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 Cucuy takes bad kids with him. Mami says that if I say bad words or if I scream at jenny or if I’m bad in school, el cucuy is gonna take me with him. So I have to be a good kid… my mom told me this story when I was hitting jenny but she only tells me, el cucuy needs to take jenny too.”
My informant is a 6 year old little boy who is in the second grade. He has a younger sister which whom he’s always getting in trouble with. He lives with his mom and dad who do not tolerate any disrespect coming from him.
While looking at this story from an analytic angle, I have found that this story of “el Cucuy” is used to put fear into little kids so that they stay lenient and listen to their parents. El Cucuy is a Spanish word for the devil, so little kids are told that if they don’t behave, the devil will come for them and take them away. In some instances, the mom has the number of this individual and can personally call this evil identity to take the child away if he is behaving badly. This works to some extent because at a young age, little kids are pretty afraid if their parents are telling them they should be afraid, however, as the child matures/grows up, this no longer is an issue so this form of punishment is not that effective in the long run. Ultimately, little kids are the ones affected by this identity and it is set in place as a form to maintain obedience but my informant telling me that his own mother told him this is kind of alarming to me because I feel like this little boy is being psychologically tortured in order for his mother to receive obedience from him. However, this is a common thing that has been used among others in before years so I guess others have turned okay so I figure this psychological torture is not that bad.