Trees of Separation

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles (from Glendora, California)
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin Chinese, Shanghainese

“So at our high school um, we had like, a couple like really big trees on campus. And so um, people would congregate around those trees. And um just like specific types of people would congregate around those trees. So we had a like a Mormon tree and a Mexican tree and a freshman tree and uh…what else did we have? Oh like the white people slash popular kids tree. And so once freshman get on campus they’ll hear through like hearsay, they’ll come to understand like you can’t go to those trees if you don’t belong in those groups.”

I was honestly very surprised to hear this piece of folklore from my informant, since I wasn’t aware this degree of separation currently exists in high schools. It’s akin to an initiation ritual in that people who are new and not ‘in the know’ don’t know they aren’t supposed to go to specific trees at first. It’s only when they become integrated in the school’s culture that they come to understand this through their fellow upperclassmen. The trees serve as a concrete marker of boundaries between different groups, which are usually a bit more subtle than they are in this example.