Author Archives: Kristin Wong

How Lord Ganesha Got His Head

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: Apple Valley, Minnesota
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/2/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Kannada

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells the story of how Lord Ganesha, a Hindu god that is distinctly known for his elephant head, got his head. She learned this story from her mother, who told this story to her and her sister as a child. In this transcription of her folklore, where she is identified as P and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

P: Okay, yes, okay, this is story of how… my mom told me how Lord Ganesha got his elephant head.

K: Wait, who?

P: Hinduism [laughs]. Lord Ganesha. So, background: He has the body of a human and the head of an elephant, so the story of how he got his head was his, I guess his mom? Wait wait wait, let me restart.

    Ok, so, Parvati wanted to have a bath. So, she was like “I need someone to guard the door while I’m having this bath,” so she creates this human child out of the earth… to guard the door! [Giggles] So her husband, Lord Shiva, comes and says “Let me in, little boy!” The little boy was like, “No, Parvati’s showering, you can’t go in.” And this man was overcome with anger, that he cuts off the head of this… this boy… this guard boy, who was made from the earth. Anyways, so Parvati comes back outside, and she goes, “What did you just do, you just killed my… ‘guard boy,’ my son…? I don’t know… Um, I need you to fix this!” So she makes Lord Shiva go down to… the earth? Go down I don’t know where, but go down to kill the first animal that he sees and bring the head to her. So the first animal he sees in an elephant, cuts off the head of the elephant, brings it to her, and magically creates Lord Ganesha with the head of the elephant that got killed and the body of a human. Yep, that’s the story [laughs].

K: Did she tell it to you, like in what context?

P: Um, she’d always tell the story if we went to the temple, and we’d walk past Ganesha, and then she’d tell me about the story and everything.

 

Thoughts:

As my informant expressed, this story was most likely told to children to teach them a moral or a lesson. I’ve always been fascinated with how certain cultures and religions have their own special stories to tell to children to help shape their values to be the same as the people that share their culture. After telling the story, my informant told me that her mom often told her this story as a child when she was especially upset or made a rash decision out of anger.

This story seems to serve the purpose of reminding us that we should never let anger overwhelm us or dictate our decisions. For example, I did more research on this story and I read another version where Parvati, upon learning that Shiva had cut off Ganesha’s head from his unreasonable anger, became so enraged she decided to destroy the world. Shiva then realized his mistake and gave Ganesha not only a new life by giving him the elephant head, but also granted him a status of a god just to make Parvati happy again and prevent her from destroying the world. Here, we see that Shiva realizes his anger was unreasonable. He realizes that his rash decision to cut off Ganesha’s head resulted in even the greater consequence of the potential detroyal of the Earth. This story would teach a child to never act on their initial ideas when they’re overcome with anger, because they never know what consequences they may have to face as a result.

 

For other versions of this story, please refer to the citation below:

Cartwright, Mark. “Ganesha.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 23 Apr. 2019, www.ancient.eu/Ganesha/.

Sekar, Radhika. Lord of Beginnings: Stories of the Elephant-Headed Deity, Ganesha. Vakils Feffer & Simons Ltd, 2004.

Sharma, Richa. “Corporate Lessons from Lord Ganesha.” Speakingtree.in, Speaking Tree, 10 Sept. 2018, www.speakingtree.in/allslides/corporate-lessons-from-lord-ganesha.

Walter Payton High School

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: American
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/13/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Context:

My informant is a 19 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place at a cafe one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, where our mutual friends sat and the table and listened to this conversation happen, as well. In this account, she explains a tradition from her high school. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as L and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

L: Ok, so, in my high school, umm, it was named “Walter Payton” after a Chicago Bears football player who was very philanthropic and like dedicated to empowering the community. Um, his number was 34, so on March 4th (which is like, 3/4 ) we had a day called “Sweetness Day” where every advisory would go out and do a service project in the community and Walter Payton died as he was finishing building our school, um, cause he wanted it to be accessible to all the youth of Chicago. And so his brother comes in his honor, er, his son I mean, would come and hype us up and get ready for the day of service and stuff, so like we stayed with the same service group and it was just so cool to like check back in with them and like a lot of advisory ended up volunteering for them externally too. It was so cute, it was such a fun day and the whole school just loves “Sweetness Day.”

K: How did you learn this tradition?

L: Um, I learned it pretty much like as… cause in Chicago you have to apply to high schools, you don’t…

K: Wait what.

L: Yeah, public high schools. You have to apply to public high schools, which is insane. So basically like you have to go to open houses and like info sessions with the high schools because, um, there’s 10 selective enrollment ones that are just basically magnets. You take an entrance exam to get in and whatever, but like at the open houses and stuff, everyone couldn’t stop talking like how much “Sweetness Day” meant to them and how it’s such a big part of like our school. Being as unspirited as we are, like no one came to sports games, but like everyone got hyped for the “Sweetness Day” pep rally, so it was really cool.

K: Why do you love “Sweetness Day”?

L: I love it because it’s how I got close to a lot of people I probably wouldn’t have gotten close to, so since it’s with your advisory, like I had… like what our school prides itself in being incredibly diverse, so I had a lot of students in my advisory who had like very different backgrounds than me or like very different day-to-day lives. Like some of them took the redline for an hour and a half to school everyday, whereas I walked like for 20 minutes a day. So like, I loved that I was able to do something really empowering and cool while also like doing it with a network of like really driven people, too.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that this tradition was very endearing, and also epitomized one of the main purposes of folklore, which is to strengthen the culture of a group. Though this type of folklore, where a school gathers and dedicates a day to do philanthropy as a community, is very special to Walter Payton High School, I also know that it is a common folklore among many schools across the nation (each one with their own oikotype). Personally, my school also engaged in a day dedicated to volunteering, but we called it “Lodge Day.” This is because our school mascot was the beaver (and so we called ourselves “Bryant Beavers”), and for this one day a year we would come together as a “lodge” and volunteer to improve our schools. This meant doing activities such as reorganizing the library, planting new plants in the garden, scraping gum off of the sidewalks, spreading and evening bark chips and the playground, and so on and so forth. Overall, this is a common type of folklore that each school can adjust to fit their own school culture, as folklore should.

Bellarmine College Preparatory Seal

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/21/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains the legend of the reason why his school puts ropes around his school seal at the center of his high school campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: I attended Bellarmine College Preparatory for 4 years as part of my 12 years of Catholic education, which in retrospect, I would not do.  [laughs] So Bellarmine is an all boys school, a little bit of toxic masculinity there… One of the most prideful traditions was… our symbol was the “B” for “Bellarmine,” and so we had in the main quad, uh, imprinted on the quad was maybe a 6×6 rounded print of our logo on the quad.

What the school told everyone–and what we told ourselves–to fit into the standard was that no one could step on the “B,” so everyone walked around it. No one could step on the “B” because it was too disrespectful. Um, and so we do things like try to jump over it, you know like if you’re really risky like I did freshman year, but then one day near the middle of my freshman year, we showed up to school and Bellarmine literally put up ropes around the B. 

No one knows why the B was suddenly roped, but I guess someone must have stepped on it or maybe graffitied it or maybe defaced it? But there’s been stories, my favorite being that, our rival, St. Francis… one of their fine gentlemen defecated on the B. [laughs]

So now our tradition is enshrined, now instead of like a, uh, proverbial “hey don’t step on the B,” now it’s “hm, why does this area look like a crime scene?” It’s because it was a crime scene, probably because that man defecated on our prideful school symbol.

 

Thoughts:

The way Bellarmine treats its school seal is an oikotype of how many schools choose to treat their own school seals. Schools seals are usually incredibly sacred, and touching it (especially before you graduate) can bring you bad luck or be seen as a sign of disrespect towards your school. To maintain school pride, many schools protect this sacred symbol of their school, especially from rivaling schools, who also follow the tradition of trying to deface their rival school’s seals. USC’s rival with UCLA also reflects this type of folklore: during the week of the rivalry football game, USC duct tapes and guards Tommy Trojan 24/7 to ensure that UCLA is unsuccessful in painting Tommy Trojan blue and gold. Similarly, UCLA builds a cage around their school’s bear statue to protect it from USC’s attempts to paint it red and gold.

Presents in Shoes During Christmas

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American, Mexican
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/12/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College.This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening. The informant and I were alone in a private space, and, out of her collection of folklore, this is one that she chose to share with me. In this account, she is describing a tradition that she experienced when she celebrated Christmas in Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Um, ok, so, the folklore that I am talking about is, ummm, connected to most of my extended family. Um, most of my extended family on the one side of my family still lives in Guadalajara, which is a state in Mexico. And although I don’t go down as much as I used to, one time when I was about eight years old we were there around Christmas and one sort of tradition that they have in Mexico that is pretty common is that instead of using stocking—the way that a lot of, um, American households use to hold presents—they instead use shoes. So if you, um, put your shoes or your boots in front of the fireplace, then the next morning that’s kind-of where your Christmas gifts and presents will be.

K: When exactly, like, did this happen?… Like what year?

E: Ummm, I think the year… Ok, so I was in 4th grade, which means I was ten, which means it was ten years ago, which means it was 2009. Actually I think it was 2008, let’s do 2008.

K: Have you like heard of this tradition outside of your family?

E: Yes, because it’s like pretty commonly done… I think it’s not only in Mexico, though, like I’m pretty sure people do it in Europe, too? I just don’t know that it’s like… Or I haven’t heard about it as widely like in the U.S.

K: Um, can you just set up the context of when this would happen? I know you said it was during Christmas, but can you be more specific?

E: Um, ok, so kind of like the idea is that… like… on any Christmas morning, instead of like kind of the more conventional U.S. version of kind of waking up to like stockings with presents in them, it’s like boots or shoes with like smaller presents in them. But it’s kind of like akin either way.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that the concept of putting Christmas presents in shoes was quite intriguing, and I wondered if there was a legend, myth, or tale that created this tradition of putting presents in shoes. Though my informant never mentioned a reason why this became a tradition in her family, she did mention that she knew that it was not just something that occurred in Mexico, but in Europe, as well. I did some investigating and found that in the days leading up to December 6, which is St. Nicholas’s feast day,  children in Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot out in front of the fireplace at night to find them filled with presents the next morning. Some differences between this tradition and my informant’s experience is that my informant put her shoes out on Christmas Eve day rather than in the many days leading up to Christmas, and also the mere fact that she celebrated this in Mexico rather than in a European country. Perhaps the reason there is such deviation between the way it is traditionally celebrated from the way my informant celebrates it is because Mexico is so far from the origin of the tradition,  which allowed for the tradition to take its own form and adjust to its new culture (as folklore should).

 

USC Nazi Tree

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/21/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO.In this account, he explains an urban legend from USC. This Nazi Tree was recently mentioned in an LA Times article.  This is a transcription of our conversation.

 

Text:

Urban legend turned truth at the University of Southern California, is that there on our premises lies a single Nazi Tree. Before you say, “What? The USC institution—gilded in white privilege—has a Nazi tree on campus?” Well, when you have Von KleinsSmid as a president for a decade, wild shit happens.

So essentially, at the 1936 Munich Olympics, there are obviously lots of USC athletes there, and, you know, in celebration and in giving thanks, the Nazi regime gave saplings to all the athletes. And so one sapling made it back to USC, and it was planted right in between the back of Bovard and the back of PED [the Physical Education Building] over by the Book Store, and so now enshrined on our campus is a gift directly from Hitler himself.”

  

Thoughts:

Though this is the first time I heard a formal telling of this USC urban legend, I did hear word of it in the first few weeks that I came to this school. The informant and I are in an organization together, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, so discussion of this tree began again in our meetings due to the relevant name change of VKC (which is happening upon the discovery that Von KleinSmid was in support of of eugenics). Looking this up, I saw that the LA Times also mentioned “one of two [saplings] planted on the USC campus survives to this day.”

My informant proceeded to tell me that, after doing some research on Reddit, he decided to explore the campus area of where the tree is possibly located; sure enough, he found the tree, which he stated was “unmistakably the tree because there was a plaque in front of it dedicated to the 1936 Munich Olympics.” He’s not the first I’ve met one to search for this tree— this tree seems to have the same reputation as ghosts, where people hunt around to see if its existence is true. I surmise that, just like ghosts, it’s tied to our shame or guilt of our school’s racist and corrupt history. The official existence of this tree is just another factor that reinforces the notion that USC is racist, both past and present.

 

For the LA Times article mentioned above, please refer to this citation:

Crowe, Jerry. “To Protect and Preserve a Tree Rooted in Games.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times,                         20 Aug. 2007, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-aug-20-sp-crowe20-story.html.

 

The Bay Area: The Toys R Us Ghost

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/21/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains a legend of a ghost in his town that he doesn’t remember who he learned it from: “Everyone just seems to know about it.” This is a local legend, and has also been reported on Mercury News, SFGate, and a series of blogs. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

A: Before the bustling suburb of Sunnyvale grew to its imminent heights that now houses Amazon and Google offices, it was once a sleepy little farm town in Silicon Valley, where tech was replaced by fields and farms and orchards. One day, this man (as it was explained to me) was out in the field, in one of those like, you know, he has some kind of labor agreement with the farm… So he’s hacking away with his hoe, and this guy injures himself. Turns out he bleeds out into the field and dies. Decades later, there’s now a Toys R Us here… long story short, this guy who self-maimed himself with a hoe and bled out… he hunts, this uh, Toys R Us. Even though Toys R Us just got bought out, before that, all the ghost hunter people would come into Sunnyville to see this ghost. He would come into the aisles at all hours of the night, pretty crazy stuff… You can say Sunnyvale’s not sleepy anymore!

Don’t sleep on Sunnyvale….

K: Ok, what did you take away from this story?

A: Um, I think especially in areas like suburbs, when there’s not traditionally a lot of culture, people latch on to certain stories, just to impart some kind of history onto a town that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be that notable.

K: What effect did this story have on you?

A: I still shopped at Toys R Us, but honestly I heard it after I stopped shopping, but I still do play with Legos just as a disclaimer.

 

Thoughts:

I thought this story was particularly interesting and ended up looking it up to find out more about this ghost. As it turns out, this ghost has made quite a name for itself in the Bay Area. Just like my informant said, this ghost worked the land as part of a labor agreement, where he would have housing in exchange for his work. However, what my informant didn’t mention was the fact that this ghost fell in love with the daughter of the family that owned the land; she eventually ran away with a lawyer, breaking his heart. Distracted by the pain of his broken heart, the ghost ended up hurting himself with one of his tools and slowly bled to death, thus leaving his unsettled ghost to roam the land.

Years afterwards, many people came to the newly built Toys R Us that was constructed on top of the land that he worked to ghost hunt for him., but it seems that this story has re-emerged under the new context that Toys R Us is now shutting down. It seems that this story has a new relevance, where people can now interpret this story in the death of people, but also in the death of companies. Many of the new articles wonder whether or not the death of Toys R Us will also result in the disappearance of the ghost. However, the ghost’s story is separate from Toys R Us’s: he was clearly wronged by a member of the family that owned the land, and his haunting is meant to instill guilt in the owners of that land. Furthermore, ghosts are believed to be tied to the soil, not the structure that they resided in, so it’s most likely that the ghost will remain and that for those that were hopeful that he would leave, they will have to continue to remember the wrongdoings of the daughter that broke his heart.

 

For more on this ghost story, please refer to this article below:

Dowd, Katie. “Will the Death of Toys R Us Kill off This Famous South Bay Ghost Story?” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 17 May 2018, www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/haunted-toys-r-us-sunnyvale-ghost-store-12750779.php.