I: Whenever someone in my family was sick or feeling under the weather, the usual go-to before any over the counter or cough medicine was Vicks VapoRub. It wasn’t necessarily a solve-all, but it was known in my family to make things feel a lot better and it would help you breathe better if you were congested. Funny enough, if I was only feeling a little bit sick, putting some of it on my chest before sleeping would make me feel better the next morning.
The informant is 48, was born and raised in the United States, and whose parents were born and raised in the Philippines. The informant isn’t sure where the use of Vicks to “cure” illnesses came from, but knows that it is a somewhat widely held belief in Filipino culture, and popularly satirized by Filipino-American comedians like Jo Koy.
Within the informant’s family, the use of Vicks VapoRub is both a cultural inside joke while also acting as a type of folk medicine. While there is no scientific evidence suggesting that Vicks has physical benefits to ailments, the widely held belief that it is soothing during the healing process is passed down between Filipino family members. The reliance on the mentholated ointment may stem from a cultural stigma surrounding healthcare and accessibility to healthcare within Filipino communities. A sentiment shared by our elders was usually: “if you could fix it at home, there was little reason to seek help outside”. Though the sentiment remains, it’s relevance has faded with the newer generations, who look to Vicks not as a miracle drug but as a home remedy that soothes and is nostalgic, but does not necessary solve the problem.
RH is my roommate’s boyfriend here at USC. He was born in Atlanta but was raised most of his life in Brooklyn, New York. His parents are Dominican American and were born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland.
DO (interviewer): Being of Latino descent or more specifically Caribbean descent are there any medical treatments or remedies that your family has?
RH: I think the one I can think of the most is one that probably all Latino people have. It’s Vicks. You know. Vicks solves everything to these people.
DO: Interesting. Can you talk more about how it is used medicinally?
RH: Sure. For my family it was like an all over thing. You’d put some in your nose if you can’t breathe. My mom would also make us rub some on our feet and then put socks on. Then we’d sleep with the socks and those two things were like holy grail. “Te vas a sentir mejor.” “You’ll feel better is what she would say to me basically.
DO: And how do you feel about it? Do you think this was actually a remedy or do you think it was more of a myth?
RH: Mmm. I don’t know. I think that specifically the nose thing definitely worked. Like it would burn when you put some in your nose because it’s like cooling. But because of that I think the boogers would come out or I don’t know what would happen, but I would feel less stuffy nosed. But the sock thing I don’t know. I don’t really know the point of that one or what it did, so it could’ve been more BS than the nose thing. I think it’s just because my folks don’t like going to the doctors.
In the Latino community, Vicks Vaporub is often used to help recover when someone is sick with a cold or the flu. While it has no ties to a specific Latinx culture, this can be considered an essential part of Latinx folklore. If you ask numerous people of Latinx descent, you will find that this is a common medicinal folklore practice that many believe works. It is most popular with the older generations in our culture, as reflected in the informant’s hesitation to say that this entirely acts as a remedy for the flu or a common cold. There may not be any scientific evidence that Vicks Vaporrub actually helps in any capacity, but the Latinx community still uses it religiously when under the weather. In our culture, there is, unfortunately, sometimes a lack of trust in doctors or fear of miscommunication/misdiagnosis. The informant believes this medicinal folklore comes from the yearning to self-heal because of these fears and lack of trust.