Author Archives: Jessica Stempel

Folk Speech/Rite of Passage – Jewish


“If a girl got her first period, we would pinch her cheeks and say Mazel Tov.”

“If a girl got her first period, we would pinch her cheeks and say Congratulations.”

Mazel Tov is a Hebrew congratulatory word. It is often said during times of rites of passage, such as at Bar/Bat Mitzvahs or weddings. It is said with intentions of wishing the participant luck and prosperity as well.

A first period is a time of celebration for fertility as well as a rite of passage, marking a significant time in a young girls’ life. The pinching of the cheeks causes redness to form at the area being irritated, perhaps signifying the blood from the menstruation. I have also heard similar stories of mothers slapping their children in their face. Although traditionally not intended to be threatening or to hurt too much, perhaps this is a customary ritual which warns the young girl that she better be careful not to get pregnant (for the time has come where it may be possible).


*Rites of Passage was first suggested by Arnold Van Gennep in 1909

Folk Remedy – Japan

Jueki Sheets

“Jueki sheet eliminate toxins in body and improve sleep and speed up metabolism, give u energy, relieve pain. Jueki sheet absorb bad toxins in soles of feet. Pads have powder and will turn brown with all the bad stuff.”

Jueki sheets are a Japanese folk remedy made of ingredients like wood vinegar, bamboo vinegar, sinking Chinese herb, and vitamin C. I know this because when I went to interview this man, who wanted to remain anonymous, I bought some. I stuck them on the soles of my feet before bed, like it said to do, and removed them the next morning to find that they were brown. My boyfriend also did this and when he removed the sheet he exclaimed that it was probably hoax and that they probably turned brown from the body heat. However, upon comparing shades of brown, we noticed that his was significantly darker. Consequently, he has much more of a, lets say, partying habit than I do.

The man in the store said that Jueki sheets are very popular. I have in fact seen infomercials and secretly always wanted to try them. I am not quite sure I can say that I feel any different, but I bought a few and will continue to use them. The main reason that these sheets drew me in is because they claim to do your body good without any effort from you. While many diet pills and other products claim to accomplish a task without having the consumer try very hard, they end up having negative health effects. However, since Jueki sheets do not require anything to be taken orally or inserted internally, I think that consumers, including myself, feel safer trying them.

Asian alternative remedies have been around for thousands of years and have recently become increasingly popular among western cultures. Acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal remedies have all become familiar terms in the United States. The main selling points seem to be the “all natural” and “ancient” qualities. This is especially true in the ever increasing “organic” and “green” revolution where people want to go natural. However, one must be careful as I have started to see gimmicks popping up relating to oolong tea, which they now call the “Wu Yi Weight Loss Tea: As seen on Oprah!”. Some corporation has decided to take an ancient tea and make it into a fad diet. And, while it may slightly increase metabolic rates for a short period of time, it is in no way a miracle tea that will melt off pounds. It is a shame to see, but it is with hope that the real appreciation of such Japanese remedies and herbs will remain among its rooted advocates.


1. Jueki sheets that I bought

2. “Official Wu Yi Long Tea.” 2007. Natural Brands, LLC. 1 May 2008 <>.

Food – Mexican

Mexican Food

“My grandmother had a restaurant in Mexico called “Fonda”. This kind of restaurant is for the people in the trailers who pass by on the road. My Grandma make pozole, tamales, breakfast, and they have a bakery also. I learned to cook from her, when I was little I would look at hr do it. Now I cook pozole and tamales every Christmas. I have 6 years old and I look, I watching, I watching sometimes I help her, ¿Comó se dice maise? Corn? I help her do that, and the leaves too.”

Traditional Mexican food is often times passed down from generation to generation. Since there are many first generation Mexicans in Los Angeles, it is not uncommon to find lots of accounts of recipes rooted in Mexico.

pozole is a soup comprised of meat (usually chicken or pork), hominy (dried corn kernels), chilies, onions, and other spices. It is traditionally served on Christmas, such noted in Martha’s account.

Tamales are a popular Mexican treat that are mainly comprised of corn meal and a stuffing, then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. Three popular flavors are chiles verdes con queso (green chilies with cheese), dulce (sweet tamales) or carnitas (pork tamales). Like pozole, tamales are traditionally served on Christmas. Tamales take a long time to make the process is often times a collaborative effort by family members and friends. This gives them special time on holidays for cooking together. This is one of the reasons that food is such an important part of a culture. It is not only the product itself, but also the effort and collaboration that goes into making special dishes for all to enjoy. This joy is shared in a whole array of cultures and religions.

Gathering Place – Brooklyn, New York

Corner Candy Store

“As I grew up in Brooklyn, the corner candy store was our gathering place. Penny candy was sold and it was a place talk and laugh on the sidewalk outside it and to catch up on the gossip.”

Different neighborhoods have certain “hang out spots”, to which children and adolescents can publically meet up and chat. Picturing my grandmother hanging out at a corner store in Brooklyn is funny because of how I see modern Brooklyn corner stores portrayed in moves. My grandmother is a conservative white woman who, while growing up not so much, is now extremely wealthy. This is not the image that I picture when I think of Brooklyn corner stores. I picture African American gangsters, thugs, and drug dealers doing “business” on the corner. I picture drive by shootings and frequent robberies. However, when I research about Brooklyn, I learn about its diversity. There are a large amount of African Americans, but there are many Italian-Americans, Chinese, Mexican, Russian Americans, and low and behold, Orthodox Jews. There are indeed about 41% whites and about 36% blacks, 20% Hispanic and 22% of the population of Brooklyn is foreign born. It is in fact, a melting pot of cultures. I remember learning about immigration through Ellis Island and how millions of immigrants settled in New York’s boroughs. The picture that Hollywood usually paints, however, is Brooklyn as a popular place for gang activity and indeed many gang and mafia movies take place in Brooklyn. This folklore research has taught me that Brooklyn is much more multi-faceted.

The other interesting point about my grandmother’s recollection of her childhood is the presence of penny candy. Back in the 1920’s and 30’s, prices were obviously a lot lower. The dollar could buy you a lot more than what it could today. Today, a penny will not buy anything. However, I think the only time I have come in contact with anything that costs a penny is at Ruby’s Diner, where gumballs cost a penny.  The last time I checked was a few years ago, though, so they might not even be as low as a penny anymore. While not the most apparent of cultural identifiers, prices can be an indication of life in the “good old days” and can actually define a time period.

Religious Object

Saint Spray

“Sometimes I buy St. Anthony spray. It’s a spray that contains holy water, like you see in church, but it’s in a spray can. There’s a prayer on it and I read it in English and Spanish. Then I say my own prayer. Then I spray it around wherever I want to get rid of the bad vibes. I sprayed it in my car last week to get rid of the bad memories that I have had in it. I believe it works, you just gotta believe.”

Frank is Catholic, but the origins of this “Saint Spray” come from Santeria. I know this because I am learning about it in my “Religions of Latin America” class. Santeria and Catholicism are closely related and share the same roots. Afro-Latinos that are descendents of a mix of Spanish, Indigenous, and Africans that mixed after the conquests. They created their own religion called Santeria that is derived from Catholicism. The same saints are prayed to in both religions, but they have different names sometimes.

The spray cans actually come in a variety of saints, which represent different aspects of life. Saints are chosen based on what one wants to pray for or what they are having trouble with. For example, St. Anthony is a patron of many things, including but not limited to animals, the elderly, seekers of lost articles, travelers, and harvests.

The spray can be defined as a superstition or as a religious object. That is to say, not all Catholics use or believe in the Saint Spray. Some discount it as Santeria, to which is notoriously more related to vodun.  Yet, as some sprays represent Catholic saints and contain prayers, the Catholic and Santeria faiths can overlap in certain practices, as some people firmly have faith in the holy saints.