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Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck: La Cucaracha

Marty McFly and Doc Brown had the Delorean to go travel through time; We have the Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck. Every week, we’ll hop in our time traveling machine, gun it to 88 MPH, and go back in time to bring you the best from the good ol’ days. Will it be a clip from an old telenovela? An old school music video? Stick around and find out!

By Jack Tomas

Every year for Cinco De Mayo, we had to do a dance to “La Cucaracha”. I went to a school in Texas that was mostly Mexican-American kids, so Cinco De Mayo was a big deal. It was fun…only…every year the same song? I knew there were tons of other great iconic Mexican songs we could use to do our little dance. Cielito Lindo? De Colores? Nope. It’s the song about the legless roach, or nothing. I got so sick of it, that when I’d hear it at a Mexican restaurant or something, I’d wanted to throw a grenade at the mariachis. Luckily, I’ve never had access to explosives. But when I grew up, I learned why we specifically danced to that song. It’s the song of revolutionaries.

“La Cucaracha” is actually from Spain, where it was a popular corrido. Early on, the song’s content was about the 1492 Spanish reconquista of Moorish Spain. What that has to do with a roach, I don’t know. When the Mexicans revolted against the French in 1861, it became the unofficial anthem. That’s why we danced to it on Cinco de Mayo, see? When Pancho Villa and Zapata were fighting the Mexican revolution of 1910, the song really took off as a revolutionary anthem. People would sing political lyrics such as, “En el norte vive Villa/en el sur vive Zapata/lo que quiero es venganza/por la muerte de Madero”. In this case, la cucaracha represented president Huerta. The song became popular here in the United States due to our involvement in that war. After that, “La Cucaracha” would always be associated with Mexico.

Who new a song about a handicapped bug could have such an impact? The song is so iconic, it has become a cliché. It’s like Southerners playing “Dixie” or New Yorkers and “New York, New York”. I think that if more people knew the history of the song, it would seem less silly. The question is: Which version will you sing? The one where the roach doesn’t have a leg or the one where he doesn’t have marijuana to smoke? I guess that depends on how many Phish concerts you’ve been to.

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