USC Digital Folklore Archives / Legends

The Cuco (Puerto Rican Legend)

The following is an interview that took place between me and my co-worker, Danielle, during our night shift at the School of Cinematic Arts Operations desk:

Danielle: “The Cuco is a Puerto Rican legend that basically, when a child misbehaves, the Cuco lives somewhere in the house or… in the surrounding area, and it’s basically, ‘if you don’t do what I say, the Cuco’s gonna get you.’ And it’s… like,  shapeless, and it’s whatever the child imagines it to be– to maximize the fear, and for them to do whatever it is that you want them to do.”

Me: “So, why do you know or like this piece?”

Danielle: “I know it because–um– a few years ago my friend… said it to her younger cousin–um–she, like, brought her cousin to my house and the little girl wasn’t listening, and my friend was like, ‘You have to listen to me or the Cuco’s gonna get you!’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and my grandma from upstairs, like– heard it and, like, perked up and she was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and my friend was like, ‘The Cuco.” My grandma was like, ‘Don’t say that in my house!” And I said, ‘Well do you know what this is?’ and my grandma was like, ‘Yeah, like, it’s a monster that my–,” –her mother had frightened her with, and so she promised herself she would never tell her kids about it. And so the first time we had heard it was because my friend used it–um– and my grandma was kind of upset. Uh, but that’s also kind of why I like it is because… I found it funny (laughs) that my grandma was personally offended to hear the name under her roof.”

Me: “That’s really cool. And, did you say you were from Puerto Rico?”

Danielle: “I’m from New York, my grandma’s from Puerto Rico. But, my heritage is Puerto Rican.”

I found it really interesting how individually Danielle, her friend, and her grandmother each had different ways of looking at how the Cuco affects people. Danielle’s friend used it as a means to babysit her cousin, while her grandmother sought to abandon the legend in how she raised her children because of whatever negative effects it had on her childhood. On the other hand, Danielle saw the Cuco as amusing, and a fun way to get to know her family’s, and more specifically her grandmother’s, view of their heritage.


Virgin Mary Miracle on the Moon

The following is an interview between me and of friend of mine, Anthony, over at the Caruso Catholic Center. He was getting ready to help host an event, but said he had a few minutes to talk about some folklore that he remembered from his childhood.

Anthony: “I remember… there was a–um– I don’t know if this qualifies, but, I remember in the… I think it was the 80’s or early 90’s… there was this–um– what people were saying The Virgin Mary was doing a miracle on the moon– with the moon, and that it was kind of like glowing or something like that– when I was a kid, yeah this was a thing, it was on the news and stuff like that. You might be able to find something about that.”

Me: “Do you know, like, what the significance of that was? Um– who did you hear it from?”

Anthony: “Well, like, I remember, um– people were going outside, uh, I don’t know if it was… if we were at church or whatever, but, um, people were like.. I think that we were at church, and they… in the evening…”

Me: “It was a Catholic Church?”

Anthony: “Yeah. And people were going outside to try to see if they could see it. ‘Cuz there were reports that… The Virgin Mary was… doing a miracle (laughs).”

Me: “Did anybody you know ever claim to have seen her?”

Anthony: “Um… it’s– I feel like like some people in the group, you know, I felt like, if I squinted I was like, ‘I think I see it!’ but I don’t know if as a kid I was trying to see it I was like, ‘I think I see it,’ you know, I didn’t really know.”

Me: “Did it give you any kind of, like, good luck or anything… to see it?”

Anthony: “You know, sometimes when I see the moon I’ll do the same thing, like… (squints and points) what, was that just it again?! Or is it just, you know, or is it more my eyes doin’ somethin’ weird. Um– But, I don’t know, that was an instance when I remember something kinda out of the ordinary.”

I thought it was interesting to see this report going around Anthony’s neighborhood as one of those things that sort of creates competition amongst children’s friend groups; where, if you saw this certain thing, it almost means that you’re special, or somehow attuned to the supernatural. Regardless of whether or not some kind of miracle was happening on the moon, the real folk activity happening is this competition of who can actually see her. Additionally, since the moon is so far away, it provides enough ambiguity for these children to say whatever they want, and no one can really prove them otherwise, especially since the rumor was shared and made socially credible by every individual who had seen the news report.




La Carreta Nagua

The following is taken from an interview between me and my friend, Javier, who is from Nicaragua. We were sitting in the lobby of the Caruso Catholic Center. He decided to tell me about a certain piece of Nicaraguan legend. By the way he described it, I’m pretty sure this is a legend, though he referred to it as a tale.

Javier: “Um, this tale that I know of, it’s called ‘La Carreta Nagua’, which is, um– which translates to ‘The Carriage of Nagua’. Um, basically it’s like this, um… carriage that is, um… being pulled by two horses, but the two horses are just, like, their bones. So, they’re not, like, actual horses. And then, on top of it, um.. it’s, uh… the figure of Death carrying a… (gesturing chopping motion)… carrying… the axe?”

Me: “Scythe?”

Javier: “The scythe…?”

(We both laugh for a bit)

Javier: “Carrying it… yeah. And, basically, um, it just comes at night, and… it is– it is, like… it’s said that, um, it shows up… whenever someone is close, like, to death, or just to, like… um, bring people to– to death.”

Me: “So, where did you first hear this from?”

Javier: “Um, definitely just, like, tales from my mom and my dad that would just… they would tell me some legends or like, um… or, like, stories that are, like, yeah– that are from… home, Nicaragua. Yeah.”

Me: “And do you know if this was… just confined to Nicaragua, or if it spread out to other regions?”

Javier: “Uh, I’m not really sure. Um, I do think there is, like, very… specific from Nicaraguan, um… definitely, uh… yeah. Definitely something…yeah, I’ve never heard it from, like, other cultures or so. So yeah, just from home.”

I actually ended up hearing this same legend from multiple people after I had already collected it from Javier, so it reminded me of how prevalent the idea of death is in Hispanic cultures, especially with all there is done with the Day of the Dead ceremony.


La Tetona

The following is taken from an interview between me and my friend, Javier, who is from Nicaragua. We were sitting in the lobby of the Caruso Catholic Center. He decided to tell me about a certain piece of Nicaraguan legend.

Javier: “Um, this one that I know is called ‘La Tetona’, which basically means…(laughs)…a lady who has big boobs. Um, this one basically, um… is like– it’s just like a very old tale which just, um… just explains how, like, when the conquerors came to Nicaragua or something there was this… this was this, um, lady who was just, like, living by herself or something, and then, um… she would just, um, want to, like, get money from like the rich conquerors or so, and so she– she would be like very, um… very provocative with the rich, um, like, conquerors and stuff and then she… yeah she– she had like… big…boobs, uh, so, (laughs) she, uh, but that was the way how she would, like, um… like, uh, bring, like, uh– the conquerors attention and then she would…yeah, steal their money.”

Me: “Who first told you about this one?”

Javier: “Uh, yeah, this was not my parents, definitely. This was, uh, a friend from, like, school, like we were in Spanish class or something and then we were just discussing some tales and then he came up with this one.”

I thought it was really interesting how the idea of the femme fatale in this lady living by herself who uses her feminine wiles to her benefit made its way into this legend. It was also hilarious to see the struggle by which a Catholic man tells a story about a woman with large breasts.


“La toma tu teta”

The following is an interview between me and my friend, Edgar, while he was practicing piano over at the Caruso Catholic Center. He told me about a legend he knew from Nicaragua.

Edgar: “Okay, so it’s called ‘La toma tu teta’, and that’s literally– people in the country of Nicaragua believe that there is this woman walking around  who lost her child… in the river. a river nearby wherever the rumor started, right. So they believe in this woman whois just walking the streets and she is just yelling, ‘Toma tu teta! Toma tu teta!’ and crying and wailing and all that. And the reason why she is doing that is because if you translate ‘toma tu teta’ to English, it literally means, like, “Here is your breast.” So she is calling to the kid and saying ,like, right? ‘Come, I’m gonna feed you… so here is your breast’…breast, right? Like, here is, like, your boob (laughs). So, uh, I don’t know why people are scared of her. I don’t know if she’s actually like… ‘killed’ anyone, you know quote on quote, but, that’s like one of the myths that is in Nicaragua. There’s this one woman that walks around, like, saying this because she lost her child.”

Me: “Do you happen to remember, like, who or where you first heard this from?”

Edgar: “Um… in school.”

Me: “Like, elementary school?”

Edgar: “Yeah. Yeah, probably. It’s just that we have– we have, like, a whole, like, myths and legends that everyone from Nicaragua knows. And that– this would be one of them. And it’s actually pretty funny because, if you go to Nicaragua, and if you go to, like, the markets there, they sell these, like, mugs that are literally in the shape of a boob.”

Me: “Oh yeah! I’ve seen those.”

Edgar: “You’ve seen those, right? Yeah, so in Nicaragua they do it because of that… and also because we’re a little obscene… sometimes. (laughs) It’s bad, but they also refer to that myth.”

The thing about this I found the most interesting is the same thing Edgar was wondering about, of why exactly people are afraid of this legend. there is something very scary just about the idea of a woman losing her child, and what becomes of her psyche when that happens, but still, as Edgar said, it’s not like she’s known for killing anyone. So, perhaps it is just the disturbing tone of her backstory that scares people.


The Screaming Bridge (In Texas)

The following is from an interview between me and my friend, Nina, during her lunch break in the upstairs office of the Caruso Catholic Center. She shared with me a legend that she knew from Texas.

Nina: “Okay, so, when I was younger, everyone always told me about the screaming bridge, in Texas. Um, it’s in Decatur, I think, and basically… there was a group of high school students who were traveling for a sporting event– I think it was cheerleaders– um, and they were… I don’t know if they were going to or from the city, but basically they were on this bridge, it was stormy, and I guess they, like, saw something– the bus driver saw something in the middle of the road, and so it swerved off, and they fell off the bridge… and, like, everyone died. And now, if you go back there, some people say that they can, like, hear the cheerleaders, like, on the bridge, like, screaming as they were falling to their death.”

Me: “Oh geez. Have you ever been there?”

Nina: “Um, no I haven’t. But, I’ve heard about it. But, like, I probably wouldn’t go, just ‘cuz I get freaked out by that kind of stuff– but… yeah, it’s a true story.”

Me: “Are you from Texas, or…?”

Nina: “Yes. I’m from Texas. So it’s probably… like, that bridge is probably like an hour and a half from my house. But, like, I never ventured over there. But, see, I don’t think… because that kind of goes into– it’s like a very rural area, so it’s, like, not necessarily like a well-traveled… um… spot.”

Me: “And who did you, like, first hear that from?”

Nina: “I had heard it from my friends in high school. (laughs) Yeah, those were the stories we would tell when we were, like– when we were also in high school and, like, traveling to different things: the story of the screaming girl on the bridge.”

It must’ve felt very odd to consider yourself living in such close proximity to a haunted location growing up. This story reminded me of something my mom told me about a small bridge on which you could supposedly hear singing as you passed over it. Not quite as grim as the screaming bridge but definitely in the same vein.


“The Carreterro”

The following is from an interview between me and the Deacon, Paul Pesqueira, over at the Caruso Catholic Center. He was on his lunch break along with a few others. He told me about a legend which his dad used to tell him during his scandalous days.

Paul: “My dad used to tell us, when we started drinking at 17, 18, 19 years old– I know you’re not supposed to drink ’til you’re 21, but, you know, we’d drink earlier– that you had to be careful… because if you got drunk, that– and you passed out, that “The Careterro” would come and get you. And he would put you in the wheelbarrow and he’d take you away. So, you better be able to hold your liquor and not get drunk and pass out, because if you did, The Carreterro would come and put you in his wheelbarrow, and you didn’t know what would happen to you.”

Me: “Did you ever get– get caught?… By The– by The Carreterro?”

Paul: “I got drunk and I passed out but The Carreterro never got me.”

Me: “Oh, you got lucky!”

(We laughed)

Paul: “So that’s my story.”

It was interesting to think about whether such a tale actually had any impact on the kids whom it was told to, seeing as they were already in doubtful years at that point. Also, as a little bonus piece of folklore, Deacon Paul was pronouncing “wheelbarrow” like “wheelbarrel”. I know I used to do that all the time.


Davey Crockett – The Savior of Tennessee


Clarke is from Nashville, Tennessee and considers himself “one of the biggest fans of his hometown in the world.”

Original Script:

Clarke: “Davey Crockett was from eastern Tennessee, like in the mountains, and people say that he fought a bear when he was a kid. But anyway, during the Alamo, when Texas was fighting for their independence, Davey Crockett was the guy who rallied all the troops from Tennessee, which is why we’re called the volunteer state. Also, even though many people died, Crockett is said to be the spirit of Tennessee because he is someone who helped people in need.”


This story is a way to inspire Tennessee pride in its citizens.

My thoughts:

For some reason, I am almost jealous that Tennessee has an awesome fictional hero. California does not have such figure to look up to, which I think keeps us from having as much pride in our state as those in Tennessee. Hopefully, one day California will have someone to stir up its citizens to be proud that they live there.


The Death of Mr. T

Informant: So my brother told me several times when he was in high school and college that he heard Mr. T was dead.  He’s still alive, by the way, he tweets a lot.

But my brother told me that he fell in a pool and all his gold chains weighed him down and he drowned and he died.  Told me at least four different times and I think believed it at least twice.

Analysis: it is possible that in a small, economically depressed farming town in the Midwest, a cautionary tale of sorts about a big, different-looking, fool-pitying, very tough guy drowning in the weight of his outward expressions of wealth and toughness was very appealing.  By emphasizing what they were not (loud, rich, tough, not-white) it allowed them to valorize what they were (quiet, hardworking, soft-spoken), deepening their connection to their own identity.



Before There Was a National Speed Limit

Informant: So, this one I heard from an instructor at a summer enrichment class I took right when I was learning to drive–I think you hear this a lot when you’re learning to drive. But I learned later that this is a story that a lot of people tell.

This is a story about the nineteen seventies before there was a national speed limit, because you tell the story when there used to be a national speed limit. So at the time I heard this story, the speed limit was 55. So okay, so the story was told me when the speed limit was 55 and people used to talk about the time before the 55 speed limit like it was the old West. Because in the seventies, the speed limit in a lot of places was 75 even on two lane highwasy

The way I heard this, outside the small town where this person grew up, one semi was trying to pass another semi, so it was on a two lane highway in the passing lane at 80 miles an hour, and it timed the passing wrong and hit another semi head on. Two semis both going 80 miles an hour, which is like hitting a very thick brick wall at 160 mph. They hit sooooo haaaard that the metal of the two cabs fused together. If metal smacks together hard enough, you know, in this story, it does that. So they hosed out the remains of the two drivers as best they could.

Interviewer: Hosed them out?

Informant: Yeah.

And then they left the wreckage of the cabs by the side of the road.

Interviewer: That’s it?

Informant: No. A couple weeks later, the smell of these things got so bad that they decided they had to pull the trucks apart to clean them out better, so I think they used two cranes? But they might have been pulled apart by other trucks. So they pulled the two trucks a part and then, and then they found the station wagon with the mother and her children that had been squashed so flat that nobody realized there was a vehicle between the trucks the whole time.  You also hear this one about cell phones sometimes too, the two truck drivers are texting instead of trying to pass.


This cautionary tale might hint at the amount of time people spend driving, and anxieties about the potential dangers of it, and the necessity of laws to govern the roads we spend so much time on; it might also, as the informant suggests, be employed to put a little fear and respect into inexperienced drivers.