Author Archives: Colin Chao

Allerleirauh (Donkey Skin)

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Subject: So one day, it was like, in this kingdom, the queen is very ill, and she’s dying. And the king says…or she, the queen tells the king: I want you to promise me one thing, and it’s that if you get remarried, you will only marry a woman as beautiful as I am. And then she dies.

And then…for…the next, like, I’m going to say 20 years. but we know that fairy tales, and like way back when people were getting married at 15 years old, maybe 15 years. For the next 15 years, he did not get married. And, you know, eventually his advisers and like everyone in the court is like, okay, it’s time, like you’ve mourned for a really long time, but for the sake of the kingdom we need a queen again. Maybe it was because their only child was a daughter, and they wanted a son, or maybe they just need a queen. Maybe they just needed him to get out of mourning. But they tell him, it’s time, like you have to stop mourning, let’s get you married.

And so he has people search the kingdom and neighboring kingdoms and everywhere, for someone who’s as beautiful as his last wife, but he can’t find anyone. And as he’s despairing the fact that no one is as beautiful as his wife used to be, he hears someone singing or playing music outside, and he looks outside, and he sees a girl who he believes is as beautiful as his wife is. Problem is, that’s his daughter, who he hasn’t really seen, because he’s been like, mourning. There, but like, she’s his daughter, and he is aware of that fact. And he’s like, this is a woman who is as beautiful as my wife. If you want me to get married, I’m getting married to her. And the entire kingdom is like, no, you can’t do that you cannot marry your daughter, and the daughter is…

I read this in a really Christian context first. Like, the, the original version that I read “Donkey Skin” in was very Christian. And so the daughters is a very pious Christian girl, and she is like, horrified. She’s like, God will smite us down. Or I think, just like. Like that’s just a terrible, terrible precedent. Do not marry your daughter. Um…

And…so she is scared, of rejecting her father. Or, she doesn’t have the, like, the autonomy or authority to, because he has final say as king of the land. So, she gives him impossible tasks instead. And she’s like, I want you to first get me a dress that is as blue as the sky. And unfortunately he does, he like, hires master craftsmen, and this is a dress that truly captures a piece of the sky. And then she says I want you to get me a dress that is as golden as the sun. And once again he manages to like, defy her expectations, and she’s forced to admit that he has fulfilled the task. And then,  she says I want you to get one new dress that is as silver as the s—the moon. And he gets her the dress. Oh, the order is mixed up, I think it was sun, moon, and sky (the subject taps on the table as she counts off each of the dresses).

And then she’s like, okay. Like, I have to pull, like, a big one, I have to like, make sure he cannot do it, or else…like. It’s over. So she’s like, the kingdom is very rich and prosperous, because they have a donkey that shits out gold, twice a day. Or, jewels. And that’s like the biggest, that’s like the prize of the kingdom. And he has a place of honor, he has like a fantastic stable, and she’s like, I want you to kill the donkey, and skin it, and give me a cloak made out of its skin. In which case the donkey will no longer be able to excrete gold. And the kingdom will be over. And he does.

And so she’s forced to, like—she cannot escape that in any way. So she decides to flee. Um…

And then the French film on adaptation that I watched, well, I can talk about that at the end. There’s a fairy godmother in that one. But in most versions that I’ve read there isn’t a fairy godmother, which is why I like this one. Um…

So she dons the donkey coat, and…in her…like, her mother, before she passed away, gave her a few gift. Or, left her, bequeathed her a few gifts, which is a bag that could hold anything. So she puts the three dresses into the bag, a gold thimble, a gold, like, spindle, and a gold ring. I think? Yeah.

And, and this is where my memory gets fuzzy because I didn’t know what a spindle or thimble or whatever it was when I was reading this. So she puts those in the bag, and she flees the country. She…I might be giving this mixed up with All-fur, A-thousand-fur, Allerleirauh. She…is hiding in the woods, and the, like, in a neighboring kingdom, in a faraway kingdom. And the prince, sees like, this strange animal…and they’re like…they’re about to shoot, and then they realize it’s a person, and they’re like, what are you doing? Um…and…they take her back, and she like gets employment, in the castle kitchen. Where like, the cook doesn’t really like her, but makes her work hard, and she’s a good worker, so…you can’t really do anything.

And…there is a grand ball, where the prince is kind of seeking to get married. Or, just one ball. And, so, she rolls up in that golden dress…or she begged, she begs the chef, she’s like, please I’ve done all my work, can I have some time off? I just want to peek at the ball from the top of the stairs. I won’t do anything, like, they will never see me. And he’s like, fine. And this whole time, she’s still wearing that like donkey skins that people are like. (Subject whispers.) Are you a furry?

(The interviewer and the subject laugh.)

But they are like, okay, like something’s up with, you know. (Subject laughs). But…yeah (subject laughs), so she takes off her robes, she washes her face which she normally covers with soot, and she goes to the ball in her golden dress and she dances with the prince, and everyone is like, where is, it’s like, this is clearly a princess, she has all the training, where is she from? And…at…she disappears, um…and then the prince is like…darn. He’s like…also I want some soup. And he asks the chef to bring him some soup. And the chef is tired, and he’s like, and he’s—Al, er, Donkey Skin, All-fur, she’s like, I’ll make soup. And so she does, and she like, drops one of the gold items—I think it’s the spindle, into…into the soup.

And he’s eating the, the prince is eating the soup, and he’s like the, chef delivers it to the prince, and prince is eating to soup and he’s like, this is the most delicious soup I’ve ever had. Who made it? And he goes like—the chef goes like, me! He hits the bottom of the, like the bottom of the bowl, and he sees that golden item. And he’s like, what is this. And the chef is forced to admit like, I didn’t make it, let me get the person who made it. So now that it’s time to throw someone, someone under the bus, he’s like, okay, Donkey Skin made it, let me go get her. And the prince is like, what is this. And she’s like, I’ve never seen that before in my entire life. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Um…so he gives up. But he decides like he wants to see the woman he danced with at the ball again, so he throws another ball. And she wears the silver dress. And they dance, and they have a good time, and then she leaves again. And that happens one more time.

Um…the third ball he throw—the chef is like, yo, like…you keep…doing like, he’s like, every time there’s soup, like something sus happens, like do not do that again. He’s like stop pulling the shit. And she’s like, yes, oh and like I promise. Um, she goes to the ball, in like her, in like her…I think it was her sky dress?

But I remember getting this confused, because I thought in my head that the most beautiful dress had to be the golden dress, which is the sun dress, just ‘cuz I liked gold as a child, I was like, blue is a pretty color, but how, like, like beautiful and amazing could that be in comparison to something as bright as the sun?

Though it’s not really important, what the order of the dresses were. So, she dances and he’s—the prince stalls. Like, he makes the orchestra play longer, and she’s like getting antsy, and she’s trying to leave, and while she’s distracted, he slips—I think the last item was a gold ring. And he slips the gold ring onto her finger. And she doesn’t notice. And then she leaves, but she—like because the ball was delayed, like the chef is waiting, he is like okay, he wants his soup like normal, but like where were you? She doesn’t have time, before she sees the chef, to take off her dress, before she puts on the like, donkey skin. So she throws the donkey skin over, and like, throws it on, but under she’s still wearing the dress.

And then, she…does the, drops the gold item in there again, the Prince calls her up, and then, as she’s like, taking the bowl I think, he notices the ring. And like, they take off her coat and she’s the princess, and she washes her face. And they’re like, she is like, yeah, so I’ve been a princess all along. And I think, as they’re about to get married…the news comes that like, her father has died in a fire. Like, shortly after she left, he went like, mad mad. Though he was already mad, and, he’s died in some accidental fire. So she’s now like, the ruler of two kingdoms.


The subject is a 20-year-old Korean-American student at USC. She heard this rendition either online, or in an anthology. Reading during her leisure, she encountered several versions of the tale under different titles, most notably a German version known as “Allerleirauh” and a French film adaptation known as “Donkey Skin.”

The subject was raised deeply religious as a Southern Baptist Christian.


The subject found this tale particularly memorable because, in her experience, most fairy tales she read never mentioned Christianity and God. She contrasts this to the French adaptation, where there is no God, and the princess is much more wishy-washy about rejecting her father. Replacing God as the voice of reason is a fairy godmother, who adamantly convinces the princess not to marry her father and flee the country. But it turns out, the reason why the fairy godmother insisted on this plan, was because she was romantically pursuing the father, who eventually comes to his senses in the film. The idea of the fairy godmother only intervening to stop the princess to marry the king for selfish reasons made the subject uncomfortable, and she wasn’t sure what the moral takeaway was supposed to be.

Interviewer Analysis

The central motif that catches the subject’s attention seems to be the role of Christian religion in preventing moral debauchery. By replacing God with a morally bankrupt fairy godmother, the French adaptation may have been making fun of God’s role in the German version of the tale, suggesting that even without the guidance of God, moral debauchery finds a way to solve itself. However, the subject mentions she prefers the version without the fairy godmother, suggesting that the subject probably prefers that debauchery be resolved through absolute moral guidance.

The performance of this tale is an aesthetic mashup of traditional and modern vernacular narrative style. On one hand, the subject seems to be striving to imitate the solemn, “traditional fairy tale” language recorded in her childhood readings, to speak in the fantasy medieval tone of once-upon-a-time. On the other hand, aware of her modern audience, the subject can’t seem to resist peppering her narrative with contemporary slang and humor. She seems slip into modern lingo when she wants to speed up or add excitement to slower parts of the narrative. Her dynamically chaotic performance of this tale is arguably unique to oral tradition. Other methods of narrative, such as the novel or the film, are too structured to permit drastic whiplashing between aesthetic styles.

Becoming A Cow

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Subject: When I was little my mom told me that if you—this is like the whole story. My mom was like, oh, if you lie down after you eat, you turn into a cow.


The subject is a 20-year-old Korean-American student at USC. She remembers her mother telling her this folk belief from the very beginning of her memory, and estimates she was probably four when she first heard it.


The subject’s mother told this folk belief to the subject, once when she was lying down on the couch after eating lunch or dinner. Her initial reaction was not wanting to be a cow. For several months, she was also convinced that the folk belief was true. She worked very hard to avoid the fate, while also attempting to convince her younger brother to test the folk belief out, before she eventually tried to test the folk belief out herself, after convincing herself that it was “not bad to be a cow.” Upon testing the folk belief out, she “was so scammed.”

The subject confronted her mother after discovering the falsity of the folk belief, recalling that she was “very accusatory.” The confrontation devolved into her mother questioning her why she would want to be a cow. The four-year-old subject argued that being a cow meant an easy lifestyle, because cows just had to sit in the backyard and eat grass all day. Her mother asked her if she knew that their family ate the meat of cows. The subject then countered that she would have lived a good life for a worthy cause. Her mother accepted this and ceased the debate.

Despite having discovered that the folk belief false, the subject still felt uneasy about lying down after eating, and still took folk beliefs from her mother seriously. She felt that even if the folk beliefs were not factually true, they were still “a little more true” since they were supposedly passed down from her grandmother to her mother.

Interviewer’s Analysis

Bizarrely enough, this is a case where the subject transformed a folk belief that had been “proven” untrue, into a “true” superstition. The subject derived her superstitious beliefs, seemingly from the folkloric origin of the belief itself. She seemed to believe that there was a mystical power inherent in the act of passing information down through generations. One could argue that this is a highly abstract form of contact magic, where information “touched” by what was considered truth in past generations, will transfer as the information continues to be passed down the family line. One could also argue that the subject probably derived her superstitious beliefs from romanticized visions of the folk as a “primitive” people with “primal” knowledge.

La Llorona

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La Llorona is a story about this grieving, um, it’s a grieving mom who lost her children, and that, she goes around taking kids from, from other families, screaming, “¡Ay! Mis niños, ¿donde están?” which translates to, “Oh! My kids, where are they?” You know what, you know he’s just—she’s, they’re looking for them, because. They died or, they were lost.


The subject is a 21-year-old Mexican American in his third year at USC. He recalls first hearing the legend of La Llorona at around the age of four or six. Through childhood, he was frequently told the story of La Llorona by his parents as a form of discipline. If he or his siblings misbehaved, their parents said that La Llorona would come and take them away. The subject mentions that this usage of La Llorona as a form of parental discipline was common in every Mexican-American household, along with corporal punishment via the chancla (a flip-flop) or the belt. In terms of disciplinary severity, the subject as a child would have considered La Llorona to be less of a threat than the chancla and the belt. The subject stopped believing in the literal existence of La Llorona around the age of seven, eight, or nine—around the same time, he says, that most children realize that Santa Claus isn’t real.


Growing up, the subject often discussed the legend of La Llorona with other Mexican American children in his hometown of Van Nuys. The purpose of such discussion was less to ascertain whether La Llorona was real, and more to affirm a shared folk experience of being disciplined by parents in the same manner. He felt that only other Mexican Americans would understand the normalcy of the disciplinary method, rather than reacting judgmentally and mischaracterizing the discipline as a form of child abuse.

Over time, the subject’s childhood fear associated with La Llorona dulled into nostalgia, and he began to view La Llorona as a central part of his cultural history. Based on this current perception, the subject says that he finds it fascinating the legend was even used as a disciplinary tactic to begin with. He characterizes its use as a disciplinary tactic as “negative”—as the opposite of how he believes folklore like La Llorona ought to be used. He thinks folklore like La Llorona should be used as a “positive” way to build a shared sense of cultural identity through the passing down of traditions.

Another “positive” use of La Llorona, the subject argues, is for entertainment. The subject mentions an instance when his Spanish teacher showed the class a cartoon adaptation of La Llorona, to give the class a simple task to occupy their attention on a relatively work-free day. The class, which was majority Latino, was familiar with the legend; as such, the teacher had offer little explanation for what the plot of the story was. The subject especially enjoyed the video retelling of La Llorona because of its “authenticity,” which he defined in terms of aesthetic choices, such as including all the major motifs in the legend (e.g. the river, the ghostly spirit), and casting Mexican voice actors who spoke Spanish with a proper Mexican accent.

Interviewer’s Analysis

When asked to elaborate on what constituted “authenticity” in folklore adaptation, the subject compared the La Llorona video to the Scooby Doo film, The Monster of Mexico, which he felt portrayed both an inauthentic version of the Chupacabra (another legendary Mexican monster), and an inauthentic version of Mexico. The Monster of Mexico made the Chupacabra look like Bigfoot, characterized Mexicans through stereotypical sombreros and maracas iconography, and most condemnably, featured an all-white cast. For the subject, authenticity in Mexican folklore adaptation hinged on the folklore not being whitewashed. Here, the interviewer asked the subject how one might strike a balance between fighting the hegemony of whitewashed folklore, and not establishing a new hegemony by claiming to have a singularly authoritative “authentic” interpretation.

Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. The subject replied that he didn’t think ought to be a singularly authoritative authenticator for adaptations of folklore. In the context of Latino folklore, the subject suggested that his concern was less with defining authenticity, than fostering a sense of accountability. He didn’t want people to create adaptations of Latino folklore for a mainstream general audience, without creators being mindful of what portrayals of Latino culture they could potentially misinform non-Latinos with.

While the subject’s answer certainly adds nuance to defining the boundary between artificially authoritative authenticity and hegemony, the question of where that boundary is still remains—and, in the interviewer’s opinion, cannot be answered without defining what precisely “whitewashing” is. Is whitewashing the same as Americanization? Who defines and authenticates what is American, when America houses multiple types of cultures? What counts as “white” culture? Is any insertion of “white” culture into a historically nonwhite folklore adaptation automatically considered whitewashing? For instance, in the La Llorona video, the children are portrayed as trick-or-treaters, to appeal to a broader American audience—does that count as whitewashing?

These questions are complicated, and any definition of “whitewashing” for the purposes of evaluating “authenticity” of folklore will inevitably struggle to cover every scenario. Perhaps a more appropriate starting point, would be to consider folklore adaptation in terms of social power structures. What cultures does one group get a “pass” to freely adapt from? Who authenticates the “pass” under what circumstances? How do dynamics play out when authenticity gets contested?  Who is contesting authenticity, under what definition, and why?

The Seamstress

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Subject: I think the one that is…the details I remember most, is about…like, the mother daughter story? And I think my mom called it like, the seamstress or something?

Interviewer: Hm, okay.

Subject: But basically it was about a daughter who was like, leaving their home village to work, or something? And then the mother like, was really sad that she was leaving, and then, I think the night before she left, she ended up sewing this entire quilt that night? Uh…of like, memories, or something, something mystical. And then, and then like, the daughter like, brought it, away. And then I think she ended up like, not being able to come back, and then she just like, always had that like, quilt, as, like, a symbol of her mother’s love.


The subject is a 22-year-old Taiwanese-American woman in her fourth year at USC. She was around four when she heard this story for the first time. She remembers her own mother telling her this tale as a bedtime story, and that it was so sad it moved her to the point of tears. Her mother had framed the story as an example of how a mother’s love was so deep, it could travel with you wherever you would go.


This was the first item of folklore the subject brought up in a broader interview over folklore that the subject knew. As a child, the subject had a very literal interpretation of the tale. She thought her mother was literally going to make a her a quilt in the name of motherly love, just like the mother in the tale did for her daughter. As she grew up, she realized this interpretation was not grounded in reality, and that her mother had intended the tale to be taken no more literally than other folk stories she told at bedtime.

Interviewer’s Analysis

As a college student preparing to graduate this semester, the subject likely was thinking about reuniting with family again after an extensive institutionalized period of separation, much like how the daughter in the tale was extensively separated from her family by the institution of labor. Now, at a different stage in life, her identification with the daughter in this tale has become more literal, albeit in a way her four-year-old self had not considered.

The Basement Nazi Flag

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Subject: USC has like, a Nazi Germany flag in the basement somewhere. Of like, Mudd Hall or somewhere, st…stashed away. Cuz’ like…it was hanging up during World War II or whatever? In this very building…I guess?

Background Information

The interview was conducted in the Von KleinSmid Center library basement, which is the “very building” referred to by the subject in the interview. The subject is a fourth-year anthropology student at the University of Southern California. During the year of this interview, they heard this legend from an acquaintance, who heard it through word of mouth.


The subject has spread the legend “once or twice […] within the same group circle” in the context of “shitting on USC.” Given the university’s recent admissions scandals, they consider sharing the legend timely, as yet another example of “all the shit that USC has been doing, and that people have been frustrated about.” They have even experienced the urge to share this legend and other similar anti-USC rumors when campus tour groups are passing by, as an “exposé” of the university to otherwise blissfully ignorant potential and incoming students. The subject considers “shitting on USC” a personally significant activity in their life, because it annoys them that people laud USC for being a great school with great resources, when people ought to be more critical of the university’s blatantly unethical actions. They don’t want USC to “get away” with its corruption, and even though sharing the legend does little to bring tangible justice, it still challenges general perceptions of the school.

However, they mention they are “a little hesitant” to present it as a confirmed fact in their pursuit of encouraging others to “shit on USC.” They juxtapose the legend with other anti-USC legends that have had more factual verification, such as Traveler being a Confederate horse and Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist.

The Basement Nazi Flag legend is also not the first Nazi-related USC legend that the subject has heard. They draw parallels between this legend, and the legend of the Nazis having donated a tree to the university. They discuss how the Nazi Tree legend is similar to the Basement Nazi Flag legend, because the truth of both legends are difficult to confirm. On the other hand, they mention that the two legends are generally shared with different intentions: the Nazi Tree legend is sensational and often restyled as a tree that was donated by Hitler, whereas the Basement Nazi Flag is symbolic and meant to directly criticize the hidden corruption at USC.

Despite the questionable factuality of these legends, the subject argues that most people do take legends such as the Basement Nazi Flag seriously, given the political gravity of the subject matter. They mention that, even among those who share similarly critical opinions of USC, the reaction to hearing these legends is usually aghastness.

Interviewer’s Analysis

This legend is an example of folklore as counter-hegemony. Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. In this case, USC maintains hegemony over its public image as a prestigious, top-tier university that is desirable to attend. The Basement Nazi Flag legend subverts this hegemony by presenting a visceral example of USC’s politically damnable history. What makes this legend such a powerful attack on USC’s character, is that it not only implies that USC is condemnable for having been affiliated with Nazis in the past, but that it ought to be doubly condemned for concealing that history from present company, essentially pretending like the affiliation never happened. The fact that there are several other similar, much more factually grounded legends such as the USC mascot Traveler being a Confederate horse, and former USC President Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist, suggests that even if the Basement Nazi Flag legend is not factually true, the anti-USC sentiments motivating its spread are rooted in historical reality.

For Further Reading

Two collections of the Nazi Tree legend reference by the subject appear in the Digital Folklore Archives. They are linked below here: