Tag Archives: folk wisdom

Haz el bien, sin mirar a quien.

-Spanish proverb

-direct English translation: “Do the right (thing) without looking at who”

-Miguel’s colloquial translation: “..which means do right, without prejudice”

Miguel is a friend I met as freshmen at USC; however, we both call the Bay Area home. He grew up in Richmond, CA and his mom is from Guanajuato, Mexico but moved to Oakland, CA when she was 11. Although Miguel grew up immersed in Bay Area Chican@ culture, he actually didn’t hear this saying that much growing up. 

It is more significant for his mother, who heard it from parents and elder relatives. Findings from brief research online, i.e. a book of 6000 Spanish proverbs that is named after this one and numerous downloadable wallpapers of the phrase, would suggest it’s quite a common proverb, although origins are difficult to establish. 

In addition to stressing the importance of doing the “right” or “good” thing, this proverb commands listeners to do so with and for anyone. Not only does it ask listeners to act without prejudice, it implicitly requests that we are “good” even if someone else is “bad.” Neither prejudice nor bitterness justify maltreatment of people. One’s own judgment doesn’t either; in this sense, the proverb evokes biblical teachings that “only God can judge,” that individuals are in charge of their own fate/salvation/repentance and the actions or inactions of others should not determine/compromise one’s own. 

Irish Proverb: “May you be in heaven 15 minutes before the devil knows you’re dead”

Text: “May you be in heaven 15 minutes before the devil knows you’re dead”

Background: M is an American of Irish ethnicity that, during her childhood, enjoyed the bountiful wisdom of her Irish grandmother. M was also raised in an Irish Catholic household.

Context:  M recalls this proverb being said by her grandmother when she would commit venial (small) sins. It means that you can commit these venial sins and enjoy your life to the fullest extent as long as you are cunning enough to slip past the devil on Judgement Day and make your way to heaven.

Analysis: Like many other Irish proverbs, this proverb takes on a more comedic perspective of the Catholic faith. Rather than taking Catholic doctrine seriously, it proposes an excuse for sinful behavior. Although based in and in reference to Catholic theology, the proverb advises sin if you are able to escape the ultimate punishment: hell. Such a perspective can be explained by a more modern and ethnic-approach to Catholicism. Since Irish Catholics have a long history of fighting for religious freedom against Protestant forces, present day Irish Catholics have implemented their religious history as part of their identity. Therefore, although many may no longer be truly devout in their faith, they still identify with Catholicism almost as an ethnicity of sorts.

出外靠朋友: “Going out, relying on friends”

Chūwài kào péngyǒu

Translation: “Going out, relying on friends”

Background: Y is a 21-year-old college student from Taiwan who is navigating her new life in Los Angeles, California. Having grown up in and gone to school in Taiwan, she is incredibly familiar with Taiwanese folklore and culture.

Context: This is a proverb that Y’s parents would always say to her to remind her of the importance of making friends and networking. It refers to when you are out of your parents protection and when you must rely on friends to give you a helpful hand. It emphasizes the importance and benefits of having close friends.

Analysis: This proverb highlights the importance of friendship and having a large safety net in Taiwanese culture. It highlights the transition from living with your parents to expanding your horizons in the real world amongst working adults. Contrasted with American culture, where young adults are expected to fend for themselves once leaving their parents’ protection, Taiwanese culture values building your network before the jump into adulthood. Once you step out of the familial nest, you are expected to be independent of your parents yet not entirely independent of your peers. Overall, it is a proverb highlighting the importance of community and fraternity among peers when transitioning from one stage of life to the next.

欲速則不達: “Want speed, then no achieving”

Yù sù zé bù dá

Translation: “Want speed, then no achieving”

Background: Y is a 21-year-old college student from Taiwan who is navigating her new life in Los Angeles, California. Having grown up in and gone to school in Taiwan, she is incredibly familiar with Taiwanese folklore and culture.

Context: Y recalls hearing this proverb from her parents, teachers, and coaches in Taiwan. She says it means if you try to accomplish something quickly, you can fail badly.

Analysis: This is a proverb that came from the Analects of Confucius. It means that working towards something at a fast and unreasonable pace will inevitably lead to failure. It suggests that taking your time and being wise with your decision-making will ultimately lead to success. The proverb demonstrates the central role and influence of Confucian philosophy in Taiwanese culture, as it serves to provide a focus on personal morality and wise attitudes toward life. The proverb also reflects the need for and importance of reaching some ultimate end goal. This proverb is similar to the proverbs: “Haste makes waste” and “Slow and steady wins the race”

A homemade cocklebur tea will cure a horse or cow of constipation

This informant spent his youth on a farm in Madison County, Nebraska.  His parents farmed many acres and they raised several kinds of livestock.  He first learned this folk remedy from one of his friends in high school.  He is not sure how it came up, but it’s never difficult for immature minds to reach constipation and other digestion problems as their source of conversation.  My informant has only heard of this remedy and doesn’t know anyone who has ever tried it.

The cocklebur is a plant with spines at its leaf bases.  As far as other properties, it is poisonous to livestock, and animals will avoid it while foraging.  Less picky animals, such as pigs, will commonly eat the plant, get sick, and die.

To make the tea, one just has to mash up cocklebur leaves, add water, and mix the combination.  The plant is sickening, so when it enters the animal’s system, the animal will do what it can to reject the poison. In the process of cleansing the animal’s body, all of the other stomach contents are emptied, curing the livestock’s constipation.  In fact, it gives the animal a case of diarrhea.

The consequences of using the tea may not seem beneficial at first, but without treatment, constipation could be fatal or cause serious health problems for the animals.  This folk remedy and others are commonly shared among farmers to prevent the death of livestock when a specific medicine cannot be procured.  Oftentimes, the wellbeing of a farmer is dependent on the health of his livestock, and this sort of information could really be helpful.