La Cucaracha ("The Cockroach") is a traditional Spanish folk song, popular in Mexico, and it is unknown when the song came about. It is very popular in Mexico, and was especially so during the Mexican Revolution. Many alternative stanzas exist. The basic song describes a cockroach who cannot walk. The song has been performed widely.


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 is struggling to walk with the remaining five. The cockroach's uneven, five-legged gait is imitated by the song's original 5/4 meter,[citation needed] formed by removing one upbeat (corresponding to the missing sixth leg) from the second half of a 6/4 measure:

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-ta
u-na pa-ta de a-trás.[nb 1]
("The cockroach, the cockroach / can no longer walk / because he doesn't have, because he lacks / a hind leg"; 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 barlines; 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.


The song's verses fit a traditional melody separate from that of the refrain but sharing the refrain's meter (either 5/4 or 6/4 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. 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,[1] 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 several verses dealing with the Reconquista, which was completed in 1492 when the Moors surrendered the Alhambra to Spain:

Spanish English
De las patillas de un moro From the sideburns of a Moor
tengo que hacer una escoba, I must make a broom,
para barrer el cuartel to sweep the quarters
de la infantería española.[2] of the Spanish infantry.

Some early versions of the lyrics discuss events that took place during the conclusion of the Granada War in 1492.[2]

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:

Spanish English
Un capitán de marina A naval captain
que vino en una fragata who came in a frigate
entre varios sonecitos among various tunes
trajo el de "La Cucaracha."[3] brought the one about "La Cucaracha."

Whatever the song's origin, it was during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century that "La Cucaracha" saw the first major period of verse production as rebel and government forces alike invented political lyrics for the song. So many stanzas were added during this period that today it is associated mostly with Mexico.[1]

Other early stanzas detail such incidents as the Carlist Wars (1833–1876) and the French intervention in Mexico (1861).[4]

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[1] is the two Villist anti-Huerta[4] stanzas:

Spanish English
La cucaracha, la cucaracha, The cockroach, the cockroach,
ya no puede caminar can't walk anymore
porque no tiene, porque le falta because it doesn't have, because it's lacking
marihuana que fumar. marijuana to smoke.
Ya murió la cucaracha The cockroach just died
ya la llevan a enterrar now they take her to be buried
entre cuatro zopilotes among four buzzards
y un ratón de sacristán. and a mouse as the sexton.

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:

Spanish English
Ya se van los carrancistas, And the Carrancistas,
ya se van haciendo bola, are on full retreat,
ya los chacales huertistas and the Huertistan jackals
se los trayen de la cola. have them caught by the tail.

An example of two Zapatist stanzas:

Spanish English
Oigan con gusto estos versos Hear with pleasure these verses,
escuchen con atención, listen carefully:
ya la pobre cucaracha now the poor cockroach
no consigue ni un tostón. doesn't even get a tostón (50 centavo or cent coin)
Todo se ha puesto muy caro Everything has been very expensive
con esta Revolución, in this Revolution,
venden la leche por onzas selling milk by the ounce
y por gramos el carbón. 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:

Spanish English
El que persevera alcanza The one who perseveres, achieves
dice un dicho verdadero Tells a saying
yo lo que quiero es venganza What I want is revenge
por la muerte de Madero. For the death of Madero.
Todos se pelean la silla Everyone fights for the chair
que les deja mucha plata Which gives them lots of money
En el norte vive Villa In the north lives Villa,
en el sur vive Zapata. In the south lives Zapata.

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:

Spanish English
Cuando uno quiere a una When a man loves a woman
y esta una no lo quiere, but she doesn't love him back,
es lo mismo que si un calvo it's like a bald man
en la calle encuentra un peine. finding a comb in the street.
Mi vecina de enfrente My neighbor across the street
se llamaba Doña Clara, used to call herself Doña Clara, [English: Mrs. Clara]
y si no se hubiera muerto and if she hadn't died
aún así se llamaría. that's what she would still call herself.

Performers of the song

Other performances, date unknown:


  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) dos patitas 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 Adams, Cecil. What are the words to "La Cucaracha"?. The Straight Dope. Chicago Reader. 27 July 2001.
  2. ^ a b Marín, Francisco Rodríguez. Cantos Populares Españoles Recogidos, Ordenados e Ilustrados por Francisco Rodríguez Marín. Sevilla: Francisco Álvarez y Ca. 1883.
  3. ^ Fernández de Lizardi, José Joaquín. La Quijotita y su Prima. 1819.
  4. ^ a b LA CUCARACHA (Canción Tradicional - Mexico). Lyrics Playground. Retrieved 6 February 2009.

External links