Author Archives: Sabrina Rivas

Hand Games (La vibora de la mar)

When I was little, there was a… like, a hand game, I guess, I used to play with my… my cousins and my friends… uh, back in Mexico, in Morelia. Uh, and it was one of those where you, like… you know… (pantomimes clapping her hands and slapping the hands of a person sitting in front of her) Um… but the words to this one, like, the song that went with it… uh, it was to the tune of “La víbora de la mar,” which is a song that, like, people dance to at a lot of… traditional Mexican weddings… uh, but for this game, the words changed to:

“A la víbora, víbora de la mar, de la mar

Los cuadernos a volar

Las maestras a la calle

Y los niños a jugar

Una vieja gorda

De la dirección

Siempre nos acusa

Con el director

Señor director

Su perro me mordió

Lo voy a echar al horno

Con sal y limón

El que se mueva se lo comerá

Yo mejor me quedo así”


“To the serpent, serpent, of the sea, of the sea

The notebooks go flying

The teachers go to the streets

And the children go to play

An old, fat woman

From the administration

Always reports us to the principal

Mister principal

Your dog bit me

I’m going to throw him in the oven with salt and lime

Whoever moves will eat him

I’d better stay like this”)

Uh, and then you’d have to, like, freeze, and whoever moved first lost. Uh… yeah, and that was just one of the hand games I played a lot when… when I was younger.



This song/game contains many tropes common to children’s rhymes/games: overpowering the teachers and getting out of school, getting the chance to play instead, and cruel school administrators that hurt the children, but who will receive their punishment (by having their dog killed and cooked). There are also a lot of children’s games that involve staying completely still, and the person who moves first losing and receiving some sort of punishment.

Stalked by Aliens

(Actions/further descriptions, added by interviewer, are in parentheses.)

I had this one teacher in seventh grade, uh, my science teacher… and she was just a huge joke with the entire grade… and I guess all her other students, like, ever, because they… the general consensus was just that she was crazy, because… well, there’s a lot of reasons, actually, but… but the big one is, she’s, like, convinced that she’s being stalked by aliens. (Laughs.) Like, straight-up, dead serious convinced. And she told us this story once, about how she was stalked by aliens twice, and it was like… uh… it started off something like…

So she was, like, in her twenties or something, and she was driving alone, and she noticed that this one car had been following her for a while, so she… she pulls into this gas station and the other car just drives by. And she still waits there for a few minutes, like, just to be sure. Uh, but then once she’s back on the road, after a few minutes, she notices that the same car is still following her, so she, like, looks over at it, and she sees… she’s like, (in a mock Southern accent) “it was the strangest-looking man I ever saw!” (Laughs.) Um, so then she gets to her parents’ house, right? And the dude is still following her, so… uh, so she parks her car inside the garage, and then she goes out the back and knocks on her neighbor’s door and, like, asks if she can spend the night there, ’cause she would’ve been home alone at that point. Uh, so the neighbor lets her stay there, and the… the car, the dude’s car is just parked across the street from her house, and it’s there all night, and then, uh, finally, like, that night or the next morning or something, he’s gone, and she goes back home and everything is normal. But then, and this is, like, ten years later or something. Like, she’s moved to a different state, she’s gotten married, changed her name, she has a daughter, she drives a different car and everything… ten years later, she’s driving down the road, and she… and there’s this car that’s following her, right? And so she looks over and it’s the same car with the same guy in it, and it follows her all the way home, again! So she gets home, she locks all her doors, and runs to her daughter, and she’s, like, super agitated and, like, telling her daughter to hide under her bed and stuff, and then all of a sudden the doorbell rings, and she… You know those houses that have, like, the… the intercom things, where you, like, press a button and you can talk to… Yeah, so her house had that. So she, over the intercom, she goes (in a mock Southern accent), “What do you want?!” And he… So her house, her front door, there’s these, like, windows, uh, really narrow windows on either side of the door. So the dude, like, slaps a hand against each of those windows on either side, and, like, she still can’t see him, his face or anything, like, it’s blocked by the door, um, but it’s just his hands on her windows, and he just goes (in a deep, gruff voice), “I WANT YOU!” (Laughs.) And so then she calls her neighbor, who’s this big, burly, like, construction or maintenance dude or something, and he comes out of his house with this giant pipe and chases the guy off, and, yeah, the, I guess, “alien” dude just drives off in his car, and… and I guess she hasn’t seen him since.



I find it interesting that my informant’s teacher saw a “strange-looking man” following her and assumed it was an alien. I am also unsure as to whether this teacher truly believes she was stalked by an alien and was truly afraid, or whether she simply made this story up to make her students laugh. Her reputation among students as “crazy” seems to stem from her belief in aliens, as well as other bizarre behavior which other students of hers have told me are due to her belief in/interaction with aliens.

Dance Traditions

For dance, like, um, when I was with the company, the night before the show, like, we’d always have sleepovers, and we’d always drink three… three strawberry Fantas each, which is really bad for you, ’cause you’re not supposed to drink soda, obviously, the night before, but we did it anyway, it was just like a good luck thing.



This good-luck tradition reverses something that it supposed to be discouraged and taboo and turns it into a ritual for luck. It shows the dancers’ and teenagers’ in general tendency to bend or break rules. Additionally, because my informant is a highly trained and very talented competitive dancer, it could speak to her and her teammates’ confidence that they will be able to perform their best regardless of drinking soda the night before a performance. The context of this tradition within a sleepover works to build a community and bond with the entire team, since they are spending the whole night before a performance (and presumably the entire day of the performance) with each other and participating in the same rule-breaking rituals.

Christmas Eve Traditions

In my family, we… always go to Christmas Eve together. We go to mass together at… seven or eight p.m. We always sit in the… left… front left of the church, um, after we go and see, uh… like, the floats that people make for Christmas, and they’re decorated with, like, Christmas lights and nativity scenes and scenes from the Bible, and there’s, like, kids and adults dressed up, um… with costumes from… Biblical characters, and then after that’s done… um… we go back to my grandma’s house at like ten p.m. Um, and before dinner, we gather around the nativity scene that’s in my grandma’s… uh… like, behind the front door… and we sing to baby Jesus, then we pray, we do a little reflection of the day, then we kinda go around and say things that we’re thankful for that year, um… like, how we were blessed that year. Uh… then we do, like, an Our Father together and hold hands, then we do, like, a closing, um, song. And then before we put baby Jesus in the manger, we give a kiss, and put in the manger, and then we go into the big dining room… where… uh, my grandma’s already, you know, set up the table, and we always have turkey on Christmas Eve with… like, the turkey’s made with red wine… and we have, like, a fruit salad that my grandma makes, it’s homemade, and… uh, sometimes the dessert, uh… like, an original recipe that she has for a… like, a chocolate cake… and after we’re done with dinner, we usually play games or go to sleep if we’re really tired.


Background (from interviewer):

My informant is from Morelia, Mexico, and comes from a very conservative Catholic family. She is very close with her family, and returns to Morelia to visit them at least twice a year. She is also deeply religious and is very involved with the Catholic Center at USC.



The repetition and specificity of these rituals show my informant’s and her family’s commitment to routine and her traditional background. They also emphasize her devotion to Catholicism and the religiosity of the holiday, and strengthen her bonds with her hometown and her family, since they do this all together as a family, gather at their grandmother’s home, and eat the same kind of homemade meal every year.

Multilingual Birthday Songs

(Interviewer’s additions are in italics.)

Well, since my wife is from Hong Kong… a lot of times at birthdays, family birthdays… because, back when we lived in Mexico, for birthdays, we’d sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish… well, we’d sing “Las Mañanitas,” which is a Spanish birthday song… uh, but then we’d also sing “Happy Birthday” in Cantonese. [In traditional Chinese characters: 醒你生日快樂 ; pronounced in Cantonese, according to my informant’s wife, as “sing nei sung yuc fa lok.”] But since my wife was the only one who spoke Cantonese, we… we couldn’t get the words right, and to some of us it sounded like [to the tune of “Happy Birthday”], “La lasagna falló, la lasagna falló, la lasagna falló, la lasagna falló.” Which… in English, it means, “The lasagna failed.” And… it was just really funny, it made all our Mexican family laugh, it made the kids laugh… and so that’s how we always sang it… And we kept singing it this way until my sons started taking Chinese [Mandarin] classes in school… uh, we moved to Minnesota and they took Chinese [Mandarin] in school, Chinese immersion… and so they learned the Chinese [Mandarin] words to “Happy Birthday” [in simplified Chinese characters: 祝你生日快乐 ; pronounced in Mandarin as “zhu ni sheng ri kuai le”]… and for a while, we had them sing the Chinese [Mandarin] version of it… but then they, uh, they didn’t want to anymore… and now we usually just sing it in English, and… uh… and we still sing “Las Mañanitas” as well, but not any of the Chinese versions of it.



The inclusion of a Cantonese version of “Happy Birthday” at this family’s birthday parties reveals my informant and his family to value multiculturalism and want to include this part of his wife’s culture into their celebrations. Yet, the warping of the lyrics also shows the overpowering of the majority culture/language (Spanish, and its misunderstanding of the Cantonese lyrics) taking precedence over the minority culture/language (Cantonese), and the appropriation and ultimate replacement of this minority language for humorous purposes.

The Cow Herder, the Fairy, and the Milky Way

So basically, right, there’s this, like, cow herder dude, right? He and his cow, like, they kind of, like, live together. And one day, he was, like, out walking, and he saw some, like, fairies bathing in the river, and then he, uh… he took one of the fairies’ clothes, and then, like, the fairy found out, and then they married each other. And then, um, they had two kids, a boy and a girl, but then, like, the fairy’s, like, mom, or, like, caretaker, she didn’t like the marriage, so she took the fairy back home. And then, like, the, um… the… the cow herder, he, like, he wanted to, like, see her again, so he tried to, like, go to her, to the fairy, but then that, like, um, the, like, fairy, like, mom or, like, caretaker or whatever, she, like, made the Milky Way so they’d be separated. But then once a year, um… magpies, they would, like, form a bridge so that they could see each other once every year… with their wings.



It’s, like, a Chinese Valentine’s Day story… we learned about it in Chinese [class], it’s a really common story that, like, parents tell their kids.



“Cowherd and Weaving Girl.” Traditions, Cultural China,

Watch for Falling Rocks

I used to live in Colorado, and, you know, up in the mountains there’s all these signs that say “Watch for falling rocks.” And, um, so the story goes that these two Native American kids were, like, becoming men, or something. And so they go up into the mountains and one of them gets lost. And so the one kid comes back, and they would go, “Oh, where is this one kid?” Um… and that kid’s name was Falling Rocks, so it was sort of like a joke, so it was like, “Watch for Falling Rocks.” Um… yeah, up in the mountains.



This story contributes to Anglo-Americans’ and American tourists’ fascination with popularizing Native American culture and history. The inclusion of “Native American” tropes (often seen in early Hollywood depictions of Native Americans) such as a journey or ritual to “become men,” odd-sounding (to Anglo-Americans) nature-oriented names like “Falling Rocks,” and the tragic disappearance of a young man on an adventure reveals the continuing tendency of Anglo-Americans to put Native Americans and Native American culture into these same stereotypical roles, for the sake of a pun or humor.

Soccer Game Rituals

So in my soccer team, uh, like, before games, we always put our left socks on before our right socks, right? And then, we always, like, put on our left cleats and then our right cleats, but then we tie our right cleats before our left cleats. Oh, and then I always tuck in my shirt.



I guess it’s lucky, kind of. We do it every game, so I can’t really tell if it’s lucky or not. It’s just, like, a ritual that we started and we can’t change it, because then, like, it might turn unlucky or something.



This team-wide pre-game ritual probably helps to build a bond or sense of community within the team, and allows the players to identify with and trust in each other.

Stealing Props

There’s this huge tradition in theatre… our high school theatre… uh, department… where after we close a show, everyone in the cast and crew, like, steals one of their props or, like, a piece of the set or something. And we’re not technically supposed to do that, like, all the props and sets are supposed to, like, be deconstructed and put back in the vault, but, like, nobody actually cares. But um… yeah, my first show at the high school, I didn’t know this was a thing, so I didn’t take anything, which… I cry (laughs). But then for the spring show my freshman year, I… we did Pippin and I was one of the, like, farmer guys in Act Two, which, like… wooo, big role, I know, but, um… during strike, I almost forgot about that, but, uh… fortunately, I was just walking around backstage after school one day, and I found my hat that I wore for the show, which was just, like, a really redneck-looking baseball cap… and it was just lying on one of the tables backstage… I don’t know if, like, somebody forgot to put it back with all the costumes or something, but, like, yeah, I just decided to take it, because I’d forgotten to take any other props, and, like, you know, it was my first speaking role in a high school show… I mean, a small one, but you know, and so… yeah, I guess I just wanted to keep it. Uh… but yeah, I’ve seen people walk away with… like, whole pieces of sets that they just keep in their rooms, I guess, or, like… just other props… I know the middle school kids are starting to take props from their shows that they do, too, so… I guess it’s spreading (laughs). But yeah, I guess it’s kind of a problem within the theatre department, you know, like, we’re supposed to give them back so they can use them for future shows, but, like, in all honesty, they hardly ever do, they mostly just sit there in the prop vault for years… and, like, honestly, our school has enough money to just buy new props if they need to, so, like… nobody actually cares that we’re just stealing props and set pieces, and it’s… it’s pretty cool to, like, keep parts of shows you’ve been in or worked on, so we just do it.



The tradition of stealing props or set pieces is a highly sentimental one. After working for weeks or sometimes months on a show that closes after a few performances, those involved in it want to keep pieces of the show to remember it by, especially since a show’s closing is usually very emotional (the same informant, as well as others, tell me of cast parties during which everybody cries the whole night). It also allows cast and crew members to show others or “prove” that they were a part of a particular show, since they have a keepsake from it. This tradition also points to high school students’ desires to break rules and get away with “sneaking around” behind the adults.

Pep Rallies

When my dad got out of the army, he, uh… we moved to Arkansas. So I was probably, like, ten or eleven, um… And so then I’m, like, I became one of them, right? And, uh… going to pep rallies was, like, a new thing… for me, um… All the schools that I’d gone to, I lived in, like, Washington state, Colorado, and… they didn’t really have pep rallies. I don’t know, maybe they did in high school, but I… I wasn’t aware of them. Anyway, I remember going into this gym and, um… you know, the cheerleaders are cheering, and the football team is, like, running around, the band’s playing, and then everyone was, like, clapping, and then making this sound, like, “Woooooo!” And I was, like, I cannot make that sound, like… I was, like, trying, and I’d be going like, “Uhhh! Weeeaaah! Aaagghhh!” you know, like that. And then, as everyone was screaming, I would, like, try it out to see how to make that “wooo” sound… Anyway, so that was just, like, trying to, like, figure out how to be normal at a pep rally.


My informant is a self-described “librarian type”– she is very bookish (she studies Shakespeare and is a writing instructor) and sort of introverted. Thus, the wild screaming and cheering and overall rowdy atmosphere of pep rallies, particularly in a place to which she was new at the time, seemed very strange and out-of-character for her. This story also points to the culture of pressure to fit in or “be normal” in society generally, and especially in high school. This almost forced community gathering and vocalizing of loyalty or excitement for one’s school somewhat institutionalizes this practice, and marks my informant as an outsider who is new and unfamiliar with the expectations of how to show support for her school identity.