La Cucaracha


"Corrido de la Cucaracha", lithograph (published in 1915) by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo [es].

La Cucaracha ("The Cockroach") is a popular Mexican folk song about a cockroach who cannot walk. The song's origins are unclear,[1] but it dates back at least to the 1910s during the Mexican Revolution.[1] The song belongs to the Mexican corrido genre.[1] The song's melody is widely known[1] and many alternative stanzas exist.[1]


The song consists of verse-and-refrain (strophe-antistrophe) pairs, with each half of each pair consisting of four lines featuring an ABCB rhyme scheme.


The song's earliest lyrics, from which its name is derived, concern a cockroach that has lost one of its six legs and struggles to walk with the remaining five. The cockroach's uneven, five-legged gait is imitated by the song's original,

La cu-ca- | ra-cha, la cu-ca-ra-cha
| ya no pue-de ca-mi-nar
por-que no | tie-ne, por-que le fal-tan
| las dos pa- titas "de" a-trás.[nb 1]
("The cockroach, the cockroach / can no longer walk / because she doesn't have, because she lacks / the two hind legs to walk"; these lyrics form the basis for the refrain of most later versions. Syllables having primary stress are in boldface; syllables having secondary stress are in roman type; unstressed syllables are in italics. Measure divisions are independent of text line breaks and are indicated by vertical bar lines; note that the refrain begins with an anacrusis/"pickup.")

Many later versions of the song, especially those whose lyrics do not mention the cockroach's missing leg(s), extend the last syllable of each line to fit the more familiar 6/4 meter. Almost all modern versions, however, use a 4/4 meter instead with a clave rhythm to give the feeling of three pulses.


The song's verses fit a traditional melody separate from that of the refrain but sharing the refrain's meter (either 5/4, 6/4, or 4/4 clave as discussed above). In other respects, they are highly variable, usually providing satirical commentary on contemporary political or social problems or disputes.

Historical evolution

The origins of "La Cucaracha" are obscure.[1] The refrain's lyrics make no explicit reference to historical events; it is difficult, if not impossible, therefore, to date. Because verses are improvised according to the needs of the moment,[2] however, they often enable a rough estimate of their age by mentioning contemporary social or political conditions (thus narrowing a version's possible time of origin to periods in which those conditions prevailed) or referring to specific current or past events (thus setting a maximum boundary for a version's age).

Pre-Revolution lyrics

There exist several early (pre-Revolution) sets of lyrics referring to historical events.

Francisco Rodríguez Marín records in his book Cantos Populares Españoles (1883) several verses dealing with the Reconquista, which was completed in 1492 when the Moors surrendered the Alhambra to Spain:

De las patillas de un moro
tengo que hacer una escoba,
para barrer el cuartel
de la infantería española.[3]

From the sideburns of a Moor
I must make a broom,
to sweep the quarters
of the Spanish infantry.

Some early versions of the lyrics discuss events that took place during the conclusion of the Granada War in 1492.[3]

One of the earliest written references to the song appears in Mexican writer and political journalist José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi's 1819 novel La Quijotita y su Prima, where it is suggested that:

Un capitán de marina
que vino en una fragata
entre varios sonecitos
trajo el de "La Cucaracha".[4]

A naval captain
who came in a frigate
among various tunes
brought the one about "La Cucaracha".

Other early stanzas detail such incidents as the Carlist Wars (1833–1876) in Spain and the French intervention in Mexico (1861).[5]

During the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century, "La Cucaracha" saw the first major period of verse production as rebel and government forces alike invented political lyrics for the song. Many stanzas were added during this period that today it is associated mostly with Mexico.[2]

Revolutionary lyrics

The Mexican Revolution, from 1910 to about 1920, was a period of great political upheaval during which the majority of the stanzas known today were written. Political symbolism was a common theme in these verses, and explicit and implicit references were made to events of the war, major political figures, and the effects of the war on the civilians in general. Today, few pre-Revolution verses are known, and the most commonly quoted portion of the song[2] are the two Villist anti-Huerta[5] stanzas:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar
porque no tiene, porque le falta
marihuana que fumar.
Ya murió la cucaracha
ya la llevan a enterrar
entre cuatro zopilotes
y un ratón de sacristán.

The cockroach, the cockroach,
can't walk anymore
because it doesn't have, because it's lacking
marijuana to smoke.
The cockroach just died
they are taking it to be buried,
among four buzzards
and a sacristan mouse.

This version, popular among Villist soldiers, contains hidden political meanings, as is common for revolutionary songs. In this version, the cockroach represents President Victoriano Huerta, a notorious drunk who was considered a villain and traitor due to his part in the death of revolutionary President Francisco Madero.

Due to the multi-factional nature of the Mexican Revolution, competing versions were also common at the time, including the Huertist, anti-Carranza stanza:

Ya se van los carrancistas,
ya se van haciendo bola,
ya los chacales huertistas
se los trayen de la cola.

And the Carrancistas,
are on full retreat,
and the Huertistan jackals
have them caught by the tail.

An example of two Zapatist stanzas:

Oigan con gusto estos versos
escuchen con atención,
ya la pobre cucaracha
no consigue ni un tostón.
Todo se ha puesto muy caro
con esta Revolución,
venden la leche por onzas
y por gramos el carbón.

Hear with pleasure these verses,
listen carefully:
now the poor cockroach
doesn't even get a tostón (a 50 centavo or cent coin)
Everything has been very expensive
in this Revolution,
selling milk by the ounce
and coal by the gram.

Among Mexican civilians at the time, "La Cucaracha" was also a popular tune, and there are numerous examples of non-aligned political verses. Many such verses were general complaints about the hardships created by the war, and these were often written by pro-Zapatistas. Other non-aligned verses contained references to multiple factions in a non-judgmental manner:

El que persevera alcanza
dice un dicho verdadero
yo lo que quiero es venganza
por la muerte de Madero.
Todos se pelean la silla
que les deja mucha plata
En el norte vive Villa
en el sur vive Zapata.

The one who perseveres, achieves
Tells a true saying
What I want is revenge
For the death of Madero.
Everyone fights for the chair
Which gives them much money
In the north lives Villa,
In the south lives Zapata.

La Cucaracha as a female

Soldiering has been a life experience for women in Mexico since pre-Columbian times. Among the nicknames for women warriors and camp followers were Soldaderas, Adelitas, Juanas, and Cucarachas.[6]

Soldiers in Porfirio Diaz's army sang "La cucaracha" about a soldadera who wanted money to go to the bullfights. For the Villistas, "'La cucaracha' wanted money for alcohol and marijuana. She was often so drunk or stoned that she could not walk straight," writes Elizabeth Salas in Mexican Military: Myth and History. "Unlike corridos about male revolutionaries like Villa and Zapata, none of the well-known corridos about soldaderas give their real names or are biographical. Consequently, there are very few stanzas that ring true about women in battle or the camps," Salas writes.

Male artists often depicted the soldaderas as semi-disrobed hookers. One etching, by muralist José Clemente Orozco, "The dance of the cucaracha”[7] is especially insulting.

Other verses

Apart from verses making explicit or implicit reference to historical events, hundreds of other verses exist. Some verses are new, and others are ancient; however, the lack of references and the largely oral tradition of the song makes dating these verses difficult, if not impossible. Examples follow:

Cuando uno quiere a una
y esta una no lo quiere,
es lo mismo que si un calvo
en la calle encuentra un peine.

Mi vecina de enfrente
se llamaba Doña Clara,
y si no se hubiera muerto
aún así se llamaría.

When a man loves a woman
but she doesn't love him back,
it's like a bald man
finding a comb in the street.

My neighbor across the street
was called Doña Clara, [English: Mrs. Clara]
and if she hadn't died
that's what she would still be called.

Performers of the song


  1. ^ There exist numerous versions of this line; the most common ones include "una pata par' [para] andar" ("a leg to walk [on]"), "la patita principal" ("the front leg"), "patas para caminar" ("legs for walking"), and "(las) la pata de atrás" ("[the] two back feet"). Versions mentioning specific numbers of legs are associated with a children's game and counting song in which participants pull the legs off a captured cockroach, singing the stanza once per leg and removing the leg as the number (increasing by one per stanza) is sung. Other versions discard any mention of the cockroach's missing leg(s) at all, substituting unrelated material (e.g., the "Marihuana pa' fumar" of the well-known anti-Huerta version).


  1. ^ a b c d e f Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries (14 November 2007). Spanish Word Histories and Mysteries: English Words That Come From Spanish. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 72. ISBN 0-547-35021-X. The origin of La cucaracha is disputed, but it dates from at least the time of the Mexican RevolutionCS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c Adams, Cecil. What are the words to "La Cucaracha"?. The Straight Dope. Chicago Reader. 27 July 2001.
  3. ^ a b Marín, Francisco Rodríguez. Cantos Populares Españoles Recogidos, Ordenados e Ilustrados por Francisco Rodríguez Marín. Sevilla: Francisco Álvarez y Ca. 1883.
  4. ^ Fernández de Lizardi, José Joaquín. La Quijotita y su Prima. 1819.
  5. ^ a b LA CUCARACHA (Canción Tradicional - Mexico). Lyrics Playground. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  6. ^ Salas, Elizabeth (January 1990). Mexican Military: Myth and History. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-77638-8.
  7. ^ Orozco, José Clemente. "El baile de la cucaracha". Mexicana. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  8. ^ "La Fiesta De Santa Barbara". You Tube. TheJudyRoomVideos. Retrieved 7 December 2019.

External links

  • What are the words to "La Cucaracha"? on The Straight Dope
  • Version with several references to the Mexican Revolution
  • complete lyric
  • Sheet Music for Wind Orchestra: Parts & Scores