Tag Archives: children’s monster

El Cucuí


MO is my mother. She grew up in Chicago, Illinois in the 70s. She was born to two Puerto Rican parents who came to America in their teenage years. Her father is from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, and her mother is from Moca, Puerto Rico. They go visit Puerto Rico every summer and have done so for decades. 


DO (Interviewer): I know you’ve told me lots of stories that Lelo and Lela would tell you growing up, do you have any that you think have stuck with you until now?

MO: El Cucuí. I was also so scared growing up that he was gonna get me. Even when I grew up more, I was always a little scared in the back of my mind but I would never admit that. As a teen, I was like get it together you’re too grown for this. As I got older I asked Lelo and he said Abuela would tell it to him and his brothers.

DO: El Cucuí is basically like the bogeyman in other cultures. 

MO: Mhm. Basically it’s used to scare kids into behaving when they’re acting up. God knows we needed it as kids. 

DO: Can you explain the story a bit? Like more background and context.

MO: He’s like this scary monster that’s supposed to live in the shadows and in the dark. But the story goes, he only eats children who are acting up. Your grandpa would say he was really ugly and had red eyes and claws. Lelo would say “¡Mirar! Si no paras El Cuco – that’s another name for it – te va a venir a buscar.” If you were bad, he’d come get you when you’re sleeping at night. 

DO: Did this work on you?

MO: Of course it did. We lived in an old house so there were a bunch of corners and noises at night so I made sure I was on my best behavior. If one of your Tios acted up, I would think I’d wake up to find them gone the next morning. I would make fun of them and tell them the Cuco was hiding in their closet. Me and your Tias would run to their room the next morning and check. 


I believe this myth of the Cucuí would count as children’s lore and Puerto Rican folklore. This story’s main audience is children and is used to ensure good behavior from them. As mentioned, not only do adults tell this story to children, but children tell it to each other. In Puerto Rican culture it’s also a story that is passed down from generation to generation. It was used on my grandfather as a child and even though he knew this wasn’t real as an adult, he continued the tradition and used it on my mother, aunts, and uncles to get them to behave. My mother would try and use it on my brothers and they in turn have used it on my nephew.

The Nian Monster


“I know this is for sure Chinese. The idea of a Nian monster. I think this was actually the Chinese New Year tradition and where it came from. So once upon a time *laughs* there was this tale that there was a monster called Nian and every time around the current time of Chinese New Year. The Lunar/Chinese New Year is when the monster comes around and then they will either eat people or do a lot of robbery, a lot of killing, a lot of bad things. And then essentially what people end up doing is that someone found out, I don’t remember exactly how, but someone found out that if you played a very loud noise the monster would retreat. They also found out Nian is afraid of the color red. So this is how the Chinese New Year tradition of playing the bianpao which is the firecracker kind of thing, the thing that gives off a very loud sound, that’s how that tradition developed. And that’s also how the very much appreciated tradition of red packet *laughs* developed because I think Nian was particularly fond of children like kidnapping/killing children so the tradition became of like adults, adults would give children a red packet during Chinese New Year so that Nian wouldn’t come near them. They would also light up bianpao so it makes a lot of noise. I’m not sure how this tradition turned into putting money into a red packet but, I benefited *laughs* from this before which is why I remember vividly guess.”


The informant was born and grew up in China before moving to the United States to attend High School. The informant was told of the Nian monster when she was 4 or 5 years old by her grandmother. The story of the Nian monster is so popular that she also read about it in books and discussed the story with family and community members. The informant does not literally believe in the Nian monster, however, she is fond of the story and the traditions that accompany it.


The Nian monster and its incorporation into Chinese New Year traditions is perhaps a representation of the fear of the end of a cycle. Death can often follow the end of a cycle and begin the beginning of a new cycle. One’s awareness of the connection between the end of one thing and the beginning of another is heightened during the New Year. Nian could be seen as representing the possibility of death and thus attacks on the New Year.  Furthermore, the story of the Nian monster incorporates children within cultural New Years traditions and shows them that their family and community care about their safety. Children may end up feeling safer year-round if they are shown how much their community cares for them by having the color red everywhere, making noise, and giving them red packets for protection.

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.



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.