Informant was a 20 year old male who was born in North Carolina and moved to Santa Monica at an early age. He attends the University of San Diego and is an old family friend that came to visit.
There’s this Chinese New Year tradition that a bunch of dumplings are made and a coin or a peanut is placed into one of them. Everyone knows that one of the dumplings has a coin or peanut, but nobody knows which one. Whoever gets the special dumpling supposedly has good luck for the entire new year.
Collector: Is it true?
Informant: The luck? I don’t know, I’ve never found the coin, but I think it’s probably bullshit.
Collector: So you’ve done this several times?
Informant: Yeah, at a friend’s house. Only my mom is Chinese, but she doesn’t really celebrate the Chinese New Year. My friend’s family does, though, and I think it’s kind of fun to just go over there and participate.
Collector: So it’s a real Chinese tradition, this dumpling thing? Not just a family tradition?
Informant: So I’ve been told. Since my friend is the only one I know who does this I’m not sure. I think my mom has said that it is, but I don’t really remember…I should probably listen to her more (laughs).
Collector: Does it have to be dumplings?
Informant: Yes. I think.
I believe that the informant is trying to connect with his Chinese heritage by participating in this New Year tradition. It’s that whole ethnic identity thing. Since he’s half Chinese, he probably feels like he should participate, although, it does seem like it’s something that he enjoys doing. I know of several traditions that are similar to this one (one involving having money in one’s pocket at the stroke of midnight, and another involving running around with a purse) which indicates to me that many people truly believe that there is something magical about the new year. It’s a liminal line of sorts that requires a ritual in order to pass successfully.