Category Archives: Initiations

Chinese High School Military Training

Context: All across China students join a mandatory military training for two weeks to a month before officially entering a public high school. The training usually takes place in the school. Students live in their dormitories together, and parents are not allowed to visit. Trainings are conducted by soldiers and head teachers. 30 to 50 students in the same class are trained together to learn basic marching techniques and military formalities. Trainings also include disciplinary housekeeping, for instance, military standards for making the bed are enforced. However, actual combat techniques are not taught.

The interviewer and the informant went to two different high schools in Qingdao, China.

Interviewer: Did you guys sing or chant during the military training?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, that was probably the only fun thing during the two weeks. It was kinda intense though.

Interviewer: Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s the same for your school.

Informant: Did you do the 1234567 one? hahaha that’s the only one I remember. I feel like they’re all the same no matter which school you go to…because the officers are all from the same troop hahaha.

Interviewer: Yeah that’s the one! Can you do it for me? Was it between two groups of students?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, but I think you do it with the officer, it’s like a “imaginary enemy” situation. So the officer yells things at you, the goal is to get you excited, then you guys [the students] yell back at him.

Interviewer: So you yell back at the officer, but you’re actually talking shit to another groups of people that are not there?

Informant: Yep. It’s basically shit talking. It’s called “pull the song” (拉歌,la ge), but it’s actually not a song. ok, here we go.

original script: 

officer: 对面唱得好不好?students: 好!

officer: 再来一个要不要?students: 要!

officer: 让你唱! students: 你就唱!

officer: 扭扭捏捏! students: 不像样!

officer: 像什么? students: 像大姑娘!

officer: 一二! students: 快快!

officer: 一二三! students: 快快快!

officer: 一二三四五? students: 我们等的好辛苦!

officer: 一二三四五六七? students: 我们等的好着急!

officer: 一二三四五六七八九? students: 你们到底有没有!

Phonetic (pinyin) script:

officer: dui mian chang de hao bu hao?

students: hao!

officer: zai lai yi ge yao bu yao?

students: yao!

officer: rang ni chang!

students: ni jiu chang!

officer: niu niu nie nie!

students: bu xiang yang!

officer: xiang shen me?

students: xiang da gu niang!

officer: yi er!

students: kuai kuai!

officer: yi er san!

students: kuai kuai kuai!

officer:  yi er san si wu?

students: wo men deng de hao xin ku!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi?

students: wo men deng de hao zhao ji!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi ba jiu?

students: ni men dao di you mei you!

Transliteration:

officer: Opposite singing good or not?

students: Good!

officer: Another one yes or no?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Looking coy!

students: Not like anything!

officer: Look like what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Translation:

officer: Is our opponent’s singing good?

students: Good!

officer: Do you want another one?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Coy and sissy!

students: Not like other things!

officer: Like a what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Analysis: The chant is taught by the training officer to students. It’s performed often during breaks, when officers and students from different classes can mingle with each other. It softens the training atmosphere and boosts morale in a lighter tone. The chant is fairly rhythmic and easy to follow. The fact that it’s chanted between a class and their officer implies that the chant is performed to show aggression, but rather to foster the unity and identity of the class itself. It does not specify who the opponent is, and in fact the identity of the opponent does not matter. The pure existence of an opponent framed in the chant leads to emphasize that the class is an entity and it might face obstacles from the outside environment. 

“Like a what—Like a girl!” This detail shows another element of identity formation in teenage students. The military training happens at the liminal point of when a child is separated from their parents and absorbed into a completely new, pre-adulthood collective. The format of the military training, with the hyper-emphasis on order, obedience, and aggression, reinforces the patriarchal social order. Thus the liminal period of adolescence is enforced with patriarchal social expectations. 

The one being emasculated becomes the weak and the oppressed, and emasculation then becomes an act of aggression.

Indian Wedding Traditions – Stealing Shoes

Background: 
My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage.  (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:
NS: At Indian weddings, the youngest bridesmaid..ok so..have you ever been to an Indian wedding?

SW: Nope.

NS: Oh. Well the bride and groom…they do a thing where they walk around a fire 7 times, and each time represents, like, the first one might be commitment, or the second one represents love. They walk around 7 times, and then the youngest bridesmaid will steal the shoes from the groom-

SW: The groom’s shoes?

NS: Yeah, so she steals the groom’s shoes, and it’s always expected, like, Indian men will take out cash, like over $100, before their wedding day because they know they have to pay for their shoes back. And basically, it’s like a sign of wealth. The groom shows that he has the money to buy his shoes back, even if he doesn’t need to. It’s supposed to be, like, a way of showing that he can support his wife and family, financially. 

Thoughts: 
I’ve never been to a wedding before, and talking to NS, my best friend, always makes me want to go to one, especially an Indian wedding. They seem to be a big affair, with hundreds of people there, including extended family and friends. Walking around the fire reminds me of a more symbolic way of reading out your vows, which I like. NS also mentioned that she’s been to a few weddings where her Indian cousins marry someone who is not Indian, and because they’re not Indian, they don’t quite get all the Indian traditions that make up the wedding. So NS, often being the youngest bridesmaid (as she is the youngest cousin), has dealt with the family of the groom being less than understanding. She’s had people she hardly knows get angry with her and tell her to return the shoes, or the groom will give her $10, clearly not understanding the significance of the custom. It makes me sad that so many people won’t even consider trying to understand a culture different from their own. 

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

Celebration of Springfest at an All-Female High School

Main Piece:

The informant explained to me that there was a tradition of celebrating Springfest at their all-girls high school. Each year the juniors would all wear white dresses and the seniors would wear dresses of any color. The whole school from grades 5-12 would go sit in the chapel, while the juniors and seniors would be a part of the ceremony. The organist would always play a sort of calming, “water” music on the organ. After the music had been playing for a bit, the ceremony would start. A senior and junior would walk towards one another. Then the senior would hand off an orchid to the junior and they would cross their paths, making them intertwine. The informant explained it was supposed to symbolize handing down the leadership of the school to the juniors. 

In addition to the ceremony, each year there was a Springfest Princess and a Springfest Queen. The Queen was always a junior and the Princess was a fifth grader. The whole school would vote for the Queen and as the informant explained “everyone would vote for the nicest person in the junior class”. The Queen had to wear a floor length, white dress that looked like a wedding dress, provided by the school. She had two flower girls and they would walk in front of her when she walked down the aisle. The Princess went before the Queen and would get a bouquet of flowers. Then the Queen from last year would be wearing a crown and standing at the end of the aisle waiting for her. After the Princess walked, the next Queen would walk and kneel down in front of the old Queen. She would place the crown on the new Queen’s head.

Background:

The informant attended an all-girls, Episcopalian school in the southern United States. This tradition has occurred since before the informant’s Mother went to the same high school. The school mostly consists of girls from white, affluent families.

Context:

The informant explained this tradition to me when they were reminiscing about their high school experience. This festival would always occur in April near the end of the school year, in the midst of spring.

My Thoughts:

Springfest aligns closely with other spring celebrations such as the Swedish Midsummer festival, as it celebrates the springtime with an emphasis on young women. Given that this is an all-girls school, the presentation of girls in all white feels closely to Vaz da Silva’s analysis of white in his article discussing “Chromatic Symbolism in Womanhood in Fairy Tales”. He states “white stands for luminosity and untainted sheen, thus for luminous heaven as much as for purity” (245). These girls are dressed in white to appear as the pure maidens, ready for entering a new stage of their lives. This festival mimics a wedding as the girls are walked down the aisle in all white, being presented to the school as the new leaders. Instead of meeting a husband at the end of the aisle, they are meeting new responsibilities. This moves them one step closer to adulthood.

Citation:

Vaz da Silva, Francisco. 2007 “Red as Blood, White as Snow, Black as Crow: Chromatic Symbolism of Womanhood in Fairy Tales”. Marvels and Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies. 21: 240-252.



Gray Thursday and Black Friday

Main Piece:

Within the private schools in the greater Memphis, Tennessee area the informant explained to me there is a tradition of Black Friday and Gray Thursday. This description is the informant’s personal experience with Black Friday. 

Black Friday was the day before the seniors were going to graduate. Before Black Friday the informant said they would have Gray Thursday where the seniors would stay overnight in the school. A few teachers were there to chaperone but as the informant describes it, “the whole thing was a shit-show”. The students would stay up all night writing notes to lower classmen and setting up pranks. The notes would be tapped to the lockers of girls and the next day it was like a popularity contest to see who got the most letters. The pranks were equally a big part. The informant said “one year they tapped all the phones to the ceiling, one year the seniors printed out every college rejection letter they ever got and hung it in the junior’s hallway”.

On Black Friday, after being in school the whole night, the seniors would come to class wearing all black and crazy makeup. Then they would interrupt chapel by saying the senior class had an announcement to make. The whole senior class would go up to the altar and sing songs. At the informant’s school, they would always sing “Tonight” by Fun! and “Wonderwall”. By the end of it, all of them would be crying in a big celebration of their graduation. After their ceremony ended, the seniors would all leave. The informant then said “juniors would then take off their sweatshirts revealing a class shirt they had designed and they would move up to the senior section of pews in the chapel”.

Background:

This occurred at the informant’s all-girls, private, Episcopalian high school in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an ongoing tradition that girls looked forward to every year.

Context:

The informant explained this tradition to me when they were reminiscing about their high school experience.

Thoughts:

This tradition takes place at a liminal moment in these girl’s lives. The Friday before graduation they do not have the responsibilities of a student but they are not technically a graduate. This allows for a tradition to be created, such as Gray Thursday and Black Friday, similar to jokes made at weddings and other liminal moments in people’s lives. The creation of this tradition allows the girls to be cathartic and find some sort of “closure” on this chapter of their lives. Also this example of Black Friday took place at a school that was for grades 5-12, so these girls had been with each other for a majority of their lives. This might explain the commitment these girls felt to saying goodbye in an exaggerated way.

Derby Day

Main Piece:

The informant described to me a tradition at her all-girls, private high school known as Derby Day. It is a day at the very beginning of the year, reserved for just the high school aged girls because the school is for grades 5-12. The high school girls would not go to class in the morning and instead play games and have cheer contests. 

In the afternoon, each grade was required to bring a different product. Freshman always had to bring ice cream. Sophomores had to bring oreos and jell-o. Juniors had to bring chocolate syrup. Seniors had to bring whipped cream. After the morning activities, the student council would “dump all of these things into kiddie pools on the field. When the set-up was complete, the freshman and sophomores had to sit in big circles” said the informant. Then the seniors would dump all of the jell-o, oreos, ice cream, etc. on the freshman and the juniors would do the same to the sophomores. The informant explained it was sort of an affectionate thing, “if you were a freshman and had a senior friend you would just get disgusting but it was out of love”.

After all of the dumping was complete, there was a water slide the informant’s school would rent. This was the only way to get cleaned off but it was an unspoken rule that the seniors could skip anyone in line and the juniors could skip anyone but seniors. So the freshman would wait in line to get cleaned off but never could.

Background:

This occurred at the informant’s all-girls, private, Episcopalian high school in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an ongoing tradition that girls looked forward to every year.

Context:

The informant explained this tradition to me when they were reminiscing about their high school experience.

Thoughts:

This tradition acts as a way for the high school aged girls to feel as though they have really grown up at the start of the year. It is common for students to go through types of hazing as underclassmen and then transition into being the hazers. Being able to dump chocolate syrup on someone’s head is looked at like a rite of passage at this high school. As the informant explained it to me, she held the day in such reverence it clearly is an important memory to her. She included the feelings of being an underclassman and upperclassman, participating in this. This tradition emphasizes the changes to the high school classes, as newfound juniors those students can establish themselves as upperclassmen by getting the opportunity to dump oreos on the heads of their peers. It is a funny, but important way to demonstrate the girls have grown over the past year.

The Frozen Fruit Cake

Main Piece:

Informant describing a tradition from the theater at his high school:

“At my high school during the fall play, there was this tradition of giving a frozen fruit cake to the favorite freshman by the senior class. The freshman was someone who was like really funny or helped out a lot or did stuff like that. Then that freshman would hold onto it until they were a senior and then gift it to a freshman and the pattern would continue over and over every year”

Background:

The informant went to a public high school in New Jersey with an active theater department. 

Context:

The fruit cake was gifted after closing night of the play each year. The informant told me about this when discussing traditions in his high school theater department. 

Thoughts:

This tradition mirrors a lot of experiences in an American high school. A lot of importance is put on certain things that in any other sense would not mean anything. This fruit cake is a symbol of honor and importance given by a senior, the most powerful type of person in the eyes of a high school freshman. Outside of high school, the senior/freshman dynamic does not mean anything. The continuation of fruit cakes being given and kept until senior year keeps the theater department connected year after year. It creates value and connection through a frozen dessert that otherwise would not hold weight.

Quinceanera celebration

Main piece: 

The following was transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer.

Informant: A tradition… that all families, all hispanic families celebrate, or all families do is a daughter’s 15 year old birthday. They call it a quinceanera. All families do it. The 15 year ceremony is very important because the dad presents his daughter to society… because umm…  because she stops being a girl and becomes a young woman. 

Interviewer: What do you do in the quinceanera? 

Informant: The most important part is mass to give thanks for her 15 years of living. Godparents are chosen for the ceremony. After mass is the party. And in the party there is a lot of food… eh there are different types of you know ehh platters depending on the region. There’s dance, wine, y around 10 in the night, the waltz is danced with the dad, the brothers if any, and the rest of the males in the family including grandparents, uncles, and cousins. After that there are other dances, the one that the quinceanera likes and she dances with her “chambelanes”. They change attire and after the dancing, there is one last ceremony. The madrina gives her one last doll, the last doll she’ll be given because she stops being a girl and the madrina crowns her with a crown and replaces her shoes with slippers. Once that’s done, she’s officially considered a princess and a young woman. 

Background: The informant was my mom who was born in Mexico City. She was raised in Mexico but came to the U.S. about 20 years ago. She still goes back during the summer to visit family and that sort of thing. She has learned about this tradition since she was very young because all her cousins and sisters went through the quinceanera so she knows the ceremony very well. However, she did not have one because instead of a party/ceremony, she wanted a car so she got that instead.

Context: I was in the kitchen with my mom and I needed one more collection piece from her so I asked her straight up what’s another tradition that she knows really well because I needed one more. She told me the importance of the quinceanera as I was helping her prepare food and I had my phone out to record our conversation.

Thoughts: I know the quinceanera is a big tradition because I lived it with my sister when she turned 15. I’m not a good dancer, or even like dancing, but I had to for my sister’s ceremony in order to keep with tradition. I can tell it’s a special moment for them because like my mom explained, it is the transition from a girl to a young woman. Everyone in the family enjoys the ceremony and it’s a fun time overall. The girl never forgets her quinceanera because of how grand the spectacle is.

Undie Run-UCLA Folk Tradition

Context: This is a folk tradition that occurs at UCLA during finals week as a means of blowing off steam, my brother learned this tradition as a freshman and gave his opinions on the tradition and its value.

K: So ya….uh. Undie Run is basically a quarterly tradition at UCLA in which the Wednesday of finals week, where….uh at…I wanna say starting at midnight….ya right at midnight. 

Basically, everybody that’s capable….comes to…um…under the bridge…across from UCLA. 

It’s a certain start point at UCLA that everybody gets to in their underwear and then we run from there up until the top of Janss Steps which is at UCLA and basically…uh.. its kind of a..its a way in which you commemorate finals. 

It’s just a tradition…uh… I don’t know how long we’ve been doing it for.

K: It’s important to us because it’s like…it’s just tradition. 

It’s the student experience. I know that like I remember like..um..some of my older friends like they would have their sashes.

Like you would see seniors with their graduation sashes doing it….you know…its..its just a college experience…a college thing…fundamentally it’s a UCLA college thing.

K: Um..why underwear…you know that’s…actually….you know  I don’t ….

Some people can wear like their pajamas….you know..but typically you wear your boxers, wear like….uh..wear like leggings…you know what I’m sayin…if you’re a dude.

You know people are wearing…you know…they..they determine their spectrum as to what constitutes as underwear. 

Thoughts: After interviewing my older brother about UCLA’s Undie Run tradition, it honestly made me laugh at first because I thought it was ridiculous for students to run while practically naked and not get in trouble. When I was in high school they banned having any kind of senior prank or event because of a previous year so I never had the chance to do anything to commemorate my high school graduation. Hearing my brother describe the Undie Run gave me the nostalgia that he must have felt coming in as a freshman and being introduced to this folk tradition. The Undie Run is a unique tradition because its meaning is subjective to each individual person and its something that continues to live on with both the students and the school. As a freshman, my brother’s experience was less sentimental because he had just arrived at UCLA and was getting used to his environment and its many traditions. However, for the senior friends that he described the meaning was different. The Undie Run for them meant that they were not only commemorating their finals being over but were also celebrating four or so years of hard work as they were about to leave UCLA and this run would be there last. I would never have imagined a large group of people collectively running in their underwear, it sounds so strange, but that seems to be the beauty of folklore in this case. A tradition like the Undie Run is something that I view as strange because, as a student at USC, I’m not apart of the culture. As a sophomore at USC, I understand how events like these can be an important feature of the college experience like my brother emphasized. Now that he is a senior, he was finally able to participate in his last Undie Run as a UCLA Bruin and was able to fully appreciate its importance and commemorate all his hard work.

For another version see: Vassar, Ethan, and Ethan Vassar. “Seriously: Undie Run Cancellation Threatens CSU Admission Rates, Sponsors.” The Rocky Mountain Collegian, 7 May 2019, collegian.com/2019/05/category-opinion-seriously-undie-run-cancelation-threatens-csu-admission-rates-sponsors/.