Background information: My mom is a second-generation Filipino-American, meaning she was born here in the US. Her parents immigrated from the Philippines when they were both relatively young, and my mom’s family grew up with a lot of relatives in San Francisco, CA.
Mom: At my lola’s house in the city, on Florentine Street, they always told me that sometimes there would be an old man sitting in this one specific arm chair in their living room.
Me: Who was the old man?
Mom: No one knows who the old man was…but the house was very, very old, maybe he lived there before my lola and our family. He wasn’t ever harmful but they would just see him sitting there all the time. She told me he must have just stayed in the house after he passed, because it was still his. But he was never scary or bad, or anything like that.
Me: Did you ever see the old man yourself?
Mom: I don’t remember ever seeing him. But maybe sometimes I would feel his, like, presence or something similar. But nothing was ever bad about it.
In Filipino culture, many people are very respectful of the supernatural, and of spirits of the past that they may be intruding on. While, of course, the idea of ghosts is often very scary and unnerving in Western culture, my mom’s family and many other Filipinos/Filipino-Americans have more of a neutral view of ghosts from the past co-existing in the same space as living people. This mentality is seen in the way my family still showed respect and gave the old man his own space, while accepting the fact that he would continue to stay in the house.
This was collected during a discussion section for this class on March 27, 2018 in which we were instructed to exchange folklore with each other. We could share whatever we wanted, so there was no prompting from me about this legend. This was told to me along with several other people in our discussion. WL is the informant, PH is myself.
WL: Okay so this is a family legend, the legend of my …. great-great-great grandpa. Maybe even further back in the family, I’m not sure exactly. I’ll just call him my grandpa. He was a barrel maker. My whole family left Russia at the turn of the 18th century, they were all Jewish, it was anti-Semitic Minsk, Russia. My dad told me this. So, my grandpa: barrel maker, strong, long beard. A Russian cossack comes up to my grandpa, throws an anti-Semitic slur at him, and pulls his beard. Grandpa replies, “Thanks for putting me in my place,” basically, puts his hand out to shake….but my grandpa is really strong–
At this point, I had to leave the discussion to make it to my next class, so the recounting was interrupted. We agreed she would finish telling me another time. On April 8, 2018 I showed the informant how much I had written down to jog her memory.
PH: It ends with your great grandpa extending his hand to shake
WL: Okay so my great great grandpa, whatever it is…his is around like the beginning of the 19th century…extends his hand to this Russian Cossack and is like, “Oh thanks for putting me in my place” etc etc and ends up BREAKING this dude’s hand because he was such a strong barrel maker…. My dad tells this story pretty much at any event where the entirety of his family is over.
Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.
A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”
While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.
A.G.: “In my apartment building, we used to live in one of the back apartment units.”
While the family still owns the apartment building, A.G. has since upgraded to a nearby house.
A.G.: “At the dinner table… my brother and sister used to talk about stuff that would happen to them because our house was super creepy.”
Here “our house” refers to the family’s apartment building.
A.G.: “The roofing in the house used to be really fucked up and you could see through the roof to the wooden beams. My sister and brother said that every night there were these two green dots up there looking down into the bunk bed. My sister said that one night it just wasn’t there anymore. They said it looked like eyes or something.”
By only sharing their unpleasant supernatural experiences attached to the old building after moving out, A.G.’s siblings expressed relief in the move to the family. As A.G.’s siblings’ description of the unidentified eyes don’t doesn’t mention them belonging to any particular entity, I inferred that the building itself was responsible. Further, A.G.’s description of the building suggests it was not an ideal environment to grow up. I interpret A.G.’s siblings’ scary story as expression of both happiness for having moved, and fear for the condition of the apartment building.
The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice.
Magic Abuela Blanca
“It is a wide spread belief through santeras (witch doctor) is that if you were to catch lice that it was most likely from a dead person. Having lice from a dead person meant that you would carry that dead person’s spirit with you or you were possessed by them leading so you would be shunned from your family and society. My great great great grandma Abuela Blanca was a saint in her community. She was an amazing woman who taught at an elementary school in the country side. For a few days in a row one student, a young girl, wasn’t showing up to school and Abuela Blanca was concerned. She went to the young girl’s house and asked the parents why she hadn’t been to class and they proceeded to tell her what happened. The young girl caught lice from a dead person and the family was in the process of pushing her out of the home so she would be shunned from society. Abuela Blanca cared for the girl and didn’t accept the situation. Being the saint she was Abuela Blanca took the girl home, cleaned her hair and got rid of all the lice and sent her home. From that point on Abuela Blanca was talked about in the community as being a miracle worker or being able to perform magic.”
When I thought about folklore before, I didn’t realize that folklore could be held within and amongst family members. The specific informant gave me folklore that isn’t necessarily known widely by lots of people but rather held in her family and it is significant to her and important to the family because it actually means something to them. It is a story that tells them about their ancestor and the way that she lived her life.
Abuela Blanca sounds like an incredible woman. The way that she saw other people and was caring in her community really is an expression of her character. The informant expressed to me that she was amazing and I could tell by the way she spoke about her. Having a figure like her to look up to and try to live like is probably beneficial in a family. If they all look up to the same person and base their life after the same person there are probably a lot of similarities within the family.
So my name is Bailey London, and I come from a family that has been multi-generational Angelenos. I’ve lived in LA for a long time, and my great-great-grandfather was born in Latvia and was in the trade industry, and he did a lot of business in the city of London. And they – his friends in Latvia had nicknamed him “The Londoner” because he was going back and forth so much, and he decided to move his family to the United States and they took a little stop in New York, and then made their way out to Los Angeles to start little Jewish businesses that were very typical. And he raised two sons in Los Angeles. Samuel, who’s my great-grandfather, and Milton, who’s my great-uncle. And Milton – Zevudnik – decided that he wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor in Los Angeles. And Milton Zevudnik applied for admission to the University of Southern California. And at the time there were quotas – how many Jewish students were accepted every year. And Milton Zevudnik was not accepted. To the USC. So he came home and he was really upset, and he thought, “Y’know, I’m really qualified. I know I’m more qualified than other people who got in to school.” And he decided that everyone had always called his father “The Londoner” and he was going to go to city hall and change his name to Milton London. So he went to city hall, changed his name to Milton London, and then he was a little bit concerned that the university would do some snooping into the rest of the family. And he convinced his brother to change his last name to Samuel London. And so everyone became the Londons instead of the Zevudniks. And Milton applied to med school at USC as Milton London and got in. And became a very successful doctor and was really instrumental in the formation of Cedar Sinai Medical Center and he had his academic success and growth at USC, which originally did not want him to come to school here based on the fact that he was Jewish. And I love that many people in my family have now gone to school and graduated from USC, myself included, and now I find my career at USC. and I’m very appreciative that my name is Bailey LONDON, and not Bailey Zevudnik, although I do keep this story very dear to my heart. I really connect to this story because I think it shows a lot about the community in Los Angeles and the community at USC, and the way a family that didn’t get into school here is now a part of the professional team.
Who told you this story?
It’s been passed down – for YEARS I heard about how, “Don’t go to USC. They didn’t let Uncle Milty in” and that my grandfather – so, the son of Sam is my grandfather – isn’t that a movie? – so he’s my grandfather – he went to UCLA. So even more reason that they didn’t want me to go to USC, but my grandmother on the other side went to USC. And when I got in it was a big deal – “YOU KNOW, THEY DIDN’T LET MILTY IN at first” and it was a big thing in our family. I always knew this story – and I actually told this story at my job interview because another thing about my name is people always assume I’m not Jewish. Because Bailey London does not sound very Jewish. Which I hate when people say. And they asked me in my interview – which I actually thought was inappropriate – and I told this story. And I made a joke that they owed me the job now. Because of what they did to my family. Clearly it worked.
I have heard many stories among Jewish families about how their name came to be the way it is – I’m accustomed to Ellis Island/arrival stories, since there’s one like it in my family. It is not uncommon for Jewish immigrants to have had their names changed to “sound less Jewish.”