“El Coyote” by José Alfredo Jiménez, English translation of lyrics

“The Coyote”, mid-20th century
Style: Corrido with mariachi music. This is the story of an unrequited love triangle that ended in the rival’s death.
Country: Mexico
Listen: YouTube, Amazon

Translation:

Le pinte un cuatro al coyote, y me fui para la sierra.
El Coyote era un bandido, nacido allá por mi tierra.
Lo conocí desde niño. Fuimos juntos a la escuela.

I drew a cross over the Coyote, and I left for the sierra.
The Coyote was a bandit, born near my hometown.
I knew him since we were kids. We went to school together.

A las primeras lecciones, se sabía lo que intentaba.
Porque cantaba canciones, peleando con su guitarra.
Y aunque perdiera ilusiones, con sus ojos no lloraba.

From the first lessons, it was obvious what he intended.
Because he sang songs, fighting with his guitar,
And even if he became disillusioned, he didn’t cry with his eyes.

Aquella noche de Mayo, le gusto mi María Elena.
Pero yo llegue a caballo. Yo tenía cita con ella.

That May night, he set his sights on my Maria Elena.
But I came by horseback. I had a date with her.

(¡Sí señor! No le busques, Coyote.)

(Yes, sir! Don’t mess with him, Coyote.)

Cuando baje de la sierra, me encare con el Coyote,
Y abrazando a María Elena, le dije ya tiene nombre
Porque en la ermita sagrada, nos casó el cura del monte.

When I came down from the sierra, I came face-to-face with the Coyote,
And hugging Maria Elena, I told him she has a name now
Because in the sacred chapel, the priest on the mountain married us.

El agacho la cabeza, y se fue cobardemente.
Pero como era Coyote, se devolvió de repente.
El me buscaba la espalda, pero yo le halle la frente.

He lowered his head, and he left in a cowardly way.
But because he was a Coyote, he turned around suddenly.
He was looking for my back, but I found his front.

Coyote, Coyote altivo,
Que no respetaste amores,
Pudiendo ser buen amigo,
Te mataron tus traiciones.

Coyote, arrogant Coyote,
(You) who did not respect love,
You could have been a good friend,
(But instead) your betrayals killed you.

Translation Notes:

Le pinte un cuatro al coyote, y me fui para la sierra.

I drew a cross over the Coyote, and I left for the sierra.
I painted a four on the Coyote, and I left for the sierra. [*lit.]

The song begins by describing the Catholic hand motion for blessing another person by drawing a cross in the air, in front of their forehead. It looks almost like you are drawing the number “4” shape, although the way that I am used to seeing this hand motion, it really looks like an upside down “4”. I was taught up-down, then side-to-side.

This is not Mexican slang. It is a poetic phrase that Mexican Catholics will understand from context by recognizing the similarity of the hand movements for a number “4” and a cross. It is an interesting coincidence that “4” is an unlucky number associated with death in China, but José Alfredo Jiménez probably did not know about that. The Catholic context is more relevant.

The man nicknamed “The Coyote” is dead. The narrator of the song then goes back to tell the story of who the Coyote was and what happened.

El Coyote era un bandido, nacido allá por mi tierra.

The Coyote was a bandit, born near my hometown.
The Coyote was a bandit, born over there by my land. [*lit.]

Here mi tierra (my land, my home) likely means they come from the same geographic cluster of towns or ranches or farms. If ranches or farms, then it makes sense why they are not from the same place (thus por mi tierra, not en or de mi tierra). Kids scattered along farming communities like this tend to go to schools at whichever village is closer.

Aquella noche de Mayo, le gusto mi María Elena.

That May night, he set his sights on my Maria Elena.
That night of May, he fancied/liked my Maria Elena. [*lit.]

Y abrazando a María Elena, le dije ya tiene nombre.

And hugging Maria Elena, I told him she has a name now.

He means literally that she has a married name now, but he’s also saying “she’s mine.” Saying ya tiene nombre (lit. he/she/it has a name now) isn’t something you can only say about people. It’s also a way of saying that something has been claimed or that something belongs to someone. For example, if you bake a cake intended for someone specific, you can say that ya tiene nombre. For usage with people, you should be very careful because it may be offensive if used casually; it is a strong statement to claim someone. In this case, the singer has an established close relationship with Maria Elena (recently married) and is saying it to protect her from aggressive interest from another man.

No le busques, Coyote.

Don’t mess with him, Coyote.
Don’t look [for a fight] with him, Coyote. [*literal]
Don’t seek it out, Coyote. [*literal]

buscar (verb) = to look for; to seek

buscarle (verb) = to look for it (from someone/something); to seek it out (from someone/something)

Coyote, Coyote altivo, que no respetaste amores

Coyote, arrogant Coyote, (you) who did not respect love

Here, amor (love) is used in plural form. He is not just talking about love in general, but specific loves, i.e. the love he and his wife share for each other.

The word altivo comes from alto (tall, high).

Pudiendo ser buen amigo, / te mataron tus traiciones.

You could have been a good friend, / (but instead) your betrayals killed you.
Having the potential to be a good friend, / you were killed by your betrayals (instead). [*alt.]

The word “instead” is implied by the verb choice and conjugation.

pudiendo ser = having been able to be [having the option to be, in the past]

Jose Alfredo Jimenez – without accents so WordPress search can find this song lyrics translation

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