When you live by an arroyo and Halloween and Día de los Muertos is around the corner, La Llorona has a way of getting into your thoughts. Have you ever noticed that if La Llorona comes up in conversation someone claims they’ve seen her, or they know someone who has?
The most common version of the legend that I’ve heard, involves a beautiful Indigenous woman named Maria who falls in love with a Spaniard at a dance. He builds her a house; they have children, and they live a happy life. The husband, who is a very important man, travels a lot and one day he shocks Maria when he comes back to town engaged with an elegant Spanish woman and disowns his family. Maria, distraught, takes her children to the river and drowns them out of jealousy. She immediately regrets her actions but it’s too late. Heartbroken, she takes her own life and is said to be punished for eternity searching and wailing “¡Mis Hijos!”. At the end of this story children are often warned to not go around the river at night because she might mistake them as her own and take them with her.
This is only one of hundreds of variations of this story. I’ve heard stories where the river is replaced by the railroad, ditches, acequias, arroyos or dark streets. In Rudolfo Anaya’s version, La Llorona is tricked into killing her children by Señor Tiempo who is jealous of her. Sometimes she is a seductress of men and will appear to be the most beautiful woman in the world only to turn into a zombie. The versions vary over time and by region and seem to evolve to whatever warning the community feels the need to instill. One could argue that the flexibility and evolution of this legend is the reason it has endured for so many years and spread over so many countries.
Some say the story of La Llorona is actually based on La Malinche, a Nahua woman who was enslaved and taken as a mistress by the conquistador Herńan Cortés and she is often associated with the Aztec goddess, Cihuacoatl who is also known for wailing for her dead son. Interestingly enough, there are similar stories from the Philippines, Jewish, Greek and Slavic mythology.
I must admit that as a mother I have always felt empathy with La Llorona and wondered if she was simply misunderstood. So, I came up with my own version of the legend:
La Llorona lived out in the country with her two beautiful children that she adored. One day by the river she was washing clothes, and because the river was strong, she allowed her children to play only in the shallow end. Suddenly, she heard the crunching of horse hooves and that alarmed her because in town people had been talking about thieves terrifying the people of the village. She told her children to be silent and to hide in the bushes close to the water. La Llorona grabbed a rock and stick and hid behind a tree to watch the men go by. She tried to listen to what the men were saying but the rushing river was too loud, but she could tell they were up to no good. Following the men with her eyes, she didn’t notice that her children had slipped into the water until it was too late. She jumped into the rushing river and the current pulled her under. Since then, the ghost of la Llorona has dedicated herself to keeping children safe from drowning in waterways by scaring them away.