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The Many Faces of "La Llorona"

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The Many Faces of "La Llorona"

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  • September 2008
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"La Llorona", the Crying Woman, is a tale of endless versions told over the centuries by an endless array of anonymous storytellers to scare curious children into doing as they are told. The literary form of orality, though fluid and dynamic, is in this case the force behind the cohesion of the contents of the various versions of this Chicano legend. I shall show that the different contents found in the multiple versions of "La Llorona" are of the same form, and further, that the variations depend on the locale of settled Chicano populations. In truth, the farther away a distinct Chicano population is from its cultural heritage, the more opaque and sinister the mystic tale of "La Llorona" is told within that local population.

Let us look back to the beginning, the time of Hernando Cortés during Spain's conquest over the Aztec tribes of Mexico. This is where the tale of the Crying Woman was said to have begun ("La Llorona" 79). In this ancient history, La Llorona is part of a holy trinity, mirroring the Christian faith. According to Gloria Anzaldúa, "All three are mediators: Guadalupe, the virgin mother who has not abandoned us, la Chingada (Malinche), the raped mother whom we have abandoned [Malinche is the basis for many of the "La Llorona" versions], and la Llorona, the mother who seeks her lost children and is a combination of the other two" (3047). We see at the time of the tale's birth that the Crying Woman is seen as a mother to the Aztec people and she is crying for her children being lost to the Spaniards and their religion. Here at the origin, amid the still pure Aztec culture, La Llorona is a figure of compassion and respect: not a story to scare children.

Though the shortest of the versions, La Llorona in Mexico still has some of the compassion and culture of the long ago displaced Aztec civilization. It reads simply, "At night, in the wind, a woman's voice was heard. 'Oh my children, we are now lost!' Sometimes she said, 'Oh my...