USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘El Cucuy’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The Legend of El cucuy

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G.’s family is originally from South America, namely Mexico and Honduras. His family immigrated to the US when his mother was a child and have strong ties to their heritage, tradition and culture back in their homeland. Many of the stories and traditions that A.G. knows have been passed down from generation to generation, and instill a cultural and familial understanding in the younger generations. The Legend of El cucuy is one such piece of folklore, that is told to young children to scare them into behaving appropriately and being obedient. The story itself has many parallels to ones like La Llorona, or other similar ghost stories that are based around children. A.G. initially heard this story from his uncle, who learned it from his mother, whom would tell him this legend at night when he was a young boy. I have transcribed his telling below:

Main Piece

“My uncle told me that his mother, my abuela, would tell him to behave or the cucuy would get him. Cucuy is like a small, bat eared, hair monster that has huge red eyes and it would kidnap you if you did something bad or misbehaved. He said this his mom would always tell him to go to sleep on time, to behave, never doing anything bad by anybody else and to listen and respect her, which was the most important. If he didn’t behave properly, the cucuy would come and take him into the night. Some of his friends would tell him that when they were up past their bedtime or sneaking something, they would hear screeching or suddenly see red eyes in the bushes. Whenever that happened, someone would be missing the next day. To this day he says he’s still scared of it, especially if he goes back to Mexico”

Thoughts

El cucuy from Mexico that has long been known by the Mexican people and a lot of latin americans. It has traveled to the United States and spread at a tremendous rate. The legend is reminiscent of La Llorona or the American boogeyman due to the similar roles that the stories play; to scare kids into staying in their beds and not misbehaving. When asked about whether this story was relevant when he was a child, A.G. noted that while he was aware of it, it wasn’t told to him in the same way that it was told to his uncle. For A.G. he learned it more as a reference to his culture, and less as a cautionary tale used to make children behave. He also noted that in his uncle’s telling of the story, he naturally began acting out the legend, and made it sound ominous as if he was reciting it to some unruly children and really trying to convince them of El cucuy’s existence. Apparently, there is still superstition and belief in this creature, much the same way that there is belief in Ll Llorona.

It was interesting to me to hear how similar this legend is to other and the role that these legends play specifically when related to children. In the folklore course with Tok Thompson, there has been discussions about the way that folklore is used to teach children about social and cultural norms, and how to behave. It seems that in this case, the myth of El cucuy’s purpose is directly related to scaring children into acting appropriately, in the same way that Cinderella informs them of gender norms. Belief in the legend also prompts real changes in behavior and of perception, for example when a child does act out of turn and “sees” El cucuy in the bush, someone goes missing. This then strengthens in the “validity” of the legend and further impacts the cultural behavior around it.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Tales /märchen

El Cucuy – “Boogeyman” Creature in Mexican Folklore

The Cucuy, I’m not really quite sure what it is, um, but, usually, uh, when like children are acting like- out of like the norm, like when they’re misbehaving uh parents will be like “oi, there comes the cucuy!” Like he’s gonna come eat you if you don’t stop being a bad person, um…and it’s sorta like similar to like the boogeyman like if you- if you put your child to sleep, and like they don’t go to sleep, you’ll be like the cuc- if you don’t close your eyes, the cucuy’s gonna come get you…so yeah.

 

Background:

Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friends with KF. This story followed two of KF’s previously about La Llorona and the devil appearing on people’s horses at night.

 

Analysis: This performance demonstrates the phenomenon of children being more inclined to follow instructions based on the threat of a supernatural creature or element rather than their own parents. Likewise, the parents utilize this tactic because the effect is so immediate. It is also interesting to note that the comparison to the boogeyman is drawn because I have only known the American version of that bedtime creature: bedtime and a fear of the dark seems to conjure similar fears and potential monsters across cultures.

general
Legends
Narrative

“El Cucuy” Mexican Legend

Main Piece: “El Cucuy is a myth that was basically a tall, furry, red-eyed creature, that had a large red ear which he would use to hear children that were misbehaving. He would live in the hills or the mountains in Mexico, and by using his larger ear he would listen for children that were misbehaving. He would then come down from his cave in the mountains, and would kidnap any kids that he heard misbehaving… he would take them back to his cave… and then he would eat them.”

 

Background: UV said that he lived in an area that was very mountainous, and so this story circulated around from his family and from people that he knew from school. There was always this fear of the unknown in the mountains, and UV said that because kids liked to play in the mountains, this story was another way to scare kids into not messing around in the dangerous area. Additionally, UV said that El Cucuy was often seen as a boogie man, and that essentially this was another way to remind kids to not only stay away from the mountains, but also to be good.

 

Context of Performance: UV told me this story at my apartment while we were discussing the classic stories and myths we were told as a kid. UV mentioned that many of the myths he was told as a kid had some kind of ghoulish element to them, or some cautionary aspect to it. There were also a couple other people in the room during the story, and one of them had also heard this story but he grew up in Arizona, so it was interesting to see that this crossed country lines.

 

Analysis: This story is very interesting to me for a number of reasons. Much like the story of La Llorona that UV told me earlier, this story also functions as a cautionary tale for children. It seeks to remind them that acting out of line or misbehaving, can have serious and drastic consequences. The other thing that sticks out to me is that it would appear that while similar in nature, they differ in their setting. So it would appear that regionally a story such as La Llorona may not work as well for people who live near the mountains or in dryer areas. But setting the ghoulish presence in the mysterious settings of the mountains would certainly draw more fear and believability out of the folk in the area. I find that this story is very much concerned with reinforcing the themes of obedience amongst children, and ensuring that they are fearful of disobeying their parents or other authority figures. And it also functions as a way to keep the children safe, as it discourages them from exploring the mountains where there could be any assortment of dangers rooted in them.

Legends
Narrative

Mexican Legend of El Cucuy

Subject: The Legend of El Cucuy.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So [La Llorona] wasn’t used to keep you from going outside after dark?

Interviewee: No, there was a different one for that… it was, uh- uh, El Cucuy. I don’t know what the hell El Cucuy is. Cu-cu-y. I don’t know how to spell it, but it’s- I still say it to kids. I say it to kids now, because I have, I live in a two-story, uh, uh, house back home… we have a two-story house. And whenever, when like my little cousins or whatever, when little kids are over at our house, they’re always like, ‘Can we go upstairs?’ or whatever. And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, there’s- El Cucuy’s up there” and they know exactly what it is and they’re like, ‘oh no, we changed our mind’ kind of thing. It’s very strange, I don’t know what it is… Yeah, I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know what it is. I never ima- I always imagined him like having a grim reaper kinda look. I was always scared of the grim reaper, gosh that’s such a white person thing.

Interviewer: So, do you have a story around El Cucuy?

Interviewee: Not really. It’s just kind of a thing. Everyone says, ‘El Cucuy’. Everyone.

Interviewer: So, on the internet it says, ‘… he is the Mexican boogeyman’.

Interviewee: That sounds about right… It takes kids. It takes kids.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: This account was given to me by my roommate in a conversation late at night. I asked her to recount it for my records a week later.

Analysis: My roommate employs the figure of the El Cucuy without having a full understanding of what the creature is or how it functions. However, by being raised around it, “everyone says, ‘el cucuy,’” she knows how to use the figure to scare children into listening or behaving. The piece of folklore is part of vernacular tradition so she never received a formal story or description of the monster. This allowed her to create her own imagery of what El Cucuy is and does based on her own anxieties surrounding the grim reaper, revealing her inclusion in both Mexican and American cultures.

My roommate’s experience with the legend is a unique example of how folklore develops multiplicity and variation. While her usage and account seem traditional, her image of El Cucuy makes it distinct, and is revealing of how she embodies her identity. In her account, she, under her breath, remarks that thinking of El Cucuy as the grim reaper is a “white” thing to do. By being exposed to the folklore and legends of both cultures, Mexican and American, she developed images for these legendary figures that are neither one nor the other, they are hers. Her unique image of El Cucuy would not be revealed when she uses the monster to frighten her cousins, and it is even likely that her cousins each have their own image of what scares them in mind. This seems to be an instance of implicit multiplicity and variation in which folklore takes on diverse meanings on a person to person basis. On the outside, the use and feeling evoked by the legend appear consistent, but the person’s internal understandings of the legend is unique.

For Further Reading: For readings and photographs of El Cucuy from the original folklore, visit http://www.scaryforkids.com/el-cucuy/. This will provide evidence of how this account differs from traditional descriptions (especially physical) of El Cucuy.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

El Cucuy

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description of a supernatural figure they learned about from their mom:

“El Cucuy was a monster that my mom told me was in my closet, and I had to close my door–my closet door–at night or else he would get me. And so, every single night- well I was- I would always leave my closet door open because I would forget and she’d be like, ‘el Cucuy is gonna come get you!’ She would like, slam the door shut and like, that was that. And um, I actually like- that was all that we talked about, about el Cucuy. Like that was the only interaction I had…it was very mysterious.”

Variants of a monster or ghost that hides in a child’s closet appear across various cultures and locations. Much of the folklore that children learn from their parents consists of vaguely threatening or scary legends that may or may not serve to teach children not to misbehave. For example, Rudy’s mother may have talked about el Cucuy partly to get Rudy to close the closet door and keep their bedroom neat.

A description of this figure, known alternatively as “el Coco,” can be found in the book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans by Rafaela G. Castro (Oxford University Press, 2001) on page 57.

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
Legends
Narrative

El Cucuy/Chupacabra

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K-“For me growing up the Chupacabra (goat sucker) and the cucuy (bogeyman) were the same. Thing I know for other cultures I’ve heard that they were different. I forgot how they were different but for me growing up they were the same thing. Basically our parents used to tell us ‘oh if you don’t go to sleep on time, or you don’t listen, or disrespect me the cucuy/chupacabra is going to get you. It was mostly if you didn’t go to sleep because it was told the chupacabra ate the children who stayed past their bedtime.”

What age were you when you heard this?

K-“I think they started telling me when I was about 5”

According to the story, where did they used to live?

K-“Anywhere. That’s why it was used by the parents, because they could come from anywhere. But mainly I heard that they can come from like a cave in the mountain but even if we lived nowhere near a mountain they would still come and get us”

Analysis- Normally in the Hispanic culture, the chupacabra and the cucuy would be different. Only the cucuy would be the one that would take the children if they did not behave or at random moments when it came out from under the bed. The chupacabra was not really a worry to children but instead to cattle. This version of the story, however, was adapted to scare children even more by creating this new monster than consists of two already scary creatures. The fact that the monster can still come and get the children, even if they do not live near anywhere near where the monster lived, shows that the story was specifically aimed at children.el cucuy

Folk Beliefs
Legends

EL Cucuy

Legend

 

Nationality- Mexico

Primary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Construction Worker

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 3/17/16

El cucuy

There is an old legend that came from Mexico. My mother would always tell me to behave or else the cucuy would get me. Cucuy was a small, bat eared, furry, hairy creature with red eyes that would kidnap you if you misbehaved or did something you weren’t supposed to. My mother said I have to always go to sleep at night on time, never do anything bad to someone else, and most importantly, listen and never disrespect her. If I did, the cucuy would come and get me. I have heard stories from my friends that say that when it’s night and they are out playing when their parents are asleep, they can hear something screeching and red eyes near the bushes. Every time that would happen, someone would go missing the next day. My mother would tell me stories and to this day, if i go to Mexico, I am still scared.

This  piece of folklore from Francisco was about the Cucuy. He learned it from his mother who would tell him anytime she believed there was a motive to disbehave. There are hundreds of legends in Zacatecas but this one was very popular and widely used. Almost every child in Mexico knows it because they are all afraid of it. To Francisco, this legend means a lot to him because it represents where he came from and what he shall pass on to his kids.

Francisco made the story of the cucuy sound ominous. He told it in a way that made the constant disappearing of children answered by the cucuy. The story is typically told in a dark night before kids go to sleep or wander off at night.

El cucuy is another legend from Mexico that has long been known by the Mexican people and a lot of latin americans. It has traveled to the United States and spread at a tremendous rate. The boogeyman is the american version of el cucuy since they both have the same roles, scare kids into staying in their beds and not doing any evil deeds. El cucuy is actually often seen as a variant version of “el coco” that originated from Portugal that had a similar role but had a pumpkin head. Except now, countless Mexican parents use it to instill good behavior on their children despite how cruel it may sound. There have even been books in the United States about el cucuy, its impact on children, society, and culture is amazing. No one has given or copyrighted a face for el cucuy but millions of people seem to believe in it.

 

IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0357507/

-Boogeyman movie that can be seen as a similar iteration of el cucuy.

 

Childhood
general
Legends
Magic
Tales /märchen

El Cucuy

El Cucuy

            “El Cucuy takes bad kids with him. Mami says that if I say bad words or if I scream at jenny or if I’m bad in school, el cucuy is gonna take me with him. So I have to be a good kid… my mom told me this story when I was hitting jenny but she only tells me, el cucuy needs to take jenny too.”

My informant is a 6 year old little boy who is in the second grade. He has a younger sister which whom he’s always getting in trouble with. He lives with his mom and dad who do not tolerate any disrespect coming from him.

While looking at this story from an analytic angle, I have found that this story of “el Cucuy” is used to put fear into little kids so that they stay lenient and listen to their parents. El Cucuy is a Spanish word for the devil, so little kids are told that if they don’t behave, the devil will come for them and take them away. In some instances, the mom has the number of this individual and can personally call this evil identity to take the child away if he is behaving badly. This works to some extent because at a young age, little kids are pretty afraid if their parents are telling them they should be afraid, however, as the child matures/grows up, this no longer is an issue so this form of punishment is not that effective in the long run. Ultimately, little kids are the ones affected by this identity and it is set in place as a form to maintain obedience but my informant telling me that his own mother told him this is kind of alarming to me because I feel like this little boy is being psychologically tortured in order for his mother to receive obedience from him. However, this is a common thing that has been used among others in before years so I guess others have turned okay so I figure this psychological torture is not that bad.

general

“El cucuy”

Okay…so my family isn’t really into traditions and that shit and what not, but growing up they always told the kids including myself about how “el cucuy” would come and take us if we misbehaved. It was a way of parenting I suppose and any who, I feel that’s a part of any Hispanic culture and not just something within my family. It shaped me because in a weird way it helped you consider the consequences of what could happen to you if you did something you weren’t supped to do and it also taught you obedience which I feel is important.

This is very similar to the Vietnamese story about the monster and in this way they want to make sure that they start inculcating this sense of respect on the children from they start understanding what rules are. So creating these scary being will make them want to be obedient and good in order to ensure that they are always safe and nothing bad ever happens to them or anyone in their family or such even as they grow up.

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