DALLAS -- Isbeth Hernandez was on the phone with her cousins in Nuevo Laredo, just across the Texas-Mexico border. They were talking about the beast that drains blood from its victims.
They wondered if Chupacabra, the Goat Sucker, was out there (( again. Out in the night, sucking the blood right out of dogs, goats and who knows what else.
Hernandez's cousins were specifically wrestling with the possibility that this unseen fanged evil -- this nasty, seldom-spotted, Latin-style Loch Ness Monster whose legend has mushroomed this year -- had just sipped blood out of all those dead chickens in their yard.
Hernandez considers herself a levelheaded person. She runs a record shop called Los Lobos in the heart of that soulful side of Dallas familiarly known as the Grove -- Pleasant Grove.
But, now, like thousands of people across Texas, Florida, New Mexico and California, she had a lot to think about.
Her cousins chalked the dead chickens up to a ravenous dog.
Hernandez hoped they were right.
"You don't want to believe it," she says.
"It" is the Chupacabra -- a reputedly long-clawed, lizard-like monster whose legend apparently sprung up in Puerto Rico, took a turn toward Argentina and began traveling up through Central America, Mexico and south Texas.
Over the past few months, his fame has fanned out from the Rio Grande Valley and into the Bible Belt heart of Dallas. There is a snack store named Chupacabras that is opening on Ross Avenue.
You can load up on Chupacabra T-shirts at the Discoteca Monterrey & Mexican Products store.
If you need Chupacabra cassette tapes, you will find them at Los Lobos. Street vendors in East Dallas will gladly point you to stacks of recorded tributes to the beast.
The isolated border town of Zapata recently held what was probably the first Chupacabra Festival -- with more than 3,000 people indulging in various salutes to the monster, including Chupacabra chili.
Someone dressed up like a giant Chupacabra barreled through Zapata chasing someone dressed up like a chicken. At one point, local deputies arrested Chupacabra for assault.
Meanwhile, the beast still occasionally tops the evening news in the Rio Grande Valley, and it still garners a front-page headline.
Chupacabra is the theme of impromptu corridos -- the stirring, long-standing border tradition that calls for a song to be quickly created and tied to the latest news of the day. Those tunes are sometimes spontaneously sung in Texas cantinas whenever a splashy news event occurs.
For a slightly newer tradition, there are World Wide Web pages dedicated to the legend of the Chupacabra, and a video game is in the works. Of course, a songwriter from Brownsville, Texas, has also written a rap tune about Chupacabra.
Spanish-language TV talk shows have devoted episodes to Chupacabra.
And the North Dallas Skeptic, an earnest organization that seeks to debunk conventional wisdom, recently issued an inadvertently funny and lengthy article that somberly deconstructed the Chupacabra myth.
Is Chupacabra fever cooling?
Isbeth Hernandez and other business owners in Dallas say there is still a steady interest in Chupacabra, the best gauge being that customers are still coming by to pick up a cassette called "Bailar Con Chupacabra" -- Dancing with Chupacabra. And some people are still obviously looking to take Chupacabra to another level.
Among the usual exotic goodies found for sale in Reynosa and other nearby Mexican border cities -- lucha libre wrestling masks, kernels of rice with your name printed on them, frogs mounted and posed with bottles of Lone Star or tequila -- you can now find little Chupacabra Goat Sucker dolls featuring the face of scandal-prone fex-Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Isbeth Hernandez's cousins also suggest that the entire legend might actually have been created or promoted by Mexican officials as a way to draw attention from their own form of a plague -- those seemingly endless revelations about corruption at the highest levels of government.
"That's what people are saying, that they officials were trying to not focus attention on the country's problems," says Hernandez.
"People love to put spins on this kind of stuff," says Tony Zavaleta of the University of Texas-Brownsville, one of the leading folklorists in the region.
Oppressed people sometimes have a need to create a symbolic manifestation of the evil that surrounds them.
And that evil can be almost anywhere: Crooked politicians, bad bosses, the drought, a hanging judge, a withering economy, a wicked immigration officer, a less than polite highway patrolman.
"The upshot is that poor people, people who have been beaten down by their leadership, the economy, their jobs, their God, turn to these things," says Zavaleta. "It all makes sense, it all fits in beautifully with a biblical sense of a plague."
In the end, like the Loch Ness Monster, Chupacabra might be a dizzying diversion from grinding reality -- a dollop of rich, tropical magic with links to a time-honored telling-stories-around-the-fireplace tradition.
But unlike the Loch Ness monster, Chupa is credited with being edgier -- and Chupa clearly lacks Nessie's cozy, Earl Grey-tea historical familiarity. Chupacabra is from the bad-boy pantheon of folk monsters.
And that, says Zavaleta, speaks volumes about how bad the lifestyle is for poor people in Mexico, South Texas and inner-city Dallas.
It is no small coincidence that Chupacabra has been most popular in those parts of Texas that consistently lead the United vTC States in poverty, unemployment and abysmal conditions:
"When you have these situations, the bad economy and the drought, people's imaginations simply begin to peak," Zavaleta says.
Pub Date: 8/30/96