I can’t help but think the universe is messing with me sometimes. When I discovered that the word Marijuana came from the song, “La Cucaracha” (The Cockroach) it seemed too ridiculous to be true. Being of Mexican descent, you would think I would have this Mexican folklore stuff down, but I have to admit, I’m a little rusty when it comes to my facts about my own culture. Don’t get me wrong, I embrace it whole heartedly, I just can’t proclaim to be very proficient. So when I came across this little piece of history, I was filled with a little bit of pride and an immediate urge to share. Could it really be that Mexican rebels managed to conquer 800,000 acres of land from William Randolph Hearst and that the word “Marihuana” (as it was originally written in Spanish) was taken from the song, “La Cucaracha?” While I had never really given this song much thought, it started to make sense when I learned that this song became popular in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution and was often sung by Pancho Villa’s men.
Losing 800,000 acres of land to a bunch of rebels is enough to make anyone upset so you can see why someone like Hearst would thirst for revenge. In the meantime, there is a looming threat of hemp replacing timber for paper. Hearst is heavily invested in timber for paper, along with the DuPont’s who just happen make the chemicals that convert wood into paper. Knowing that hemp is poised to make a grand industrial comeback, the industries that risked their profits team up to create the longest lasting lie that people, unfortunately, believe to this day: Hemp is dangerous! Although who would believe that? So, let’s change the name to Marijuana and create enough of a media scare that everyone will believe it. As Hearst gets a whiff of the word “Marihuana” while Pancho Villa’s men are rocking out to “La Cucaracha,” he deliberately infuses this word into what we would call today “yellow journalism.” Hearst controls the media, introduces this dangerous new drug, blames it on the crazy Mexican’s and oh, by the way, the “Negroes” are into it too, and there you have it: Reefer Madness!
Sounds too ridiculous to be true, but it is.
So there you have it. Cannabis hemp now becomes Marihuana which then becomes Marijuana!
As I learned more about “La Cucaracha,” I was surprised to find various versions of this song performed by anyone from Louis Armstrong to Liberace. I also learned that the lyrics can often be improvised satirical verses and that some consider this song to be the equivalent of America’s “Yankee Doodle.”
The version I chose to share is the one from Lila Downs. Lila’s version talks about war and the government, but the crucial lyrics in question are what is up with that pot smoking cockroach?