Category Archives: Life cycle

Quinceaneras

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 54
Occupation: Translator
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/2020
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s): English, Italian

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as LT. 

Me: What’s been your experience with Quinceaneras?

LT: When I was growing up, quinceaneras were just like a cute little party you had because at age 15 you’re kind of becoming a young adult, but I never thought it was too serious. It was just a cute day to celebrate you becoming a woman and you also got jewelry. My grandma, though, told that back in the day the qu8ince was very much tied to spanish catholic culture where you’re supposed to get married when you become a woman. Back in the day, my grandma before her quince, was taught how to weave and taught how to cook so it was clearly a set up for her to become a homemaker. But like, as we know now, 15 is absolutely not an age where you can get married but back in the day you weren’t really the one making those decisions, your family was. With that said though, quinces are still very tied to that christian base. You dance with your mom and dad, you go to church, so it’s still very much tied christianity but now it’s not tied to marriage. 

Me: So what do you do at a quinceanera? 

LT: So, you get very dressed up in a fancy gown and you get a tiara as well. But on the way there, I had to wear flat shoes so that my dad could put on my heels at the party, it’s kind of a little tradition. And then there’s food, you get presents, and then you have to do a special dance with your dad. Me and my dad were really bad so it was nothing too complicated but some of them are very elaborate. And then you just have like a regular party and celebration. 

Background:

Interviewee immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles as a teenager, however, she still returns home near Mexico City frequently. Her entire family is from and lives in Mexico, apart from her younger siblings and stepmother. She works as a translator in both Spanish and Italian. She is my older sister, so we’re very comfortable around each other. 

Context: 

This interview was conducted over a video chat between interviewee and I. Being that we are family, it was a very casual conversation just talking about some things we both did growing up, but her specifically in central Mexico. 

Thoughts:

The quinceanera is one of the biggest days in many young girl’s lives. The celebration varies culturally, but the Mexican version is typically very tied to religion and very ceremonial. Some of the ceremonies are spoken about here, the changing of the shoes and the father-daughter dance. However, depending on how religious families are, there is also usually a church ceremony and other aspects of the event that highlight the transition from young girl to woman. Originally, the purpose was to showcase the young woman as she became eligible for marriage. However, the purpose now is simply to celebrate a big coming-of-age and growing up.

The spiritual meaning behind pinatas

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 54
Occupation: Translator
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/2020
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s): English, Italian

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as LT.

Me: So what were some birthday rituals you used to have growing up?

LT: Well, I’m sure most people now are familiar with the classic pinata that a lot of mexican households have at their kids’ birthdays. I guess, since you’re asking about traditions, I remember my dad telling me that the tradition about pinatas is all about how the pinata represents, supposedly, the seven deadly sins – like temptation. So you having the stick and being blindfolded is supposed to represent like blind faith in god and your struggle not to give into those sins. And, I never did this, but my dad told me that they used to twirl people around to confuse them because that’s how you make it an extra struggle! And I remember my grandma used to even twirl people 30 times because that’s how many years Jesus Christ lived. Also, pinatas were never animals – they used to just be, according to my dad, just like spiky balls with lots of vibrant colors. I guess vibrant colors are supposed to represent sin and temptation.

Me: Ok, so what about the candy?

LT: Oh, and the candy, well he said and I guess it makes sense, that the candy is supposed to represent the reward from god and from faith that you get when you fight and defeat those temptations. 

Me: So, you used to always have a pinata at birthdays growing up?

LT: Oh, yes always.

Background:

Interviewee immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles as a teenager, however, she still returns home near Mexico City frequently. Her entire family is from and lives in Mexico, apart from her younger siblings and stepmother. She works as a translator in both Spanish and Italian. She is my older sister, so we’re very comfortable around each other. 

Context:

This interview was conducted over a video chat between interviewee and I. Being that we are family, it was a very casual conversation just talking about some things we both did growing up, but her specifically in central Mexico. 

Thoughts:

Pinatas are seemingly well known at this point as a Latinx tradition, but it is interesting the variation by region and country. In her area of Mexico, the pinata is tied to religion and they teach kids very young that they must battle and conquer sins. While this is a very heavy message, they do it as a reminder of the emerging hardships of growing older each year that also seemingly give fruitful rewards, like candy. I, too, always had pinatas at birthday parties but ours were always characters and I never got to meet my grandma to learn her lessons about it. 

Ukrainian Wedding Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Ukrainian
Age: 45
Occupation: Contractor
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/40/2020
Primary Language: Ukrainian
Other Language(s): English, Russian

The following is transcribed from an interview between me and interviewee, referred to as MT. 

MT: In my country, when someone wants to get married to a girl, they have to first barter for her with her neighborhood, essentially. Usually the neighborhood people ask for booze and money and then in exchange they’ll let her go and give her to him. 

Me: So do potential grooms actually end up going and meeting the neighborhood people’s demands for their brides?

MT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, at this point it’s usually pretend, like, not serious but because it’s tradition we have to do it, you know? So usually the guy will just go and the neighborhood will play pretend like you have to give me stuff and at this point it’s just an excuse to get some booze and get excited for the wedding. Although, I have seen a neighborhood take it seriously one time and the guy had to actually go home and get money because the neighborhood wouldn’t let her go! 

Me: And why do they do the bartering before the wedding?

MT: Well, the neighborhood is losing a person so it’s like they should get something in return, you know? And it’s also a way to test and see how much the groom wants her like what she’s worth to him. 

Me: What if someone wants to marry her from the same neighborhood, though?

MT: Oh, no matter what they’ll make the guys barter for her. So even if they’re from the same neighborhood, they’ll then separate it by streets and he’ll barter with the people on her street. If they’re on the same street, he’ll have to barter with the family type of stuff. It’s just tradition. 

Background:

Interviewee, MT, is from LViv, Ukraine. His family is from a village called Rodatichi in Ukraine. He immigrated to America at age 13, but returns home for occasions. He has lived in Sherman Oaks, CA for the rest of his life thus far and has been happily married to my mom for 11 years. He has been to numerous weddings and seen this wedding tradition happen all growing up.

Context: 

This interview was conducted over lunch at our family home, so it was very casual. He has many stories about the customs of his country that he usually shares with me so it was just like any number of our usual conversations. 

Thoughts:

There are many versions of these wedding customs, but what I found interesting is that this specific tradition of bartering for the wife is unique to his region in Ukraine. Even in the Eastern part of the country, there are wildly different traditions but they all seem to center around the idea of testing the man of his dedication to the wife. I think this is interesting because in
America, we don’t have many of these traditions where a man has to truly win and earn his bride. It is also very interesting how much variation there is within this custom as far as what the neighborhood people ask for, whether or not the groom actually has to give it to them, and whether he is bartering with the whole neighborhood or just her family. 

49 Days After One’s Death in Korean Buddhism

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 50
Occupation: Professor
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25th, 2020
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s):

Main Piece : 

49 Days After One’s Death in Buddhism

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing how a Buddhist ancestral rites is done during 49 days after one’s death. She is identified as K, and I will be identified as E in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

K : In Korean Buddhist belief, 49 days after one’s death is the most critical time after the funeral. Once someone dies, they do not go to heaven or hell but are kept in a ‘middle-zone’ between Earth and the heavens for 49 days and are sent to seven stages of hell to judge whether they have lived an honest life.

E : What does it mean by ‘honest’ life?

K : It means that they haven’t done any wrong doings. One must not lie, not kill someone, not trick someone, and stuff like those. Even telling a small lie to your friend also counts as wrongdoing. Each hell determines if you have committed a crime. One category of these hell judges a ‘crime you have committed with your words’. This would include speaking bad about your friends, hurting your parent’s feelings with words, or lying. Like this, the ‘crime’ itself doesn’t always need to be a serious offense such as murdering or deceiving multiple people for money. We might be committing a ‘crime’ even now as we talk. 

E : So it means that you must be aware of what action you take, I guess. 

K : Yes. This belief tells people that anyone can be an ‘offender’ in the afterworld and makes them cautious. After the 7 weeks and 7 trials, they are then determined what life they will be living in their next life. Depending on how you lived your previous life, you might be reborn as a human, an animal, or even a non-animal such as a rock. The better life you lived, the more human you will become. If you commit a big crime, you will be reborn as an animal such as a dog or a pig. If you didn’t commit any sort of crime and lived a very pure life, that’s when you get your chance to enter heaven. 

E : Does that mean it’s impossible since we all commit ‘crimes’?

K : It sounds like it, doesn’t it? But it’s described to be possible. That’s why Buddhist monks shave their head, live in the temple, and train to strengthen their mind and body. This is also related to why they don’t eat any kind of meat – it means that an animal must unnecessarily die for the monks for their meal. In order to stop the unnecessary death, they eat with vegan choices. They are the closest beings to heaven since they consciously try to prevent themselves from commiting wrongdoings. Also, know that during those 49 days, the family members of the recently deceased are recommended to not participate in any events that are enjoyable. This includes drinking alcohol, going to a party, or going on a trip. It’s not set as a strict rule, but you just need to do it to show respect. You also wear only dark-colored clothes such as black or dark grey. 

Analysis :

This proverb shows how the Korean society believes in the Karma system and the cycle of life. In Buddhism belief, when one dies, they don’t directly go to heaven or hell like Christianity but are judged for the next 48 days for how they have lived in their previous life and how many wrongdoings they have done. I think the fact that the trial of one’s death is continued on for a long time is also to give a sense of pressure to people to not commit wrongdoings when they are alive. It pressures people to only act nicely if they do not want to be suffering even after their death. 

For another version of this story, take a look at the film, “Along with the Gods”. This Korean movie was made in 2017 and was based on the comic by Ho-Min Ju. The movie is about what happens in one’s afterlife in Buddhist belief and gives a good summary of the informant’s piece. 

Preparing Food for Ancestral Rites

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 50
Occupation: Professor
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25th, 2020
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s):

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing how to prepare the table for ancestral rite, which is different from regular meal table rites. She is identified as K, and I will be identified as E in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

K : As far as I know, the ancestral rite table is related to the belief in geomancy. To start off, the table must be facing the North side. 

E : Is there a reason why it must be facing the North side?

K : Yes. Ancestral rite day is considered as a ‘mini-day of the dead event’ and it is believed that all spirits come from the North side. So if you don’t have the table that way, it means that you’re not welcoming them. 

E : I see.

K : Other rules that need to be kept are related to this. Since the spirits will be coming from that side, all food and utensils must be prepared on the opposite side of us, so that the spirits can eat while we face them. 

E : So you’re putting utensils as if someone is sitting across from you?

K : Yes. You also need to put the rice on your, the person who is holding the ancestral rite, right and the soup on your left so that the spirits will have rice on their left and the soup on their right. Koreans have a ‘tacit agreement’ that warmer foods are supposed to be placed on the right side. 

She ended her description by noting how all families tend to have different styles of how they perform ancestral rites and that her description is just the basics; some families might not care what side their table is facing and some families might not even perform the rite at all. 

Analysis :

I live in a family who doesn’t perform ancestral rites as often and I found this piece very interesting. I’ve only attended ancestral rites twice or thrice when I was very young and didn’t know the details to it. The belief that the dead spirits of our ancestors return to have a quick meal that their descendents have prepared reflects the strong Confucianist belief of Korean societies; Korean descendents and the younger generations are expected to respect and take care of the older generations and even after they have passed away too. However, a lot of Korean families quitting to do annual ancestral rites also show that the new generations are walking away from Confucianist traditions that have been taking a spot in the Korean society for centuries.

Significance of Incense

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 50
Occupation: Professor
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25th, 2020
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s):

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing what an incense signifies in ancestral rites. She is identified as K and this piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

K : You know what incense is, right? It’s a stick you light it on fire like a candle and it produces smoke with a certain smell to it. Rather than smelling like something burning, it has a very organic smell to it. Maybe like burning wood. In Korean ancestral rites, burning an incense means that the person who burned the incense is calling the Gods and their ancestors from the sky. The smoke rises from the ground and when it reaches the sky, the God or the ancestor will know someone is calling them. If someone is only wishing for something, it is calling God to grant their dear wish. If someone is performing an ancestral rite, it means that they are calling their ancestors. 

Analysis : 

In our family, we burn incenses more than candles. Before listening to the meaning behind burning incenses, I only thought we do this for the smell of it or as a tradition; I was surprised that the smoke and the smell of the incense was meant to reach the sky. I think this aspect of burning incenses show the earnest wish of the user to see and meet the holistic figures. It should also be noted that not all incenses are meant for deep meanings like calling their God or ancestors, but a lot of people use it for its good smell. 

Bowing Down Twice

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 50
Occupation: Professor
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25th, 2020
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s):

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing why bowing down only twice is important during a memorial rite or a funeral. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

She told me that to understand this piece, you need to understand the Yin and the Yang (negative and positive) culture of Asian countries. Yin, is the power that is believed to be dark and negative, while Yang is the positive power. 

In Korean funerals or memorial rites, people only bow down twice. It is believed that one’s first bow means the Yang power and the second bow means the Yin power. This means that the first bow is only meant for the people who are living and the second bow is for the people who are dead and no longer in this ‘living’ world. Thus, when you bow down to the families of the dead, you only bow once because they are alive, and you bow down twice to show respect to the dead. Events that require bowing down and related to death such as a funeral or an ancestral rite will require bowing down twice. 

My informant also highlighted that all bows should be performed with the utmost respect because this is a matter of living and the dead. 

Analysis :

When I was young and attended funerals, I remember peeking through my arm to see how many times my parents were bowing down. I was sometimes confused because they would bow down once in some situations and would bow down twice in some situations. This connection of Yin and Yang with the funeral culture show how Asian countries strongly believe in the ‘powers’ of negativity and positivity and its connection to Confucianism; you need to have detailed and precise actions even when you are showing respect to your ancestors.

Drive Through Birthday Party

--Informant Info--
Nationality: US
Age: 19
Occupation:
Residence: Cupertino
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/30/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin

Background: My informant is a friend of mine of Chinese heritage, though he grew up in the United States. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. 

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Thursday morning. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. We did not talk about much other than folklore because my informant had a final immediately after our call. The main piece is made up of a transcription of our call. 

Main Piece: Aight so I don’t think there’s like an official name for this but it’s like a it’s like a drive-through birthday party that has happened ever since coronavirus hit. So like one time, one of my friends birthdays was last week so then what happened was he organized it so that he like made a poster in his yard. And so me and a bunch of his friends and a bunch of his family, like pulled up in our cars and like we formed a line and we just like, we like as we drove by his house we would just honk we would like talk. And we would like have posters. We couldn’t do gifts because on the off-chance that we would be spreading coronavirus through the gifts but like some people had like cars that were like topless or like with a sunroof and like people would be standing through the sunroof and yelling and it was his overall a really good time

Thoughts: This is a bit of coronavirus folklore and discussed how coronavirus and the lack of in-person interaction has affected birthday celebrations. I think what is particularly interesting about this is that my informant did not know anything about the origin of the trend even though it has only popped up in the last two months or so. My informant says it is just ubiquitous now, which is fascinating and something that makes this celebration uniquely folklore, as it is ubiquitous without a discernible origin but almost universally adopted.

Owa Tagu Saiam

--Informant Info--
Nationality: White American
Age: 56
Occupation: Media relations specialist
Residence: San Francisco, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/28/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

I collected this bit of wordplay from my mother (LP) in a face-to-face interview. She grew up in a white Unitarian household in suburban Colorado in the late 20th century. She learned this joke from her mother, who pulled the prank on her and her brother when they were young.

Text:

The prankster says to their victim:

            “Say: ‘owa tagu saiam’”

After repeating it, the prankster asks them to say it faster until it sounds like they’re saying “o what a goose I am.”

Thoughts:

I remember other silly word pranks like this from my childhood, where one person employs a riddle or a pun to get another person to say something self-deprecating or otherwise humorous. The appeal of the joke comes from the moment of recognition when a string of nonsensical sounds becomes language. These games, while seemingly inconsequential and banal, offer a profound look into the mechanisms of signification. The humor of the joke comes from the moment of recognition in which a string of nonsensical sounds becomes meaningful, takes on significance. What was thought to be nonsense becomes sense, becomes a signifier of something completely unexpected.

The prank points to a couple of interesting traits of spoken language. One, that sounds bear no intrinsic relation to their significances: a string of gibberish to one person in one particular subject position (the victim when speaking the phrase slowly) can hold meaning to those occupying other subject positions (the prankster and the victim after the moment of recognition.) Secondly, it reminds the participants that all words are first and foremost just sound. Sounds are assembled and juxtaposed to signify abstract notions, and this process of signification can get so entrenched, so internalized that the signified takes precedence over the signifier, and the language-bearer is “tricked” into equating the two. This prank shatters that implicit assumption by pointing to the sonorous qualities of the word and laying bare the process by which sounds are tied to meanings. This disenchantment with the word, the recognition of the materiality of the signifier, has radical implications. For one, it allows for a kind of verbal play, a refiguration of sounds and their meanings, a liberation from the logocentric notion that words contain no ambiguity, no internal contradiction, that individual words always mean the same thing, like in a dictionary. But dictionaries are produced and disseminated by publishing companies that operate under certain ideological agendas which are always political, which have in their interest the imposition of hegemony.

Such pranks as these can act as subversive and counter-hegemonic, calling into question the ways in which meaning is constructed through language, opening up the potential for resistance through wordplay.

The Tooth Fairy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: White American
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Orrinda, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

JA is a 20-year-old student from Orinda, California. She recalled this story in an interview.

Text:

JA: I don’t remember when I first learned of it… but the tooth fairy comes to your house the night after you lose a tooth when you’re a kid. You put your baby tooth under your pillow at night and while you’re asleep, the tooth fairy takes it and replaces it with a gift. So, like, in reality, your parents took your tooth and put something there.

But, anyhow, most people use money as the tooth fairy gift, but my parents always gave us these little toys. I think I got a nice marker once. Little toys like that. And I believed it when I was a little kid but I lost my teeth really slowly so by the time I lost my last baby teeth I was pretty old and had my suspicions (laughs.) And then when I lost my last baby tooth that night I felt my dad’s giant hand putting something under my pillow.

I don’t really know what to make of the whole thing, just that it’s a fun game to play to reward your child for the milestone of getting adult teeth. I remember talking about the tooth fairy with my friends in elementary school.

Thoughts:

The tooth fairy is a common legend in America. It is a tradition that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood through the changing of a person’s physiology. As the body changes, the child is rewarded, maybe to allay what Freud calls castration anxiety, or a fear of becoming disincorporated, a fear of alterations in the physical body. The tooth fairy is a way of transitioning kids through that process, celebrating it, and marking it as a significant and positive moment in the life of a child. I remember that my own parents gave me a homemade card for when I had learned how to cut my own nails. This gesture follows the same basic function that the tooth fairy does which is to mark a time of physiological change with a ritual designed to acknowledge mental and spiritual change, to allay the fear of the body being picked apart and to redirect that fear, sublimate it, toward a positive feeling of pride in maturation.