Original Script: “El que nace para real, a peseta nunca llega.”
Transliteration: “He who borns for real [Cuban coin, equivalent to a dime], to peseta [Cuban coin, equivalent to a quarter] never arrives.”
Translation: “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter.”
This Cuban proverb talks about fate. Essentially, it means that if someone is born to never be wealthy, there’s nothing they can do to change that. According to the source, it has to do with fate. Some people just aren’t “fated” to be wealthy. She’s heard it used in a couple different ways. On one hand, it can be used by someone as a way to put others down, to tell them that they’ll never amount to much more than what they already are. On the other hand, it can be used to comfort those who aren’t happy with their economic status by telling them that it’s not their fault that they’re not as wealthy as they’d like to be, that it’s just destiny.
The strong tie to destiny is probably due to Cubans’ religious beliefs. The majority of Cubans are Catholics, and they believe that God has a plan for all of us. So, in this case, they use their belief in God to justify economic status. The proverb also puts a lot of emphasis on money being what defines a person. This is very interesting, considering Cuba’s status as a Communist country.
The source left Cuba during the rise of Castro’s regime. Under Castro’s governance, there hasn’t been much social mobility in Cuba. One typically stays within the socio-economic class they;re born in. If we are to view the proverb through this lens, then, it becomes much more literal. When we say that “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter,” rather than it referring to God or fate, it refers to the state of the country. Anyone who is born in a low social class will not move up. That’s how Cuban society had been engineered to be.
The two interpretations aren’t all that different though, really. In both cases, the proverb speaks to a sense of hopelessness. One is dealt a certain hand in life, and they are forced to play with it forever. It makes sense, especially, with the way Cubans have felt under Castro, especially the ones who emigrated to the US. Had I spoken to a Cuban currently living in Cuba, there’s a chance they’d never use such a proverb. Whereas in Miami, anyone who came from Cuba is almost guaranteed to be anti-Castro, and a proverb like this captures their sentiments and the impression he left on them before they left the country.
Original Text: “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.”
Transliteration: “More worth parrot in hand than one-hundred flying.”
Translation: “A parrot in your hand is worth more than a hundred parrots flying.”
According to the source, this proverb means that “things you already have are worth far more than those things you only have a chance at.” It can apply to money, friendships, jobs, etc. Basically, it’s used to discourage people from gambling with their lives. It expresses a disdain for uncertainty and favor for things that are already known/owned for sure.
For example, imagine you have a stable job, but there are several opportunities that might prove to be better, but you can’t know for sure. A Cuban might say to you, “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.” In this case, they’re telling you that it’s better to stay with the job you already have than to go after one of the other ones.
Like Cuban Proverb #1, this one places a lot of emphasis on wealth and staying with what you already have. In Cuban Proverb #1, we saw that anyone who is born of one socio-economic class will probably not move up. In a way, this proverb puts down anyone who might think of doing so. It doesn’t say this in a manner of, “Don’t do it because those are the rules,” but rather in a manner of, “If you try, you might only make it worse for yourself.” I suppose it’s not always like this, though, since this proverb applies to more than money, but when it is used in the context of wealth, it seems to discourage movement between social classes.
At the same time, though, it contradicts with Cuban Proverb #2, which basically says that slackers will fall behind. Well, if one were to ignore the flying parrots, then wouldn’t that be a form of falling behind? They’re sending mixed messages, which could be confusing for the child that grows up hearing all of these. What are we to understand of Cuban culture then? There seems to be a want for economic safety, which makes a lot of sense for those who fled Cuba for the US. After managing to gain a standing in the US, it would be best not to lose it. But at the same time, it also seems there’s a want for more. They left behind their lives. Their country was stolen for them. Do they maybe feel that they are owed something more in life because they’ve been wronged?
I posed this question to the source, my mother, who said I was looking too far into it. She says Cubans just like to feel nostalgic by reciting the proverbs they heard growing up in Cuba. According to her, sometimes they don’t even know what they’re saying. They just say it out of habit.
Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major. She is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Her family is from China but she has lived in Southern California for nearly all of her life. Her dad spends lots of time working in Shenzhen. She speaks fluent Mandarin and English.
Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals her family has.
Item: “For Chinese New Year my family usually gets together. Traditionally, ever since I can remember, the adults have given kids red envelopes filled with money, and, we always have specific foods that translate to specific proverbs like good fortune and good health. An example would be, having, um fish, because “Nian nian you yu” means abundance throughout the years, but the last word ‘yu’ means abundance but also means fish. They are two completely different words but have the same pronunciation. And, a couple of other things we would say is, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” which means ‘congratulations for your wealth’, “Wan Shu Ru Yi” which means ‘may all your wishes be fulfilled’.
Sometimes our family does follow this tradition but we don’t follow it too strictly, but there should be a placing order in how you bring the different foods to the tables. You’re also supposed to say phrases with the addition of each ingredient such as pepper or lime or oil. Uh, some of the themes touch upon wealth, luck, youth and business success or advancement. That’s basically one specific dish but there are other flourless cakes that basically expands as you cook it. It kind of symbolizes growth for kids especially. Our family also hangs specific square red banners that has the word “Chūn” meaning ‘spring’. We’d flip it upside down because when you flip it it means ‘dao’, or ‘it is here’ like ‘spring is here’. We also do that with ‘fu’ which means prosperity, so prosperity it is here”.
Analysis: Chinese New Year really seems to revolve around luck, prosperity and happiness for the new year. The props used – which vary from clothing to food eaten to the number of dishes served all are meant to be congruent with Chinese lore and beliefs. The number 8 means good luck so things are done in eights, the color red is lucky so red is shown often and new, clean things are seen as ushering in good luck for the coming year. There is a cyclical nature in Chinese/Eastern thought that we do not have here in the West. The coming of the new year, though celebrated here, doesn’t truly entail the “reset” that it does in China. This may be in part due to the fact that the Chinese civilization has been around for over four millenia (most of which they were relatively isolated), so they’ve seen a much longer time span of existence than most other cultures. As such they’ve seen empires rise and fall, other warring worlds, and geographies change but still remain, which may contribute to their more cyclical way of thinking as opposed to the U.S. There also seems to be very set things that are done in a precise process each new year celebration. This is in contrast to many of the U.S. informants I interviewed who admitted a much more diverse and relaxed understanding of rituals and traditions.
Informant Background: The informant was born in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Taiwan. He grew up with his parents and grandparents who still speak Chinese, he does too. Many of his relatives are in Los Angeles so they all still practice a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese traditions and celebrate all the Chinese holiday such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry day, Chinese Ghost day, etc. He said his family still hold many Chinese folk-beliefs and superstitions. He also travels back once in a while to visit his other relatives who are still back in Taiwan.
Do not live at the end of a street because all the bad energy of that street will gather at your house and never leave. It is also ideal if you can live with the mountains behind your house, and a steam in front. The mountain represents your family wealth. The stream represents the flow of energy renewing and also cash flows into your house.
The informant said this is a rule many Taiwanese people follow as a rule of thumb when they move into a new house or looking for a temporary place to live. Feng-shui is a tradition in Chinese culture that deals with the flow of natural and spiritual energy in spaces. The end of the street not only collect all the energy and not leave, it also is perceive as a “dead-end” where there is no other direction to go. These natural and man-made representations mostly have to do with wealth, which then leads to the well-being of the family.
I observed from my own traveling experience that this belief of Feng-Shui is widely spread and practiced in many countries. Throughout the years I observed that many who originated from China is aware of the concept of Feng-Shui. It is often practice at an older generation. The younger generations then seek advice on the subject matter from the older generation, using it as a rule of thumb before moving to a new place of residence. It also has influences in large developments where the developer will orient his project according to the belief thinking that his project will succeed.
This shows the importance of belief regardless of the truth and practicality in the folk-belief. Believing that wealth will come to your household will create an evidently better outlook in life than believing that your house collects all the bad energy of your street. Similar to how some people “knock-on-wood” because it makes them feel better, living in a proper Feng-Shui oriented house give the household a positive feel that at least their place of living is “correct.”
There have been many books in different languages about principle of Feng Shui. Some written by Chinese Feng Shui Masters, some are translations from collection of principles learned from the masters themselves. There are books written by non-Chinese about the subject matter. An example of that would be Feng Shui Your Life by Jayme Barrett and Jonn Coolidge where they illustrate how the practice of Feng Shui through design can better a home in term of spirits and energies. The author explore similar rules as the informant of the folklore stated above and also some in details to even where in the room to place a plant or to put a coffee table.
Feng-Shui is a belief that affects different scale of things. As mentioned by the informant it can effect a family’s well being through placement and orientation of the house. From the book mentioned above, Feng Shui can have an effect to an individual through placement of small objects within the room. It also reflects how folklore is tangled with everyday life.
Having these rules published challenges the notion of folklore vs. authored literature, even though it is clearly stated in the book that the authors do not claim these rules and theirs. It also challenges the idea of originality and authenticity since these authors are not from China but have studied under Chinese Feng Shui Master.
Barrett, Jayme, and Jonn Coolidge. Feng Shui Your Life. New York: Sterling Pub., 2003. Print