Informant: I spent the first five years of my life in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Venezuela, and we were—you know, fortunate enough to have some of the locals provide my mom with household help. Our housekeeper, she sort of functioned as my babysitter, and in order to keep me in line, she’d tell me about “El Mono.” El Mono, in the stories she told me, was this monkey who lived on the rooftops of houses where children lived, and if you misbehaved as a child—so the legend went—El Mono would come into your house in the middle of the night and steal you away. Our housekeeper clearly never shared this with my mother, so she didn’t know about the stories until one night I woke up in screaming about “El Mono” after a horrible nightmare. So, after firing the housekeeper—my mother was distraught over how upset the story made me, so she shared the story with her sister, who then took it upon herself to draw these beautiful pictures for me of “El Mono” every week, which she would mail to me from the US along with letters in Spanish from El Mono to me, telling me what a good girl I was, how proud he was of me, and how much he loved and cared for me. So, needless to say, I never had nightmares about El Mono again. And to this day, I still have my aunt’s drawings and letters.
The informant (my mom) was born in Texas but spent most of her childhood travelling from country to country, specifically in South America and regions of southeast Asia, due to her father’s work as a banker. Her first language was Spanish, and today she is fluent in both Spanish and English.
El Mono’s purpose as a legend seems quite obvious, especially given the context the informant shared with me; parents and guardians can use tales about the monster to scare children into behaving. When I began researching El Mono to see if the creature was widespread in Latin America, I found a very legend that seems more common. “El Cuco,” derived from a Portuguese monster with a pumpkin for a head, is a “dark, shapeless monster” (Bastidas) who kidnaps and consumes children who aren’t obedient. I think it’s safe to say that El Mono is a variation of El Cuco.
Citation: Bastidas, Grace. “Scary Latino Myths: Read This or El Cuco Will Get You.”Latina 26 Oct. 2011: n. pag. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.