Author Archives: Haley Valdez

Knock on wood 

Description (From Transcript): “It’s kind of a common thing, or I don’t know if this is common, Like knocking on wood? Because my mom does that a lot. My mom is very superstitious. I remember from my childhood, when I would talk, she would be like, “No, don’t say that. Now you have to knock on wood”. She would say this whenever I said anything that she thought would jinx something.And then I got into a habit of doing that. Even in high school, I did competitive dance, and even at the competitions I would find wood if someone tried to say something negative about what was about to happen. I just feel like it’s interesting that something so early from my childhood, that’s just a superstition– there’s nothing really behind it– has stuck with me. I did it so much in high school and middle school that some of my friends started doing it too,  just being like, “Okay, now knock on wood”, feeling kind of scared that if we didn’t do it, something would happen. We always just said [if we didn’t knock on wood] it would jinx us, or the opposite of what we wanted to happen would happen. [If there was no wood around] I always got stressed. I remember being like– about to go on to the competition stage, and I had to find wood. I was like, “No, something’s gonna happen”. 

Context: T.M. is a second year student at USC. She is part Ecuadorian and part Native Alaskan. She is originally from Juno, Alaska. She believes her mother learned this from her parents because her grandmother is very superstitious and is very careful about what she says, or what she puts into the world (through speaking) because she believes in the power of what is said coming true. She claims that this superstitious kind of behavior comes from her grandma and was passed down to her mom, who made it her own thing. Now she feels that she is pretty superstitious too, and uses spirituality to protect herself from energies. She explains how she would do this at dance competitions to ensure nothing went wrong. Her entire dance team had rituals that they would do together before competitions, such as chants and special handshakes. 

My interpretation: While this superstition is pretty common, it was interesting how the informant learned it from her family and then taught it to people in her age group, as well as her use of it in dance competitions. Perhaps the contact from a knuckle to a non-human object is a way of transferring any negative energies or intentions from the person who spoke an unwanted thing to an object that can’t be harmed by negative energy. The action of knocking might also be indicative of how the energy must be removed quickly, the way a knuckle tap is. Because wood comes from trees, it might also be a way to release negativity back into a neutral, usually positive source. As for the fear of being jinxed, it might have become intense because when people say an unwanted thought and therefore cannot unsay it, the best thing to do might be to follow a quick superstitious fix. 


Description (From Transcript): “It was the mention of a Christmas creature. Have you ever heard of the Krampus?  Yes, okay, a Christmas legend. It was always since my childhood, like instead of the coal– You know the whole coal story? Like “Oh, if you act or your kid acts bad, you’ll get coal?– We’re told stories about the Krampus, and like there was a book, I remember, 

when I was younger. But outside of that, my dad would tell us stories that I don’t remember specifically, because I was little but there were so many. I remember always knowing about the Krampus, and that being a scary part. If you acted out or something, instantly the Krampus would come and basically kidnap you. It was very dark. It reminds me of the Grim stories because it was very much dark fairy tales.Then, as an older kid one, there was this one scary movie that came out called Krampus that I was like, “Oh, I’ve been told about that since Iwas a little”. We’re Just seeing it now, more in popular culture. But when I was told that it was just like word of mouth. It would always come up every single year around Christmas. So I guess it was kind of a tradition, in a way, too, for my family. The purpose of the story is definitely to get kids to not act out, not be bad. If you disrespect your parents, or talk back, stuff like that. It was used to try and get your kids to act well behaved. I feel like it was usually always like older, or like adult or parental figures, like grandparent figures telling the little kids to scare them into being well behaved.”. 

Context: T.M. is a second year student at USC. She is part Ecuadorian and part Native Alaskan. She is originally from Juno, Alaska. Even though she grew up hearing this story in Alaska, she believes it’s European because she once went to Chicago and saw a Christmas Krampus market during the holidays. At the market, vendors sold Krampus masks and other souvenirs. However, she is not sure exactly where in Europe the legend comes from. She doesn’t know how it ended up reaching people in cities like Chicago and Juno, she just recalls hearing it from her dad. His father passed down these stories to him, which she finds weird because she doesn’t think the story is a very “Alaskan thing”. She didn’t hear a lot of other Alaskan people talk about it, so she feels it’s sort of a unique thing. 
My interpretation: Like other legends told specifically to children, this story uses fear tactics to ensure that younger people do as their elders say. I find it strange that a holiday usually associated with positive religious figures like God and Jesus, as well as positive fictional characters like Santa Clause, would have a scary legend associated with it. Additionally, it was interesting to hear that this was not a popular tale in Alaska, necessarily, but it was still well known in the informant’s family, as well as different parts of the country. This most likely means that these regions had migration from whatever European country the story comes from, or in this informant’s case, someone in her family encountered it through family or location associated with this country.

Lake Auke

Description (From Transcript): “I think it [the story] circulates in the Alaskan Native culture, because that side of my family is Alaskan native, and I’m from Juno, Alaska. So there’s this lake that’s in my town. My town is landlocked. So it means it starts at one end and ends on the other, and we can only get out by boat. So at the end of the town there’s a lake called Auke Lake, and my dad would always tell me, when we passed by, that there was like a creature there. They always believed that there was a creature in that lake. So my dad would always like, tell us that there was like a creature there. It was actually to the point of like cultural belief. I don’t know if it was just a family belief. But I think there were variations of the story. My parents preferred that I didn’t go in that lake cause a lot of times people would put floaties on the lake, or just like be in the lake. But I remember growing up, and even in high school,  so when I was past childhood, I just didn’t go there. And then there’s just a lot of sacred areas, especially like the town, too. My parents would teach me that nature’s nature and don’t overstep nature to an extent because in Alaska, there’s this mindset sometimes that, like “ Oh, well, we can conquer nature. We can go on all these hikes and huge mountains” and stuff like that. But that can get dangerous, too, just because it’s Alaska, so it’s really intense terrain and stuff. Yes, we can appreciate nature, but also not like pushing our boundaries”.

Context: T.M. is a second year student at USC. She is part Ecuadorian and part Native Alaskan. Her father told her this story. She believes it comes from Alaskan Native stories. She explains how Alaskan Natives are always very aware of spiritual aspects and the powers of nature, so even when going in the ocean, they’re very careful. She believes in the legend to a certain extent, even just spiritually because she grew up hearing it and now she is always careful in that area. The caution was reiterated so much by her parents, specifically the aspect about respecting nature and making sure not overstep any boundaries. The story stayed with her even in high school. She says that people would throw bonfires and other events by the lake, but she never chose to go to them because of the stories she grew up hearing. Her father would tell her the story because it was a part of his childhood and her grandfather would tell it to him. 
My interpretation: This story seems like something that might be told to children to ensure that they didn’t get near this lake, perhaps because they wanted children to learn to leave the land undisturbed, or also to avoid anyone drowning. Because high schoolers also consistently congregated there, it might also be parents’ way of making sure their children didn’t participate in unsupervised teenage activities. The emphasis on respecting nature and not overstepping any boundaries is very indicative of the respect Alaskan Natives have for their land on spiritual and cultural levels. Even though it wasn’t super clear what the creature living in the lake looked like, came from, or did, the importance seemed to be that it kept people away from the lake just by being a cultural, intergenerational legend.

Coins for Styes

Description (From Transcript): “I don’t know if you know what styes are but like they’re an eye infection sometimes, and what they would tell us to do, or what my grandpa would tell us to do is to get either like a cold penny, or a cold spoon that you would put on the ground first (which I don’t know why). And then you would put that on your eye, and it would somehow help it go away. He (my grandpa) would leave it (The penny or spoon) outside and then put it on the stye to heal it. There were other things they (my grandparents) did. If they had like cuts, or like burns, they would wrap it in like banana leaves, or things like that, so they (the rituals) never had specific names. It was just kind of known things they would do and then they were passed on. And I actually was just talking to one of my friends, who’s Korean American, and she was talking about how they have similar things that they would do. But they would pull out an eyelash for styes as well.They would pull out the eyelash that’s near it (the stye) and then they put the eyelash on the ground. So it’s always having to do with something outside, I feel like which is interesting. Because, especially in Ecuador, for my grandparents growing up, they were very connected to the land and farming and things like that. I feel like, for them, it (spoons and coins) was just like things that were accessible to them. Maybe just like single household objects, because they didn’t necessarily…I know my grandparents growing up didn’t necessarily have the means to have the most medical things, if that makes sense”.

Context: T.M. is a student at USC. She is part Ecuadorian and part Native Alaskan. She explains that her grandparents are originally from Ecuador, and this was a medical tradition their parents taught them. Her grandpa then taught it to her mom, and her mom would tell her about it, even though has never personally done it. Even though she has never personally done it, she does believe that it works because her mom told her that it worked for her. She remembers it from early childhood because she always had a problem with styes. Her parents would take her to a doctor and she would get medicine. But when she would tell her grandparents about it, she got to hear their history and what they would do. Since then, it has always stayed with her. 
My interpretation: I thought the use of a metal object was important because metal can become cold easily, especially if it’s placed outside when the weather is cold. The fact that it has to be cold is also important because the cold (like ice packs that get placed in freezers and are used when a child gets injured) is known to lower swelling, which can sometimes happen with styes. The overlap with the informant’s friend over aspects of the outside world is also very telling about how medical treatments are connected to the resources people have in the geographical environment they are in. In this case, the informant’s grandparents being from Ecuador, a developing country with a rich ecosystem, reveals why they used affordable items and made sure to physically place them on the land.

“Dios Aprieta pero no ahorca”- Mexican Proverb

Literal translation: “God squeezes, but he doesn’t suffocate”

Context: The informant, VA, is a first generation student at USC. She has one sibling and her family is from Puebla, Mexico. She hears this proverb whenever her family has financial problems or health problems. In the past year, both her mother and father have had serious health issues. Her father suffers from heart disease and was operated on. The year before that, her mother had a stroke. She states that she is not religious but her parents are. Her father believes in God a lot and they are Catholic. They believe in saints including Saint Judas and La Virgen de Guadalupe (The Virgin Mary). Both of her parents say they learned the proverb from their parents because their families are very religious, except for her. Finally, she explains how hearing this proverb from someone that’s close to her gives her relief and helps her believe that her situation will become better. 

Description (From Transcript): 

“So what this proverb I always heard was “Dios aprieta, pero no ahorca”. The translation is “God squeezes but he doesn’t suffocate”. But it literally means, (it’s more on the religious side), but it means that God is testing you, but that doesn’t mean he’s gonna let you suffer. He’s not gonna let you die. And we used to say that when we were having financial problems: paying the rent or trying to pay hospital bills. Or finding ways to have hope that my dad was going to get out of that surgery well, or have hope that my mom was gonna get well out of the hospital for a week. He [my dad] was like “Dios aprieta, pero no ahorca. she’s gonna be fine”, and that kind of gave me a little hope. It’s a way of coping and having hope and making the best out of the situation.  We were like “everything happens for a reason”. It puts you at a state of rest, a little bit, because you have so much to worry about but everything is going to be okay

My interpretation: If God only squeezes someone’s neck or body, they might be uncomfortable and in pain, (a metaphor for being tested), however he won’t actually suffocate them because his tests only go so far. To me, this means that a person must have faith in God’s mercy or trust the plan he has for them. The informant’s parents told her this, revealing how faith is present as a form of intergenerational comfort. It also reveals how faith is often used as a final mode of hope when a situation (such as poor health or financial instability) is out of a person’s control.