What is La Llorona?

By Gaoli Moua

If you ever hear a woman weeping in the dead of night while crying out “¡O hijos míos!” you should be a little scared because she could be La Llorona.

La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, has haunted Mexican and Latin American children for over five centuries. She has been written about in books, spoken about around the campfire and portrayed in Hollywood films. For some, she is just a mythical character created to scare children into good behavior, but for others she is a real entity that is often seen in the night.

“The Llorona is a popular figure throughout Central America, Mexico, and Southwestern United States, where I grew up,” Spanish Professor Marc Anderson said. “She was originally based on the Aztec goddess Coatlicue, who supposedly appeared prophetically just before the Spanish conquest crying for her children who would be lost. After the conquest, she was seen frequently, usually as the prelude to disaster.”

Growing up in Montrose, Colo., Anderson heard one of the many different variations of the Llonora story.

“We heard stories about the ‘Ditch Witch,’ who wandered along irrigation ditches looking for her children, whom she had supposedly drowned,” Anderson said.

“[As a child,] I wasn’t really scared by the story—it was just a ghost story,” Anderson said. “Of course, if I had been wandering around the arroyo (creek) at night, I might have felt differently. My suspicion is that only very young children would be scared of the Llorona or her male counterpart, El duende.”

Maria Tibavinsky, a 20-year-old senior from Lawrenceville, Ga., majoring in Nutrition Science, said she was also not afraid of La Llorona or the story. Growing up in Bogota, Columbia, Tibavinsky learned about the story in school but couldn’t recall the details of the myth.

“I was probably more afraid of el cuco, the boogey man,” said Tibavinsky. “But sometimes I would hear my Aunts say that a friend had seen [La Llorona].”

Paloma Baldovinos, a 22-year-old senior double majoring in international affairs and anthropology from Hampton, Ga., remembers being scared of the La Llorona story as a child.

“Once upon a time when the Spanish first began to settle in Mexico, there was a particularly wealthy Spanish officer who led a young, native girl to believe that he loved her and would marry her,” Baldovinos recalled.

“They were together for a while and she bore him 3 children; all seemed well. But later [the Spanish officer] was offered a marriage to the daughter of a high-ranking Spanish official. He had money but he knew what the marriage could do for his rank so he accepted and married her. As soon as the native girl, mother of his children, found out, she was devastated. In a fit of rage and frustration she killed her children and threw them into the lake. When she realized what she’d done, she committed suicide to ‘remedy’ her pain.”

In most La Llorona stories, the native girl’s spirit reaches the gates of heaven and is refused entry because she did not have her children’s spirits with her. She is told she can only enter when she has found them.

“The scary part was that we were told that at nights you could hear her walking the streets wailing out ‘¡O hijos míos!’—basically ‘Oh, my children!’—in search of her children,” Baldovinos explained.

“If we were crying or making a big fuss, we were always warned that she would come get us and take us into the lake because she thought that we were one of her children screaming out for her.”

Even though she is just a myth, there are have been reports of La Llorona sightings by people of all ages all over the Americas. The story has been localized according to country and region, where many communities have identified bodies of water with her.

Juan Carlos Ramirez, a Mexican literature professor at San Diego State University Imperial Valley Campus, told Alejandra Davila at the Imperial Valley Press in 2011that the myth promotes good motherhood and solicits good behavior from children.

“I do plan on telling my children this story,” Baldovinos said. “However, I am not sure if I will scare them with it because, I have to admit that, to this day I feel a tremor of fear pass through me on those dark windy nights when the wind seems to wail out.”

Folk story or not, La Llorona is a story that is likely to have a lasting impact on people of all ages. Adapted to television, NBC’s Grimm’s “La Llorona” episode received high ratings when it first aired last October.

This story was originally written in October 2012 and submitted to a student newspaper for publication.


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