Author Archives: Rachel Johnson

Spinach and Tofu

The informant is marked IN. The collector is marked JJ.

IN: My mom told me I can’t eat spinach and tofu together otherwise I would die. Like all throughout my childhood, she never let me eat spinach and tofu.

JJ: Did she explain why you would die?

IN: No she had no idea why and I told her I don’t believe you and she was like it’s real I heard it on the Chinese television. And my mom believes a lot of things from chinese television and they have the weirdest like, health talks where it’s like, they bring up the weirdest shit and it’s usually not true.

Context: I met the informant at lunch and asked about any folk medicine used by her parents.

Background: The informant is a Chinese-American whose parents were raised in Vietnam. Her parents collect a lot of health remedies from Chinese television, often explained with little scientific backing – which is something that the informant has never agreed with but faced a lot growing up.

Analysis: I found this interesting because both foods are very healthy and to my knowledge used often in Chinese cooking. I can’t imagine reasons for avoiding these two foods, folkloric or scientific.

La Llorona

The informant is marked IN. The collector is marked JJ.

IN: So the story goes that this woman in like colonial times in Mexico, she had a couple kids. And the story changes, like some stories say the kids drown, some say they got lost, or killed. So the story goes that at night whenever people hear any crying outside it’s like this woman that’s coming back to get kids and like kill them. So part of that is saying that you can hear like moaning and crying and you’re supposed to hide your kids and stuff. So I’m pretty sure they like take the kids and drown them in the river.

JJ: Did you hear it in your family like from older generations more?

IN: In my family they didn’t say it that much, but it was more like between friends when we were telling horror stories. I think it’s more of an older generation, and also in smaller towns where people walk around more in a smaller environment. But it mostly came up in people telling their friends or hearing it from like older grandparents.

IN: The main thing is there are people that say that they heard her and it’s actually popular enough that they made a movie recently. But if you hear her you’re supposedly supposed to die, so not many people really claim to hear her.

Context: The informant is my sister in law. I asked if there was any Folklore from Mexico that she remembered.

Background: The informant is from Mexico and has lived in California for about ten years. She heard this tale growing up from friends who would tell the story as being something they heard from their grandparents mostly. For her it was more of a horror/entertainment tale than a cautionary one, particularly because she lived in a bigger city so there wasn’t relevance for la Llorona.

Analysis: I found the informants explanation interesting because from class I always imagined it being a cautionary tale to make sure your kids don’t wander away. I also understand why older generations and people in more rural areas might hear it more often or spread it for caution there to make sure that their kids don’t wander into forests at night.

Sacred Owls in Hawaii

The informant is marked IN.

IN: There was this one myth about an owl that I kind of remember, like not exactly but I’ve heard it a couple times. So basically there was this kid, called Kapoi, who found some owl eggs, and he like, wanted to roast them to eat and stuff. And this all – by the way – kind of just relates back to how important owls are for Hawaiians. So like he’s about to cook these eggs and an owl comes down and tells him “hey, you can’t do that please give me my eggs” and the kid doesn’t really listen, but the owl asks again and the kid says “okay, come get them and they’re yours.” So the owl comes down and gets his eggs back, and he tells the kid to build a temple with an alter and everything and it ends up that on the same day, the king had set up a temple and he had already dedicated it, and basically just made up a rule on the spot that no one shall dedicate a temple on the same day as the king. So the king sends all these men to kill Kapoi, but the owls heard about this and they decide to intercept the kings men and attacked them all, just pecking and scratching and killing his men. So then like, the owls won, and like the king I guess acknowledged the God that Kapoi had dedicated the temple to, which was basically the owls, and since then owls have been seen as very divine, god-like birds and just show up a lot throughout Hawaiian sacred history and stuff. They just play a big role overall, in like, everyday life I guess and they have to be respected.

Context: I asked the informant during work if he had any Hawaiian folktales.

Background: The informant is a Hawaiian Japanese-American, who was raised hearing a lot of Hawaiian folklore around him. This is a story he heard less often but was an essential piece for understanding the importance of owls in Hawaiian legends.

Analysis: I thought that this was a really interesting piece because it gives the message that if you respect nature, nature will respect you. Treating animals kindly instead of stealing and roasting their eggs will lead to better karma and protection from those animals in the future. I also never knew that owls were prevalent in Hawaii so this surprised me.

Freshman Pool Passes

IN: Um, well, a common joke or practical joke that would happening my high school is that Seniors, or upperclassmen, would sell freshman uh, pool passes, and tell them we have a pool – and we do not have a pool. And they would say things like “oh the pool, is right next to the gym in the basement, or the pool is on the fourth floor, and we only had three floors. And they just constantly kind of just lied to freshman and get them to… like, some of them would make very official cards uh, thats a pool pass and try to get them to buy like $10, $15 pool passes for a pool that didn’t really exist. And uh, some seniors would actually try it, it devolved kind of into a practical joke where teachers would joke about the pool on the fourth floor, and where at orientation they would make a funny song and dance about it. Just remember: there’s no pool.

JJ: Did you ever buy a pool pass?

IN: No. But I was offered one. We were told over and over again at orientation: don’t believe them, there’s no pool. HIGH SCHOOL NAME OMITTED does not have a pool, we wouldn’t sell passes.

JJ: Did that make you believe it any more? Did you have any inkling of like, oh what if there is a pool?

IN: Yes, but then I went to the roof, which is effectively the fourth floor, and it was pretty boring. There was nothing up there. Just a pretty standard roof.

Context: I met the informant in his apartment to collect some folklore pieces from him. I asked about any traditions he had in high school.

Background: The informant is a second year student at USC who went to high school in New York city.

Analysis: I think pranking freshman is a pretty common thing in high schools and colleges. This piece reminded me of freshman year at USC, where they would throw “all-white” parties where you had to wear all white under the guise of it being a blacklight party or something, but it was only advertised as that to the freshman and all of the upperclassmen knew not to wear white because wearing white marked you as a freshman. I think that picking on freshman effectively unites the upperclassmen population and creates a sense of comradery. It’s just a weird feeling that even if you don’t necessarily fit in, at least you’re not a freshman.