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What are the words to “La Cucaracha”?

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What are the words to the song “La Cucaracha”? Every person I asked at school didn’t know beyond the title. Even my parents did not know. I am using my parents’ E-mail to ask you.

Happy to oblige, kiddo, but some people aren’t going to be pleased. “La Cucaracha,” one of Mexico’s best-known folk songs, doesn’t put the ideal spin on life south of the border. The U.S. may have amber waves of grain; the UK has jolly jolly sixpence; Mexico has … cockroaches. The Mexican Tourism Board can only hope monolingual Yankees don’t realize what the title means. As possible evidence on this score I note that in Minneapolis, the Kyoto of midwestern culture, La Cucaracha is the name of a restaurant. Somebody really ought to clue these people in.

But you wanted the lyrics. One complication is that there are about five million verses, many of them proof of how creative you can get on a couple quarts of Dos Equis at three o’clock in the morning. Here are the two most commonly quoted:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha
Ya no puede caminar
Porque no tiene, porque le falta
Marijuana que fumar.

(The cockroach, the cockroach
Now he can’t go traveling
Because he doesn’t have, because he lacks
Marijuana to smoke.)

You can see how closer acquaintance with the lyrics does not improve the PR situation. Sometimes the last line is replaced with a bowdlerization such as limonada que tomar (lemonade to drink), but if you’re old enough to be messing with dad’s E-mail program, you’re old enough to know the truth.

Ya la murio la cucaracha
Ya la lleven a enterrar
Entre cuatro zopilotes
Y un raton de sacristan.

(The cockroach just died
And they carried him off to bury him
Among four buzzards
And the sexton’s mouse.)

You’re thinking: Mexicans are strange. But there’s more going on here than meets the eye. “La Cucaracha” is the Spanish equivalent of “Yankee Doodle” — a traditional satirical tune periodically fitted out with new lyrics to meet the needs of the moment. The origins of the song are obscure, but apparently it’s pretty old. Some verses I came across refer to the Moorish wars in Spain, which concluded with the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. (Obviously 1492 was a big year for Ferdinand and Isabella on a number of fronts.) Probably the song itself doesn’t go back that far, but in an 1818 book, according to one source, the Mexican writer Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi claimed the song was brought to Mexico from Spain by a captain of marines.

One can find “La Cucaracha” lyrics commemorating 19th-century conflicts in both Spain and Mexico, but verse production didn’t really get rocking until the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920. So many stanzas were added by partisans on all sides during this period that today, despite its Spanish origin, the song is associated mostly with Mexico.

Included among the new lyrics were the verses quoted above. 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. No doubt the four buzzards and the sexton’s mouse were lampoons as well.

Dear Cecil: What are the words to the song "La Cucaracha"? Every person I asked at school didn't know beyond the title. Even my parents did not know. I am using my parents' E-mail to ask you. Liz …

Did You Know a Version of ‘La Cucaracha’ References Marijuana?

Many of us are familiar with the popular Spanish folk song (also referred to as a corrido) “La Cucaracha.” The song has been performed by numerous musical talents over the years, including greats like Louis Armstrong, Bill Haley & His Comets, Liberace, Cuco Sanchez, and Los Machucambos, to name a few. It even inspired the film The Soldiers of Pancho Villa.

“La Cucaracha” is a ballad about a cockroach (la cucaracha literally translates to “the cockroach” in English) that loses one of its legs, making it difficult for the roach to get around. Both people’s interpretation of “La Cucaracha” and the stanzas themselves have evolved throughout the years, but one thing hasn’t changed: many adaptations of “La Cucaracha” highlight contemporary social and political conditions through satire. And surprisingly, one of the most popular folk songs ever references the consumption of cannabis.

Most people were first introduced to “La Cucaracha” while studying the Mexican Revolution, learning Spanish as a foreign language, or during adolescence when relatives or grade school music teachers would sing the folk song aloud. As with most folk songs, it’s difficult to pinpoint where “La Cucaracha” originated and when, let alone the original lyrics or meaning (hence why there are so many versions and interpretations of “La Cucaracha” circling around today). But there’s one man synonymous with the Mexican Revolution and “La Cucaracha,” and his name was Pancho Villa.

Pancho Villa was a revolutionary commander and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. Villa is generally one of the first names that comes to mind when the history and literal meaning of “La Cucaracha” is questioned. The revolutionary version was reportedly sung by Villa’s troops during battle and it’s also the adaptation that most notably references cannabis.


La cucaracha, la cucaracha

Ya no puede caminar

Porque no tiene

porque le falta

Marihuana que fumar

English translation:

The cockroach, the cockroach

Cannot walk anymore

Because it hasn’t

because it lacks

marijuana to smoke

People have come up with all types of different interpretations of “La Cucaracha” over the years, and this is the case with the revolutionary adaptation as well. Some have interpreted “La Cucaracha” as Villa’s car because legend has it that his vehicle broke down one time during an escape, and his inability to drive the car was likened to la cucaracha not being able to walk.

Another theory is that the cockroach is none other than Mexico’s dictator around the time of the Mexican Revolution, Victoriano Huerta (1913-1914), who was criticized for being a drunk and “stoner” who lived for his daily dose of THC.

It’s often speculated that what we in the cannabis community refer to as a roach was inspired by “La Cucaracha.” In reference to cannabis, a “roach” is generally the butt of a blunt or joint right before it reaches its end. Since there is hardly any cannabis left in a roach, some people argue that the song is about running out of cannabis and not being able to get high, just like the roach is unable to walk because it’s missing a leg.

“La Cucaracha” truly transcends Latin culture. People all over the world have added their own twist and interpretation of this unmistakable tune. Even old Looney Tunes cartoons feature Speedy Gonzalez and his pal Slow Poke Rodriguez warbling along to the “marihuana” version of the tune (Slow Poke in particular seems like quite the stoner stereotype, no?):

Which version of “La Cucaracha” did you learn growing up, the one that references marijuana or a more “cleaned up” iteration?

Learn more about the origins and legacy of the popular Spanish folk song “La Cucaracha,” and discover the version that references cannabis.