Friday, June 6, 2008

La Cucaracha

As "Yankee Doodle" proved, a song can change the world. "La Cucaracha" (The Cockroach) is a very old Spanish tune that probably came across the ocean with the earliest Spanish marines but gained political significance in the early 20th century.

It's the kind of song a merry crowd can improvise verses to as it goes, so there are hundreds of verses. But the main one is the chorus:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha . . . . .The cockroach, the cockroach
Ya no quieres caminar . . . . . . . . . . . . .Doesn't want to travel on
Porque no tiene, . . . . . . . . .Because she hasn't,
porque le falta, . . . . . . . . . oh, no, she hasn't,
Marijuana que fumar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Marijuana for to smoke.)

Sometimes the last line is replaced with a bowdlerization such as limonada que tomar (lemonade to drink).

The song came to symbolize the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920, and especially Pancho Villa, the bandido/revolutionary general who eluded U.S. troops following a 1916 attack on an American border town, only to be assassinated in 1923. (One idea was that Villa, like a cockroach, could disappear in an instant, such as when the kitchen light goes on.)

Some say the jape about marijuana was directed at the dictatorial Mexican president Victoriano Huerta (ruled 1913-1914), ridiculed by his many enemies as a drunk and dope fiend who lived only for his daily weed.

An example of another verse is:

Ya la murio la cucaracha . . . . . . . The cockroach just died
Ya la lleven a enterrar . . . . .And they carried him off to bury him
Entre cuatro zopilotes . . . . . . . . . . Among four buzzards
Y un raton de sacristan. . . . . . . . And the sexton's mouse.

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