A Cuban Folktale


Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha was a beautiful cockroach. She lived in a cozy street lamp in Old Havana with her big, lovable family. Now that Martina was 21 days old, she was ready to give her leg in marriage. The Cucaracha household was crawling with excitement! Every señora in the family had something to offer.  Tía Cuca gave her una peineta, a seashell comb. Mamá gave her una mantilla, a lace shawl. But Abuela, her Cuban grandmother, gave her un consejo increíble, some shocking advice.

Martina: You want me to do WHAT?  Martina was aghast.

Abuela: You are a beautiful cockroach! Finding husbands to choose from will be easy…picking the right one could be tricky.

Martina: B-b-but…how will spilling COFFEE on a suitor’s shoes help me find a good husband?

Abuela: It will make him angry! Then you’ll know how he will speak to you when he loses his temper. Trust me, Martina. The Coffee Test never fails.

Martina: I’m not so sure.

Meanwhile, Papá sent el perico, the parrot, to spread the word. Soon all Havana…from the busy sidewalks of El Prado to El Morro castle…was abuzz with the news. Martina the beautiful cockroach was ready to choose a husband. As was the custom, Martina would greet her suitors from the balcony…under her family’s many watchful eyes. Daintily, she sat down…and crossed her legs…and crossed her legs…and crossed her legs. She didn’t have long to wait. Don Gallo, the rooster, strutted up first. Martina tried not to stare at his splendid shoes. Keeping one eye on his reflection, Don Gallo greeted her with a sweeping bow.

Don Gallo: ¡Caramba! You really are a beautiful cockroach. I will look even more fabulous with you on my wing.

With that, he leaned forward and crooned…Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha, Beautiful muchacha, Won’t you be my wife?

Martina hesitated only for an instant. Coffee, señor?

Right on cue, Abuela appeared. With a quick glance at her grandmother, Martina nervously splattered coffee onto the rooster’s spotless shoes.

Martina: Oh, my! I’m all feelers today.

Don Gallo: ¡Ki-ki-ri-kiiii! Clumsy cockroach! I will teach you better manners when you are my wife.

Martina was stunned. The Coffee Test had worked!

Martina: A most humble offer, señor, but I cannot accept. You are much too cocky for me.

Don Cerdo, the pig, hoofed up next. His smell curled the little hairs on Martina’s legs.

Martina: What an unimaginable scent! Is it some new pig cologne?

Don Cerdo: Oh, no, señorita. It’s the sweet aroma of my pigsty. Rotten eggs! Turnip peels! Stinky cheese! Don Cerdo licked his chops and sang,

Don Cerdo: Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha, Beautiful muchacha, Won’t you be my wife?



Martina had already left in search of coffee. She wasted no time with the pig. She spilled the coffee onto his shoes.

 ¡Gronc! ¡Gronc! squealed Don Cerdo as he dabbed at the coffee on his shoes.

Don Cerdo: What a tragedy for my poor loafers!

He really is quite a ham… thought Martina.

Martina: Calm yourself, señor. I’ll clean them for you!

Don Cerdo: I’ll say you will. When you are my wife, there’ll be no end to cleaning up after me!

Martina rolled her eyes in disbelief.

Martina: A most charming offer, señor, but I must decline. You are much too boorish for me.

The Coffee Test had saved her from yet another unsuitable suitor. The pig was scarcely out of sight when Don Lagarto, the lizard, crept over the railing. His oily fingers brushed the little cockroach’s lovely mantilla.

Martina: You shouldn’t sneak up on a lady like that!

Don Lagarto: I don’t sneak. I creep.

He circled Martina. For some reason this fellow really bugged Martina.

Martina: I’ve had enough of creeps for one day. Adiós.

Don Lagarto: But I need you! Wait!

The lizard fell on one scaly knee and warbled… Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha, Beautiful muchacha, Won’t you be my wife?

Martina: Let me see if there’s any coffee left.

This time she wasn’t taking any chances. Martina returned with TWO cups for the lizard. She spilled it on his shoes.

Don Lagarto: ¡Psssst! ¡Psssst!

Don Lagarto was livid. He changed colors three times before he finally found his true one.

Don Lagarto: And to think, I was going to eat—er—MARRY you!

Martina stared at the lizard. You could have heard a breadcrumb drop.

Martina: Food for thought, señor, but I must refuse. You are much too cold-blooded for me.

When her grandmother returned to collect the day’s coffee cups, Martina was still fuming.

Martina: I’m going inside, Abuela.

Abuela: So soon?

Martina: ¡Sí! I’m afraid of whom I might meet next!

Abuela drew Martina to the railing and pointed to the garden below.

Abuela: What about him?

Martina looked down at the tiny brown mouse, and her cockroach heart began to beat faster. Ti-ki-tin, ti-ki-tan.

Martina: Oh, Abuela, he’s adorable. Where has he been?

Abuela: Right here all along.

Martina: What do I do?

Abuela: Go talk to him…and just be yourself.

Martina handed Abuela her peineta and mantilla, then scurried down to the garden. The mouse was waiting.

Ti-ki-tin, ti-ki-tan.

Pérez: Hola, hello. My name is Pérez.

His voice was like warm honey.

Martina: Hola. I’m Martina…

Pérez: …the beautiful cockroach.

Martina: You think I’m beautiful?

The little mouse turned pink under his fur.

Pérez: Well, my eyes are rather weak, but I have excellent EARS. I know you are strong and good, Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha.

Then he squinted sweetly.

Pérez: Who cares if you are beautiful?


Abuela: Martina-a-a-a-a-a! Don’t forget the coffee!

Martina didn’t want to give the Coffee Test to Pérez!

Abuela: Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha!

Martina: Sí, Abuela.

Martina knew better than to argue with her Cuban grandmother. With a heavy heart, she reached for the cup. But Pérez got there first. Quick as a mouse, he splashed café cubano onto Martina’s shoes. Now the coffee was on the other foot. Martina was too delighted to be angry. At last, she’d found her perfect match. But she had to ask…

Martina: How did you know about the Coffee Test?

Pérez: Well, mi amor, my love…I, too, have a Cuban grandmother.

Contributed by Deepa