Pocho

Waiting for el cucuy

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“You better come inside or else el cucuy is gonna get you!” How many of us can remember that frightful, however effective warning and running inside as fast as we could?

Never mind that you had no idea what “el cucuy” looked like. Your main mission in life was to never find out. You just knew he was indescribable; surely a gruesome old man who ate children that misbehaved or wouldn’t go to sleep. The Latin-American version of the bogeyman was everywhere, at least in our collective imagination.

Was el cucuy not scary enough for you? How about la llorona, who would snatch you away if you didn’t stop playing by the local canal? You know, the woman relegated to searching waterways for her own children, whom she drowned when spurned by her lover, or so one version of the story goes. Of course, she never finds them, which is why she’s after you in her flowing white dress, hovering inches above the ground.

Still outside playing? And you’re dipping your toes in the water? Ay, ¡qué bárbaro! OK, how about la lechuza? This evil owl would transform itself into an ugly old witch and do dastardly things to children. Come on, how many of us have relatives who swear that they, or someone they know, saw one of these ghoulish creatures? I know I do. I even have my own claim, sort of. I remember a bunch of us kids, late one summer night, standing around a large tree in our neighborhood, when someone yelled, “¡La lechuza, la lechuza!” We heard a flapping noise and saw some big bird that I can only imagine was an owl, but I can’t confirm I saw it turn into a witch. A good thing, because as it was, I had frozen in my tracks. My brother had to grab my arm just to get me moving.

If none of these spooky legends scared you back in the day, then you can’t possibly be Latino. Which is why I can only presume most of us never understood why in scary movies, when someone or something outside is making a noise, white people have to go see what it is. What’s up with that?? We Latinos would lock all the doors, turn off the lights and say a bunch of Hail Marys until we cried ourselves to sleep!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that we’re not tough – you know how macho we are. Maybe we just have these scary characters deeply ingrained in our psyche, our parents’ way of keeping us from playing outside after dark.

Today, as I survey our bizarre and frightening political landscape, I wonder if we would have been better served to not be afraid of playing outside with our friends, and to realize there is strength in numbers.

We might have learned early on to harness that power to ensure that the real cucuys and lechuzas never, ever harm us.

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