M is a student at USC. She told me about a common proverb about doctors that is considered a joke in her family because her parents are doctors.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
This proverb traditionally means that eating apples or being healthy by eating nutritious food will help prevent unwanted doctor’s visits caused by poor health or illness. On the other hand, since my informant’s parents are doctors, she thinks this common proverb is more of a joke because it suggests that she can avoid her parents by eating apples. Avoiding parents is something all teenagers can relate to, and it appears that children of doctors do as well.
Context: My informant is a 29 year-old man who is of Cuban descent. He grew up in San Diego and still lives there. He described a joke that was told to him by his grandfather. Although he does not personally relate to the joke, he still finds it funny because his grandfather laughed so much when he said it.
Informant: “So the joke goes, ‘Why are there no swimming pools in Cuba?
Because everyone who knows how to swim has already left the island.’ My grandfather told me that joke when I was pretty little and I definitely did not get it at first. But as time went on and my grandparents told me their escape stories I began to understand more. During the Bay of Pigs, both my grandparents had to escape and it was a very traumatic and devastating experience for them. They did not know if they would ever see their family again, their house, if they would even make it out alive, where they were going to end up. All of these experiences added a level of grit to them, but over the years I guess they have been able to learn to joke about certain things surrounding their escape. Don’t get me wrong, they both get a little teary when they talk about being separated from their families, but they can also joke about certain aspects of it, ya know? Um… this is something that has taught me to not take everything so intensely and so personally, it is essential to… keep things light and find the funny part of every experience.”
As the informant and I shared the same grandparents, I resonated with the story a lot. The joke is alluding to how most Cubans found their way out of Cuba someway after the country started to become more corrupt and became very unsafe. The punchline points a finger at some Cubans who actually attempted to swim from the coast of Cuba to Key West or Miami.
It is refreshing to see how people, especially Cubans in my experience, can take something heavy and dark and find the light in it. Using jokes to do this is an effective strategy and as long as it is not offensive to anyone and thoughtful, is usually a great way to do so.
Informant Info: The informant is a 20-year-old female who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother is Caucasian, and her father is Hispanic. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and works for Walt Disney World.
Interviewer: Do you have any major holidays that you celebrate? How do you celebrate it?
Interviewee: My family has celebrated Christmas the same every year since my brother was born almost 25 years ago. We start Christmas Eve as you would any holiday by prepping “dinner” for around 3 o’clock. We all get in our Sunday best and eat Christmas Eve dinner as a family. After dinner, dessert, and a lot of laughs we sit in the living room reminiscing old Christmas memories. My personal favorite is the one my Grandaddy used to tell about how ecstatic I was to receive a hot wheels toy at a mere 3 years old. After story time we each open a few presents which are the same every year. We start with our matching Christmas jammies and we all change into them immediately. Then my grandma hands us each three boxes. One has pistachios (And uhh..I don’t know the origin of that one). One has a check. And the last has an ornament she found earlier in the year that reminds her of us. After we hang our ornaments on the tree we write our letter to Santa. Each sibling alternates writing it each year and since there’s 4 of us we get a pretty decent break! Last we set out milk and gingerbread cookies for Santa and hang up our stocking, including ones for our fur babies. Then we all go to sleep and wake up not so bright and early Christmas morning!
Within this one family, there are several interesting pieces of folklore, that I was unfortunately not able to fully get out of the informant. Her family seems to hold on to old traditions and memories, yet the origin is unclear. She says that her family has been doing this for at least 25 years. By the sounds of it, many of the traditions, such as the matching pajamas or the pistachios, fall into the genre of practical jokes. She claims that she loves everything about her Christmas and plans on doing the same thing for her kids, once she has a family of her own. In addition, this tradition seems to share similarities on a macro level, such as a large family dinner on Christmas Eve, writing letters to Santa (a common folk tradition), hanging ornaments, and leaving out milk and cookies.