Tag Archives: El Cucuy

Mexican Legend of El Cucuy

Subject: The Legend of El Cucuy.

Collection:

“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.

El Cucuy

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description of a supernatural figure they learned about from their mom:

“El Cucuy was a monster that my mom told me was in my closet, and I had to close my door–my closet door–at night or else he would get me. And so, every single night- well I was- I would always leave my closet door open because I would forget and she’d be like, ‘el Cucuy is gonna come get you!’ She would like, slam the door shut and like, that was that. And um, I actually like- that was all that we talked about, about el Cucuy. Like that was the only interaction I had…it was very mysterious.”

Variants of a monster or ghost that hides in a child’s closet appear across various cultures and locations. Much of the folklore that children learn from their parents consists of vaguely threatening or scary legends that may or may not serve to teach children not to misbehave. For example, Rudy’s mother may have talked about el Cucuy partly to get Rudy to close the closet door and keep their bedroom neat.

A description of this figure, known alternatively as “el Coco,” can be found in the book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans by Rafaela G. Castro (Oxford University Press, 2001) on page 57.

“El Coco” and “La Mano”

Both my Grandparents say growing up they were told about the story of “El Coco” it was only when they came to the US was when they heard about El Cucuy from Mexican friends and El Cuco from Puerto Rican and El Salvadorian friends) The story is basically the same regardless of the source, El Coco lives under your bed, in your closet or in the darkest corner of you room — and he will come and get you if you misbehave. Or at least that’s what many Latino kids are told growing up, and in that way El Coco/Cucuy is the equivalent to the American bogeyman. This was confirm my by Mexican Aunt Anyssa and most of my Colombian relatives. There is a wonderful web site featuring the great bilingual storyteller Joe Hayes retelling legend of “El Cucuy” I highly recommend the web site: http://www.cincopuntos.com/products_detail.sstg?id=4
However, my Grandfather had a personal variation, called “La Mano” or “The Hand”. His own grandmother, Celestina, who was widowed and never spoke but lived with my Abuelo’s family, which consisted of his parents and six other siblings. She had been a healer and a seer. Story has it that she foresaw her husband’s death and started to buy mourning clothing one month before her husband died that she wore till she died. It was told that in her grief she had convinced the mortician to give her husband’s hand, which she allegedly kept under her bed in a box. My grandfather’s mom, Margarita, who after trying to get 7 kids to bed would often resort to the threat that if they did not go to sleep “La Mano” would come out from under Grandma’s Celestina’s bed and attack and choke them, so they should behave and be quiet so “La Mano” could not find them. The threat was very effective. One night My grandfather told me “he got up to get a drink of water he was trying very hard to be quiet when he heard a rattling sound coming from Grandma Celestina’s room, he stopped cold and felt cold sweat pour down his back as the rattling turned to scratching as if it was trying to scratch it way out. Suddenly the door pops open and no one is there but a small object was on the floor slowly moving toward him. He felt frozen to the ground and could not move or breath. He saw a couple of skeleton digits come into the moonlight and he was certain he was seeing “La Mano”. He ran back to his room, sandwiched himself in the middle of his two sleeping brothers, thinking if the hand came, it would get them first!  Even though my grandfather moved to another hemisphere and was living in Los Angeles, several decades after grandma Celestina had passed away, he came across a movie poster while waiting in line for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for a horror movie called The Hand (1981) where a comic book artist loses his hand in a car accident and his hand is never found, The hand begins to follow the artist and kills anyone who angers the artist. Apparently, Grandfather almost fainted when he saw the poster but literally ran out of the movie theater when the trailer for “The Hand” began. He spent 20 minutes pretending to go to the restroom and buying everything the concession stand had to offer. He refused to sit anywhere but the aisle in case he had to bolt. He reported having nightmares for two weeks after, not about Darth Vader but about “La Mano”. As he was telling me about the legend, he became very pale , he kept clearing this throat and his voice quivered throughout.

Analysis: Urban Legends of things that hide in the dark to scare children into compliance seems to be a common universal theme. However, if they made a movie out of a hand hiding in the dark that can come and kill you, then maybe there is some kind of motif about hands that I am not aware of but one that does cross cultural lines.

El Cucuy/Chupacabra

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K-“For me growing up the Chupacabra (goat sucker) and the cucuy (bogeyman) were the same. Thing I know for other cultures I’ve heard that they were different. I forgot how they were different but for me growing up they were the same thing. Basically our parents used to tell us ‘oh if you don’t go to sleep on time, or you don’t listen, or disrespect me the cucuy/chupacabra is going to get you. It was mostly if you didn’t go to sleep because it was told the chupacabra ate the children who stayed past their bedtime.”

What age were you when you heard this?

K-“I think they started telling me when I was about 5”

According to the story, where did they used to live?

K-“Anywhere. That’s why it was used by the parents, because they could come from anywhere. But mainly I heard that they can come from like a cave in the mountain but even if we lived nowhere near a mountain they would still come and get us”

Analysis- Normally in the Hispanic culture, the chupacabra and the cucuy would be different. Only the cucuy would be the one that would take the children if they did not behave or at random moments when it came out from under the bed. The chupacabra was not really a worry to children but instead to cattle. This version of the story, however, was adapted to scare children even more by creating this new monster than consists of two already scary creatures. The fact that the monster can still come and get the children, even if they do not live near anywhere near where the monster lived, shows that the story was specifically aimed at children.el cucuy

EL Cucuy

Legend

 

Nationality- Mexico

Primary Language- Spanish

Occupation- Construction Worker

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 3/17/16

El cucuy

There is an old legend that came from Mexico. My mother would always tell me to behave or else the cucuy would get me. Cucuy was a small, bat eared, furry, hairy creature with red eyes that would kidnap you if you misbehaved or did something you weren’t supposed to. My mother said I have to always go to sleep at night on time, never do anything bad to someone else, and most importantly, listen and never disrespect her. If I did, the cucuy would come and get me. I have heard stories from my friends that say that when it’s night and they are out playing when their parents are asleep, they can hear something screeching and red eyes near the bushes. Every time that would happen, someone would go missing the next day. My mother would tell me stories and to this day, if i go to Mexico, I am still scared.

This  piece of folklore from Francisco was about the Cucuy. He learned it from his mother who would tell him anytime she believed there was a motive to disbehave. There are hundreds of legends in Zacatecas but this one was very popular and widely used. Almost every child in Mexico knows it because they are all afraid of it. To Francisco, this legend means a lot to him because it represents where he came from and what he shall pass on to his kids.

Francisco made the story of the cucuy sound ominous. He told it in a way that made the constant disappearing of children answered by the cucuy. The story is typically told in a dark night before kids go to sleep or wander off at night.

El cucuy is another legend from Mexico that has long been known by the Mexican people and a lot of latin americans. It has traveled to the United States and spread at a tremendous rate. The boogeyman is the american version of el cucuy since they both have the same roles, scare kids into staying in their beds and not doing any evil deeds. El cucuy is actually often seen as a variant version of “el coco” that originated from Portugal that had a similar role but had a pumpkin head. Except now, countless Mexican parents use it to instill good behavior on their children despite how cruel it may sound. There have even been books in the United States about el cucuy, its impact on children, society, and culture is amazing. No one has given or copyrighted a face for el cucuy but millions of people seem to believe in it.

 

IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0357507/

-Boogeyman movie that can be seen as a similar iteration of el cucuy.