The most popular of Mexican folklore is La Llorona, or the crying woman, a mythical figure of vengeance and regret. She is one of several key figures in Mexican culture which include Virgen de Guadalupe and Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, which seem to have roots in many other mythological beings of Aztec and Mayan beliefs. There is also some striking similarities in the folklore between La Llorona and other stories from Hebrew Mythology (Eve and Lilith), the German "Die Weiss Frau", Slavic mythology of the Rusalka, and the Greek tale of Lamia.
The lore dates back to the Spanish conquistadores. A beautiful indigenous woman named María caught the eye of wealthly Spaniard with a wandering eye. In the hopes of trying to keep his devotion, she bore him two sons which he cherished. But she sees the man running around the town with a younger, prettier woman. In a fit of rage, the woman threw his sons into the river, drowning them. When she saw what she had done, she was overwhelmed with guilt and regret. She threw herself into the river and drowned. But she would not be reunited with her children. She was punished to roam the river for eternity, and when the moon is full, and the wind chills the night air, her cries can be heard…. Ay mis hijos, AYYYYY MIS HIIIIIJOOOS…. (Oh my children, oh my children).
A CAUTIONARY TALE
Parents in Mexico often scold their colicky children by warning them not cry for La Llorona will hear them and come for them at night thinking they are her children. My mamá said to me, on rare occasion of course, and I always wondered if it would happen. Late at night, early in the morning, when I woke up and ran to the bathroom, I jumped at every shadow. There's no denying that it also serves as a cautionary tale for both sexes: women, don't let a man decide your fate, and men, be true to your women. I believe the enduring legacy of the story is just how effective it can be at curbing bad behavior.
LA LLORONA IN MEDIA
The tale of La Llorona has been brought to the screen many times, most effectively in Mexican films like La Llorona (1933, Dir. Ramón Peón), La Llorona (1960, Dir. René Cardona), and The Curse of the Crying Woman (1963, Dir. Rafael Baledón). 2019 saw two adaptations, the James Wan (of The Conjuring universe) production The Curse of the Llorona (Dir. Michael Chaves) which veered off the traditional narrative and set the film in Los Angeles?! The Guatemalan film La Llorona (Dir. Jayro Bustamante) much more successful film reset the story during the trial of a Guatemalan dictator who orchestrated the genocide of native Mayans in 1982-83.
In music, Chavela Vargas popularized one of hundreds of versions of the song "La Llorona" in the 1990s. It's believed to be Mexican folklore song with obscure origins, and has almost a hundred known verses that each repeat twice. (Wikipedia) As singers interpret the song, they pick and choose the verses they want, making each iteration slightly different and unique, and each tells both a similar story and a different one each time. It was also featured in Disney Pixar's Coco movie at the pivotal climax of the film.
THE HAUNTED ATTRACTION
Universal Studios Hollywood brought La Llorona to life in 2022 with their stunning haunted walk through attraction. Be warned the video below is quite frightening to behold. (Video from Attractions 360º) And in 2023, they have debuted Monstruos: The Monsters of Latin America Haunted House which features other iconic legends such as La Lechuza and El Chupacabra (coming next year to Los Muertos Cemetery!).
MY OWN STORY OF LA LLORONA
The story of La Llorona is so embedded in our cultural psyche that just about every Mexican has a tale to tell about an encounter, sighting, or crying they once heard. I too had my own encounter and it's wrapped in a deeply personal and tragic story of our family. My family gave me their consent to share this story. Every word is true.