Tag Archives: cucuy

El CuCuy

Informant: TH; Interviewer’s Sister

“So our parents, uncles, aunts- the elders in our family I should say- they would often tell the younger kids: ‘El Cucuy te va llevar si no te portas bien’. I thought it was really funny to like see these kids freak the fuck out over an imaginary character.”

Interviewer asks: “Can you, in your own words, explain who the Cucuy is?”

“Yeah so in a nutshell, he’s like the LatinAmerican version of the boogie man. Legend has it that he waits in the closet of naughty children. Or even, like, under their beds, and he waits for children to misbehave so he can take them.”

Interviewer asks: “Where does he take them?”

“How should I know? He scared the shit outa me.” *interviewee lets out a chuckle*

Transliteration: “The Cucuy you is take is no you behave good”

Translation: “The Cucuy will take you is you misbehave”

My Interpretation: This was just a way to scare kids into behaving and staying away from trouble. My family used to tell my sisters and I all the time, and we sometimes still do to the younger ones. It’s funny, but it’s also a way to scare kids into behaving. The most productive manner? No. But it did the trick!

El Cucuy

–Informant Info–
Nationality: United States of America
Age: 30
Occupation: Lead Associate of Operations, Chase Bank
Residence: Laguna Niguel, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (MR).

HS: So tell me about El Cucuy.

MR: El Cucuy was a lot like other legends that my friends and parents used to scare me when I was little. A lot like La Mano Peluda, my parents would say things like, “El Cucuy is going to come and get you!” When I was really little, probably 5 or 6, I would be scared to get clothes out of my closet at night because that’s where I was told El Cucuy was waiting to get me and eat me. I honestly don’t even know anything about El Cucuy, he was kind of just like a boogeyman type thing that I use now to scare kids into behaving.

MR: *Googles El Cucuy on her phone for the first time*

MR: Oh wow. This story is crazy weird. Hahahaha. Apparently, a father was cursed after forgetting that he left his kids locked in the closet while their barn burned down, so all his kids were killed. After years of looking for his kids in other families’ closets, he grew an appetite for them? That makes no sense but it’s nice to finally know where the story of El Cucuy came from after all these years.


My informant is my co-worker from my job. She is essentially my supervisor and she enjoys helping me to practice my Spanish and telling me a lot about her culture and heritage. She was raised in a Spanish-speaking household by two parents who both immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She comes from a devout Catholic family and has taught me a lot of traditions that I didn’t know pertain to Catholicism, seeing as to the fact that I myself was raised in a Catholic family. She also knows a lot of Mexican urban legends and ghost stories from her childhood.


This story was brought up while having a general discussion with my co-worker about her culture and traditions. We had just finished talking about La Mano Peluda and other legends such as El Chupacabra. She had told me about these traditions before but I asked her to go more in-depth for the sake of the collection project. We were sitting next to each other on the teller line at work and we would chat in-between customers. In a lot of the audio recordings, you can hear us having a conversation and then stopping abruptly because a customer walks in.


Something that I found interesting, and I don’t know if this applies on a broader scale, is that there was a significant difference in my coworker’s response to talking about El Cucuy as opposed to other legends. In the case of La Mano Peluda, she recited many childhood experiences where she was genuinely afraid of it, along with talking about her scare-filled experiences of searching for El Chupacabra. She was not as passionate or enthusiastic about El Cucuy, perhaps because the legend wasn’t as effective at scaring her as a child or because it wasn’t used by her parents as much. Regardless, El Cucuy is a typical urban legend. My coworker’s comment on how El Cucuy is similar to the boogeyman made me realize that, like many other legends, it is part of a global pattern of stories made up to scare children into behaving.

To see how El Cucuy links with these other boogeyman stories, read:

Hayes, Joe., and Honorio. Robledo. El Cucuy! : a Bogeyman Cuento . 1st ed., Cinco Puntos Press, 2001.

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.

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.