Informant: My informant is my Mexican mother, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico. While she stayed with her mom for about 16 years before coming to the U.S, she grew up with many superstitions that derived either from her mom or from her grandmother.
Main Piece: “Esto lo escuche de mi mama en mi niñez. Ella siempre decía, que si sobraban tortillas era importante de intentar de no tirarlas a la basura porque si no uno se hacía más pobre y era mala suerte. Era muy importante que las agarres y las quiebres en pedazos más pequeños y dárselos a cualquier animal que encuentres en la calle como un perro. O si tenias puerquitos dárselos ellos”
Translation: “I heard this from my mom when I was a child. She always said that if there were leftover tortillas it was important to try not to throw them in the trash because if you didn’t you would become poorer and it would be bad luck. It was very important that you grab them and break them into smaller pieces and try to give them to any animal that you would find on the street like a dog. Or if you had little pigs, give it to them”
Context: My mom stated that she grew up hearing this superstition for as long as she could remember when she lived with her mom back in her town. She still performs it up to this day because it’s not that she believes that something bad will happen out of throwing out a tortilla, but because she states that this superstition has taught her to value even the simplest of foods. Growing up poor, she stated that sometimes the only thing her mom could provide for her was a tortilla with some salt or green pepper. Whenever there were one or two tortillas left and they had been overheated too many times and were too bland/hard to eat anymore her mom would break them into pieces and offer them as an offering to the animals. Again, throwing them away was a big NO NO because God would punish them.
Analysis: I agree with my mom’s analysis of this superstition. My mom grew up in very difficult circumstances and I am sure that she was not the only one in that town who had to go through this. I also don’t believe that merely throwing a tortilla into the trash will necessarily make you any poorer is true. However, I do see where my grandma and great-great grandma/others who believe in this superstition come from. The tortilla in Mexico is a very sacred item, a symbolic perspective, and a pride-inspiring symbol of the nation and its people. Therefore, if this sacred item is thrown away it symbolizes not being grateful for the food that was created by previous ancestors, and ultimately when thrown away it’s a sign of ungratefulness. Not only do I believe that this custom has to do with culture and heritage itself, but also with religion. Throwing away a tortilla might also be considered rude in the Catholic religion because it refers back to Jesus’s last meal where he broke bread for his disciples. I’m assuming that this custom has transcended throughout generation to do the same with the idea of not wasting food or sharing to those less fortunate.
“Panchatantra is a folktale comic book for kids created to teach morals and important life lessons. In one of the stories, there is a god/deity, who is disguised as a poor female street beggar. She goes to a rich family household and asks for food and money. They say no, so then she moves on to the village and goes to a poor couple’s house. The couple has like no food or anything but she asks for food and water. They give her one roti (which is like tortilla/bread) and water even though they had none for themselves. So then when the rich family and poor couple wake up, their lives are switched.
Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):
Informant said she got her Panchatantra from her aunt on her 4th birthday as a gift but it was very common and every kid owned it. Informant said that the story shows that no matter how much you have- a lot or a little- you should share with people. It teaches people to not be selfish and greedy.
Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):
It is read by kids as a comic book in India.
The Panchatantra is like Aesop’s fables. It is a good way to combine something fun and educational. It is not education in a literal or academic sense, but it is one way that India teaches kids how to be generous. It shows the values of the nation that cares about giving rather than receiving.
The informant (K) is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Alhambra, California, which is about half an hour away from Los Angeles. She told me the legend behind the Pyrenees Castle in Alhambra. It is currently owned by Phil Spector (a record producer), but he is serving a prison sentence for killing an actress in the entryway of the castle. K said that Spector’s wife is currently living there all by herself. She gave me the reported history of the building, as told to her by her grandfather. She tells the story to friends when other similarly creepy houses are brought up. Below is a paraphrased version of the story she told me.
“In Alhambra, there is a big old house called the Pyrenees Castles. It is built like a French Chateau in the early 1900’s and is absolutely huge. Legend has it that the house used to be the clubhouse for a country club for rich people. Apparently, George IV (I think) played polo there once. There was an Italian or Irish person that wanted to join the club but was turned away because his nationality was looked down upon. This upset the man, and years later he got rich. He then returned to the Pyrenees Castle and bought it outright. There was a golf course there too, so a lot of the streets around the castle are named after golfers.”
K is not sure if it is true, but it does seem like it could be true.
One of the reasons that this story is still passed around is because it is truly the American dream. The poor worked hard and came back to buy what was denied him earlier. Americans tend to like to believe that poor people can work hard and eventually become rich people, which is exemplified in this story. There also seems to be some resentment towards the rich who denied the at-the-time-poor immigrant that wanted to be a part of their club. It must have been embarrassing for them to reject the immigrant and then sell the house to him. Additionally, the story is probably kept alive because of how famous the house is due to Phil Spector having killed someone in the house. Having a king visit there also probably keeps the story afloat because it just adds to the glamour and reputation of the house itself.
Form of Folklore: Narrative (Marchen)
Informant Bio: The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when she and her family moved to the United States (Glendale, California), at the age of thirty six. Most of the folklore she has been exposed to is founded in Armenian culture. Her social surroundings in Armenia and her father are her primary sources of folklore.
Context: The interview was conducted in the dining room of the informant’s house.
Item: There once was a thief who wanted to repent for his sins and stop being a thief so he went to the nearest church to ask for God’s forgiveness. The priest at the church told him that he should simply try to be a good person. The thief asks, “How will I know if God has forgiven me?” The priest points to a tree in the yard of the church and says, “When the fruit from that apricot tree grows, God has forgiven you.” So the thief leaves and doesn’t steal from anyone even though he is really poor and is in need. He keeps coming to check if any fruit has grown on the tree, but every time he checks, there’s no fruit. Finally, he’s so desperate that he knocks on the door of a middle aged woman to ask for some help and shelter (so that he doesn’t steal again). The woman say, “Well, I live here alone with my three children and we don’t have much but you are welcome to stay.” Later, that night the children are begging there mother to give them food and she tells them that food is cooking on the stove and will be ready soon. The thief sees that the woman seems to be boiling some sort of soup. The children asked if the food is ready and the woman simply says, “Soon, soon”. The children are running around and playing with each other as they wait for the food to be ready. They play so hard that they get exhausted and fall asleep. The thief approaches the woman and tells her that she is a horrible woman for not feeding her children before they fell asleep. The woman, with tears on her face, says, “Sir, come see, I have no food. All I have is a stone boiling in this pot. I lie to my children that there will be food soon so that they may fall asleep with the prospect of being fed.” The thief is startled and deeply saddened by this news, so much so that he leaves in the middle of the night and steals food for the woman and her children. He leaves the food at their house and leaves. On his journey from the house, he passes by the apricot tree in the church yard and to his surprise sees that there is fruit on the apricot tree.
Informant Comments: The informant loves this story and told it to her children as her father had told it to her. She likes the fact that doing the right thing is not a matter of black and white. The story implies that the thief is forgiven for his sins when he actually steals. The informant does not believe that this actually happened but has seen acts similar to the thief’s in her personal experience. She believes if more people heard this story and understood it, then people would look out for one another and try to do the right thing more often.
Analysis: The idea of receiving God’s forgiveness and Christianity are apparent in this marchen but seem to lead the listener to the true moral of the story; this being that the intentions behind actions are of far greater importance than the actions themselves. When the thief would steal for himself, he was not forgiven; when he would do nothing at all, he was not forgiven; only when he stole in order to help others less fortunate was he finally forgiven. Regardless of how religious or non-religious one is, this story offers the listeners a comfort in knowing that when they do something that is not typically considered “right” bur for the “right” reasons, they are being moral, even if their direct actions are not so moral.