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La Cucaracha (Mexican Cockroach Song)
[Posted 10 October 2004]

In the spirit of the Roach v. Bush debates, below is a description of The Mexican Cockroach Song, La Cucaracha, from Carl Sandburg's book The American Songbag (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1927). Until I found that antique book in a Madison, Wisconsin bookstore, I never realized that the song mentioned marijuana. Maybe that's why it's rarely heard anymore. For some reason it was well-known back in the 60s and 70s when I was growing up. And like today's Presidential comparisons, the original song may have been referring to political figures instead of insects.

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Click to visit Here are the lyrics featured in the sheet music Sandburg included:

When a fellow loves a maiden
And that maiden doesn't love him,
It's the same as when a bald man
Finds a comb upon the highway.

The cucaracha, the cucaracha
Doesn't want to travel on
Because she hasn't
Oh, no, she hasn't
Marihuana for to smoke.

If that doesn't make sense, here's Sandburg's complete commentary on the song, including verses in both English and Spanish:


Click to visit Dark women are good as gold;
Brunettes like silver win;
The blondes are only copper,
And the light ones only tin.

God made the swarthy women;
A silversmith the white ones;
The dark brunettes, a tailor;
A cobbler the black-as-night ones.

In his book, "The Land of Poco Tempo," Charles Lummis gives these verses as instances of epigrammatic folk utterances, proverbial rhymes, dichos. Nearly every Mexican sometimes has made a dicho, and the fittest of them survive, Lummis tells us. They include offhand oddities such as this:

Lovable eyes
Of coffee hue,
Give me a kiss
Of faith all true.

And they may proclaim lines of highly serious mood:

There is no better friend than God,
This is clear and past denying;
For the dearest may betray,
The most truthful may be lying.

We are not surprised that in the song of La Cucaracha (The Cockroach), there is a variety of theme. Sunny Spain heard the likes of some of the verses before they married a new tune in Mexico. And for understanding the banter and satire of other stanzas one would require knowledge of the careers of Pancho Villa and Zapata besides an acquaintance with Mexican political and revolutionary history. In 1916 in Chicago I heard the tune and two or three stray verses of La Cucaracha from Wallace Smith and Don Magregor, both of whom as newspaper correspondents with a streak of outlaw in them, had eaten frijoles with Villa and slept under Pancho's poncho, so to speak. Also T.K. Hedrick from down Texas way sang the Cockroach song in Mexican. However, we must not assume that a cockroach is what the Mexican means in singing these verses. It may be a pet name, "The Little Dancer," we are told by Alice Corbin. For F.S. Curtis, Jr., of the Texas Folk Lore Society observes, "A whole dissertation might be written upon the fact that a cucaracha may be either a cockroach or a little, dried-up old maid, and that the term was also used as a nickname for the late Venustiano Carranza; and considerable space might be devoted to explaining that marihuana is a weed, which, when smoked, is capable of producing serious narcotic effects and even causing a homicidal mania." Then he queries significantly, "But of what benefit is such stuff to the songs of New Mexico?" The text here is from Curtis. He says of the tune, "It strongly suggests a sixteenth century origin, especially with the guitar accompaniment usually used." [p. 289]

1 Cuando uno quiere a una
Y esta una no lo quiere,
Es lo mismo que si un calvo
En la calle encuentr' un peine.

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
Ya no quieres caminar,
Porque no tienes,
Porque le falta,
Marihuana que fumar.

2 Las muchachas son de oro;
Las casadas son de plata;
Las viudas son de cobre,
Y las viejas oja de lata.

3 Mi vecina de enfrente
Se llamaba Doña Clara,
Y si no había muerto
Es probable se llamara.

4 Las muchachas de Las Vegas
Son muy altas y delgaditas,
Pero son mas pedigueñas
Que las animas benditas.

5 Las muchachas de la villa
No saben ni dar un beso,
Cuando las de Albuquerque
Hasta estiran el pescuezo.

6 Las muchachas Mexicanas
Son lindas como una flor,
Y hablan tan dulcemente
Que encantan de amor.

7 Una cosa me da risa --
Pancho Villa sin camisa.
Ya se van los Carranzistas
Porque vienen los Villistas.

8 Necesita automóvil
Par' hacer la caminata
Al lugar a donde mandó
La convención Zapata.

1 When a fellow loves a maiden
And that maiden doesn't love him,
It's the same as when a bald man
Finds a comb upon the highway.

The cucaracha, the cucaracha,
Doesn't want to travel on
Because she hasn't,
Oh no, she hasn't
Marihuana for to smoke.

2 All the maidens are of pure gold;
All the married girls are silver;
All the widows are of copper,
And old women merely tin.

3 My neighbor across the highway
Used to be called Doña Clara,
And if she has not expired
Likely that's her name tomorrow.

4 All the girls up at Las Vegas
Are most awful tall and skinny,
But they're worse for plaintive pleading
Than the souls in Purgatory.

5 All the girls here in the city
Don't know how to give you kisses,
While the ones from Albuquerque
Stretch their necks to avoid misses.

6 All the girls from Mexico
Are as pretty as a flower
And they talk so very sweetly,
Fill your heart quite up with love.

7 One thing makes me laugh most hearty--
Pancho Villa with no shirt on
Now the Carranzistas beat it
Because Villa's men are coming.

8 Fellow needs an automobile
If he undertakes the journey
To the place to which Zapata
Ordered the famous convention.

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First paragraph © 2004 by Pam Rotella, the rest © 1927 by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., renewed by Carl Sandburg. Note that the song and its verses are what would be considered "public domain," and their copyright is for Sandburg's commentary, and possibly the arrangement used for the song.

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