Texas' Blood-Sucking Monster

In south Texas, its frightening name resurfaces in the news every few months -- especially after another neighborhood pet or farm animal mysteriously dies.

"El Chupacabra," they say, "is back."

Parents are cautious, warning their children to stay inside at night or risk a face-to-fang encounter with the chupacabra -- a red-eyed, spiky-haired, blood-sucking creature with a green-blue tint to its hide.

The chupacabra haunts the minds of the residents in La Frontera, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Here, an amalgamation of cultures blend, represented by Gulf shrimp tacos, polka-inspired Tejano music, and young, white girls who also hold quinceneras, the Mexican teen rite-of-passage celebration.

Amid this mostly peaceful cultural mishmash, the chupacabra -- translates to goat-sucker -- replaces the boogeyman. Rumored to be originally of Puerto Rican folklore, the chupacabra and its reign spread to Central America in the '80s and '90s, and has moved northward through Mexico and Texas, where it has quickly been embraced and has lately been portrayed in artwork and film.

Is It Real?

Like other mythic monsters, the chupacabra has its believers -- just ask www.elchupacabra.com Webmaster and science-fiction buff Dave Pettis.

"I just believe there can be something out there like that," said Pettis, who lives in Northern California. "I don't think every animal in the world has been classified."

Pettis said he gets lots of e-mails from people. Some are curious about the creature, while others want to submit their own sightings.

"Some people think it's some [lab] experiment that escaped, but other people think it's some animal that's been around for a long time, like in South America. The clearing of the rain forests has made it come out," he said.

The Mexican Boogeyman

It's these sorts of theories that make anthropologist Tony Zavaleta chuckle.

He loves the chupacabra myth, but it's for different reasons. It's simply a great part of Mexican-American folklore, he said.

While the chupacabra is by far the most popular myth, it is just one of several indigenous monsterlike creatures. There's also El Cucuy, or a small humanlike demon that also goes after kids at night.

"It's so universal. … Every group of people, regardless of where they are, they have what I define or describe as the boogeyman -- the story you use to keep children in line and inside at night," said Zavaleta, a professor and vice president for external affairs at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Zavaleta's favorite encounter with the chupacabra came while walking through Mexico City a few years ago. He spotted a mask for sale -- one that looked partly like a chupacabra and partly like the Mexico president at that time. He had to laugh.

"It's the metaphor for the evil president: the blood sucker," he said.

The Whimsical Monster

High in the mountains of northern Mexico, not far from the Texas border, many of the farmers do not laugh about the chupacabra, said artist and fellow Texas professor Carlos Gomez. There, the chupacabra is blamed for killing cattle and other livestock.

While traveling around the El Cielo cloud forest a few years ago, he tried to joke with the locals about the blood-sucking monster.

He received a cool response.

"There had been some sightings. People were panicking," he said. "Their livestock is their livelihood. They really depend on that."

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