Ofrendas on the Day of the Dead

Main piece:

JH: For day of the dead families usually put an altar up. In Spanish it’s known as an ofrenda. So on Day of the Dead, you put up the person’s favorite food on the altar, and it’s a really sweet occasion. We do it every year. So like, if I died I would get tamales and like boba or something, and everyone would believe that my spirit will come back to enjoy those treats. Oh, you also put a picture of the person as well as their favorite flower and a candle. 

Context: 

The informant, JH, is was born in the United States. She currently lives in Orange County and attends USC. Her parents are from Mexico. This piece was collected over a phone call, in a conversation when we were talking about family traditions.

Thoughts: 

This was a tradition I had heard of before, both from other friends and just popular culture in general. I think it’s an interesting addition that JH added that on her altar, there would be “tamales and boba” –– tamales being something more culturally similar to the celebration, and boba being something more from the specific context and era that JH grew up in. This goes to show that this celebration is something that manifests in different ways across different contexts and families, lending itself to Dundes’ folklore definition of “multiplicity and variation.”

Saraswati – The reason not to step on paper and books

Main piece:

AI: So there’s a Hindu goddess named Saraswati who represents, like, knowledge, and a folk thing is that she lives inside all, like, books and paper and shit. So anytime you step on paper and cardboard you have to like, ask for her forgiveness for stepping on her. It was literally so annoying when I was little. It was a thing I was taught to do growing up. Whenever I stepped on paper my parents would be like, don’t piss off Saraswati!

Context:

The informant, AI, was born in the US, but her parents are from India. Both parents grew up in North India but are culturally tamil brahmin (South India.) She learned this tradition from her parents, and even now, she still avoids stepping on books and paper. This story was collected through a phone call.

Thoughts:

I met the informant in high school. We attended a school in Silicon Valley which had a big focus on STEM, and the general culture there was quite academically competitive. I think that this story, while obviously not originating from the Silicon Valley, has a great similarity to the reverence of wisdom and intellect present in SV (although, minus the snootiness). The informant, AI, is still in high school and still in that culture herself––I think the fact that she chose this story is a reflection of the similarities between both cultures.

Danza de los Viejitos

Main piece:

There’s this thing called Danza de los Viejitos. It’s is a dance to represent the 4 elements, which are water, earth, air and fire, and the dancers wear this thing called a Sarape, a cloak, and a straw hat and sandals with a wooden bottom so that their footsteps are like, heard by the people who are worshipping. It’s kinda cool because the dance has a cool purpose. It’s so that we can pray for a good harvest, especially, corn, and so that we can have a stronger connection to the spirits.

Context

The informant, SB, currently lives in Pomona, CA and his parents are from Mexico. He goes to CalPoly Pomona. This is a tradition that he remembers fondly from his childhood. I met him through his girlfriend, JH. This story was collected over a group call.

Thoughts:

I think that this tradition is interesting because a lot of other cultures also have it where the four elements are “Earth, air, fire and water”––this is true of Greek, Babylonian, Chinese, and other cultures I’m sure. It goes to show how integral these four elements are to the well being of the body and the environment, cross culturally. 

A La Rorro Niño – Lullaby

Informant: this is a song my mom used to sing me when I was little:

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

Esos tus ojitos ya los vas cerrando,

pero estás mirando todos mis delitos.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

Por cuna te ofrezco mi fiel corazón,

pues no lo merezco, te pido perdón.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

Quisiste por nombre llamarte Jesús,

como padre amante tú me diste luz.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

En el crudo invierno Mi Dios y Señor,

que sufres alegre del frío y su rigor.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

La gloria te cantan angélicas voces,

para que te duermas y del sueño goces.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor.

Interviewer: What does it mean?

JH: that’s the thing…I don’t know how to even translate it. But it’s sorta like when you swing a baby to sleep, you know what I mean? It’s one of those things that’s just really hard to translate, so it probably doesn’t have a translation. But generally, it’s talking about religion 

Context:

JH was born in America, and her parents are from Mexico. JH is very fond of this song because her mother used to sing it to her when she was a child. This story was collected over a phone call.

Thoughts:

This song goes to show how religion can be a great source of comfort. Listening to the song, it has such a sweet quality that is, of course, reminiscent of a lullaby; it’s interesting that across cultures, lullabies always have a similar quality, no matter the content. They are always happy and light. I think that this is important because it speaks to the fact that the moods that music elicit are similar no matter who you are or where you are––as people often say, music the universal language.

(To hear the song, please see this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12aiZ42gV2Y&t=49s)

The usage of “FOB” and “ABG” to describe Asians

Context: 

The informant, MG, went to high school in New Hampshire and now attends college at the University of Seattle in Washington. This story was collected when asked about her experiences of being Asian American in college over the phone.

Main piece:

MG: Since going to school in the west coast I found it very difficult to acclimate to a college in the west coast because I’ve never had to utilize code switching before. The type of personalities…and the goals, and lifestyles, were so completely different it was difficult socializing when I had no idea how to relate to anyone….and that’s the thing…even the other asians…like, usually on the east coast, the other asian americans just find each other, you know? They just find each other and form a group. But on the west coast, it was just different. They had these two terms for asians that I didn’t know what they meant: fob and abg.

Interviewer: And what do those mean?

MG: haha you sound dumb asking that now. “Fresh off the boat”, bitch. And abg is “Asian baby girl.”

Interviewer: And how do those make you feel?

MG: Umm…well I’m not an FOB. And I’m not cute or small enough to be an ABG, but I also wouldn’t wanna be one. It’s just weird that people use those on the east coast so much.

Thoughts:

I went to middle school with the informant, but she went to the East coast for high school and I stayed on the West. Staying in California, I knew these words that she was talking about and it was something that was propagated throughout all the groups of Asians that were our age. It’s interesting to me now that she didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about the words when asked. Rather, she just tried to categorize herself into them. It goes to show that as a West coast Asian American, we feel like we have to categorize to try to make friends with other Asians–like letting out a signal to let people know who you are so that you can make friends more easily.

The Story of Izanami and Izanagi

Main piece: 

EG: So my dad’s from Japan, and there’s this story about how the island of Japan was made with the gods izanagi and izanami, and there was something about how izanagi was stirring the sea to create the island of Japan. And then there was something about izanami hiding a cave, so the sun wouldn’t come up because he’s related to the sun or something. And then she would come out of that cave when she heard music, and that’s why they have Taiko drumming.

Interviewer: And how does that relate to your childhood?

EG: Uh as a kid my family went to Japan every summer so it can relate that way. And since we were in the countryside, or like suburbs, or like near the mountains, there’s a lot of shinto shrines and stuff and a lot of the Japanese kids shows had elements of Japanese folklore like kappa and stuff. 

Context:

My informant, EG, grew up in the US and visited her dad in Japan every summer. Being surrounded by Japanese suburban culture there was a very special experience to her, which is why she remembers the story––especially when Japan in western media is generally only depictions and stories about the very urbanized areas. EG was also the president of the Taiko club at USC, which would explain why she remembered the bit about Taiko drumming. This story was collected over a phone call about her time in Japan.

Thoughts:

Upon doing further research to fill in the gaps of the story, it turns out that Izanagi and Izanami were two, occasionally interpreted as a romantic couple, who created everything as we know it. They created more than just the ocean and Taiko. I think that this story is really interesting because the world springs forth from their bodies; like Izanagi’s eyes became the sun and moon deities, for example. This happens in a lot of other culture’s folklore. A famous example would be the Greek version of the Earth, Gaia, and how the parts of her body create the world. I think it’s interesting that creation stories often have this thread of the world being a singular body.

(For another version of the story of Izanami and Izanagi, please see this link:  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Izanagi, Encyclopedia Britannica.)

Brown sugar in the bathtub – a treatment for rashes

Main piece:

AW: When I was little, I would get eczema––you have it too, you probably get it from me. Our side of the family has all the allergies, haha. Well, so, my mom, your grandma, would put me in the bathtub with a little block of brown sugar. It’s like, that Chinese brown sugar block that is brown and has a white stripe through the middle. So she would put me in the bathtub and tell me not to eat the brown sugar, and I’d have to sit there and not eat it, and apparently it helped my eczema. I don’t know if it actually did though, haha. But sometimes I would eat it anyways. It was very delicious, of course. That was probably my favorite Chinese medicine that my mom ever gave me. A very fond memory, too.

Context:

The informant, AW, is my father. Our family is ethnically from Shanghai and Guangdong, China. This story was collected over a phone call about when I was little.

Thoughts:

I agree with AW. When I did this brown sugar treatment when I was little, I also don’t know that it truly yielded any results––I still have eczema to this day and I don’t think brown sugar ever made it any better. My assumption when I was small was that the sweet taste was supposed to distract you from how itchy you were, and I think in that sense, it did work. I think it’s important to realize that, especially when you are that little and you have an ailment that’s not that serious, sometimes it doesn’t take that much to make you feel better. And there’s nothing less valid about that kind of a treatment.

The Aswang – Filipino Demon

Main piece:

BR: My grandmother is very religious and even more superstitious, and she was raised in the northern part of the Philippines. And one bit of folklore that she always talked about when I was a kid was the concept of the Aswang, a creature who appears human during the day but becomes a hideous beast during the night. And the Aswang brings bad luck and death wherever it goes, and is considered to be one of the stealthiest demons in Filipino culture, cause it can shapeshift, and usually slips by unnoticed. So my grandma always brought up the Aswang whenever anything bad happened, and it terrified me because she seemed dead serious about it. 

Context:

The informant, BR, was born and raised in the Bay Area. His father is from Hawaii, and their family immigrated there when he was very little from the Philippines. BR was always scared by this story when he was little, and even to this day he is still afraid of the dark. This story was collected over a phone call.

Thoughts:

We talked about in class how there are always a lot of stories that are meant for scaring children, and I think this one is interesting because it appears human during the day as a normal human. This not only encourages children to be on their best behavior (as most other children’s tales that we talked about) but also brings into question your relationships with other people, which is very important. It kind of seems like a metaphor for if you’re in a toxic relationship, or someone is giving you trouble. And that’s an important thing to be scared of, and so it makes all the more sense to scare children of that when they are young because young children have those same issues.

Scissors on the bed during pregnancy

HK: When I was pregnant my mother in law said that I shouldn’t have scissors on the bed because then that will make you have a miscarriage. So don’t cut anything on the bed, don’t put anything that can cut on the bed. Related but not the same, it also means no remodeling, no hammering, no knocking down walls or anything. 

MW: And what did you think of this?

HK: Well…you don’t wanna believe it but when they tell you stupid shit like that…it’s like walking under a ladder. You know nothing’s gonna happen probably, but now you wonder about it. And then it leaves this little scab in your heart when you do do it, because now you’re like, ah, well, what’s gonna happen to me? It just always makes you wonder, you know? So annoying.

Context:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. This story was collected over a Zoom call when she was talking to my mom.

Thoughts:

The “little scab on your heart” that the informant mentioned is interesting because it makes me think that that must be how superstitions get perpetuated. While people might not believe on an intellectual level that it will happen, if you do it it will still stick with you, like a residual fear that clings to your mind; so because of that, it’s easier to just not do it in the first place. I think that’s important to realize, because sometimes the negative effect of the superstition might just come from your own guilt (or at least be related to it).

黄历 – The Yellow Calendar

Main piece:

You have to get married on a certain date, and it depends on your birth time, your birth year, your birth hour. There’s a thing called a “huang li,” which literally translates to yellow calendar, and it details for each zodiac person. You research it, and it’s a book that’s like a quarter inch thick and you look up your birth time and dates and you figure out which day is the most auspicious to get married. And it also tells you who to get married to––like, which zodiac animals. And that’s why I got married to to my husband on Saint Patrick’s day.

Background:

The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. She now lives in texas.

Context:

HK now lives in Texas––I collected this story over a Zoom call. She has been one of my mother’s closest friends since college, and often, they would commiserate together with all of my other Chinese aunties about certain things their Chinese parents would make them do, or general annoyance over Chinese tradition. This was one of those calls.

Thoughts:

I had never heard of the huang li before, and I think it’s interesting because the day which you get married can be so nebulous in American culture––people generally want to get married in June (which we talked about in class), but sometimes it takes years for people to finally work up the energy to get married. I think it goes to show how much more relaxed people are in America not just about the actual wedding day, but just about marriage in general. The divorce rate in this country is something near 50%, whereas when my dad’s parents got divorced (both from China) it was a really big deal and most people couldn’t even believe it. In Chinese culture, usually even if you don’t like the person you’re with, you’re supposed to just stick it out (or at least, that used to be the rhetoric). The huang li is just one example of the traditions that make Chinese marriage more rigid, maybe even more of a commitment, thand American marriage.