, perhaps to make up for the past.