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Russia: Black Cat

Informant: This is another superstition my family really believes in. A lot of people have this superstition and I’ve seen it play out all around the world but I think the Russian version has an interesting take on it. It basically states that when you see a black cat crossing the street it’s bad luck so in order to counter that bad luck you need to take 10 steps back from where you were standing. The superstition only applies if the black cat is crossing the street and taking back 10 steps is crucial in order for the bad luck to not set in. This is a very controversial superstition for me because I love cats and hate the idea that I need to fear them or take certain preventative actions in order to avoid bad luck. However, I still feel compelled to participate in this superstition just because my whole family participates in it and the idea of bad luck makes me nervous. 


This is another example of how superstitions are used and the power they hold. I found it interesting that the idea of a black cat being a symbolism for bad luck can also be found in Russia; it is quite common to believe in this superstition in America. However, the fact that Eliza demonstrates how they have their own version and approach to the superstition delineates how folklore varies from culture to culture. I think it is very important to highlight how Eliza claims that she participates in the superstition because her family participate in it as well. This, combined with the inherent fear in having bad luck, shows how superstitions work. It is interesting that it is specifically the black cat which is believed to be bad luck. This might be because black is the opposite of white; black is usually associated with death and evil whereas white is associated with purity and goodness. Therefore, it might be the symbolism of color which works to promotes this superstition. Overall, I think this is a fairly common superstition and demonstrates a more global approach to folklore.

California: Family Tale

Informant: There’s this story my dad tells me all the time around the Jewish holidays. He only really tells me this story during the Jewish holidays and he makes it a big elaborate thing. The story goes like this: 

“My great great grandpa was an orthodox Jewish man and a barrel builder in Russia at the turn of the century who started the ‘Levine Hand Strength,’ aka the firm handshake.One day he was coming home from work when a Cossack soldier, who were typically anti Semitic, came up to him and yanked his beard very hard after calling him a Jewish bastard. My great great grandfather responded ‘that was very good of you…let me shake your hand.’ According to the story, the handshake was so strong that  he crushed the Cossack’s hand and blood started gushing out of his finger tips.” That’s the story. 

Collector: How does it make you feel when your dad tells you this story? 

Informant: I love when my dad tells this story because he saves it for special occasions and always makes it such a big deal that it makes it feel like an important story. It also makes me feel closer to my heritage and makes me feel better about being Jewish. It’s part of my family’s identity. 


This piece of folklore is very interesting because it is personal folklore. The tale being told by the informant is relevant to her and her family. I really like the importance of this tale within the informant’s family. It is a way for her to understand where her family came from and it makes her feel closer to her heritage, which I think is important. I think that the reason why this story is so impactful for the informant is because it has a direct relationship to her and her family and because it is treated by her father almost as if it were an epic tale.

There is a lot that can be learned from the informant based on this tale. First, we learn that her family is originally from Russia. We also learn that she is from Jewish heritage and that her family has continued to follow the Jewish traditions. Lastly, the story provides insight into her relationship with her father. Clearly, he is someone she respects and loves, which is why the fact that it is him telling her the story is so important. All of these small details are specific to this informant rather than to a group of people/society, which demonstrates the difference between personal/family folklore and cultural/public folklore.

Mexico: Chupacabra

Informant: The story of the Chupacabra is one I have been hearing for most of my childhood. The first time I heard it was at a sleepover when I was about nine years old. We were all getting ready to go to sleep and decided to tell each other scary stories. The Chupacabra is a type of monster that attacks and drinks the blood of livestock, specifically goats. Hence its name “Chupacabra” which literally means “goat-sucker.” The monster is always described as a type of beast with really sharp teeth and black eyes. Even though it doesn’t necessarily attack people, the terror towards it comes from the fact that many people have claimed to see it. It’s almost as if its presence is the horrifying thing rather than its actions.  Even though my fear towards it eventually faded, it was still a figure people talked about. This was especially true for little children. So, like, if you want to scare a little kid or get him to do something you can always say “Va a venir el Chupacabra por ti” which basically translated to “the Chupacabra will come get you.” 


I find it very interesting that the informant describes his fear towards the Chupacabra as a kid even though humans are not this creature’s target. I think the fear stems from the scary appearance of the Chupacabra.

The fact that the Chupacabra sucks the blood of livestock made me think of vampires. Among other things, vampires are known for sucking the blood of people. Therefore, the trope of taking the blood from another living creature as a form of survival is something both creatures have in common.

I think that the reason why the Chupacabra takes blood from livestock is because many parts of Mexico are rural. Farming and agriculture is very prominent in Mexico and for people living in rural areas their livestock is extremely important and valuable. Therefore, I can understand how the idea of a creature that goes around killing your livestock can become a terrifying prospect. The part that I would be interested to research more are the supposed Chupacabra sightings. The informant mentioned this briefly but I wonder what who exactly it is that has claimed to see the creature. Is it kids, farmers, old people? This would provide a much more holistic understanding to the Chupacabra tale.

Mexico: La Cucaracha

Informant: There is this one song in Mexico that everyone knows and everyone sings. It’s really silly but or some reason its very popular. I have been hearing it all my life and all my friends know it but I think the first person I ever heard it from was my grandmother. She would sing it all the time. The song goes something like this: 

“La cucaracha, la cucaracha 

Ya no puede caminar 

Porque le duele, porque le faltan

Las dos patitas de atrás.”

This roughly translates to this: 

“The cockroach, the cockroach 

Can´t walk 

Because it hurts, because he’s missing 

His both legs from the back.”

Collector: Was there any special ritual or game that went along with singing this song? 

Informant: Not really. I think people would just sing it because it was catchy but there was nothing specifically involved with it.  


This song seems to be a type of folkloric rhyme that has been passed down through the years. It is interesting that it has no specific meaning or activity involved but is still so popular. That goes to show that folklore thrives on popularity; the more widespread and popular a piece of folklore is, the better chances it has of surviving throughout the years.

I thought that this song was funny and I can understand why such humor would make it so popular. The song is literally about a cockroach that can’t walk because it loses its legs. Even though there isn’t necessarily any meaning to it, it still paints a very vivid image of what is happening. Such imagery is a recurring trend in Mexican folklore; the language gives way to very strong visuals. Such imagery might be part of the song’s appeal.

The informant also mentioned that the first person he ever heard this song from was his grandmother. Moreover, he said that everyone he knew was familiar with the song because of how widespread it was. This would help explain the song’s popularity. If the song is being passed down from parent to child, then it would make sense that the popularity of the song is due to its involvement in family life. In other words, the song may be a source of comfort due to how familiar it is.

Mexico: La Papa Caliente

Informant: The following is a song I used to sing as a child with my friends. We would sing this song and play it at school all the time. There was a game that went along with it where you had to hold a potato, or a ball, and pass it around while you sang the song. Whoever had the potato in their hands when the song was over would lose. The song went like this: 

La papa caliente estaba en el sartén 

Tenía mucho aceite, quien se quemo? 

Uno, dos, tres. 

This roughly translates to: 

The hot potato was in the pan 

It had a lot of oil, who got burn? 

One, two, three. 


This is yet another example of how folk music is often times used to accompany children games. The song being sung has a specific game and action involved with it. Again, we can see how this is used in a social setting and as a way to establish relationships; the informant claims that he would play this with his friends at school. In a way, this song is a game in and of itself.

I find it very interesting that the song uses potatoes. Potatoes are a really big part of people’s diets in Mexico. They can be found anywhere in the city and are a very common ingredient. I wonder if this is why the song makes use of potatoes. Aside from that, I think this song is really cute and funny. I love the idea of a bunch of kids passing each other potatoes and singing a song to see who loses.