Context: My informant is a 29 year-old man who is of Cuban descent. He grew up in San Diego and still lives there. He described a joke that was told to him by his grandfather. Although he does not personally relate to the joke, he still finds it funny because his grandfather laughed so much when he said it.
Informant: “So the joke goes, ‘Why are there no swimming pools in Cuba?
Because everyone who knows how to swim has already left the island.’ My grandfather told me that joke when I was pretty little and I definitely did not get it at first. But as time went on and my grandparents told me their escape stories I began to understand more. During the Bay of Pigs, both my grandparents had to escape and it was a very traumatic and devastating experience for them. They did not know if they would ever see their family again, their house, if they would even make it out alive, where they were going to end up. All of these experiences added a level of grit to them, but over the years I guess they have been able to learn to joke about certain things surrounding their escape. Don’t get me wrong, they both get a little teary when they talk about being separated from their families, but they can also joke about certain aspects of it, ya know? Um… this is something that has taught me to not take everything so intensely and so personally, it is essential to… keep things light and find the funny part of every experience.”
As the informant and I shared the same grandparents, I resonated with the story a lot. The joke is alluding to how most Cubans found their way out of Cuba someway after the country started to become more corrupt and became very unsafe. The punchline points a finger at some Cubans who actually attempted to swim from the coast of Cuba to Key West or Miami.
It is refreshing to see how people, especially Cubans in my experience, can take something heavy and dark and find the light in it. Using jokes to do this is an effective strategy and as long as it is not offensive to anyone and thoughtful, is usually a great way to do so.
Context: My informant is a 29 year-old man who is of Cuban descent. He grew up in San Diego and still lives there. He described a common saying for Cubans that his family taught him growing up. He likes this saying because it has led him to be more attentive and focused at many parts of his life.
“‘El ojo del alma el gordo el caballo’ is a popular Cuban saying. In english it translates to the eye of the soul fattens your horse. It basically means if you care about something and you want it to grow, you have to um… keep your eyes on it and pay attention. I remember my parents telling me this when I was growing up and it has always been something that has stuck with me. I um… definitely wanna teach it to my children some day,”
This saying resonated with me as I am also a Cuban person. This was definitely a message implemented by my family throughout the years as it shaped a lot of how I thought about work and things that I care about in general. It is the culmination of hearing phrases like this that helped me to understand the world around me. This type of oral tradition is extremely impactful, especially to children, as they are so malleable.
This is the type of phrase that the informant will pass on to his kids and so on forever as these types of sayings are very important to the culture and beliefs. Many other cultures have sayings along this message which helps explain why it is such an important message to hold. Using the horse as a reference is very interesting and also mentioning the idea of a soul as these things illuminate that these ideas might be more common for Cuban people to understand than others.
Context: My informant is a 23 year-old woman who is of Chamorro descent. She grew up in San Francisco and moved to L.A. for college. She described a common practice for her family growing up surrounding food, particularly a snack called “titiyas”. Her Chamorro family passed on this recipe throughout the generations. She loves them because they remind her of her grandma.
“So I’m really close with my grandma, I’m the favorite and vice versa hahaha. But, growing up we would always make different Chamorro food and one of my favorite snacks to have is called “titiyas” and they’re basically.. like sweeter and a little bit thicker than tortillas. Me and my grandma would have it with cheese or butter usually. Recently, I moved away from home and asked my grandma what the recipe was. She couldn’t give me any measurements or anything and said I just had to watch and taste. I mean that is how she learned and she was the oldest girl of 11 kids so she just learned by watching her mom. Sometimes she still sends me “titiyas” in the mail to eat the next day, I love it.”
I loved this story from my informant! It reminded me a lot of how my Cuban grandmother makes “arroz con pollo” (chicken with rice), a popular dish for Cuban people. My grandma never has the right measurements and just goes off of how it looks and smells. It is so sweet how her grandma is able to send her “titiyas” still. My grandma also packs me the Cuban dish every time I go to her house.
It is interesting how this recipe had been in her family for so long and it had still not been written down. This shows how important oral tradition has been as well as how important sharing in person human experience is. Now with technology, you can talk to more people than ever before, but you lose the opportunity of experiencing all the senses with that person. Cooking together at home with family, there is nothing else like it.
Context: My informant is a 26 year-old woman who is of Chinese descent. She grew up in Hong Kong and lived there until she moved to Pasadena at the age of 7. She described common practices for her family over holidays and how those were carried out at her buddhist grandfather’s funeral. She knows and loves these stories from personal experience.
“For every holiday, we never celebrated like “Christmas”, we would celebrate my grandma’s lunar birthday or a special dragon boat holiday like all these random holidays that I grew up with. A lot of Chinese people will have an altar to honor their ancestors consisting of a little red box and red candles with a little sign. Sometimes there are little figurines. Before everyone eats you put out a table in front of it with specific dishes (tea, wine, chicken, rice, fruits, vegetables) and incense. You pray to your ancestors at the altar. They sell these papers that have gold foil and you ball them up then burn them to help the things get into the afterlife. This would happen on every Chinese holiday. Then when my grandpa passed, he was Buddhist, so we had all these traditions of when you go up and honor the body you go up in generations and bow a certain number of times, eldest to youngest. There would also be all of these elaborate paper items like iPhones or houses. Then we burn them and it is thought to go to the afterlife. There’s all these different chants that we would recite at the end as well.”
I found this story really beautiful and moving. The symbol of burning these paper items in order to send them to those in the afterlife is one of the biggest things that stood out to me. Even the concept of having ancestors in the afterlife that you can easily access is a really intriguing concept that I had never thought of before. I also loved the idea of having this spread of different foods to offer as well. This shows how important food is in their culture and how much they honor and acknowledge those who have passed.
Context: My informant is a 26 year-old woman who is of Chinese descent. She grew up in Hong Kong and lived there until she moved to Pasadena at the age of 7. Listed below is an account of where the word tea comes from and its pronunciation in different regions of the world. She learned these facts from her mother who is interested in history.
“There’s only categories of how you pronounce the word tea, there’s tea and ta. The different countries that say tea, you can tell how they originally source the tea from China. In China they call tea, ta. Ams there’s this one province that called in te. The dutch would travel around Africa to get tea from that specific spot and that’s the only place that says ta. So you can tell where these places got their tea by how they say it. Like Persia says it che and more of the western countries say things more like tea.”
I found this information really interesting. Being that the informant was 26, her mom, who taught her this, is about 52. It is cool to see how the older generation can bring about knowledge like this from their origins. I had never thought about the pronunciation of different words and how they came to be, but I am intrigued by language and am excited to learn more.