Tag Archives: life lesson

He who gets close to a good tree, gets good shade


A is an immigrant from Nayarit and has collected many proverbs throughout their life. They often use proverbs in conversations they have with younger generations. They have collected these proverbs through friends and family members.

The context of this piece was during a graduation party when A was celebrating their granddaughter’s graduation from college and told her a proverb to guide her in entering college.


A: “Bueno mija, te voy a decir algo que me dijo mi mamá cuando era joven y es lo que le dije a tu mamá y a tus tíos cuando eran jóvenes también…Al que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija”

Me: ¿Se supone que somos el árbol?

A: Tú no eres el árbol, pero sí eres la que lo busca. En esta vida, es tu responsabilidad encontrar un buen trozo de sombra de un buen árbol que te ayude en la vida. Tus padres no estarán aquí para siempre, así que tienes que aprender estas habilidades por ti mismo”

// Translation

A: “Well mija, I’m going to tell you something my mom told me when I was young and it’s what I told your mom and your uncles when they were young as well…’He who gets close to a good tree is sheltered by good shade’”

Me: “So are we supposed to be the tree?”

A: You are not the tree, but you are the one looking for it. In this life, it is your responsibility to find a good piece of shade from a good tree to help you in life. Your parents won’t be here forever, so you have to learn these skills on your own.


Proverbs are often used within the Mexican cultures and are typically called “dichos.” Dichos are meant to be sayings that are filled with advice and are meant to teach a person a lesson. This Mexican proverb is about the specific people in a person’s life. The tree in this proverb is meant to symbolize the people that one chooses to surround themselves with.  The shade is meant to symbolize the relationship one has with others, this could be friends or family members. A sturdy, reliable tree will always give good shade, but fickle tress will never guarantee shade to someone. If a person surrounds themselves with trustworthy people that they can rely on and if the form a good relationship with them then they well progress in life. The proverb dictates that if one surrounds themselves with bad influences and irresponsible people then their life will be negatively influenced as well. This proverb is meant to advise someone to keep a skilled, well-grounded person by them so that they themselves can benefit from the experience.

Water that you shall not drink, let it flow


A is a Mexican immigrant and has lived in the United States for roughly 30 years now. They are unable to visit their homeland frequently so they find ways to reconnect with their culture through television shows like Mexican soap operas. These are typically called novellas.

The context of this piece was when we were watching a novella and one of the protagonists was caught in an affair.


A: “Y por eso dicen que Agua que no has de beber, déjala correr”

Me: ¿Y qué quiere decir eso?

A: “Bueno, digamos que por muy tentador que sea algo como el agua, si sabes que no debes beberla, evítala con todas tus fuerzas. No seas un tonto como lo fue él al ser atrapado en una aventura.”


A: And that’s why they say, “Water that you shall not drink, let it flow.

Me: “And what is that supposed to mean?”

A: “Well, let’s just say that no matter how tempting something like water is, if you know you shouldn’t drink it, avoid it with all your might. Don’t be a fool like he was by getting caught in an affair.”


Within the Mexican culture, proverbs like these are commonly used on regular conversations are are called “dichos.” This particular dicho is about love.  Dichos like the one said by A are meant to guide lovers in their relationships in the hope of helping them have a prosperous relationship. This dicho serves as a warning for lovers that are guilty of surrendering to carnal pleasures or emotional relationships with others. The warning the proverb gives is to not give into the temptations one holds and to keep it as a reminder of what to avoid in life. This proverb is typically said so that a person doesn’t “dar alas” (give wings) to anyone. To give someone wings means to give someone hope that you’re interested in them when in reality you’re not. Giving someone “wings” depicts the perpetrator as untrustworthy and unreliable and stains their reputation in the community. Overall, the proverb suggests that a short-term relationship is not worth the trouble it would cause in the future. I found this this proverb really interesting because its purpose is to serve as both a warning and reminder for lovers. I enjoyed learning this one because I know it could apply to various situations and is easy to be memorized,

Mexican proverb

Main piece: 

“El que mal obra, mal le va” 


He that wrong does, wrong you goes

Full translation: 

He who does wrong, wrong he does 

Background: My informant was my dad. He was born in Mexico City but moved to LA at the age of 15. He brought this proverb up during a conversation we were having about a family friend’s mild car accident. When I asked him when he learned this proverb, he said he’s known it since he was 7 and that his dad told it to him when they were both working at a donut house in Mexico. 

Context: My dad was telling me about a close family friend who got into a car accident, a very small and almost insignificant hit. However, the victim here was requesting $25,000 in medical expenses 15 months after the accident. He was telling me that based on the description of the accident, such as speed and car damages, his friend couldn’t have seriously hurt the other person. My dad called him a fake and dishonest person and said this proverb to encourage me to always be honest and have word. 

Thoughts: This is a very wise proverb. I even consider it as advice because there are so many dishonest people nowadays who take advantage of circumstances and individuals. Sometimes it’s tempting to do wrong for one reason or another but I believe there is always a solution to problems and that a person’s word and credibility is most important. So this proverb teaches me that I should maintain good and life will eventually reward me and those who do wrong will do poorly in life.

Buddha Crossing the River


The informant is a student at USC studying Bio-Chem. In this account, he recalls religious stories that he heard.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).


C: Do you have any stories like from your childhood or from growing up? Anything you might want to share?

S: Yea… I’m Buddhist. Kinda forced into it I guess. Both of my parents are from Burma, I guess.

So when I was in elementary, my parents wanted me to hang out with my Burmese friends but I didn’t speak Burmese. There was a session with the monk but during break or down times, they would tell us stories and stuff.

It was told by a monk. So… I don’t remember the lesson but, most of the stories are about Buddha.

So there’s this one story I remember:

So one day, Buddha was hanging out with his apostles when this one guy said he knows a monk that surpassed him or something.

He was like, “Where? Bring me to him.”

When we went to the monk, we has all frail and sickly.

The monk told Buddha, “I can walk on water. This was done by strict meditation and following the teachings while starving.” This was obviously a lie.

The monk continued, “You’ve only started your path. I’ve gotten this far already.” He was basically challenging the Buddha.

The monk said, “I bet I can get across this river.”

Buddha: “Why would you do that?”

Monk: “It just proves I’m much stronger. Can you do the same thing?”

So Buddha accepted this bet and the monk proceeded to give a ferryman one penny and crossed the river with on a ferry.


S: This story isn’t verbatim, but I guess the lesson that I learned was this: Buddhism isn’t a superstitious religion. It’s very grounded. Each city it went and added their own superstitions to make it different and “holy.”

Buddhism is about self-actualization and helping others but it gets muddled in all the lighting candles, and like all the rituals and stuff.



It’s interesting to hear religious stories, mostly because of the lessons or explanations that they teach. In this case, the story explores the idea of what Buddhism is or isn’t. It also teaches a fundamental idea in folklore in that, each group makes variations or changes to something that they learn in order to adapt it as their own. This is the same case in religion as each group adds on their own superficial things which may distract or draw away from the core beliefs.

Turkish Maturity/Repetition Proverb


D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until Devran was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.


This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Um… Well, my brother, sister, and I were always misbehaving. When we would act out, my mother would not punish us with the traditional spanking… Instead, she would try to show us what we were doing wrong and ask us whether or not we would want to be doing this when we were old and gray. One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘İnsan yedisinde ne ise yetmişinde de odur’, which means that people who repeat bad actions at a young age, without realizing that they are bad, will continue them for the rest of their life.

Main piece:

Turkish: “İnsan yedisinde ne ise yetmişinde de odur”

English Translation: “What a man is at seven, he is at seventy”


I later asked him if he could relate this phrase to any other common phrases he knew. He could not think of any, but it got me thinking about why this phrase existed. It speaks of childish behavior in a negative light, and almost ties it directly to immaturity, which I understand for the most part, but feel it is a bit overextending. Not all childish behavior is bad, and I think that is why his parents would use this phrase sparingly, to not discourage the good behavior. I think that this phrase is important in their family dynamic and in Turkish culture because they seem to value self-improvement over discipline. Showing someone their actions are wrong seems more important than punishing them for it. I have heard the American phrase “remaining childish is a tremendous state of innocence,” and I think it follows their family values as well.