Author Archives: Jacqueline Guerra

New Jersey Alphabet


“How do you say the New Jersey Alphabet?”

“Fuckin’ A, Fuckin’ B, Fuckin’ C….”

I was told this joke by RG, who is originally from a small town in New Jersey called Bergenfield.

Who told you the joke?

RG: ” I think someone out here (Colorado) actually told me it”

What does it mean?

RG: “Well that’s just what people say out there (New Jersey) because you say “hey want to go to the movies” and I say “fuckin’ A!”. It’s definitely a New Jersey joke, it’s based off the expression. “Of course I want to!” is kind of what it means. Like if I say “Wanna go have a cocktail?” and you say “Fuckin’ A! Of course I do!”. I don’t know why that’s just how it is there, it’s standard New Jersey language which has a lot of that type of talk in it. That’s the lingo I grew up with, different than how people talk out here (meaning Colorado)”

This joke plays off the stereotype of people from New York and New Jersey as being more aggressive and vulgar. I thought it was interesting that someone from out of state actually told RG the joke, but he thought it was so funny because it fit well with what he grew up with. Even though the joke played off stereotypes, the stereotypes were accurate enough that someone from New Jersey found it funny because it was true.

The sense of regionalism that the joke evokes is also very interesting. The fact that RG said it was”different than how people talk out here” shows how even though New Jersey and Colorado are both in the United States, what is appropriate to say in one state is not necessarily appropriate in the other. As someone raised in Colorado, I can agree with RG that people from Colorado probably would not find the joke very funny because of its vulgarity and their inability to relate. I think one of the reasons RG found the joke so amusing and enjoyed sharing it with others was because it was a way to reconnect with his roots and remember where he came from. Although Colorado and New Jersey are within the same country, there are still regional social cues that need to be picked up on. Telling the joke would be a way to give people in Colorado a sense of what New Jersey is like in an amusing and entertaining way.

The Red Whistle

MG describes an urban legend from her home town of Bergenfield, New Jersey in the 60s and 70s.

MG: “There was a deli in town that also sold candy, I think it was called Bob’s. The urban legend was that if you went into the candy store and asked him for a red whistle the guy behind the counter would go crazy and chase you out of the store. It was a dare if you could go into the store and ask him for a red whistle. It was mainly a boy thing, I heard about it from my brother. He did it once.”

What happened when your brother did it?

MG: “He got chased out of the store! He had to run for his life! But that was part of the fun, he was a grown man and the boys were in 8th grade, no one knew why it was a trigger point but it was the standing challenge so all the boys had to do it”

So no one knew why he would chase you out of the store?

MG: “I don’t think so, maybe someone 10 years older than me knew but all I knew was that you had to go ask for the red whistle. Someone told me it was because he was a child molester, but I don’t know if that was true. All the kids that I knew knew about it”

This legend was interesting because it was an example of how it is unclear whether the legend or the action came first. It isn’t clear whether the man would chase kids out of the store because he had been asked about the red whistle so many times and was fed up, or if there was an underlying meaning to asking for the red whistle that made him angry in the first place. The addition of the fact that they thought he was a child molester was a weird twist and maybe made their actions more ethical: they could continuously bother him because he was a bad guy.


Skiing down a mountain

JG describes a game she learned from her mother and would do to kids she babysat

What was skiing down a mountain?

JG: “So you know how little kids love to be bounced up and down on people’s knees? Skiing down a mountain was basically just bouncing a little kid on your knee but with a background story. Mom used to do it to me, but she was the one who made it up. She said she wanted to put a background story to it to make it more interesting because it made more sense if there was a story. And then I really liked it so I would do it to kids I baby sat and you when you were a baby”

What do you do?

JG: “So you put a little kid on your lap and bounce them around like normal, but then you say “skiing down a mountain” again and again. Eventually you yell “TREE!” and you swerve your knees to the side like you’re avoiding a tree. There was some other ones too, like rocks and moguls. For moguls you would do really big bounces. It was kind of open to interpretation. All the little kids loved it, it was a lot more exciting than regular bouncing a kid on your knee. Sometimes I’d do you and your cousin Louisa at the same time, you guys loved it. I just remember really liking it when I was little and I would watch Mom do it to Justin too when he was little. So then I did it when I started watching kids”

This piece of folklore displays the importance of regional differences. While bouncing a child on your knee could be adapted to have many different stories, it’s significant that this story involved skiing, mainly because the game originated with JG’s mother in Colorado where skiing is very prevalent. A child would immediately recognize the parts of the game because most children in Colorado learn to ski at a very young age.

The Westridgettes

CH went to an all girls private school in Pasadena, California.

CH: “So basically since we didn’t have a football team or any men’s sports teams we didn’t have any cheerleaders cause there was no point ya know? So we had something called the Westridgettes, there were 9 skirts that each meant something different. There was the Asian skirt, the glee club skirt, the captain skirt, the soccer skirt, the drama skirt, the tiger, and the skinny bitch skirt, the preppy skirt, and the black girl skirt. We told administration the skinny bitch was something else though cause they wouldn’t like that. Basically all of them were seniors but every year they would will them down to a girl in the class below them and every girl would add her name to a pleat of the skirt. So it was like a green skirt covered with names and the people who wore them were basically cheerleaders that would lead the pep rally and would do a provacative dance in front of the whole school to show how cool and fun they were. There was a lot of nepotism, the cool group of girls would have the skirt and pass it sown to other cool girls in the younger class. But then adminstration caught on and made them diversify the skirts so it went to a bunch of random people.

Why do you think this tradition started?

CH: “I think to enhance school spirit which is hard at an all girls school. We didn’t have any big football games or anything so it’s hard to have school spirit at an all girls school. Probably like fostering sisterhood too and creating a tradition of passing down the skirts”

I think this is an interesting initiation ceremony representing the liminal time of high school. Especially since the skirts are largely exculpatory, it creates a sense of being included or not. It makes sense that the “cool” girls would be selected because this ritual allowed them to join a lineage and stand out from other girls.

Mongolian Folk Dancing

The informant, RD, describes a mongolian dance class she took when she was younger. The dance class took place in Palo Alto, California. RD is of Mongolian and Chinese decent: her father is from Mongolia and her mother is from China.

Where did you learn the dance?

RD: “I was in a mongolian dance class. We had these velvet, red towels with gold chain and coins on them  on them and you had to twirl them around your fingers. It was like a big choreographed dance, there was a group of us”

How did you find out about the class?

RD: “My mom found out through her church I think”

Did you ever perform the dance, like at a festival?

RD: “We would perform in an auditorium for our parents. It was pretty much only parents there, not like an outside group of people”

Was everyone who participated Mongolian?

RD: “Mainly Chinese. Everyone was either Mongolian or Chinese. There was definitely no white people, they would definitely get freaked out by the music (laughs)”

What was the music like?

RD: “We danced to traditional Chinese/Mongolian music. It had a mixture of both languages, so parts would be Mongolian and parts would be Chinese. I think the background was traditional Chinese instruments.”

Is Chinese and Mongolian a common mix in Palo Alto?

RD: “No no no, it was just headed by a committee that had some Chinese people and some Mongolian so they kind of fused the two cultures. I don’t think I’ve ever met another person who is mixed Chinese and Mongolian, it’s not common. Everyone was one or the other.”

I thought this was particularly interesting because of the mix of Chinese and Mongolian culture. The fact that the music being used was a mixture of Mongolian and Chinese was very interesting, especially given the fact that RD said she had never met another person who was both Mongolian and Chinese. It seemed very unlikely that everyone there was either separately Chinese or Mongolian when the performance itself was a very balanced mixture of the two. I also thought it was interesting that she thought it was funny that white people, or members of any other ethnicities, would be a part of the dance. When I first heard her describe it I thought it was for the purpose of sharing their cultural heritage but based on the performances it seems like its main purpose was to preserve and pass on their traditions.