Who doesn’t know La Llorona, The Woman in White, or many of her other names? We all know the tale but do know the story behind it?
A Woman of Many Names
La Llorona, pronounced: LAH yoh ROH nah.
It is an old oral tradition told in most Latin American countries, specifically Mexican. The story varies in different countries; for example, La Llorona is also known as the woman in white in America.
The story has passed down in the Southwest since the days of the Conquistadors and is the one I am most familiar with. According to tradition, La Llorona is a tall thin spirit blessed with natural beauty.
She wears a long white dress and roams the creeks and rivers, with outwardly cries into the night, “Donde estan mis hijos?” translated to, Where are my children? Wails heard slowly fading into a watery grave.
No one knows where the story originated from or if there is any truth behind it. But as legends have it, the story begins of a young peasant woman dubbed, Maria.
As Far As We Know
She is from a humble village surrounded by rustic scenery. She would dress in a long flowing white gown and mesmerize the local men with her dancing and beauty.
As the story unfolds, young men from around the region would flock to watch her. Maria reveled in the attention she received, but she couldn’t spend too much time outside because she had two small boys she had to take care of.
According to legend, she kept staying out later and later leaving her two young sons alone. Then one day, the two young boys were found drowned by the river’s edge. To some in the village, the boys drowned because of her neglect or because she murdered them.
Here’s Another One For You
In another retelling, the story starts with a young peasant woman who married into a rich family. Her wealthy husband at first lavished her with gifts and attention.
Eventually, after having two children, her husband stopped bestowing her attention, and her jealousy grew as her husband paid more attention to the children.
Late one night after a jealous scene, she grabbed her children and threw them to the raging river below. After realizing what she had done, she jumped into the river, trying to save the lives of her babies but drowned along with her children.
Why Not Another Story?
In another retelling, La Llorona strolled down the city with her two boys when she spotted her husband in a carriage with another woman. He recognized his children and stopped to say hello to them, but ignored her.
In a moment of shame and jealous rage, she grabbed her boys and ran to the angry river and tossed them into black churning waters. After a moment of clarity, she ran down the banks of the river wailing, “What have I done.”
Maria mourned her children day and night. She was inconsolable. She wouldn’t eat and would walk down the river in her white nightgown crying the loss of her two sons—hoping they would come back to her.
Maria grew thinner as the days went by, her guilt shown in her gaunt skeleton white face. As legend has it, she grew weaker and taller, until she became unrecognizable. Eventually, she died on the river banks and haunted them to this day.
The Outcome Of What Happened
Maria still haunts the Rio Grande where I grew up. My mother’s tale was frightening us into staying away from the river and not being out late at night. It worked for a bit when I was younger.
So what makes this story scary is that the ghost of Maria kills indiscriminately. Dragging men, women, and children down into the black waters of the river to never be heard of again.
In other retellings, she will only kill disobedient children. Others say she kills those who don’t treat their family well. This story is told throughout the Rio Grande in Texas.
La Llorona’s influence has grown wider, following Hispanic people wherever they go. Her power has been tracked throughout the Southwest.
Also, as far north as Montana to the banks of the Yellowstone River, more commonly referred to as the woman in white.
The Popularity Of The Legend
The story of La Llorona has played on American shows, like Supernatural, Grimm, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Queer Eye, The Morning Show, and countless American movies like La Llorona, Chasing Papi, La Leyenda de la Llorona, KM 31: Kilometre 31, The Curse of the Crying Woman, The Wailer, and so on…
One of the first Mexican horror movies made and produced after her is a 1933 Mexican film, named La Llorona translated to, The Crying Woman.
Based On Real Events
Other versions of the legend related to La Llorona to the real historical figure of La Malinche, c. 1500 – c. 1529. Doña Marina was an indigenous Nahua woman who acted as an interpreter, advisor, and intermediary for the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes.
In time became the consort of the conquistador Hernán Cortés. She was just one of twenty women slaves given to the Spaniards by the natives of Tabasco in 1519. Much about her birth name and birthday are unknown.
La Malinche has been intermingled with Aztec legends such as La Llorona and remains a controversial figure in the history of the conquest of Mexico. Some consider her a disloyal citizen, a betrayer of her people to the European invaders.
Additionally, she is recognized as having helped find modern Mexico by averting unnecessary bloodshed with her linguistic skills and steering the way to a racially-integrated Mexico by giving birth to a mestizo son named Martin.
Who was later recognized as legitimate by the Catholic Church, whose father was Cortés.
The Aftermath of La Malinche
She is portrayed as a scheming temptress, evil, and manipulative, especially during the Mexican Revolution.
She is regarded as a quintessential victim or the mother of a new kind of Mexican people. Whatever part she played in the past, and not easily forgotten. The term ‘malinchista’ refers to a disloyal compatriot, especially in Mexico.
Malinche’s memory has become a mythical archetype in modern Hispanic culture. As popular legend has it that she murdered her son by Cortés.
Nevertheless, the folk-tale endures that La Malinche was overwhelmed with grief after her child taken from her, that she cursed the Spanish with whom she had collaborated.
According to legend, she took her own life, and walked the earth as a tormented soul, bringing darkness and misfortune wherever she went.
The Memory Remains
This Hispanic legend has interwoven with American culture. A timely tale of a mother’s love and guilt. A story to frighten children into obeying their parents.
A cautionary tale of loving your family and your children. Not to be vain and selfish. The story hits at the heart of the matter, love, jealousy, revenge, grief, envy.
It’s a transcendent mythical retelling rich in culture since the fifteen hundreds. A story to frighten future generations.