A Coqui Folk Tale
There was once a very young boy named Juan. His family was leaving Puerto Rico to move to a big city far to the north where Juan's father had a new job. Juan didn't want to go. The more he thought of leaving, the unhappier he became. Now, when some people become unhappy, they don't want anyone else to be happy. Juan was one of those people. He worked very hard to make his parents' lives miserable. He demanded this and he demanded that. "I won't go unless you buy me a new bike." Or "I won't go unless you put a phone extension in my room." (Remember, folk tales usually take place in the olden times, long before the use of Internet and text messages.)
The night before he was to leave, Juan lay in his bed listening to the chants of the coquí frogs perched in the trees outside his bedroom. He sobbed himself to sleep. In the morning he made one final demand of his parents. "I won't go unless I can take coquís with me so I can fall asleep."
His parents knew this was not a good idea. First, it would be difficult to catch the shy creatures. Second, the frogs would most likely die on the trip. But they looked, anyway. Sometime even parents do the wrong thing for good reasons. For more than an hour they searched the trees and bushes close to their home. (Fortunately, they had already packed for the move.) With a bit of luck, they captured two young frogs. Juan became almost happy when he carefully placed them in a shoebox he had prepared with many holes for air and light. For a snack he added a few plump mosquitoes, which were easier to find than the frogs themselves. Finally, he stored the shoebox near the top of his backpack so they could breathe fresh air during the trip. After all, he was not a mean boy, just a sad boy.
That night, after a long airplane ride and an even longer taxi ride in rush-hour traffic, Juan lay in a strange bed in a bare room in an apartment that was his new home. Surrounding him was an even stranger city, where people shouted in languages he didn’t understand and fog came out of his mouth when he breathed. He placed the shoebox next to him on his bed. He lay and he listened, and he kept listening. All he could hear were car horns, truck brakes, and creaking noises coming from something called a radiator. He knew the frogs were alive. He could see them through the air holes. The dim city lights reflected off their bulging eyes. But they would not chant. They would not sing a "KEE," not even the faintest of "ko's."
"Mamá!" he whispered, then shouted until he woke his mother. As all good mothers do, she slipped quietly out of her bed so as not to wake his father. She stood over Juan’s bed. Juan told his mother what was happening in the box—actually, what was not happening. His mother smiled sadly. She gently stroked the hair away from his troubled eyes. "Your grandmother always used to tell me that if you took coquís off the island, they would no longer sing. I always thought that was just one of many folk tales she liked to tell us when we went to bed. But I guess it’s true. Like you, these frogs love Puerto Rico and are sad to be away."
Juan thought carefully about his mother's words. He was sad again, but in a different way. He was sad he had been selfish. He was sad he made the frogs leave the island. He had been unfair. Juan slept, but he didn’t sleep well. The next morning he asked his mother if he could send the frogs back to Puerto Rico. As happens in all good folk tales, his mother found someone who was going back to the island that very night and who agreed to take the shoebox with him and return the frogs to their old neighborhood.
For some reason, sending the frogs back made Juan less sad. He no longer demanded a bike (since there was no place to ride), but he still wanted the phone extension. He didn't get it, but he did get to make an occasional call to his friends in Puerto Rico. He would call at night, and they let him listen to the coquís in the background. Within a few months he had made a couple of new friends, and he was almost happy. But the traffic sounds of the city were never quite as sweet as the sounds of the coquís.
And what, you ask, happened to the coquís? They are at home again, chanting their hearts out, serenading a little girl who now sleeps in Juan's old room.
Author’s note: This story has as many versions as there are those who love and leave Puerto Rico. It shows the affection Puerto Ricans have for their tiny frogs. You hear coquís just about anywhere there are trees and moisture. You see their likeness everywhere—on teeshirts, postcards, ashtrays, hats, ceramics, pins, notebooks, cups, fabrics, and a host of souvenirs. You even find stick figures of coquís on rocks and in caves. They were carved by Taino Indians centuries ago. Coquí chants are featured on compact discs, and some people tape the chants and put them on their answering machines so friends and family far away can listen and think of home. This tiny frog has become the unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico. There's more to coquís than folk tales and souvenirs, though. Some of the facts are quite interesting and maybe even stranger than the tales themselves.
Editor’s note: Although the author shows great affection for us, she is rather overly sentimental, not very knowledgeable, and naïve. The folk tale that says we coquís do not chant when we leave the island is merely that, a folk tale. In reality, we do chant if conditions are right. A small population of frogs reached the islands of Hawaii and found conditions there to be excellent. They still flourish and chant their hearts out. Unfortunately, the Hawaiians do not consider the chants to be a lullaby. They consider them to be an annoying clamor. Efforts are currently underway to exterminate millions of coquí frogs on those islands. It is the largest genocide in coquí history. The facts must be told.