USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘el coco’
Legends
Narrative

“El Coco” and “La Mano”

Both my Grandparents say growing up they were told about the story of “El Coco” it was only when they came to the US was when they heard about El Cucuy from Mexican friends and El Cuco from Puerto Rican and El Salvadorian friends) The story is basically the same regardless of the source, El Coco lives under your bed, in your closet or in the darkest corner of you room — and he will come and get you if you misbehave. Or at least that’s what many Latino kids are told growing up, and in that way El Coco/Cucuy is the equivalent to the American bogeyman. This was confirm my by Mexican Aunt Anyssa and most of my Colombian relatives. There is a wonderful web site featuring the great bilingual storyteller Joe Hayes retelling legend of “El Cucuy” I highly recommend the web site: http://www.cincopuntos.com/products_detail.sstg?id=4
However, my Grandfather had a personal variation, called “La Mano” or “The Hand”. His own grandmother, Celestina, who was widowed and never spoke but lived with my Abuelo’s family, which consisted of his parents and six other siblings. She had been a healer and a seer. Story has it that she foresaw her husband’s death and started to buy mourning clothing one month before her husband died that she wore till she died. It was told that in her grief she had convinced the mortician to give her husband’s hand, which she allegedly kept under her bed in a box. My grandfather’s mom, Margarita, who after trying to get 7 kids to bed would often resort to the threat that if they did not go to sleep “La Mano” would come out from under Grandma’s Celestina’s bed and attack and choke them, so they should behave and be quiet so “La Mano” could not find them. The threat was very effective. One night My grandfather told me “he got up to get a drink of water he was trying very hard to be quiet when he heard a rattling sound coming from Grandma Celestina’s room, he stopped cold and felt cold sweat pour down his back as the rattling turned to scratching as if it was trying to scratch it way out. Suddenly the door pops open and no one is there but a small object was on the floor slowly moving toward him. He felt frozen to the ground and could not move or breath. He saw a couple of skeleton digits come into the moonlight and he was certain he was seeing “La Mano”. He ran back to his room, sandwiched himself in the middle of his two sleeping brothers, thinking if the hand came, it would get them first!  Even though my grandfather moved to another hemisphere and was living in Los Angeles, several decades after grandma Celestina had passed away, he came across a movie poster while waiting in line for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for a horror movie called The Hand (1981) where a comic book artist loses his hand in a car accident and his hand is never found, The hand begins to follow the artist and kills anyone who angers the artist. Apparently, Grandfather almost fainted when he saw the poster but literally ran out of the movie theater when the trailer for “The Hand” began. He spent 20 minutes pretending to go to the restroom and buying everything the concession stand had to offer. He refused to sit anywhere but the aisle in case he had to bolt. He reported having nightmares for two weeks after, not about Darth Vader but about “La Mano”. As he was telling me about the legend, he became very pale , he kept clearing this throat and his voice quivered throughout.

Analysis: Urban Legends of things that hide in the dark to scare children into compliance seems to be a common universal theme. However, if they made a movie out of a hand hiding in the dark that can come and kill you, then maybe there is some kind of motif about hands that I am not aware of but one that does cross cultural lines.

Folk Beliefs

El Coco

Information about the Informant

My informant is an undergraduate student majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. He is Hispanic and grew up in Napa, California. He told me this story when asked if he had any stories from his childhood that his mother had told him.

Transcript

“So, growing up, um, every time I didn’t behave the way I was supposed to, my mother used to tell me that if I wasn’t good, there was gonna be this guy, um, that’s gonna come and take me away, and I believe the name of that guy is, ‘El Coco.’ And I was obviously scared, so.”

Collector: “Did she say what he was going to do, or just he was gonna take you–”

“Uh, she’d never say what she was gonna do. But–uh, excuse me, what the guy was gonna do. But, um, there was always rumors that the guy would kidnap kids and eat them, or, like, make them slaves, or, you know, scary things like that so it was, it was pretty scary. Every time she would mention the guy, we would just stop whatever I was doing. Not to make my mother mad or anything, ’cause I didn’t want the guy to come and kidnap me.”

Analysis

This is yet another story from the collection of stories that mothers tell in order to get their children to behave. It’s interesting that of my four pieces of folklore collected from young Hispanic adults in this project, all of them have been such stories. With such a small sample size, obviously, nothing conclusive can be drawn, but it may be a topic of further interest for future researchers: whether or not certain cultures have more stories that they tell children in order to keep them from misbehaving. In this instance, the figure of El Coco is a pretty generic one and can be substituted for one of many other figures antagonistic towards children and still have his actions make sense: Baba Yaga, another witch, a bear, a wolf. It’s interesting though that my informant was vague on what exactly El Coco would do to children once he’d kidnapped them. This may be attributed to my informant’s having forgotten the tale, but it could also be that it didn’t matter for the purpose that the story was meant to accomplish. For children, the mere threat of a monstrous figure coming to take them away from their parents can be frightening enough to scare them into being obedient. Often, in children’s stories, the same theme of a sympathetic character being eaten reoccurs. I don’t know about other people, but for me, as a child, hearing or reading those stories, the implications of being eaten never truly sank in. Yes, I knew it was a bad thing to be eaten, but it was bad in the way that being made to sit in timeout was bad. The concept of the amount of pain and horror that going through the experience of being devoured is not one that came to the mind of this child naturally. This is also evidenced, I think, in the unrealistic portrayals of being eaten that often appear in tales, where characters are devoured whole, even when, realistically, they would be far too big to be swallowed whole by their eater, and more often than not, are rescued intact from the belly of their attacker. For children then, being told that if they misbehaved or angered their parents, that El Coco would come and abduct them, the effect is rather the same as if they had been told that whenever they did something bad, they would be punished the parent. The difference is that El Coco, being a distinctly inhuman figure, he is not subject to the same limitations as the parents are, and I believe the child knows this on some level. He knows implicitly that El Coco is a figure that only delivers punishment and that he is not bound by human restrictions. Specifically, El Coco does not have to be physically present and watching to know when a child has done something bad. Therefore, as explained more in depth in my entry about the mother who claimed she had an eye on the back of her head, the child behaves because he never knows when this entity may be watching. My informant’s mother could only be watching him when she was physically present and had her eyes on him, therefore, when her back was turned or out of the room, he could misbehave and rest easy that it was unlikely she would find out. But when he is told that an inhuman entity is also watching him, then he believes that he may be monitored at any point in time and, therefore, must always behave lest El Coco observe him without his knowledge and punish him.

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