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El Coco

Information about the Informant

My informant is an undergraduate student majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. He is Hispanic and grew up in Napa, California. He told me this story when asked if he had any stories from his childhood that his mother had told him.


“So, growing up, um, every time I didn’t behave the way I was supposed to, my mother used to tell me that if I wasn’t good, there was gonna be this guy, um, that’s gonna come and take me away, and I believe the name of that guy is, ‘El Coco.’ And I was obviously scared, so.”

Collector: “Did she say what he was going to do, or just he was gonna take you–”

“Uh, she’d never say what she was gonna do. But–uh, excuse me, what the guy was gonna do. But, um, there was always rumors that the guy would kidnap kids and eat them, or, like, make them slaves, or, you know, scary things like that so it was, it was pretty scary. Every time she would mention the guy, we would just stop whatever I was doing. Not to make my mother mad or anything, ’cause I didn’t want the guy to come and kidnap me.”


This is yet another story from the collection of stories that mothers tell in order to get their children to behave. It’s interesting that of my four pieces of folklore collected from young Hispanic adults in this project, all of them have been such stories. With such a small sample size, obviously, nothing conclusive can be drawn, but it may be a topic of further interest for future researchers: whether or not certain cultures have more stories that they tell children in order to keep them from misbehaving. In this instance, the figure of El Coco is a pretty generic one and can be substituted for one of many other figures antagonistic towards children and still have his actions make sense: Baba Yaga, another witch, a bear, a wolf. It’s interesting though that my informant was vague on what exactly El Coco would do to children once he’d kidnapped them. This may be attributed to my informant’s having forgotten the tale, but it could also be that it didn’t matter for the purpose that the story was meant to accomplish. For children, the mere threat of a monstrous figure coming to take them away from their parents can be frightening enough to scare them into being obedient. Often, in children’s stories, the same theme of a sympathetic character being eaten reoccurs. I don’t know about other people, but for me, as a child, hearing or reading those stories, the implications of being eaten never truly sank in. Yes, I knew it was a bad thing to be eaten, but it was bad in the way that being made to sit in timeout was bad. The concept of the amount of pain and horror that going through the experience of being devoured is not one that came to the mind of this child naturally. This is also evidenced, I think, in the unrealistic portrayals of being eaten that often appear in tales, where characters are devoured whole, even when, realistically, they would be far too big to be swallowed whole by their eater, and more often than not, are rescued intact from the belly of their attacker. For children then, being told that if they misbehaved or angered their parents, that El Coco would come and abduct them, the effect is rather the same as if they had been told that whenever they did something bad, they would be punished the parent. The difference is that El Coco, being a distinctly inhuman figure, he is not subject to the same limitations as the parents are, and I believe the child knows this on some level. He knows implicitly that El Coco is a figure that only delivers punishment and that he is not bound by human restrictions. Specifically, El Coco does not have to be physically present and watching to know when a child has done something bad. Therefore, as explained more in depth in my entry about the mother who claimed she had an eye on the back of her head, the child behaves because he never knows when this entity may be watching. My informant’s mother could only be watching him when she was physically present and had her eyes on him, therefore, when her back was turned or out of the room, he could misbehave and rest easy that it was unlikely she would find out. But when he is told that an inhuman entity is also watching him, then he believes that he may be monitored at any point in time and, therefore, must always behave lest El Coco observe him without his knowledge and punish him.