Tag Archives: immigrant

“When you are an anvil, bear, a hammer, strike.”

My mother, who says this proverb has a lot of significance for her as an adult, learned it from her father, who was a strict man with a tough work ethic and a Latin scholar. My mom’s family immigrated to the United States from Dominica when she was a kid and they were able to do so, because her father had saved up enough money to be deemed self-sufficient by US immigration. The meaning of this proverb is about timing, preparation, patience, thinking strategically and taking the right opportunities. When you are the anvil, you have to take the blow, because that is the position you are in. Basically, sometimes you have to pay your dues early on in order to be in a position to reap the reward later. Moving through life smartly means not striving for instant gratification. You have to wait, plan, and work hard for opportunities that may come in the future. Essentially, you must put yourself in a position to strike, so you are able to take opportunities when they manifest for you.


1. This was official quoted by Edwin Markham.

Translations from other languages:

2. If thou art an anvil then suffer: if a hammer, then strike.  Romanian

3. If you are an anvil be patient; if you are a hammer strike hard.  German

4. It is better to be the hammer than the anvil.  French

Slovakian-American Wedding Dance

I asked my informant about her wedding that I attended, in particular a wedding dance that took place during the reception. My informant’s wedding party initiated the dance, which consisted of all the women gathering on the dance floor, surrounding the bride. Then the groom has to try and get to the bride through all of the women while they wave him away with the dinner napkins. Usually the dance is done to a polka song, which is also traditionally part of the Slovakian celebrations in the Pittsburgh area.

My informant told me that her husband and most of the wedding party was of Slovakian heritage, which is where the dance traditionally hails from. Not everyone at the wedding was Slovakian, but the wedding party easily got the majority of people to participate. I participated, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing at the time. The important thing was to have as many women on the dance floor surrounding the bride as possible. This made it harder for the groom to reach the bride and it also just added to the festivities.

The significance of this dance might be the women protecting the bride and her ‘innocence’ from the groom, and the fact that they form a circle around the bride that the groom has to ‘penetrate’ is related to sexual imagery usually involved in traditional wedding activities.

At the end of the dance the groom finally makes it to the center and takes his bride away from the circle.

The Legend of Joe Magarac

My father remembers learning about the legend of Joe Magarac in school. Although he doesn’t remember the exact grade he learned about Magarac, he remembers it was in elementary school, and he does remember learning it from one of his teachers as part of a lesson that included other tall tales like that of Paul Bunyan.

The story of Joe Magarac that my father remembers is that he was a hero to steelworkers in Pittsburgh, and a local legend. Legend has it that Magarac often performed near impossible tasks protecting other steel workers. My father remembers the particular story about Magarac’s death, which as I have learned is one version of the legend, there is another version where Magarac lives. The version that my father told describes how Magarac sacrificed himself by jumping into a Bessemer furnace in order to melt with the steel and make the steel, which was being used to make a new mill, stronger.

My father grew up when the steel mills were still a prominent force in Pittsburgh, and even worked in the mills himself in the 1970s. The area where my father grew up, Munhall, PA, is just outside the city and close to many steel mills, some historical landmarks in the neighboring town, Homestead, PA.


Annotation: Mention of Joe Magarac and his Pittsburgh Origins were mentioned in an article by Jennifer Gilley and Stephen Burnett in The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 111, No. 442. (Autumn, 1998), pp. 392-408.

Joke – California

Sick of being criticized, the police decided to try to pick out a few outstanding drivers and reward them for their good driving habits, as opposed to only punishing the bad drivers. After a month of careful observation, ten officers were sent to reward the designated good drivers.

One officer found his lucky driver, pulled him over, and explained the situation to the nervous driver. “You’ve just earned a reward of one hundred dollars for your excellent driving!” he said, “just out of curiosity, what are you going to do with the money?”

Delighted, the driver announced, “I’m going to go get a drivers’ license!”

Horrified, his wife said, “Please, officer, don’t believe him—he’s drunk!”

With a sigh of defeat, one of the passengers in the back exclaimed, “I knew we’d get caught in the stolen car!”

As the disgusted police officer began to whip out his pen, there could be heard an impatient knock from the back of the car.

“Ey, we cross the border yet?”

(this last line was performed with an exaggerated Spanish accent)

Mary learned this joke from a Hispanic friend in California. She believes that her friend also learned it in California. She says she performs this casually to her friends when they are exchanging jokes. When asked what she thought it means, she said she thinks “it’s basically a joke about illegal immigrants,” and that it’s funny because the people in the car keep unwittingly revealing their secrets that they were hoping to conceal.

Could there be a timelier joke? It is probably no accident that this joke is circulating whilst anti-immigrant sentiments are growing stronger. I agree with Mary that it is funny because of the way the driver and passengers talk themselves into trouble, but I think that the main feature of this joke is that it obscures the identity of these poor, witless folks until the very end. The punch line is a punch line in that it suddenly reveals that they are undocumented immigrants trying sneak in. Admittedly, I gave a hearty laugh when I heard this joke, and I still do not think that the joke is particularly mean-spirited—but after some analysis, I now believe that this joke unfortunately reinforces some negative stereotypes that circulate in California. We are painted a picture of this pack of people crammed into a car, including into the trunk, and they have broken law after law after law. Not only is the driver driving drunk and without a license, they have actually stolen the car. Up until the last line, the listener may or may not have suspected that they were Latin American immigrants, but when we hear the last line it is almost as though we slap our foreheads and go ‘Why of course! Who else would nonchalantly break all the laws and load an entire mob into a single car?’

It is hard to laugh too hard now; these are very damaging stereotypes for the Latin American community, and the joke seems to use humor to confirm them quietly in our minds while we are caught off guard amidst the laughter. And it almost strangely sounds like an argument for the rising anti-immigrant attitude in the US.