SS: So basically, something I grew up with… in the home… There’s a really big tradition in Brazilian culture to never walk around barefoot. We always walk around with flip flops, some kind of sandals. Something I used to do is if I was walking around outside, the bottoms would get really dirty, and I’d be afraid of my mom telling me to not walk around in my dirty sandals. So what I’d do is I would walk in and I’d set the sandals upside down, so the straps would be facing the ground. But every time I’d do that, my mom would tell me don’t put those upside down, or something will happen to a close relative of yours if you do that. I forget if it’s they’ll die, but it definitely wasn’t positive: they’d get harmed in some way. So every single time I put it upside down, I’d get a comment like that and get scared. My mom would always say “You want me to die?” and things like that intense sometimes. And finally, after a long time of thinking it was legit superstition, apparently it’s a joke among Brazilian parents. Like “I don’t want you to get my floor dirty.” “I don’t want the feet of your sandal to touch the dirty cold floor.” So it’s a way for parents to scare their kids. It’s always something I got scared of.
CONTEXT: SS is my roommate and close friend, a recent graduate of USC who was born in Brazil but moved to the United States soon after. She frequently flies back with her parents and brother to visit her family in Brazil.
ANALYSIS: For most of her life as a child, SS saw this rule as a superstition and treated it as such. The contrast between her and her mother’s beliefs is interesting: for the mother, the superstition was never real, but her insistence on the rule made it reality for her daughter. The text itself reminds me of the rhyme “Step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back.” It’s similar in structure: the stepping on and contact with the ground—either the floor or a crack on the ground—results in injury to a part of the family, specifically the mother. That being said, the “superstition” detailed here has two key differences. First, the rhyme is often repeated between children and peers, whereas the superstition SS recounted was told to her by an authority figure—her mother. Second, the superstition has a legitimate motive to be told by parents. SS’s mother had a very clear purpose in telling her daughter not to step on the floor: so that she didn’t dirty them.