I: Whenever someone in my family was sick or feeling under the weather, the usual go-to before any over the counter or cough medicine was Vicks VapoRub. It wasn’t necessarily a solve-all, but it was known in my family to make things feel a lot better and it would help you breathe better if you were congested. Funny enough, if I was only feeling a little bit sick, putting some of it on my chest before sleeping would make me feel better the next morning.
The informant is 48, was born and raised in the United States, and whose parents were born and raised in the Philippines. The informant isn’t sure where the use of Vicks to “cure” illnesses came from, but knows that it is a somewhat widely held belief in Filipino culture, and popularly satirized by Filipino-American comedians like Jo Koy.
Within the informant’s family, the use of Vicks VapoRub is both a cultural inside joke while also acting as a type of folk medicine. While there is no scientific evidence suggesting that Vicks has physical benefits to ailments, the widely held belief that it is soothing during the healing process is passed down between Filipino family members. The reliance on the mentholated ointment may stem from a cultural stigma surrounding healthcare and accessibility to healthcare within Filipino communities. A sentiment shared by our elders was usually: “if you could fix it at home, there was little reason to seek help outside”. Though the sentiment remains, it’s relevance has faded with the newer generations, who look to Vicks not as a miracle drug but as a home remedy that soothes and is nostalgic, but does not necessary solve the problem.
The interlocutor (AG) is a roommate of the interviewer (INT). She grew up in the Bay Area with a rich Punjab heritage.
Description: (told over text)
(AG): “The evil eye for Punjabis is called nazar, and like other cultures it means someone is jealous of your successes. It has to do with people’s auras, so if you’re around people who are negative and jealous of you or your success you can get affected by nazar. it can basically impede your life and like the path to move forward like I said the other day.”
(INT): “Is there a way to get rid of it?”
(AG): “Yeah the way my dad’s mom would protect them from nazar would be to take 7 red chilis and then circle them around their head 7 times, then throw the chilis into fire.”
(INT): “Do the chilis do anything? Like what are they there for?”
(AG): “I think its something like how chilies can attract all that bad energy quickly and then they get thrown into fire to destroy it.”
(AG): “I mean, nazar is just like, a thing that’s always present in my life I guess? I’m not too worried about getting affected by nazar since I know how to cleanse it, but then again, I think I’m pretty aware of peoples auras and try to only hang around with people who give off good vibes :)”
I know that a lot of cultures share this belief in an “evil eye,” which is pretty heavily based in the belief that people’s negative energy can affect you badly in the same way that their positive energy can benefit you. I think this belief can also be applied to the need for explaining the unknown, such as why people must endure hardships, illness, and loss. Nazar is a possible explanation for these negative things, and by purifying oneself from the evil eye, they could purify themselves from everything that’s holding them back as well.