Author Archives: Tyler Sinness

Scoop the Rice Superstition


PM: Okay. Yeah. Okay. Um, I’m not really sure like what happens if you don’t follow this, but I have never not followed it, so I don’t care to find out. Um, but I think it’s from my Lolo, so my dad’s father,

Interviewer: Um, Lolo, so that’s, um, Philippines?

PM: Mm-hmm.

PM: Like, and I don’t know if it’s like a Filipino thing or if it’s just my Lolo, but, um, whenever you get rice from the rice bin, you always like, usually there’s like either a huge bag somewhere or like a big jar or something. You always have to scoop the rice when you’re done for the next person. And like, if I did not do it, like if you just throw, if I just like, would throw the cup in the, in the rice bin, like, it’d be like, no, you have to scoop it and leave it in there so the next person can get it.

PM: And so like, whenever we’re out of rice, like you and you can’t scoop another one, I like go get the rice, open it up and scoop it even though I’m not using it. And like, I think I’ve talked about it with my dad, and I think it’s possible that it’s like a, something that was, that came from like, uh, like starvation practices. So like, you know that you have more rice if you scoop it. Mm-hmm. And like if you don’t, then you have to acquire more food.


This person’s family originated in the Philippines before moving to the eastern United States, and the interviewee is a third-generation American. The folk group in question is the person’s close family, who all adhere to this superstition. They provided me with this superstition after I specifically asked for superstitions they learned from their family.

As they stated, they do not know what might happen if they did not adhere to this tradition. The practice is simply so rote that it remains unquestioned. However, as the interviewee stated, not following the practice is akin to breaking a rule that might confer some type of bad luck.

As the interviewee also stated, the origins of this practice may have its origins in starvation periods during colonialism in the Philippines. That would certainly make sense; to have the rice scooped for the next time it is needed is to know that you have enough food for the next time you are hungry. However, this person is a third-generation American whose ties to Filipino culture are mediated by their Lolo, or grandfather. It could also easily be that this practice formed as an expression of etiquette, extending courtesy to the next person who scoops rice. It could also be–as the interviewee stated–that the superstition was merely created by their grandfather.

Dog Fleas Proverb


My informant is my brother-in-law, who grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. He says he frequently heard his father tell him this, who would invoke the proverb to warn him against hanging out with the wrong crowd. He is of Western European descent and identifies as American.


This is a proverb, so the text remains largely the same with each iteration of speech. This proverb is used as a warning against associating with the wrong people.


“If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get fleas.”


As a proverb is supposed to convey some sort of wisdom or inherent truth, this proverb serves as a warning. It is common in English to hear a person refer to another person who is perceived as having a low moral character as a “dog.” This is likely due to dogs historically subsisting off of food scraps and scavenging in the cities and villages of human settlements. Dogs have a reputation of being dirty scavengers, and so the application to those with low moral standing is apparent. And, since dogs often have fleas, something that is unpleasant to be afflicted with, the proverb has both literal and metaphorical meaning. From here, it is easy to see how the proverb serves its warning: associating with those with low moral standing is likely to influence one’s own behavior.

The “dogs” might also refer to those of low socioeconomic standing, however, especially given the association with fleas. Fleas can be seen as a disease or affliction, and the proverb might also be meant to warn against associating with those with poor hygiene due to economic factors. On a larger societal level, this proverb might serve to maintain social boundaries based on class.

Brazilian New Year’s Tradition


This is a description of the Brazilian New Year’s tradition, specifically that of northeast Brazil. The informant is a third-generation Brazilian American, although she has spent a considerable amount of time living in northeast Brazil–specifically the state of Bahia–and is fluent in Portuguese. The informant describes the rituals and traditions common for New Year’s Eve and Day in northeast Brazil. She is careful to note that the traditions come from the traditional Brazilian religion espiritismo, which is a syncretic mix of African religions and Catholicism. She is not an adherent of espiritismo, but she states that the tradition is widespread in Brazil, even for those not following the religion.


MM: Um, so on New Year’s Eve, you typically wear a color that signifies what kind, what you want to bring into the new year. So the most traditional one is white. People want a peaceful new year, that’s white. Um, but the other most popular colors that people wear are yellow to signify wealth and prosperity in the new year. And red to signify passion and love and romance and sex in the new year.

MM: Um, and then on New Year’s Day, there’s a tradition in the northeast of Brazil, Bahia, to go to the ocean and, um, give, put white flowers on the water, um, as an offering for the new year for Iemanjá, who is the goddess of the sea and the most powerful, uh, deity in Brazilian spiritism.


As is clear from the informant’s description of the tradition, while there are clear connections to espiritismo, it is not necessary to adhere to the religion to be influenced by it in Brazil. The informant knows that the deity is Iemanjá who controls the sea, but the deity is described from a secular perspective rather than a religious one. That an expat can experience this tradition is indicative of its pervasiveness in Brazil and espiritismo’s entrenchment in Brazilian culture.

The colors are significant here, too, and point to cultural perceptions of color in Brazil. Red, for example, is associated with passion and sex, suggesting a connection with fertility, menstruation, and blood. The three mentioned are common color associations in European culture, but given the syncretic nature of espiritismo, the associations very well could have originated in Africa.

Iemanjá being the primary deity in espiritismo might allude to the importance of the ocean during the colonial period, especially given that such a massive proportion of the Transatlantic Slave Trade ended up landing in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. The treacherous journey across the ocean might be one influence, and the fact that Brazilian colonies largely existed along the coast might be another.

LA Parking Prayer


This short prayer was given to the informant by a friend who had grown up in Los Angeles. The interviewee is currently living in Salt Lake City, Utah, but lived in Los Angeles for ten years. This is a prayer to find a parking spot in LA, only meant to be invoked in true desperation. She is of Latin American descent.


MM: Um, Okay. It is “Mary, Mary, full of grace, help me find a parking space” and it’s used to help you find a parking space, uh, when you are looking for street parking or in a car park, a crowded parking lot.

MM: Um, and, but you have to use it very sparingly. I can’t, you can’t just like at, for, you know, you have to have been looking for a minute before you can use it.

MM: Um, I first heard it from a friend who grew up in LA and she pulled it out after we’d been searching for parking for quite a while and she said she keeps it in her back pocket for absolute emergencies. We found a parking spot immediately and it has not failed me since, but again, only used in emergencies.

Interviewer: Sparingly.

MM: Sparingly. Yes. Yes. And by emergency, I mean, you know, a Los Angeles emergency, which is there’s no valet.

Interviewer: Haha, yeah.

MM: Truly an emergency.


This is an example of folk speech, more specifically a prayer. I had heard this prayer from the interviewee some time ago and knew it would be perfect for the archive.

As any LA driver can attest, it can be extremely difficult to find parking on the streets of Los Angeles. One can find themselves driving around endlessly, and this prayer is meant to save them from the struggle. As the interviewee states, the prayer cannot be used in any situation. Instead, it can only be invoked at a time of desperation or emergency, when hope is nearly lost for finding a parking space. This maintains a certain significance to the prayer; if it does not work, the situation might not have been desperate enough.

This example of folk speech likely evolved through the converging influences of car culture and Catholicism on Los Angeles. This prayer is invoked almost in jest, rather than it being attached to any true religious belief. The informant, notably, does not have any ties to Catholicism. Still, the prayer mentions Mary, most likely the Virgin Mary, pointing to its roots in Catholic belief. This prayer is an excellent example of how folk belief evolves from the environment and culture it finds itself in.

Star Tipping


My best friend was raised Mormon, and all of the kids at his local Mormon sect would play “star tipping” in the field behind the church at night. He states that he doesn’t remember any significance to the practice, just that it was a game that they played. To star tip, he and the other youth at the church would pick a star in the sky and stare at it while spinning around until they fell. He is a college student, transgender, and of European descent. He left the church when he turned 18.


SS: At the specific church building that we went to, there was a big field in the back and at night after a youth activity, sometimes we’d go out there and do star tipping.

SS: And so you just pick a star. Sometimes it happened to be an airplane, but you pick a star and you look at it and then you spin in circles. Well, it’s still looking at it until you fall over and all the youth would do it.

SS: And I don’t know anything more about it other than it was something that we did.


This might just be a simple children’s game, but it is notable for the fact that it was a game shared amongst the entirety of the children among their sect, with a specific name for it. Looking online, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of “star tipping” aside from a few Tumblr posts from an ex-Mormon who mentions it in the tags.

Aside from “entertainment value,” this game may have been encouraged by the church as a way for the youth to connect with each other. Given the celestial cosmology of the Mormon faith, in which those in heaven occupy the “heavens,” this might have been a way to connect a game/practice with Mormon belief. Aside from that, the game may have been a way to pass time in the long, often boring late hours of Mormon seminary.