Author Archives: ethanwil@usc.edu

“Senior Speeches” in a Catholic High School

Main Piece

The following is a tradition from the informant’s high school theater group. Before going onstage for a performance, the theater group would pray to all the saints and all “the big guys,” as the informant referred to them, and then they would hold hands and close their eyes. Then, one person would begin an energy circle by squeezing the hand of the person to their left, and the squeeze would be passed around, hence passing  the “energy” around. Next, all the Seniors would do a shot of vodka before finally going on stage. After the show, all the Seniors gave “Senior Speeches.” This tradition is rather long standing, and has been going on at least since the informant’s sister started high school in 2009.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant recalled the whole experience fondly, and the tradition seemed to be something that everyone enjoyed and looked forward to. While the way the tradition carried out was passed down from older students to the informant, the informant looked forward to engaging in the tradition after having talked to her older sister about the same tradition and the theater group in general.

Context

The informant attended a Catholic all girls high school in Staten Island, and the theater group consisted of members both from her school and a Catholic all boys high school nearby.

Notes

The interchange between religious ideology and ‘pagan’ ideas of “energy” is terribly interesting. The informant specified “energy” rather than “the Holy Spirit” or another specific religiously inclined symbol. Given that the informant attended a Catholic high school, this seeming conflict is rather interesting and has much potential to be expanded upon.

 

Italian–American Proverb about Age

Main Piece

“I was where you are, and you’ll be where I am.”

For a similarly worded proverb with a different usage, see Frederick Hartt. Italian Renaissance Art, Third Edition, 1987, published by Harry N. Abrams, pp 203-4.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island, New York

Language: English, Italian

The informant learned the above proverb from her grandmother. The informant’s grandmother will first state the proverb in Italian, but the informant does not speak Italian, and so the informant’s grandmother will follow up by saying the proverb in English. Hence, the informant only understands the proverb as it is told in English, which is why I have chosen not to include a translation.

Context

The informant’s grandmother says the proverb when any of her children or grandchildren make fun of her for being old or says something along the lines of “Grandma, you don’t understand,” in regards to the grandmother’s technological prowess.

Notes

I have seen this proverb before, but I have only ever seen it as an epithet on gravestones, which is the usage of the example I cited above. In either instance, the informants example or the gravestone, the proverb speaks to the inescapability of time. Most people tend to shy away from such topics, and the proverb helps state the truism in a pithy, approachable way.

 

Pre–Show Improv Game

Main Piece

Before improv shows, the informant and her improv group play a game where the actors all yell “Give me back my son!” at each other, while trying not to laugh. While it is a game and in some sense a competition, the ultimate goal is to prepare to act emotional while maintaining composure.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The informant found the game very bizarre, although she participated and still participates wholeheartedly.

Context

While amateur improv groups play this game, it is also played by professionals. The game is actually based on a scene from the Mel Gibson movie Ransom. The informant didn’t learn the origin of the game until long after she was taught how to play by members of her improv group, and she told me that she was very surprised when she learned where the game was actually from. She was also surprised when she found out that professional comedians play the game.

Notes

It is very interesting that the informant learned the game and the line “Give me back my son” from other improv actors rather than from the film. This interchange is an example of how authored media can become folkloric and have its meaning changed entirely.

 

Greek Easter

Main Piece

The informant told me about Greek Easter and its associated traditions as practiced in Northern California. Greek Easter occurs one week after regular easter, and the celebrations the informant attends are at a local park. Classical Greek dances are performed, as well as an egg cracking game. Eggs are hard boiled and dyed red before they are used for the game. Two people each take an egg, and then the two people hit the eggs together until one egg cracks. The first person to have their egg crack is the loser. Nothing is won or lost. There is also a traditional easter egg hunt for “little kids,” as the informant called them.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Outside San Diego

Language: English

The informant’s grandmother is “very Greek” and the informant always visits for Greek Easter. The informant commented that Northern California has no Greeks, but even so, about 100 people would come each year. Presumably, Greek Easter is a very important holiday for community building.

Context

The traditions included in Greek Easter are performed only at the specified time of year, one week after the traditional Christian Easter, and only among other Greeks.

Notes

The game with the eggs is perhaps indicative of the importance of strength in Greek culture; you want your egg to be the strong one, the one that doesn’t crack. The influence of American easter “traditions” is also very interesting. The easter egg hunt was invented by corporations, and although it has influenced Greek Easter to a small extent, the participation is limited to “little kids,” which reflects the fact that as the children grow up they will perhaps ‘age into’ Greek cultural traditions.

 

Italian–American Seafood Tradition

Main Piece

The informant goes crabbing with her extended family for one entire day each year. They always go in August, because that is when the season is best. The crabs and other fish that are caught are frozen and subsequently eaten in a seafood feast on Christmas Eve.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location the piece originated: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant learned this tradition from her family and she, predictably, has a strong sense of family. She enjoys and looks forward to both the crabbing and the seafood feast. Seafood dinner is an Italian Catholic tradition, and presumably this is how the older members of her family came to partake in the tradition.

Context

The informant has a large extended family, consisting of 10 first cousins who “are around every birthday and every holiday.” She typically sees them, as well as her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, at least twice a week. They all live in New York City, most of them in Staten Island, but the crabbing takes place on the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey.

At the seafood feast, the informant’s grandmother makes Aglio E Olio, an Italian pasta dish, along with traditional Italian breadcrumbs. After the dinner the whole family, goes to mass together.

Notes

I find it interesting that the informant and her family go crabbing together, rather than simply buying the crabs and fish at the store. The activity certainly seems like it would bring the family closer together. The act of getting their own food also harkens back to a time when tribes and families were self sufficient and had to get their own food with their hands and not at the supermarket.