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9 Books To Read if You Want To Learn More About Latin American Folklore Y Leyendas

This Latinx Heritage Month, mitú is highlighting the root of Latinx joy. We’re digging deep into the subcultures and traditions that have shaped our communities — the reason for our song and our dance. We continue building flourishing communities together because of our strong roots and with the support of State Farm.

For many of us growing up, there was nothing more frightening than El Cuco, the shapeshifting boogeyman who could come at any time to drag us away if we misbehaved. I imagined him living under my bed, quick to grab an unassuming ankle or foot if I lingered too long — especially at night. 

And who could forget el Chupacabra, our version of Bigfoot, both dog-like and reptilian, with eyes glowing red as it drank the blood of goats and other livestock across the Americas? Although it’s been dismissed as an urban legend, not all of us are convinced. 

If you find yourself fascinated with cryptids, folklore and legends, here are some book recommendations that are sure to satisfy your curiosity. From La Llorona to duendes to the Sihuanaba — who knew Latin America was such a spooky, scary, creepy, crawly place? 

If you want to start with a compendium of knowledge that does not discriminate, look no further than John Bierhorst’s “Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions.” 

Its main focus are folktales and fables, typically with some kind of moraleja, from ancient civilizations to modern day. 

However, if it’s ancient cryptids that you’re particularly interested in, Ilan Stavan’s book, titled, “A Pre-Columbian Bestiary: Fantastic Creatures of Indigenous Latin America” should hit the spot. 

Stavans admittedly consumed ayahuasca in the Amazon in preparation for this project, which feels right. The book functions as a true bestiary, each of the 46 entries beginning with the creature’s name, pronunciation, culture of origin and illustration by Mexican artist, Eko. 

Another good option that explores the mythology of ancient civilizations is “Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America” by Kay Almere Read and Jason J. Gonzalez. 

Mary Ellen Miller’s “An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya” quenches a similar thirst, with more than 300 entries describing the gods and monsters of various ancient people, including the Zapotecs, Toltecs, Aztecs and of course, the Maya. 

If there are specific characters that you’d like to learn more about, look to “Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore”, “From Amazons to Zombies: Monsters in Latin America,” and “La Llorona: Encounters with the Weeping Woman.”

The latter “La Llorona” is a compilation of first-hand accounts curated by author Judith Shaw Beatty, and includes over 50 stories from people both north and south of the Mexican border. The stunning illustrations were done by renowned Southwestern artist, Anita Otilia Rodriguez. 

We can’t forget the Caribbean, since they, too, love a leyenda. Written and edited by Rafael Ocasio, “Folk Stories from the Hills of Puerto Rico/ Cuentos folklóricos de las montañas de Puerto Rico” offers a bilingual debrief on the most popular folktales from la Isla del Encanto. 

Finally, “Cuban Legends” by native Cuban essayist and critic, Salvador Bueno, presents a comprehensive overview on Cuba’s varied folktales, stories and myths. 

Bueno draws upon a wide range of influences, from the Indigenous beliefs of the Taino and Siboney, to Afro-Caribbean religions like Santeria, to the stories that our grandparents passed down to us from their grandparents. 

It truly captures the essence of Cuba, and by extension, all of Latin America. Although we are all different, we are still the same. As it turns out, we have lots of monsters in common at our disposal, and we aren’t afraid to use them.

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