Category Archives: Gestation, birth, and infancy

Generally up to the first year.

Birthday Noodles

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 77
Occupation: Grandma
Residence: China
Date of Performance/Collection: 2020.3.19
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s):

Main piece:

To celebrate one’s birthday in China, one should eat noodles instead of cakes. And one has to finish the noodles in his/her bowl.

Explain:

Birthday cake is a western custom. Originally in China, people celebrate their birthday by eating noodles. A real bowl of birthday noodles should formed by one single piece of noodle. But nowadays the standard is loose, any noodles can work.

Background information:

When I was in quarantined in my dorm in Los Angeles, I happened to celebrate my 20th birthday alone. My grandma called me and told me don’t forget to cook myself some noodles. I asked her to explain this custom again and she did. But she couldn’t remember how she heard it. It is just so widely performed that everyone seems to know it by nature.

Context:

My grandma called me and mentioned this custom, I asked her for more information for this collection.

Thhoughts:

I actually want to have a bowl of real Birthday noodles someday.

Tae-mong, Korean Conception Dreams

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: Early 50s
Occupation: Housewife
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 13th
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

The following is translation of a conversation with my mom, identified here as M, in Korean about “tae-mong”, Korean conception dreams. I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about tae-mong?

M: Tae-mong is a dream that you have either when you’re pregnant or about to be pregnant. Usually it’s the pregnant woman that has the dream but sometimes it’s people around you. When you have this dream, you usually know that it’s tae-mong

IC: How do you know?

M: It just feels a little different. The dream is clearer and something big either comes at you or you pick up something nice.

IC: Is there a specific time frame for when you have tae-mong?

M: There isn’t a specific time, but generally it’s in early or mid-pregnancy. But I had mine before, for both you and your brother.

IC: What was the dream for my brother?

M: I went to my in-law’s place where your dad’s grandmother lived. So, She and I were walking when a huge pig came towards me, bit my hand and didn’t let go. I screamed and screamed and woke up. So, I thought, this is either a tae-mong or a dream telling me to buy lottery. I wasn’t pregnant so I but the lottery which I didn’t win. But two months later, I became pregnant. Also, what’s fascinating about tae-mong is that when people hear it they guess the gender.

IC:  How do they know?

M: Normally if it’s a big or fierce animal, people say it’s a boy

IC: Is this guess usually correct?

M: It was right for me, but for some people it’s wrong. For girls it’s something small and pretty like flowers.

IC: What was the dream for me?

M: One day, I went up a mountain and there was a small, spring pool that was filled with clean and sparkly water. Inside, there were two small fish playing and I picked one up and kept it.

Also, after I was pregnant with your brother, my mother said that I would have two kids, one year apart. I asked why and my mother said that she had a dream and there were two puppies, similar in size—one little smaller than the other—ran to me.

IC: I see, that’s cool. My brother and I are one year apart.

M: Right. And in Korea, when you’re pregnant, people generally ask if you had a dream. When they ask this, they’re referring to tae-mong. And typically, you just know that it’s a tae-mong because you’re the center focus of the dream.

Background:

It is common for pregnant Korean women to have conception dreams that relate to the gender of their baby. My mom experienced this when she had me and my brother.

Context:

TThis was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I had remembered about my mom telling me about conception dreams before and I thought it would be interesting to ask her about it for this project.

Thoughts:

Although the idea of conception dreams to predict gender is interesting, I can’t help but think that the basis for differentiating gender is a little outdated and somewhat sexist. For boys, it’s a big and fierce animal like pigs, lions et cetera. But for girls, it’s something small and sparkly, like small animals or jewels. Whether it’s food, animals or flowers it’s always small for girls. I don’t know if this is something in Western cultures or even other Asian cultures, but I think it’s a unique tradition that Koreans have.

Using a Safety Pin to protect unborn babies during a lunar eclipse

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 54
Occupation: Health Care Executive
Residence: San Diego
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/18/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Main Piece

Informant: When I was pregnant my mom- you know the news tells you when there is gonna be an eclipse– well she saw that and she told me that I needed to place a safety pin near my stomach inside of my shirt, near my stomach.  

Interviewer: What was this for exactly? 

Informant: It was supposed to be to avoid harming my baby–defects, birth defects. I don’t know of what kind. Maybe a lazy eye? I don’t know. Haha. 

Interviewer: Were eclipses usually known to cause babies harm?

Informant: That’s what they say. I don’t think there is scientific proof on that. My guess is someone had a baby with a deformity and then they blamed it on the eclipse and it spread. I don’t know. I’m just guessing. 

Interviewer: Did you do it? 

Informant: The consequences of not doing it, even as silly as it sounded, was tugging against me. What if something did go wrong? There didn’t seem to be any logic to the request, but it was simple so I did it. My mom was happy that I followed, and there was a sense of protecting my baby and doing it in case something were to happen to her during the eclipse. I had it secured so it wasn’t gonna poke me, haha.

Background

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

During our interview, we were discussing all of the different experiences with folklore that she experienced when she was pregnant with her kids. She mentioned a safety pin and eclipse in passing, and I asked her to discuss it further as it was my first time hearing about it. 

Analysis

This form of folk protection is very rooted in the belief of superstition and fear of the unknown that expecting mothers can feel when they are carrying. Wanting to do everything to protect the child, the informant listened to the superstitions and how to protect the baby that were passed down to her from her own mother. This shows the flow of pregnancy superstitions via maternal channels, and the spread of cultural premonitions and protecting practices.

Red Yarn to Cure Hiccups and Colic in Babies

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 54
Occupation: Health Care Executive
Residence: San Diego
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/18/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Main Piece

Interviewer: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: My first daughter was super sensitive to colic and hiccups and really her digestive system. She got hiccups all the time, and I didn’t know what to do with it, you can’t have a baby hold your breath they’re a baby. So I called my mom and she let me know what to do. 

Interviewer: What are the steps for this practice?

Informant: When your baby has hiccups or colic you wad a little bit of red yarn and you wet it with your saliva and you pinch it in your fingers to make it round. And then you put in on the forehead, kinda like where the Third Eye would be. And then they’re fine. I don’t know the science how why but it worked. Once the baby stopped you took the yarn off and there you go. Sometimes it took a few minutes, but you take the red dot off after it is done doing what it is supposed to do.

Interviewer: Do you know where your mom learned it from?

Informant: She learned it from her mom who learned it from her mom. Everything she told me was done on me. 

Interviewer: Does the practice have a name?

Informant: No, not that I know of. 

Background

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

My Mother and I often joke about how horrible babies we were, and she often tells us the stories of the different practices that my Nana would teach her to calm us down. One of the ones I remember vividly was this one, with the red yarn. Over the phone I asked my Mom about the different practices we would talk about to understand the context better. 

Analysis

I think that this example of folk medicine is a great indicator of Mexican heritage and identity. It has been passed down in the informant’s family for multiple generations and had a reputation of working, prompting the informant to use it herself. The use of a red yard is interesting, as it is a very inexpensive material that most women would have at their disposal in their home. The placement of the dot on the forehead and the reference to the third eye also indicate a sense of magic as well. 

El Cucuy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Arizona
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/3/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and the other half is mestizo. Much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. She learned this story from her grandmother, who told it to her when she was a child.

Text:

JS: Tell me the story of El Quiqui (alternatively el cucuy)

MV: All right so el quiqui lives in tunnels in the mountains. And he’s a really creepy guy who takes away bad children and eats them. There’s this girl, her name is Rosa or some other Mexican shit it doesn’t really matter (laughs). And she’s such a good kid, always does her chores, is obedient and all that. Her sister, though, her name is… Margarita (laughs), she’s awful, just a bad kid all around. So one night el quiqui comes and takes her to the mountains. Rosa goes up and just as he is about to eat Margarita, she saves her, and also finds all these other kids in his tunnels and sets them free.

JS: What do you think the story means?

MV: Classic. Classic! “Do your chores or you’re gonna get eaten (laughs)”

Thoughts:

The practical utility of this legend, as the informant stated above, is obvious. It is a tool for persuading children to take care of household duties. Paradoxically, to give them a sense of responsibility, the story scares them into obedience. The informant’s response, “classic,” suggests that household duty and obedience are important parts of being a woman in a Mexican family. Interestingly, in this informant’s account, the two children were girls. This gendering of the objects of El Cucuy’s aggression suggests that young girls are more often trained at a young age to assist with chores around the house than young boys. The faithful Rosa is a model child, one with a sense of responsibility to her sister and to her family. She is a model of domesticity and virtue. Additionally, El Cucuy is masculine, suggesting that a girl who is not obedient will be taken away and consumed by a mysterious and dangerous man. The story can be used to scare children into doing their chores, but it also contains a gendered lesson of matronly duty and selflessness, that if one does not practice obedience, she will end up with an unfavorable man and meet her demise.

For a more comprehensive look at El Cucuy and other Mexican children’s folk legends, see Domino Renee Perez’s book There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture

Perez, Domino Renee. There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture. University of Texas Press, 2008.

Seaweed Soup

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Jeweler
Residence: La Mirada, Orange County, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 3 April 2020
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

Seaweed Soup is a popular traditional Korean dish.

Original script: 미역국

Phonetic (Roman) script: Miyeok-guk

Translation: Seaweed soup

The following is transcribed and translated from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant.

Informant: Out of all the Korean soup dishes, and there are lots and lots of it, miyeok guk (seaweed soup) probably has the most ties with meanings and stuff. It’s most famous for being the soup that people eat for their birthday breakfast. And it’s mostly breakfast, I don’t think people eat this for their birthday lunch of dinner. So a lot of foreigners call miyeok guk the ‘birthday soup’.

Interviewer: Where did that birthday tradition start?

Informant: I’m not sure when or where, but it originates from how miyeok guk is served to women who had just gave birth. It’s like, high inn iron and iodine and stuff, so it’s seen as really good postpartum food. It’s the first thing moms eat after giving birth, so it’s the first thing that babies eat when they’re born too. I think people eat this soup for birthdays because of this, to remember where they start from and remember their mothers.

Interviewer: Is there any other meanings tied to the soup?

Informant: Koreans also avoid this soup the day before or the day of an important exam. Seaweed has this slippery texture and I think it reminds people of like, slipping, falling, failing, all that bad stuff you don’t want reminded of before an exam.

Interviewer: What if there’s an exam on the day of your birthday?

Informant: (laughs) I guess you have no choice then.

Background:

My informant, woman in her 50s, was born and raised in Korea but immigrated to the United States when she was in her 30s. Though she doesn’t recall when or where she acquired this piece of folklore, but she describes it as such a common piece of food knowledge that all Koreans are aware of it from a very early age.

Context:

The conversation was conducted over a phone, while the informant was at the comforts of her own house. The conversation took place in Korean, and was then translated into English by myself.

Thoughts:

Korea has a rich history with its traditional cuisine, and plenty of lore around these food items. Eating a meal on your birthday to remind yourself of your mother’s labor sounded appropriate, as Korean culture is built heavily around Confucianism.

South American Birthday Ritual

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G. grew up in an Mexican and Honduran household, and has participated in and experienced this birthday tradition since he was a child. This tradition represents an important, but often unspoken facet of his culture, one that can be viewed and participated in as both heritage and tradition. I have transcribed his explanation below:

Main Piece

“So every time it’s somebody’s birthday, you have to sing ‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to Anthony, Happy Birthday to you. Ya queremos pastel!’ which means, ‘we want cake now!’ Then, right after you blow out the candles, everyone chants, ‘que lo muerda, que lo muerda,‘ which means, ‘bite the cake’ and when they go in for a bite, you grab the back of the person’s head and slam their face into the cake. After that, we start to cut pieces off the cake where the face did not touch and give a slice to everyone. In Honduras, it’s pretty much the same tradition but instead we say ‘feliz cumplanos’ which is just happy birthday in Spanish.

Thoughts

A.G. remarked after describing the tradition that it often makes him smile because it’s always done at a time of celebration, The celebration of one’s birthday and of coming of age is an important part of his culture and therefore this small tradition has a bigger importance in his cultural identity. He recalled learning the song as a child, celebrating his aunt Reina’s birthday, and how there were differences between the song when he was celebrating a birthday on the Honduran side of his family, or on the Mexican side. He specified that this tradition is not specific to children in the family, even though it can be more fun, but that the tradition is practiced with adults as well because it has such a cultural significance. He himself has experienced this tradition first hand for many of his birthdays, and sometimes the most fun part was picking out the cake, knowing that it would be used in this tradition later. It seems he views this tradition and the memories that stem from it with great fondness.

 

I found it particular interesting the small variations between the Mexican and Honduran version of the song. Linguistically, while much of South America speaks Spanish, there are small but significant variations in the words used or the common expressions. It reminded me of how certain regions in America will infuse different elements into their versions of Happy Birthday, that help differentiate it from other places. This brings to mind the idea of different folk groups and the multiplicity that they may express when performing tradition. There is no one way to perform this birthday ritual, but each has it’s own cultural value to the groups that claim specific heritages.

 

The Legend of Boto Cor De Rosa- The Pink Dolphin

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: College Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/13/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Portuguese

The following is a conversation with KL that describes her interpretation of the Brazilian legend of the Pink Dolphin (In Portuguese, Boto Cor De Rosa).

 

KL: So, basically, this story is popular among all Brazilians and it’s about a man who is said to have actually been a Pink Dolphin who would come out of the river and transform into a human. So, when he would come out of the water he would be dressed in all white and he would go to parties, acting like a human, and he was a very fertile man so he would impregnate a bunch of women in the village. So, there are a lot of conspiracies in Brazil about whether or not this is true, so some people do believe this is true, as crazy as it seems.

 

EK: So how did you learn of the story?

 

KL: Yeah, so this was told to me when I was on exchange in Brazil by my host parents right before I went on a trip to the Amazon Rain Forest. It’s just something cool that a lot of Brazilians tell, I was also told the story when I was in the [Amazon] rain forest, so it’s just a story that everyone kind of knows.

 

EK: So, it’s a pretty popular oral story then.

 

KL: Yeah, it’s pretty popular, if you asked around in the area, I’m sure someone would know. It’s one of those word-of-mouth things; it started in an Amazon village, the Amazon River was where he (the dolphin) was said to come out of, and now everyone knows, and different Brazilians will tell you their version of it or what they know about it.

 

EK: So, then what do you get out of the story?

 

KL: Yeah, I think that it shows that Brazilians place a lot of cultural emphasis on nature, like humans’ connections to nature, animals, and I think it’s really cool. It’s just an interesting story that shows that their culture is very much centered around family and nature and those connections.

 

My Interpretation:

I would have to agree with KL; it seems that Brazilians have a huge cultural emphasis on nature and family. Brazil may not be the wealthiest country in the world, but with this culture, they don’t place as much value in wealth as, say, Americans do. With the Amazon Rainforest in their backyard, there is so much nature to explore and appreciate. I believe the pink dolphin is only native to the Amazon River.

The Pink Dolphin who turns into a man to impregnate the women of the village shows the emphasis on family and fertility as well. However, it is interesting to me that the dolphin/male does not stick around after impregnating the women to my knowledge, so that could also be a statement on gender roles in Brazil. In most stories that I have encountered that are like this, though, it is often the female who is stuck with the child and the male who continues to impregnate multiple women, so it could also just be a theme of these types of stories.

Blessing a Baby After Sneezing

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Jordanian
Age: 35
Occupation: Project Manager
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 17 April 2019
Primary Language: Arabic
Other Language(s): English

Background Info/Context:

Religion plays a large part in Jordanian culture, and Jordanians express it in many different ways. My boss told me about a practice that Jordanians do to their babies to maximize their blessings. She grew up giving babies the sign of the cross on them when they sneezed.

 

Piece:

Rehab – “If a baby yawns, you’re supposed to do the, um, cross symbol on them to bless them when they sneeze or when they yawn. I think it’s more when they’re sneezing rather than yawning if I remember correctly.”

 

Sophia – “Do you think this a Jordanian thing? Because I’ve never heard that.”

 

R – “It’s probably a Jordanian religious thing, I don’t know. A lot of things have to do with God or what they think is religious.”

 

Thoughts:

My boss later shared that giving someone the sign of the cross when they sneeze is not something that continues into adulthood. This is mostly a practice that is done on an infant, to ensure that they are blessed by God. I think adults do this for babies, because babies aren’t able to pray to God themselves, so doing the sign of the cross on them connects them to God even before they’re able to speak.

Arabic Eyeliner Gives Good Vision

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Jordanian
Age: 35
Occupation: Project Manager
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 20 April 2019
Primary Language: Arabic
Other Language(s): English

Background Info/Context:

My boss and I were talking about cultural traditions she grew up participating in, and one example she gave was about wearing a special Jordanian eyeliner. This eyeliner was put on her as an infant, and she has applied it on babies as well to help ensure them to have good eyesight.

 

Piece:

Rehab – “They have this stuff called Arabic eyeliner. So for all the girls, and it’s like black like coal, eyeliner. It looks really nice, but I think they think that, um, it’s supposed to help the baby’s vision.”

 

Sophia – “Oh, they put the eyeliner on a BABY?”

 

R – “Yeah like a baby baby. I have pictures when I was younger, like FULL on eyeliner. Inside your eye.”

 

S – “And the baby didn’t cry? That’s hard to do.”

 

R – “Well it’s like a little thing that we have. It looks like a genie bottle. It’s so pretty. It’s like all brass and the eyeliner is powder, so you just pull it through and it gets on the top and bottom.”

 

Thoughts:

My boss wore this special coal eyeliner up until she was in high school. Although its initial use is to help the newborn baby’s vision, many people continue to use it as they get older. They may still believe it has potential powers to bless people with good vision. However, it is more likely that people keep applying the eyeliner because wearing darker eye makeup is common in Arab beauty standards.

I think it is interesting to learn about a culture that is heavily tied to Christianity, but still has its separate cultural beliefs. Many Christian dominated countries follow the miracles and stories written in the Bible, and I have not personally heard of many practices in American or Korean culture that are independent from the Christian text.