Author Archives: Paulene Ng Chee

Beer Pong Blowing

“I watched my upperclassmen doing this at my first college parties.  After they dip their ping pong balls into the water before their turn, they would blow on it, and have nearby spectators blow on it too… apparently it’s supposed to coat your ball with good luck.  More like germs, but I don’t know… It’s pretty much counterintuitive to the part where you dip it in the water in the first place.”

Background: The informant is a college student who has witnessed others performing the gesture of blowing on one’s ping pong ball prior to taking a shot in the game.

Context: This superstition was shared with me over FaceTime.

These rituals are reminiscent of the arbitrary “strategies” that schoolchildren come up with that they swear will help secure victory in a meaningless game.  The informant goes to school in a different region of California, yet this strategy is still consistent with what I’ve seen people do at USC; I don’t know how such a custom of blowing on a ping pong ball was spread across college communities.  There also isn’t any kind of online information that confirms this as a phenomenon in the general college community, so it is also unclear whether this strategy even exists outside of a certain geographical radius.

Authentically Filipino

“I always tell you that the true way to test if you’re American or Pilipino is to pinch you.  If you yell “ouch!,” you’re American; if you yell “aray!,” you’re still Filipino.”

Background: The informant is a 48 year-old Filipina immigrant whose daughter experienced childhood in the Philippines but adolescence in the United States.  Therefore, she often tackled issues of her child becoming “Americanized” and losing her identity as a Filipino.  This piece is a joke, but it highlights issues of what an individual with multiple cultural identities “is” at its core. “Aray” is the instinctive Filipino equivalent of saying “ouch” when one feels pain.

Context: This piece is something that has been told to me often growing up, but for the collection project the informant shared this with me at the dinner table in our home.

This is something my mom always told me as I spent more time in the United States and constantly faced scrutiny for “losing” my Filipino culture.  We choose to pinch people to get their reaction in order to catch them at a time where they are not expecting your presence or to feel pain.  Therefore, their reaction is authentic and they don’t have the time to mask their behavior to go one way or another.  It’s indicative of how Filipino-Americans need to be tested to see if they are “Filipino” enough, as being “whitewashed” is something that many young adults get taunted about.  Anyone who was only raised in the United States or in the Philippines would have no need to see whether they are more one or the other; this is applicable only to the community of individuals who have both (if not more) ethnicities as parts of their identities.  It, unfortunately, promotes the idea that one has to be what the person is at their core, and they cannot coexist at the deepest level in one’s identity due to the binary nature of one’s reaction to being pinched.

Jumping on New Year’s

This is something I told my three children growing up — if they jumped as high as they could once the clock struck midnight, the tallest height they reached would be how tall they will grow up to be.

Background: The informant is a 60 year-old Filipina immigrant to the United States.  She told me that her mother told her and her own siblings the same tradition growing up. While she does not exactly believe in its practical use, it was a harmless and fun way of ringing in the coming growth in the new year.

Context: This belief was told to me during a weekly luncheon that always follows our Sunday church services.

Probably my favorite pieces in this collection are the rituals whose origins can’t really be traced, so it’s unclear how or why they came to be.  But used now, they are just a cemented given in family situations as part of their experience of the culture.  It’s unlikely that there is any real basis in the idea of freezing heights in time beyond the general folk belief, but most people nowadays just do them for the sake of novelty.

Big-Little Program Reveals

“Okay so… every year our KAPA-milya program has its big-little reveals, and there’s a whole succession of events that the littles have to go through before they get to meet their big.  Generally, bigs know who their littles are a week in advance so they can plan out secret coordinated communications with their littles so that they can make them a nice personalized gift.  On the night of reveals, we blindfold all of them and have them go through an “obstacle course.”

There isn’t actually an obstacle course; typically we just tell them to step over, jump over, go around imaginary strings and potholes… I allow bigs and existing members to spray them with silly string and spray water on them or yell at them, but I draw the line at touching them because that’s an invasion of privacy that… hasn’t worked out well in the past.  

At the end of the obstacle course, we arrange the littles in front of their new bigs and have them perform the “otso otso,” which is a dance that resembles twerking.  After that, we have the littles take the pledge to be a good little and never leave their big behind.  Similarly, the bigs promise to always support their little and then we count down for the reveal!”

Background: The informant is the current Programming Director of USC Troy Philippines.  She oversees the organization’s big-little program, which is one of the primary programs that members who pay dues have access to.  They can be picked up by an upperclassman to act as a mentor.

Context: This process was shared to me in person at USC Village prior to a different Troy Philippines event.

My only in-person KAPA-milya reveals (by the way, kapamilya means family in Tagalog,) happened in the previous fall semester, when I became the big to my two freshman littles.  Getting picked up in Troy Phi also grants one membership to a smaller “fam” in the organization, the fam that their big is in, to provide them with a smaller community within the organization that has similar interests and personalities.  This event in the semester is probably the most important in terms of rites of passage as a member, since everyone who becomes a big and picks littles up has to have been a little and gone through the same initiation process at some point previously.  The embarrassment of having to dance while blindfolded and the overwhelming flurry of the obstacle course is a shared experience that all “initiated” members have.

Pabitin at Birthday Parties

“A pabitin is a grid of bamboo wrapped in cellophane.  We have those at birthday parties and what you do is you essentially buy a bunch of small toys like those packs of sushi erasers or something.  Small dollar action figurines or crayons or candy… you tie or tape all of it onto the grid so it’s all hanging off.  Then you tie a large string to the grid and put it up basically like a piñata with one person handling the end of the rope.  You gather all of the kids under the pabitin and the person holding the rope can decide how far down he’ll let the grid fall to the children, and they have to jump up to try to grab the goodies.  Half of the fun is setting up how the toys and gifts are scattered and preparing the children.  I also like watching the children’s creativity get teased as they jump for the toys.  Bamboo is used for everything, like building houses… I don’t really know how we ended up making our native products out of bamboo, heheh.  So the material in itself already has cultural roots.   If in Mexican parties you always have a pinata, it’s the same idea for us Filipinos, where our children’s parties are characterized by pabitin.”

Background: The informant is a 20-year old college student who has witnessed several Filipino birthday parties in the past.  She has only been a witness, however, as she uses a wheelchair for transportation.

Context: This piece was told to me during a luncheon after our Sunday services.

This tradition puts a more competitive and high-energy spin on the normal act of providing gift bags to party guests.  The kids have fun as the adults tease them out of getting the goodies from the grid, and there are often bigger prizes than others that the children are already eyeing before they get to compete.  The grids can also be made of bamboo, which is light and flexible, and also one of our cultural agricultural products.