7 May 2019
He Hides in the Vents
We heard it nearly every night we did not want to sleep when we were young. “Ay viene El Cucuy a llevarte si no te vas a dormir”. Sure enough, we immediately ran to our beds and laid our heads down for the night in fear of the “Cucuy” coming for us at night to take us away. If we didn’t behave, our parents would guide the Cucuy our way by letting us know it was coming. Even now, my two-year-old sister is learning to fear El Cucuy, and for her, it hides in the vents at my home. It is a fear for nearly every Hispanic child that does not want to sleep or that misbehaves. To explain the phenomenon of El Cucuy and why it still remains as a fearful character in modern society, Dr. Jeffrey Cohen’s research on monsters and how they affect culture through seven theses can be applied to El Cucuy and its origins.
El Cucuy serves as an outlet for parents. It helps them control their children and their actions. To prevent a child from wandering off a mother would say, “Come back or El Cucuy is gonna get you and eat you”. While there is still a boogeyman out there, culture will continue to push for its relevance and its impact in society, which is exactly what Cohen’s monster theory tries to explain. He points out seven different theories to portray his reasoning as to how and why monsters are relevant in society. The idea of using fear through a monster is not uncommon, and El Cucuy is used to make children fear this invisible yet very real entity, but just how does society interpret this being?
As of today, El Cucuy has no actual form of a being which brings in the first of Cohen’s theses, “The monster’s body is pure culture”. In this sense, the visual of El Cucuy depends solely on the culture it is being interpreted in. It is said that El Cucuy originated through text in Portugal and Spain under the name of “Coco” in the 13th century (Bitto). There are also legends during the 20th century of a man who went to a curandera, or healer, because he had issues with tuberculosis. The curandera told the man that he has to drink the blood of children in order to heal and so he did. He became known as the man who scours the streets for misbehaving children to eat them (Taveras). This has caused children to imagine El Cucuy different in modern times compared to the original telling of this monster. It became a pretty vital story because in the early 20th century, tuberculosis was still a very deadly disease, killing one in seven people, until they introduced a cure in the 1920’s to combat TB (“NIH Fact Sheets – Tuberculosis”). Because of the more modern tale of El Cucuy, in certain countries in Latin America, they may view El Cucuy as an old man with a cloak that hunts children at night while in others, they interpret it as a hairy monster. In Brazil, it takes on a female version of a humanoid crocodile. This is because in early Portuguese story telling, El Cucuy, or “Coca” as they referred it to, was originally an aquatic beast that roamed the coastal areas of Spain and Portugal. El Cucuy is nothing short of a common childhood fear for many. There is no exact representation of El Cucuy, however, this monster continues to live through the things it does instead.
While cultures interpret El Cucuy in different forms, they all have the same idea in which it lives upon. It causes fear among children, especially those who are misbehaving. They fear this monster will come in the night from their closet, under their bed, even in the corner of the room to come and take them and eat them. In the story El Cucuy! written by Joe Hayes in 2001, it explains how the monster takes two little girls and keeps them hostage in a cave. This is similar to the recent horror movie that was released in 2018 called “Cucuy: The Boogeyman” which tells the story of a town whose misbehaving children went missing because of El Cucuy. They were taken into a cave and after some time has passed, they were eaten alive. The time frame between the two shows how time can narrate and change the story a bit but still keep its identity of the monster. Cohen’s thesis number five explains how a monster “is in its way a double narrative, two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves.” In the case of El Cucuy, it is used to control the younger population when they are misbehaving. It helps promote fear among children to prevent them from being disobedient and it has become effective because the name itself promotes fear. It is passed on from generation to generation and continues to take effect in modern society, for instance the movie “Cucuy: The Boogeyman”. Because it is such a recent movie, it proves just how effective El Cucuy has been throughout the years and how it has been promoted from folktales to modern films and stories. It keeps children from falling off the orderly system of society by threatening them with this entity, but there is something a little deeper going on as well.
In some regions in Mexico and Latin America, kidnappers are a serious issue. But children sometimes won’t understand that there are people out there who take other people for human trafficking and sell them off to other people (Ramos). However, they do understand that there are monsters living among them. El Cucuy plays a huge role in keeping children close to family to prevent kidnappings from happening so easily. In the third thesis, Cohen states, “The monster notoriously appears at times of crisis as a kind of third term that problematizes the clash of extremes”. Essentially it seems that a monster comes around during times of serious issues, such as kidnapping and human trafficking, and in the case of El Cucuy, it helps keep children in line. It prevents them from being the next victim of kidnapping by threatening them to stay close to their mothers or to get home early for bedtime before El Cucuy gets them. In fact, “Human rights groups claim that up to two-thirds of all kidnappings in Mexico go unreported, and they accuse corrupt police officials of aiding criminals in the abductions” (Ainsworth-Vincze). In Mexico, kidnappings are becoming such a huge issue that the government has been trying to get involved in it, however, there are so many that go unnoticed that there is no exact number of just how many people get kidnapped. The lack of a number also upsets people, leading them to believe that there could be a more sinister plot that the government of Mexico is hiding from the public. In the end, El Cucuy could might as well be the government itself to many parents, but they try to help their children by using the monster as a means of controlling and keeping their children safe and secure.
While El Cucuy is viewed as a horrible monster used to cause fear within children for them to behave, especially in the Latin American cultures, it is also used in a much deeper meaning for those who begin to understand just how it has been used throughout culture. Through fears of being kidnapped, being eaten by a sick man, or being held hostage in a cave until their death, El Cucuy haunts children who misbehave their parents and rebel against society’s proper manners.
Ainsworth-Vincze, Cameron. “Mexico’s New War on Kidnappers.” Maclean’s, vol. 121, no. 39, Oct. 2008, p. 51. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=34715314&site=ehost-live.
Bitto, Robert. “El Cucuy, the Mexican Bogeyman.” Mexico Unexplained, Mexico Unexplained, 25 Sept. 2017, mexicounexplained.com/el-cucuy-mexican-bogeyman/.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Hybrid. “CUCUY: THE BOOGEYMAN Official Trailer (2018).” YouTube, YouTube, 7 Oct. 2018, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7hOe6cPVys.
Hayes, Joe, and Honorio Robledo. El Cucuy!: a Bogeyman Cuento. Cinco Puntos Press, 2001.
“NIH Fact Sheets – Tuberculosis.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=31.
Ramos, Octavio. “Monster of the Week: El Cucuy.” AXS, 27 Nov. 2010, axs.com/monster-of-the-week-el-cucuy-98344.
Taveras, Julia. “The Top 5 Latino Horror Legends & Monsters.” Remezcla, 27 Oct. 2015, remezcla.com/culture/top-5-latino-halloween-legends-and-monsters/.