Tag Archives: Folk Belief

Color Green Protects Eyes

Background: The transcribed conversation between me and the informant shows folk belief on how to protect eyesight. 

Informant: My mom bought a cactus for me… she says it absorbs radiation from computers and cellphones…

Me: Does it really? I’ve heard of it before but I don’t think it actually works.

Informant: I’m not sure, but I fell like it’s just a misconception. Mom says it protects your eyesight…maybe because it’s green?

Me: Oh that kind of makes sense. I’ve heard a million times that green protects your eyes, not sure if it’s true. Where did you first hear that? 

Informant: I don’t know but I’d guess it’s because green is the color of nature and we’re supposed to look at nature more hahaha

Analysis: Cactus or other things can absorb radiation; color green protects eyes. These two are fairly common folk beliefs. They reflect that while we are surrounded by technologies, people can still be suspicious of the constant progress and existence of certain technologies. The association between color green and nature shows that nature is still regarded as healing, healthy, and in control.

High stomach means you’ll have a boy

Conversation between me and the informant explaining this belief which she called an old wives’ tale:

Informant: When you’re pregnant, and your stomach is high, you’re gonna have a boy. If it’s low, you’re gonna have a girl. That’s bs, not true at all.

Me: Where did you learn it?

Informant: I dont know…old ladies. People believe it, I guess.

Context and Background: The informant is my mom. She is a white baby boomer from the East Coast, who comes from a very traditional, conservative family. She is very independent and feminist. She brought this up when I asked her about any interesting folklore she knew.


I think people have a lot to say about babies and pregnancy reveals, but really there is a 50/50 percent chance that you get it right. I think it’s kind of like astrology, where you attribute any coincidences to having truth value, and anytime it doesn’t work out, you essentially consider it to be an exception to a rule. This seems like BS to me, and I don’t know why people would believe it, unless if they didn’t have ultrasounds.

Home remedy for hiccups by drinking a glass of water covered by a napkin

Main Piece:

Informant: Basically, you get a full cup of water, and you put a paper towel over the top of the cup. It has to be thick, so like a paper towel or a napkin. And then you have to drink through the paper towel, ten gulps without breathing. Like, big gulps too. 

Interviewer: Has it worked for you?

Informant: Mhmm, it has. It didn’t work last Friday though, but it usually works haha. 

Interviewer: Where did you learn it from? 

Informant: My mom, she always has us do it if we are hiccuping around her.

Interviewer: Do you know where your Mom learned it from?

Informant: I wanna say my grandma, my grandma has told me to do the same thing before so it was probably her. 


My informant is a good friend and housemate of mine from USC and is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with a minor in Health Care Studies from San Dimas, CA. She says that a lot of her mannerisms and sayings come from growing up in San Dimas which she describes as being a very small town outside of Los Angeles that feels more midwest than the West coast. She attended summer camps throughout most of her life, starting as a camper and becoming a counselor in high school. 


At a birthday celebration out house threw for my informant, she drank some alcoholic beverages and got the hiccups as a result. When I offered her my advice, she told me not to worry and that she had a trick to remedy the cure that was passed down in her family. She went upstairs to her kitchen with me, and I saw her drink the water from the cup. During our interview, I brought it up and she discussed it further with me. 


From experience with my family and interacting with friends from back home, hiccup remedies differ from family to family and cultures. Essentially, all hiccup cures aim to do the same thing by controlling the diaphragm to stop it from producing hiccups. Usually, these are different methods of breath control, and drinking a glass of water without stopping is a good way to control breathing. Doing more research, I found this method also listed in the following article listed as number 6.

The article explains this method as a combination of breath control and the fact that “you’ll have to ‘pull’ even harder with your diaphragm to suck up the water.”

Russell, Elaine, and Reader’s Digest Editors. “How to Get Rid of Hiccups: 18 Home Remedies \That Actually Work.” Reader’s Digest, www.readersdigest.ca/health/conditions/7-ways-get-rid-hiccups/.

Sana Sana the Silly Healing Saying

Background: Below is an account of this informant’s memory of a silly spanish saying that was meant to make you feel better. The informant is a mother in her 40s of Mexican Descent. She reflects on the how healing ritual below shaped both aspects of her childhood and parenting. Under the informant’s experience I have clarified the literal translation of this version of the saying according to google translate. 

The main piece: 

“Sana Sana Colita de rana, si no se Sana hoy, se aliviara mañana” 

It means like when you hurt yourself.” Sana Sana” means heal heal, so it’s like you know we would say ‘there there’ if you were rubbing a boo boo. “Sana Sana” is like heal heal.  Colita de rana means— literal translation — a frog’s…tail…butt? Ha! A frogs rump. It’s something about butts I think. “If you don’t get better today, you’ll get better tomorrow.”  So someone would hit their elbow or arm, so you’d be like come here and rub it saying “Sana Sana…” Only my mom did that to me and… it felt better. And it would make me giggle. So I think maybe that’s why too: The touch and then it like makes you laugh, to think of a frog’s butt. It’s something I did with my kids too, out of habit I think. Not because I was trying to pass it on— it just felt like the right thing to do in the moment.

Literal Translation (google): heals heals Frogtail, if he does not heal today he will heal tomorrow

Context: This conversation arose from a video call where we were comfortable chatting with the informant’s mother for some time  talking about her childhood. With the nostalgic memories in mind, I asked the informant to share what Sana Sana means, and what it meant in terms of her childhood. 

Analysis: This another saying I vaguely remember from my childhood. The interesting part of this particular experience is how transformative a silly saying has been in the informant’s life. Not in the sense that her life changed because of it, but in the sense that it changed with her life. The transition between Sana recipient and Sana healer, seemed almost nature to the informant. So natural, that she didn’t even seem to notice why she began performing it with her children, it just happened. This for me shows how some of these simple sayings/ beliefs can be so casually ingrained in our identity. 

Safety Pin Protection for Pregnant Woman During an Eclipse.

Background: Below is an account from my informant on an old hispanic belief/ myth on pregnancy. My informant is a Senior Citizen who was originally born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. Spanish is her first language, but she ultimately uses a combination of both Spanish and English to explain this belief. My informant was taught this superstition by her grandmother and always wore a giant safety pin near to her stomach during all five of her pregnancies. 

Main Piece:

When there’s an eclipse if you’re expecting if you’re pregnant you’re supposed to put a safety pin on your shirt on your blouse. You put it near to your tummy to protect the baby from the eclipse. I believe that’s why, I don’t know,  but I believe that’s why uh, uh  some people  that come with something deformed in the body because the people don’t believe in that. The people don’t believe to carry something all the time to carry something metal like near to the tummy. The metal protects from whatever power that comes from… the same way los rayos, uh the same way the metal works to send back the power of the eclipse from the sun and the moon. The moon is more dangerous because some people don’t notice. That’s why it’s good to carry all the time the safety pin to protect you. To protect the baby. 

Context: This conversation took place during the day over a FaceTime call. This was my first interview with this particular informant and I could tell that she was nervous about speaking ‘formally’ about her beliefs. As the conversation went on she became less shy, and even started speaking in more of a combination of Spanish and English in order to explain her point.

My thoughts: I had never heard of this superstition before. At first, I didn’t quite understand that a safety pin is reflective enough for eclipse rays to bounce off of, but then I realized that like most superstitions, people don’t actually believe in them for science. This conversation made it clear to me how much we as humans value information from role models we trust. My informant was given this advice by her Grandmother, and did not once question her. Of course, my informant also shared that this became a familial and community belief, so she was not the only one partaking. After questioning my own family, I learned that my mother did this while she was pregnant with me, and that reason alone is enough to make me tack a pin on when I’m pregnant with my children. Maybe, because it’ll connect me to my mom. Maybe, because it offers guidance during an uncertain time. 

Vaporub to Calm a Cold

The main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from an interview about the informant’s use of Vaporub to cure cold symptoms as a child. 

Informant:  You had a cold. And grandma would go get the Vaporub and then I’m pretty sure it went in three places it went into your chest it went directly beneath your nose, and then it went on both your feet. But for the one on your feet that one’s special. Not only was it Vaporub it was also salt and then you’d have to wear socks to sleep to keep it all in. Oh, wait. I forgot before you put the socks on grandma would rub your feet back and forth on the bottom creating friction? Or I guess I don’t know why. It makes your feet all hot for the sock.

Interviewer: Why the feet and why the socks?

Informant: I have no fricken clue!

Interviewer: Do you remember it working? 

Informant: Ahya— I’m pretty sure it was the placebo effect but it worked! 

Interviewer: Do you still use it now?

Informant: Not on the feet anymore, but ya on the chest, and below the nose ya. And I think we only did it below the nose because we actually like the smell of it. 

Background: My informant is a young adult who credits her knowledge of Vaporubs healing powers to her Mexican culture. Here she describes a ritual/ form of folk medicine that her grandmother helped her with when she was young and had a cold. Now that she’s older she skips the more ritualistic aspect of rubbing her feet with salt and Vaporub and simply chooses to add the product to her throat and nose area. My informant believes that this is mostly the placebo effect at work, but she doesn’t deny that the method is successful.  

Context: This piece was collected over a FaceTime call in the evening. The informant and I were having a casual conversation about our childhood and the things we did that felt unique to us as Mexican Americans in the west suburbs of Chicago. 

Thoughts: I am very familiar with this Vaporub practice as the informant and I share the same Grandmother. I, like the informant, still use Vaporub when I’m sick as I believe it does help with my colds. However, the informant did illuminate for me the fact that I have no idea why it works to ease cold symptoms. Or rather, the science of using Vaporub the way we do. This makes me believe that part of the reason the informant and I believed it so wholeheartedly as children, was that fact that it was coming from someone who we also believed would never steer us wrong. The idea of family is intertwined with this antidote which adds to the continuation of this method from not just me and the informant, but also from other Latino communities. 

Sending Someone the Evil Eye

EA: The ojo (eye) is that people do believe that there are other people that have the ability to. If they have something that belongs to that other person like a picture or something they can with bad things upon them. It is called “hiciste ojo”(“gave the eye”). For example, if someone wants some harm to come to someone else they will take a picture of that person to that individual and they will say I want them too whatever. There is the belief that there are people than have that ability to I guess curse them with bad things. You like a form of voodoo because it is kind of like you have an alter for them. You have a picture of them, you have their hair. You have some thing that belongs to them 

Interviewer: Where did you hear this?

EA: I heard this from my parents and like people, aunts. You know when a lot of bad things are happening to you it is common for people to say “ay, alguien me hiso ojo, necessito una limpia!”(“someone gave me the eye and I need a cleaning”). Then you go to someone that does the good and they take that curse away from you . 


EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me while my sister was also present.


It is surprising to me how much magic is involved in this considering how religious many of my family members are. Magic is normally frowned upon in the church as God is the only one that should be able to do things like see your future and change your destiny. However, getting the evil seems to be something that many people in Mexican culture are afraid of. The trope of the witch or “bruha” character that many are afraid of even portrayed through their entertainment, and I’m sure people talk about who they feel practices this dark form of magic. It is also similar to many other forms of contagious magic where you need something of the person in order to curse them, since our belongings and images are extensions of ourselves. 

Avocado Pit in your Guacamole

EA: Put the pit of one of the avocados form the guacamole into it after you are finished making you guacamole to keep it from browning. 


EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information was from when I was making guacamole for lunch and she was telling me what I could do to keep it fresh to eat it later.

Analysis: After I told her I wanted to collect that as folklore she told me it was not folklore because it was true. She said it very matter of fact as if it something that everyone does. Specifically, related to food and medicine the value is placed on whether or not it works. That folklore is something outdated that people believe, but does not actually work. This is obviously not the case given that many recipes and standard cooking practices originated as folklore. It also shows the negative connotation that arises when using the word folklore to describe people’s practices and how they might not like having their culture being referred to as folklore. 

Living by the Ocean Gives you Coronavirus

NA: So his first one was that if you live by the ocean you have the coronavirus automatically because people with corona when you go to the bathroom, when you poo, you pee, wash your hands, take a shower it just goes in the water with it and all that water just gets mixed in with the ocean. Then, it evaporates in the air and then it rains on land by the ocean. So, it is just everything is in the ocean. Um, so basically if you live by the water you have corona. 

CA: And where did he her that from?

NA: I don’t know, What’s App videos?


NA is a USC student who comes from a Sindhi Hindu family from India. She grew up in Southern California as an active Hindu going to temple and fasting on Mondays. The information was taken from a casual conversation over zoom with two other friends. We were talking about coronavirus and the conspiracy theories surrounding it when she spontaneous told this story about a conspiracy theory her dad told her about. 


It is significant NA was telling the story in a context to emphasis how ridiculous she felt this conspiracy belief was and kind of making fun of the fact that her father believed it. I think it represents the broader frustration many people have towards all the different conspiricies that are coming out of the chaos of coronavirus that seem completely ridiculous and impossible. 

On the other hand, for the people seeking out these conspiricies it seems to be a source of perceived control over the virus. Especially, since most of them are founded on scientific claims that sound intuitive and makes you feel like you understand more about the virus and how it spreads. If you know all the people and places that are more likely to get it then it makes you feel more secure in your position. In this example, since NA’s father does not live by the ocean it might make him feel that other people will get the virus instead of him and that the belief is based on “science.”

Black Cat; Halloween Mythical Legendary Creature/Tradition

Informant-  When I was little I firmly believed in the Halloween Black Cat creature. The Black Cat would visit the night after Halloween to collect my candy. I would know to gather all of my candy and place it at the foot of my bed. The cat would take all of the candy and replace it with a toy or money. 

Interviewer- Did you ever see the Black Cat?

Informant- No the Black Cat always visited in the late hours of the night. I would stay of late trying to catch the cat but never found him. 

Interviewer- Were you ever afraid of the Black Cat? Did you ever not give away your candy? 

Informant- No, the Black Cat was a friendly creature and always gave me the best gifts or a few 2 dollar bills. I remember my brother always tempted me to not give away my candy but in the end, we both were too excited about the possibility of a new gift. 

Interviewer- Do you remember any specific or recurring gifts?

Informant- When I was younger, I remember receiving toys like dolls or stuffed animals. One year I received a cool new toy called, Chatitude, a walk talky toy I could share with my friends. Later in my childhood, I started receiving money. 

Interviewer- When did the Black Cat stop visiting? Do you still believe in the Black Cat or thing you will carry on this tradition?

Informant- When I was around 12 years old I realized the Black Cat was actually a tradition that my parents carried out to make my Halloween healthier. Even though I no longer believe in the Black Cat, I still believe it is a great family tradition. 

Background: My informant recalled this folk belief from her childhood. The tradition was carried out by her parents every year. She no longer holds the childhood belief that the Black Cat is a real creature, but plans to carry out the tradition with her children. 

Context: This piece was collected when visiting a childhood friend. She grew up in Marin County in Northern California. She believed in the Black Cat for many years. I grew up with her and remember hearing about the new Halloween toy exchange every year. 

Thoughts: Kids are drawn to mythical creatures and tales. The Black Cat represents a legend, occurring real-life and possibly being true. These folk creatures bring the children into a new reality of imagination. Halloween is a very superstitious Holiday with much room for tales and folk beliefs. This belief gave the family a fun tradition to lift Halloween spirits and imagination.