I Bet You Didn't Know How Sexist "La Cucaracha" Was

I’m sure by this point in your life, you have heard the song La Cucaracha, a popular children’s song throughout the world. “La cucaracha” is a corrido, a type of ballad in Mexico which is sung by a narrator and tells a story. This week, people in the Child Development class at Trinity University, and probably other universities in the world, are learning to play this catchy song for children on the ukulele. You probably thought, just like I did, that the song was actually about a cockroach – well think again.

“La cucaracha” was written during the Mexican revolution which was from 1910 -1930. The transformations during this time made a lasting impression on the gender roles of the country. While women were generally still confined to life at home, some women decided to become soldaderas. These women traveled alongside soldiers, fought in battles with them, cooked meals, cleaned and took care of the children. It’s important to note that soldadera does not directly translate to woman soldier as you would expect. Rather, it describes a woman who ‘follows’ the male soldiers.

While the role of the soldadera was great, the very connotation of her name was limiting. However, if you thought that was an unfit name for women who risked their lives to fight alongside the Mexican men of that time, how about la cucaracha? That’s right – the children’s song is actually about women soldiers during the Mexican revolution. This particular corrido is traditionally sung by a male narrator and at one point in the story, he is describing a how a large wind came and blew the cockroach on its back. Some experts, such as Dr. Chrissy Arce, a professor at the University of Miami, are suggesting that the large wind is a symbol of the Mexican Revolution and the cockroach on its back symbolizes how women succumbed to prostitution during that time. This claim, according to Dr. Arce, could have come from how women were no longer limited to one partner since lives were constantly being lost during the Mexican Revolution.

These soldaderas were referred to in many different ways, however they were mostly condescending. Even the most endearing of the many, la adelita, still had the connotation of a promiscuous woman. Also, to quote the corrido “La Adelita,” “una moza que valiente los seguía,” which translates to “the girl who valiantly followed the troops,” shows how the women were simply seen as brave followers, rather than the pioneers they really were. The personality of women was removed when these nicknames were given. According to María Herrera-Sobek, the author of The Mexican Corrido, this over-generalization presented “the woman by making her a love object and thus presenting her in a less threatening manner or to transform the soldadera into a mythic figure.” This categorization of women during the Mexican Revolution was a defining factor in how women are treated throughout Mexico. Although it is not well known, the actual meaning behind La Cucaracha shows how women were perceived in the early 1900s.

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