El Cucuy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Arizona
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/3/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and the other half is mestizo. Much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. She learned this story from her grandmother, who told it to her when she was a child.

Text:

JS: Tell me the story of El Quiqui (alternatively el cucuy)

MV: All right so el quiqui lives in tunnels in the mountains. And he’s a really creepy guy who takes away bad children and eats them. There’s this girl, her name is Rosa or some other Mexican shit it doesn’t really matter (laughs). And she’s such a good kid, always does her chores, is obedient and all that. Her sister, though, her name is… Margarita (laughs), she’s awful, just a bad kid all around. So one night el quiqui comes and takes her to the mountains. Rosa goes up and just as he is about to eat Margarita, she saves her, and also finds all these other kids in his tunnels and sets them free.

JS: What do you think the story means?

MV: Classic. Classic! “Do your chores or you’re gonna get eaten (laughs)”

Thoughts:

The practical utility of this legend, as the informant stated above, is obvious. It is a tool for persuading children to take care of household duties. Paradoxically, to give them a sense of responsibility, the story scares them into obedience. The informant’s response, “classic,” suggests that household duty and obedience are important parts of being a woman in a Mexican family. Interestingly, in this informant’s account, the two children were girls. This gendering of the objects of El Cucuy’s aggression suggests that young girls are more often trained at a young age to assist with chores around the house than young boys. The faithful Rosa is a model child, one with a sense of responsibility to her sister and to her family. She is a model of domesticity and virtue. Additionally, El Cucuy is masculine, suggesting that a girl who is not obedient will be taken away and consumed by a mysterious and dangerous man. The story can be used to scare children into doing their chores, but it also contains a gendered lesson of matronly duty and selflessness, that if one does not practice obedience, she will end up with an unfavorable man and meet her demise.

For a more comprehensive look at El Cucuy and other Mexican children’s folk legends, see Domino Renee Perez’s book There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture

Perez, Domino Renee. There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture. University of Texas Press, 2008.