Author Archives: Stephanie McGregor

Joke – Cuba

Cuban Joke

Superman visito a la isla de Cuba un dia.  Al llegar se quito su capa para relajarse.  Se paso una semana visitando los lindos paisajes de Cuba, probando la deliciosa comida Cubana y disfrutando de las primorosas playas.  Al fin de su vacacion Castro se despidio de Superman y le dio las gracias por su visita.  Entonces Superman regreso a su hotel, se puso su capa y se subio al techo del hotel para levantar vuelo y regresar a casa.  Pero al estirarse para despegar derrepente no podia volar! Pujaba y trataba pero no podia levantar vuelo! Derrepente al escuchar mucha comocion miro hacia abajo y a su sorporesa vio 1000 Cubanos agarados de su capa….le gritaban “Tu Puedes Superman! Tu puedes llevanta vuelo y vamonos!!”

On day Superman visited the island of Cuba.  Upon arriving he removed his cape for the sake of relaxation and to not attract attention.  He spent a week visiting famous landmarks, trying the Cuban cuisine, and enjoying the picturesque beaches.  At the end of his vacation Castro wished him farewell and thanked him for his visit.  After this he went back to his hotel, put on his cape, and went up to the rooftop to take flight back for home.  However as he extended his arm in hope of taking off he shockingly noticed he could not get off the ground.  He pushed, and tried, and struggled then suddenly upon hearing great commotion below him he gazed down and noticed something…1000 Cuban clinging to the tip of his cape cheering, “You can do it Superman! You can do it, push hard and lets get out of here!”


Chris heard this joke around the age of fourteen when his Dad was saying it to his other Cuban friend.  He said Cubans normally performed the joke. It is one of those racial jokes that are really only appropriate between Cubans—otherwise, it would be rude and offensive.  Because of the political reference, the joke was usually performed between older people.  They obviously had to know about the current political situation for them to say it.  Chris thought it was a form of comic relief, to poke fun at the bad situation in Cuba.

I agree with Chris’ interpretation.  The joke was first heard about four or five years ago, right about the time when chaos was escalating within Cuba.  People were unhappy with the state of the government, thus we desperately trying to get out of the country.  Hanging on to Superman’s cape is a method of communicating the overall feeling of Cuba’s people at the time.  In the United States, daily news stories were reported of immigration control finding countless boats of Cubans trying to flee to Florida.  Some of Cuba’s citizens felt confused and repressed by the circumstances.  These feeling are characteristic of when jokes of tragedy are created.  Humor comes from the unconscious part of our brain as a way to express some sort of aggression that we feel.  Human beings at times have a difficult time expressing their emotions, but making jokes is seen as an appropriate way to deal with these feelings.

Chris also emphasized how this joke was only to be performed between Cubans.  In order to be politically correct, non-Cubans should not say these kinds of jokes, especially in front of an actual Cuban. This would be similar to a foreigner making a 9/11 joke to an American.  It is socially acceptable to make fun of these issues when one is involved in them, to alleviate feelings of sadness or anxiety, but when someone is purely doing it for a good laugh, it is seen as disrespectful.



If you cross your eyes and someone hits you in the back, your eyes will be frozen like that.


Chris first remembered hearing this from his mother in Spanish. He was unsure of his exact age but knew it was as a little kid.  Older people mostly tell this item to younger children, as a lesson.  Adults would almost threaten the children, saying their face would stay that way permanently, thus encouraging them to not make silly faces.  Because of his age, Chris obeyed his mother and did not make any more faces.  Chris also is not sure whether of not this superstition is Mexican, the descent of his mother, or just a general one.

I also remember hearing this superstition, making it most likely not specific to Mexico.  I heard it growing up in Hong Kong, showing that the item has traveled over the years.  The version I heard was a little different though.  The one I am accustomed to hearing is that if you make a funny face and the wind blows, your face will stay like that permanently.  At first, this really scared me but it definitely didn’t stop me from making the faces and seeing if it really would freeze.

Once becoming a teenager, most people realize there can’t be any truth to this superstition.  This is why it is more popular with little kids.  They are always running around, getting in trouble, and doing silly things.  It is a way for parents to tell their children not to do something without getting a multitude of questions asking why.  By simply saying this will happen if you do this, kids will be scared and comply.  If my child were making a funny face at the dinner table or another inappropriate place, I would probably tell them the same thing.  Children are very gullible and believe anything they hear, especially if it means their friends will make fun of them.  At the end of the day this superstition can’t be taken too seriously, but it is still amusing to tell.

Legend – China

Legend Behind the Dragon Boat Race Festival

The festival originates with a poet named Qu Yuan.  Qu Yuan was also a minister and councilor to the King of the providence Chu during the period of the warring states.  It was believed that he gave advise to the king which was not accepted and as a consequence, the king sent him into exile.  Qu Yuan was devastated by this action and in deep sorrow, he threw himself into the Milo River.  The citizens of Chu who loved Qu Yuan were devastated.  They didn’t want the “water dragons” and fish to eat his body so they would row around the river in their fishing boats, beat drums and splash the oars on the water so that they would scare off the “water dragons”.

They also thought that by throwing rice dumplings into the river Qu Yuan would not be starved and come back as a hungry ghost. So until this day, the Chinese still observe the day and eat rice dumplings and dragon boat rowing has become a tradition.


Ms. Yong said, “I first heard this version of the myth whilst in Hong Kong when I first moved there in 1980.  I knew there was a story behind eating the dumplings when I was a child [in Malaysia] since we practiced it but fully found out the reason behind it later. It is usually observed in June and I personally don’t put as much importance on this day as New Year”. Ms. Yong was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Her parents were Chinese, however, which is probably why she knew of this festival.

This legend exemplifies the how folklore can travel over time throughout the world and create different versions.  What started off as a local mainland Chinese tradition has now become a popular festival, celebrated all over Southeast Asia as well as in western countries including the United States.   Though the story behind the festival remains fairly unchanged, the actual elements of the festivals have evolved to become a much more elaborate celebration.  Fierce competition drives athlete to compete in dragon boat races with the revered title of winner at stake.  Months of preparation go into training for the event in addition to decorating the boat.  The food has also been modified; traditionally, bamboo leaves filled with rice was thrown into the river. Now it has turned into dumpling and tzungtu eating without necessarily throwing the food into the river. According to one source, the festival has also taken on various meanings.  “The celebration’s is a time for protection from evil and disease for the rest of the year. It is done so by different practices such as hanging healthy herbs on the front door, drinking nutritious concoctions, and displaying portraits of evil’s nemesis, Chung Kuei. If one manages to stand an egg on it’s end at exactly 12:00 noon, the following year will be a lucky one”[1]. The festival is also called Double Fifth Day, in reference to it falling on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

The importance of the dragon in Chinese culture should be mentioned.  It is one of the few animals that have been part of Chinese mythology since the beginning and have continued to influence its culture.  The dragon’s characteristics include “power and excellence, valiancy and boldness, heroism and perseverance, nobility and divinity[2].  They are also considered the essence of life, the representative of Mother Nature, and the symbol or protection and vigilance[3].   Dragons were common in ancient mythology, typically holding powerful positions such as advisors to the king.  In some stories, they even mated with both males and females to create great rulers.  Anything related to dragons, including being born in the year of the dragon, is considered extremely lucky and blessed.   Chinese worship the dragon so much they even refer to themselves as “Lung Tik Chuan Ren”, or Descendents of the Dragon[4].  The dragon may be popular in this tradition because its protective and intimidating nature will scare off evil spirits and marine creatures.


Owen, Giddens, and Sandra Giddens. Chinese Mythology. The Rosen Publishing Group 2006. 53.





Festival/Legends/Traditions/Superstitions – China

Legends, Traditions, and Superstitions of the Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost festival falls on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.  It is believed that during this month, the gates of “hell” are opened to let the hungry ghosts return to earth to look for food. It is also believed that at this time, the dead would return to visit their relatives so consequently, the family would pay tribute to the dead by preparing a sumptuous meal to feed them.  Joss sticks, paper money, clothes, computers, DVDs, TVs and cars are burned and offered to the dead relatives so that they can live comfortably when they return to their world.  It is also believed that if they pay tribute and keep the ghosts satisfied, they will bring good luck and fortune to their lives.  Tribute is also paid to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls will not bring them bad luck or misfortune.

Since Chinese are pretty superstitious, they believe that children should refrain from swimming on the 7th month fearing that the evil ghost might cause them to drown. Also, it is not a good idea to stay out late, as the wandering ghosts may possess them.

Getting married, starting a business, moving homes or even traveling is not advised.  It is believed that the ghosts will return to where they come from after a month of merry making!


Ms. Yong first heard the legend behind the Hungry Ghost festival when she was growing up as a child in Malaysia. She says that when she goes back to Malaysia, she still practices it with family.  “We usually pray to our ancestors on the day of offering food and I think it’s a way of trying to remember your loved ones who have passed away”.

I myself have never heard of this type of festival.  My mother does not practice this in our home in California, mainly just in Asia with our relatives.  I also did not realize how superstitious the Chinese are.  They have many “dos” and “don’ts” during certain events that must have come from something in history.  The only similar thing I can recollect is the burning of incense and offering of food that is sacrificed for the Gods.  This is done usually on a daily basis and extends beyond just the Chinese, to Vietnamese and Thai as well.

Unlike Americans, Chinese place a lot of emphasis on their past.  Americans are more concerned with what is going to happen, often insisting not to dwell on things of the past. On the other hand, the Chinese focus on the opposite.  They are very interested on their past and have great respect for their ancestors and their origins.  Many Chinese traditions pay homage to their ancestors, showing appreciation and celebration of their heritage. It is also a way of strengthening family ties and continuing the family lineage.

Spirits and ghosts are also common in many Chinese traditions and superstitions.  The idea of ghosts and haunted spirits in western culture seem to be associated with scary campfires or other fear-invoking settings.   In Chinese society, however, they are more prevalent to everyday life.  The Chinese are strong believers in life after death.  Many fear death but since it is inevitable, want to have the best afterlife as possible.  This could be reason behind strong ancestral and ghost worship; Chinese want to be on their best behavior and treat the spirits right so they can join them in a good place after they pass away.

Folk Speech

Folk Speech

Her face would stop an 8-day clock.


My grandmother first heard this folk speech when my great-grandma, her mother, said it.  She was referring to a rather ugly woman.  My grandmother thinks she was around the age of a teenager.   She comments, “In my humble opinion, I think they were no doubt quite descriptive of the feelings of the speaker”.  This phrase is not widely used in today’s society.  As a young adult, I have observed people being more honest about their opinion and simply stating what they truly feel.  Instead of beating around the bush, many would just say, “Damn, she’s ugly!”  I think this is partly due to our society becoming more liberal.  Not only is it socially acceptable to be homosexual but it is also okay to have a child out of wedlock.  The times have certainly changed and so has the speech.  In the era of my grandmother, people were much more conservative and subtle in their opinions.  I am not sure how popular this phrase was but I am confident it was only used among friends or with people one was comfortable with.  Like any comment that is not particularly complimentary, it is refrained from use in the presence of many people.

Contrary to the real meaning of this phrase, when I first heard it, I thought it was referring to a very attractive woman—so good looking that she would stop the normal work of people.  This, however, proved to be quite the opposite of what it is.  I am not sure why this was my initial reaction to the phrase.  Thinking back on it, comments and jokes about ‘ugly’ people are more frequent that compliments.  This is probably because of human being’s natural desire to make themselves feel better and put others down when feeling insecure.

Although my grandmother grew up on the west coast of the United States, I found out this phrase was quite popular in Middle America.  For further reference on this folk speech refer to Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases of Illinois.


Barbour, Frances M. Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases of Illinois. Southern Illinois:  University Press, 1965. Page 60.