“¡Ay, mis hijos!” wailed a woman by the banks of the river. The bone-chilling tale of La Llorona, the weeping woman, has been an iconic legend passed down through a relative or a friend, such as a mamá telling her hijos que se comporten; to behave or else La Llorona will whisk them away. In some cases, a friend of a friend whose tía knew someone who met La Llorona swears she is real. Whether you are a believer or not, this iconic legend is a childhood memory few can forget.
No tengan, miedo. Don’t be scared, it’s make-believe, right?
“I heard about La Llorena when I was in kinder; some kid was telling the story and I asked the teacher and she tried to scare us. It didn’t affect my childhood because my mom told me she wasn’t real,” says Mariana Beltrandelrio, a Junior at New Mexico State University.
Over the years her tale has been transformed, causing numerous versions to spread. The most common version of La Llorona involves a body of water. Whether it was the edge of a river, un canal, or a lake, a body of water meant the mysterious figure was guaranteed to roam the area.
“Ay, mis hijooooooos… Ayyyy, my children.”
One version of La Llorona, according to the Texas State Historical Association, is of a young woman named Mariá who fell in love with a young hidalgo, had children, and were happily living together; however, their marriage was not official since it was not recognized by the church. The increasing pressure from the hidalgo’s family to marry someone of a higher status led to the hidalgo marrying another woman, but would continue to support and visit María and his children. After the wedding ceremony, María, blinded by rage, “and in a crazed state killed the children, threw them into a nearby body of water, and then drowned herself. But when her soul applied for admission to heaven, el Señor refused her entry.” In order for her spirit to rest, María had to find her children.
A Tale of Heartbreak
One thing is certain: an inconsolable woman is mourning the loss of her children. In some stories the children were murdered by her lover, accidentally killed, or she drowned them.
“She was a mom of two children and they both died. I don’t remember how she lost her children, but she kept haunting their house after her children died and kept asking for her kids,” shares Mariana Beltrandelrio, a Junior at New Mexico State University.
“She was a woman who had drowned her own children in a river, and now continues to search for her children. In her search for her children, she might claim other children who are not her own,” adds Valerie Ramirez, University of Texas at El Paso graduate.
“My grandmother was the one who told me and my cousins about La Llorona when we were little. Her story was different than other versions I heard and picked up over the years. [Her] version of the story said that La Llorona’s children accidentally drowned and she also drowned trying to find/save them. So now she comes back every night to the river crying looking for her lost children,” shares Ana-Alizette Ruiz, graduate student at the University of Incarnate Word.
Genesis Granados, University of Texas at Austin graduate, provides a different yet similar version of La Llorona. “I’ve heard the story of La Llorona starting from my childhood until now. My abuelita used to tell me the story of this woman who in a moment of insanity drowned her children. When she came back from this she had realized what she had done, and mourned her children until her death,” she says.
Tracing the Origins of La LLorona
The Texas State Historical Association traces the tale of La Llorna to the era of Hernán Cortés and associates La LLorona with La Malinche, Cortés’ lover. Director of La Llorona, Bernadine Santistevan, went on a five year journey to find the truth about La Llorona. She claims the tale of the weeping woman goes back to 1502 with Cihuacoatl, a goddess, taking “the form of a beautiful lady draped in white garments. Throughout the night she cries out in misery, ‘Oh hijos mios…ya ha llegado vuestra destruccion. Donde os llevare?’ (Oh my children…your destruction has arrived. Where can I take you?) Many believe that Cihuacoalt was speaking of the future conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards.” In some instances, the history of La Llorona is a socio-political and cultural analogy of the shared history between Mexico and Spain.
Ay, could she really be real?
After the death of La Malinche, stories of a woman dressed in white haunting the streets of Mexico City spread. In 1550, the first official sighting of La Llorona occurred in Mexico City. During a full-moon night, a woman “wearing a white dress and veil” was seen roaming the streets; “her last stop is always La Plaza Mayor where she lets out her most desperate, horrific cry, after which she vanishes into the lake.”
Since then, the legend of the weeping woman is a cautionary tale for children who disobey parents, stay out after dark, or even abandoned families. From amusement parks, films, poetry, and plays, to countless books, La Llorona’s cultural influence is difficult to ignore.