Author Archives: Ysenia Conde

“Step on a Crack…”

Background information: My brother is currently a sophomore in high school. He recalled some sayings and games he remembers playing when he was younger.

Brother: I think this is a, like, just a folklore saying? Or kinda a game. But we used to say “Step on a crack, break your back, step on a line, break your spine.” Something like that. So you can’t step on any cracks in the sidewalk or step on any of the lines on the sidewalk or on the roads either. Otherwise something bad might happen to you.

Me: How did you hear about this? Do you believe it yourself?

Brother: It’s just a kid thing that I remember hearing with my friends when we would walk around after school or during recess. It’s a saying and a kinda superstitious thing but then it can also become a game if you actually try not to step on anything. I think I probably took it seriously at one point, but not anymore.

This saying was interesting to me because I remember it differently in my own childhood, and many of my friend do too. I remember it as “Step on a crack, break your mama’s back.” However, my brother and I do have a somewhat large age gap between us, and maybe in that time the saying slowly changed, as many playground games do. I think this is something that a lot of children take seriously when they’re young, because of the threat of something bad occurring, and not only something bad, but something very specific. For another version of this saying, see

Gnomes in Mexico

Background information: IJ is a 20-year-old student at USC, who currently lives in Los Angeles, CA. He often visits family members in Mexico, and learns about different types of folklore and traditions during his visits.

IJ: In my town in Mexico, people often see gnomes. Like in my house over there, we have a smaller room that’s disconnected across the main house and my cousin’s aunt stays there with her husband and her kids. And there was one time where she woke up in the middle of the night and saw her kid laughing and giggling, like standing up in his crib. And she saw the door open to outside, so she got a flashlight, because the light switch was like across the room from her and she switched on the flashlight and saw a small gnome there. He ran out the door into the cornfield behind our house. She stood there absolutely frozen, and like shell shocked and her kid started crying.

Me: Wow, that’s kind of scary! Have you ever seen a gnome when you stay at your house in Mexico?

IJ: No, but there’s been more sightings there of like little gnomes running around, like the real small gnomes with the hats (laughs). Except my aunt said this one looked more real like a doll and it had wide eyes when she flashed the light at it.

I think many people share pieces of folklore in which their child showed a greater sensitivity to something supernatural, and also often the child is more welcoming to it than adults might be. This adds an even more eerie feeling to stories like these, because it almost feels like children or babies are somehow more connected to these beings than us, as adults.

The House on Florentine Street

Background information: My mom is a second-generation Filipino-American, meaning she was born here in the US. Her parents immigrated from the Philippines when they were both relatively young, and my mom’s family grew up with a lot of relatives in San Francisco, CA. 

Mom: At my lola’s house in the city, on Florentine Street, they always told me that sometimes there would be an old man sitting in this one specific arm chair in their living room.

Me: Who was the old man?

Mom: No one knows who the old man was…but the house was very, very old, maybe he lived there before my lola and our family. He wasn’t ever harmful but they would just see him sitting there all the time. She told me he must have just stayed in the house after he passed, because it was still his. But he was never scary or bad, or anything like that.

Me: Did you ever see the old man yourself?

Mom: I don’t remember ever seeing him. But maybe sometimes I would feel his, like, presence or something similar. But nothing was ever bad about it.

In Filipino culture, many people are very respectful of the supernatural, and of spirits of the past that they may be intruding on. While, of course, the idea of ghosts is often very scary and unnerving in Western culture, my mom’s family and many other Filipinos/Filipino-Americans have more of a neutral view of ghosts from the past co-existing in the same space as living people. This mentality is seen in the way my family still showed respect and gave the old man his own space, while accepting the fact that he would continue to stay in the house.

Nutcracker Ornaments on the Tree

Background information: AH is a 21-year-old raised in the Bay Area. Her parents are African-American and white, and she has one younger brother. She shared a Christmas tradition she remembers from when she was a child, that she still practices today when she’s home for Winter Break.

AH: My brother and I always take turns choosing from our nutcracker ornaments to put on the tree. I always kinda thought that we considered it bad luck to not put them up, uh, but now that I think about it I’m sure it just started because my mom didn’t want my brother and I to fight over who got to put what ornament on the tree (laughs). They’re like made of glass and come in a wooden box with a certificate of authenticity and I know she got them as like a family heirloom type thing, probably because she had a bunch of ornaments my grandma gave to her. Anyways, I don’t really know the origin or anything…but it’s fun! It’s just something that I always think of fondly when I think of Christmas, which is cute. We always do it as the last thing too, so like, once we’re both done taking turns it feels like it’s officially the holidays.

Me: Do you still do this every year?

AH: Yes (laughs), even though we’re all older now it’s just for fun. It is a kind of ritual for us, probably.

This piece of folklore is one that is very specific to AH’s family, however, as she was telling me this, I realized that my brothers and I also did something similar as kids, probably for the same reason of my parents not wanting us to fight over who got to do what. It’s very cute that something that may begin in childhood like this can become so significant in a person’s memories. The fact that AH created her own sort of superstition related to this practice (connecting bad luck to the ritual of putting up ornaments) shows us how significant these traditions become over time.

Pork over the Pali Highway

Background information: OLP is a 21-year-old student at Georgetown University. in They were raised in the Bay Area, but currently live in DC for school. Their parents met in Hawaii, and they were born in Honolulu. They visit frequently with their family, and their dad was raised there. OLP is white, Filipino, Mexican, and Japanese American.

OLP: You aren’t supposed to take pork over the Pali Highway in Hawaii. This comes from the Hawaiian myth that the goddess Pele had, like, a bad breakup with her boyfriend who was a pig god. So they divided the island between them, so taking pork from one side of the island to the other can anger Pele. This is pretty well-known in Hawaii but I’ve also heard from friends of my parents who said they’ve taken pork over the pali and their car broke down. The superstition says you won’t be able to finish your journey and you might be surrounding by spirits. A lot of locals take this very seriously and I think it’s an important way for people to show respect for Hawaiian traditions as well.

Me: So your family and family friends all observe this practice when you visit?

OLP: (laughs) Well…I’m vegetarian so yes. But yes, especially since so many people have had experiences where, like, something has happened if they tried. And it’s just good to respect things like this sometimes.

This is one of the only pieces of folklore that I collected in which someone had heard the same story directly from multiple people. I think this is very interesting, because it shows that these practices are alive and well, and that although Hawaii is often just seen as a tourist spot or getaway, there are traditions and cultures that need to be respected there. I think it’s really important that pieces of folklore like this – things that come from a time before a specific place or culture was colonized/occupied – continue to be shared and made known.