Subject: The Legend of El Cucuy.
“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.