MO is my mother. She grew up in Chicago, Illinois in the 70s. She was born to two Puerto Rican parents who came to America in their teenage years. Her father is from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, and her mother is from Moca, Puerto Rico. They go visit Puerto Rico every summer and have done so for decades.
DO (Interviewer): I know you’ve told me lots of stories that Lelo and Lela would tell you growing up, do you have any that you think have stuck with you until now?
MO: El Cucuí. I was also so scared growing up that he was gonna get me. Even when I grew up more, I was always a little scared in the back of my mind but I would never admit that. As a teen, I was like get it together you’re too grown for this. As I got older I asked Lelo and he said Abuela would tell it to him and his brothers.
DO: El Cucuí is basically like the bogeyman in other cultures.
MO: Mhm. Basically it’s used to scare kids into behaving when they’re acting up. God knows we needed it as kids.
DO: Can you explain the story a bit? Like more background and context.
MO: He’s like this scary monster that’s supposed to live in the shadows and in the dark. But the story goes, he only eats children who are acting up. Your grandpa would say he was really ugly and had red eyes and claws. Lelo would say “¡Mirar! Si no paras El Cuco – that’s another name for it – te va a venir a buscar.” If you were bad, he’d come get you when you’re sleeping at night.
DO: Did this work on you?
MO: Of course it did. We lived in an old house so there were a bunch of corners and noises at night so I made sure I was on my best behavior. If one of your Tios acted up, I would think I’d wake up to find them gone the next morning. I would make fun of them and tell them the Cuco was hiding in their closet. Me and your Tias would run to their room the next morning and check.
I believe this myth of the Cucuí would count as children’s lore and Puerto Rican folklore. This story’s main audience is children and is used to ensure good behavior from them. As mentioned, not only do adults tell this story to children, but children tell it to each other. In Puerto Rican culture it’s also a story that is passed down from generation to generation. It was used on my grandfather as a child and even though he knew this wasn’t real as an adult, he continued the tradition and used it on my mother, aunts, and uncles to get them to behave. My mother would try and use it on my brothers and they in turn have used it on my nephew.