Author Archives: cjharper

Angulimala

Informant (J.H.), my mother, is a 50 year old Buddhist meditation teacher from Los Angeles. J.H. identifies as biracial, with both African and Southern European heritage. I interviewed her after stopping by for dinner one Monday evening. J.H. had a traditional roman Catholic upbringing, and has been studying meditation for 15 years. I asked J.H. for her favorite legends and myths surrounding the Buddha. As a self identified Buddhist agnostic, she takes these stories as metaphors with values them for their important teaching opportunities.

J.H.: “Angulimala was basically a serial killer. He was a bandit, who would kill people in the forests of India, and he would cut off a finger for each person he killed, and put their finger on a necklace that he wore around his neck. So mala means necklace basically, and Anguli is finger. So he had a finger necklace around his neck, and one time he came across the Buddha in the forest and he started chasing him to kill him, but no matter how fast he ran he couldn’t catch him. And so finally, the Buddha just stopped and Angulimala caught up to him, and the Buddha promised him freedom from his pain and suffering if he would just start meditating with him. Angulimala was so impressed… by the Buddha’s fearlessness, that he decided to try it. And the legend has it that he became enlightened, and what’s so beautiful about this story is that the Buddha thought that nobody was irreparable. Because the Angulimala apparently killed thousands of people, as the legend has it, but the Buddhist tradition says that all people have the opportunity for full liberation, no matter what your path has been.”

J.H.’s Buddhist Sangha is especially targeted toward people who have had struggles with society and are seeking alternative guidance or recovery through spirituality. J.H. seems to appreciate the Angulimala myth for its teaching of acceptance of all people. As a teacher, J.H. speaks fluently and openly about the history and philosophies of Buddhism in general as well as her particular Sangha, or group.

Duende’s Curse

Informant (J.B.) is a 19 year old Los Angeles native. J.B.’s mother is an immigrant from Thailand, and his father is an immigrant from Guatemala. J.B. speaks English, Thai, Korean, Japanese, some Spanish. J.B. and I grew up in the same neighborhood, with mutual friends. One afternoon while overhearing another collection I was conducting, J.B. offered to share a story about his late uncle.

J.B.: “My dad, when he was 8 years old, he was living in Guatemala, and his older brother was about 16. He had this job as a dude who delivers to the construction workers up in the mountains. There’s a folk story that in the forest there were spirits that would ask you to bring them a child as a sacrifice to eat, and they’ll reward you with fame, money, and whatever. If you decline than you’ll die or get sickness, your life is screwed over somewhere. My dad’s brother was walking one day, at night, to do a delivery, and a tree was talking to him, and he thought he was tripping out. And the tree asked him to bring a child and he said no. And the tree said I’ll give you a chance, if you don’t bring it in a week you’re going to get sick and die. So obviously he didn’t go back, and in a week he actually did get really sick, like on the verge of death. They had doctors there, and I don’t know exactly what it was, but he had an illness that couldn’t be cured for the rest of his life. He lived out the rest of his life pretty normal, but would have episodes from his sickness. A few years ago he died from one of the episodes from that sickness. I don’t know what he had, I’m trying to remember but I have no idea.”

Upon conducting further research, I discovered a mythological creature, present mostly in Latin American culture, called the ‘duende.’ Europe’s goblins, fairies, and leprechauns all fit into the same category as the duendes of Latin America and the Philippines. While the duende has many different oikotypes throughout the Latin world, they are broadly defined as magical sprites known to cause mischief, especially in areas surrounding forests. I am not acquainted with J.B’s family, however J.B. was happy to share a piece of their heritage with me this afternoon. As J.B. lost an immediate family member to an unknown illness, his father’s account of the duende’s curse carries sentimental value to J.B., and will forever be entwined with the folklore of his father’s distant homeland.

Haunted House

Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.

A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”

While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.

A.G.: “In my apartment building, we used to live in one of the back apartment units.”

While the family still owns the apartment building, A.G. has since upgraded to a nearby house.

A.G.: “At the dinner table… my brother and sister used to talk about stuff that would happen to them because our house was super creepy.”

Here “our house” refers to the family’s apartment building.

A.G.: “The roofing in the house used to be really fucked up and you could see through the roof to the wooden beams. My sister and brother said that every night there were these two green dots up there looking down into the bunk bed. My sister said that one night it just wasn’t there anymore. They said it looked like eyes or something.”

By only sharing their unpleasant supernatural experiences attached to the old building after moving out, A.G.’s siblings expressed relief in the move to the family. As A.G.’s siblings’ description of the unidentified eyes don’t doesn’t mention them belonging to any particular entity, I inferred that the building itself was responsible. Further, A.G.’s description of the building suggests it was not an ideal environment to grow up. I interpret A.G.’s siblings’ scary story as expression of both happiness for having moved, and fear for the condition of the apartment building.

Grandma’s Ghost

Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.

A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”

While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.

A.G.: “In my apartment building, we used to live in one of the back apartment units.”

While the family still owns the apartment building, A.G. has since upgraded to a nearby house.

A.G.: “At the dinner table… my brother and sister used to talk about stuff that would happen to them because our house was super creepy.”

Here “our house” refers to the family’s apartment building.

A.G.’s family connects over the supernatural. For instance, while the non-religious A.G. is less concerned with Christianity than his pious mother, she is less concerned with the supernatural. However, they all contribute supernatural experiences to the dinner table discussion.

A.G.: “This happened to my mom. It was weird hearing it from her because she’s always like ‘oh that stuff’s bullshit.’ This happened in Florida when she was visiting my grandma in her last days. After a few days after she passed away, my mom said she was sleeping in the living room or something and then she said that she woke up at night and the TV was on and she saw a figure that reminded her of her mom.”

A.G’s mother’s experience of seeing a recently deceased family member is a regular part of the grieving process. Such memorates, referred to as crisis apparitions, make up a large part of the ghost story genre. While A.G.’s mother’s experience was attached to the deceased grandmother, A.G.’s siblings had their own supernatural experiences attached to the old apartment building. Whether it’s remembering the loss of a loved one, or a displeasurable living situation, I interpret the exchange of scary stories to be the family’s way of bonding over personal tribulations.

For more ghost stories about deceased loved ones, visit http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/23/living/crisis-apparitions/

Supernintendo Chalmers

Informant is a Facebook page that posts only memes. As the page’s primary following is teens and young adults, most of their content is humor based on early 2000’s culture.

Supernintendo Chalmers

This particular post shows a Super Nintendo gaming console (1990), with a decal of Superintendent Chalmers of the popular TV show the Simpsons. The pun here is on the words ‘superindendent’ and ‘supernintendo.’ By combining the show known for its success in the 1990’s, with a 1990’s video game console , this satirical image is aimed to evoke nostalgia for people who grew up in this era.