AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons. AS grew up in Texas after her family moved there from Peru.
AS: My family had a lot of traditions for New Years, I’ve heard a lot of people do this one though
AS: We fill like a like a suitcase of some sort and we run it around the block and that’s supposed to represent like good luck in traveling and like safe travels and all that stuff.
AS: So my mom makes me do it every year cuz you yeah gotta have that good luck
MW: Do you have any particular attachment to this?
AS: I mean I would still do it if I didn’t live in South Central LA and that’s dangerous
AS: I guess it’s it’s it’s kind of just like a superstitious thing to me
AS: Or it’s just like it’s a cute tradition that makes New Year’s feel different than what like normal people celebrate even it doesn’t have like a very deep impact I guess it also fills me with nostalgia for things you did as a kid so you feel like you should do it anyways.
The symbolism of running around the block mimics the cyclical nature of the calendar year and separates it from the idea of linear time. The suitcase is also filled, meaning that the carrier takes home with them when they travel and provides a direct connection to home and family life. Likewise, the fact that you run around the block and return to the starting point sort of carries the message that no matter where you go you can always return home, this centers the importance of home even in a tradition that’s all about travel. The desire for safety also reveals anxieties about leaving the home. Travel to new places is scary, a journey into the unknown thus the hope for good luck works in combination with the carrying of the known with you and the promise of a safe return to that known space.
Informant: I spent the first five years of my life in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Venezuela, and we were—you know, fortunate enough to have some of the locals provide my mom with household help. Our housekeeper, she sort of functioned as my babysitter, and in order to keep me in line, she’d tell me about “El Mono.” El Mono, in the stories she told me, was this monkey who lived on the rooftops of houses where children lived, and if you misbehaved as a child—so the legend went—El Mono would come into your house in the middle of the night and steal you away. Our housekeeper clearly never shared this with my mother, so she didn’t know about the stories until one night I woke up in screaming about “El Mono” after a horrible nightmare. So, after firing the housekeeper—my mother was distraught over how upset the story made me, so she shared the story with her sister, who then took it upon herself to draw these beautiful pictures for me of “El Mono” every week, which she would mail to me from the US along with letters in Spanish from El Mono to me, telling me what a good girl I was, how proud he was of me, and how much he loved and cared for me. So, needless to say, I never had nightmares about El Mono again. And to this day, I still have my aunt’s drawings and letters.
The informant (my mom) was born in Texas but spent most of her childhood travelling from country to country, specifically in South America and regions of southeast Asia, due to her father’s work as a banker. Her first language was Spanish, and today she is fluent in both Spanish and English.
El Mono’s purpose as a legend seems quite obvious, especially given the context the informant shared with me; parents and guardians can use tales about the monster to scare children into behaving. When I began researching El Mono to see if the creature was widespread in Latin America, I found a very legend that seems more common. “El Cuco,” derived from a Portuguese monster with a pumpkin for a head, is a “dark, shapeless monster” (Bastidas) who kidnaps and consumes children who aren’t obedient. I think it’s safe to say that El Mono is a variation of El Cuco.
Citation: Bastidas, Grace. “Scary Latino Myths: Read This or El Cuco Will Get You.”Latina 26 Oct. 2011: n. pag. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.