Your RDA of Irony

La Cucaracha

We have all heard “La Cucaracha”, a nonsensical Mexican song narrating the tribulations of a cockroach. In the first verse the cockroach complains of a shortage of marijuana. You wouldn’t consider it a noble or inspirational song, let alone the anthem of a historical epoch.

However, “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” is not exactly a brilliant distillation of John Locke’s treatises on the relationship between the government and the governed. Yet, “Yankee Doodle” is the song of the American Revolution. Just as incongruously, “La Cucaracha” is the song of the Mexican Revolution.

Perhaps the peasants of Mexico identified with the despised insect. For five centuries, since the Conquistadors had seized Mexico, the peasants subsisted under the feudal oppression of a Spanish aristocracy. When they rose in rebellion in 1910, they marched to the tune of “La Cucaracha.” The song said nothing about honest government or agrarian reform, the causes for which they were fighting. But the joyous vulgarity of “La Cucaracha” fully expressed the peons’ rage against the plutocratic rule, that Church-sanctioned Old Order, that had enslaved them.

By 1915, the Revolutionaries had won; and then they began fighting among themselves: the moderates, the liberals and the radicals in a free-for-all. And all the factions were singing “La Cucaracha.” When two warring armies are marching to the same song, that truly is a civil war. By 1920, most of the leaders of 1910 had been executed or assassinated; and with a depleted supply of the deluded and the ambitious, the war atrophied to peace. And “La Cucaracha” was demobilized, too.

Today, we Americanos know the song as a Marachi serenade or restaurant muzak. We wouldn’t recognize the historic significance and the implicit rage. Of course, neither did the Mexican plutocracy–until it was too late.

  1. David in Tenn says:

    Dear Eugene,

    The disrespect for “La Cucaracha” as part of a Muzak loop reminds me of the old trick played on those that don’t care for New World Spanish speaking cultures. Convince the bigot he is going to worshiped by the Spanish speakers involved should he learn the phrase, “Quantas para tu hermana?” as a greeting. Encourage the chump to offer his new language trick to the largest male in sight and disappear quickly. The rest will take care of itself.

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