go near the water," mothers caution their children, "You might drown."
Good advice, but it has another meaning in Mexico
and Texas. Moms living near the Rio Grandé
are protecting their children from a different threat than accidentally
falling in; they're talking about being sucked in. They're talking
Many versions of the tragedy of La Llorona (Weeping Woman) exist,
but the basic premise is the same. A beautiful young woman named Maria
falls in love and marries a handsome, rich boy, and their union is
blessed with two sons and a daughter.
The young husband became disenchanted with Maria who had fallen into
a severe depression after the birth of their last child. He soon found
another woman and brought her back to meet his children. He tells
Maria he wants his children but, as to her, he never wants to see
her again. Maria suffered greatly from a broken heart, and fell even
deeper into an emotional abyss she could not climb out of. Because
her husband still loved and wanted the children but not her, Maria
became jealous of them. Depression and envy drove her to do the unthinkable:
she killed her own children.
Maria took all three beautiful children to the river, and drowned
them. The horror of what she had just done snapped her out of the
emotional turmoil in which she had existed for a long time. Now she
was riddled with guilt, and killed herself in the same river that
held the bodies of her children.
Next morning, a villager found Maria's dead body by the river bank,
and rushed to tell the others. It is said that when Maria reached
the gates of Heaven, el Señor asked her "Where are your children?"
and she replied, "I don't know, my Lord." Angry, El Señor then banned
her from entering Heaven and condemned her spirit to earth to search
for the children in the rivers of the Americas. Only after producing
the children would he permit her to enter Heaven.
That night the Villagers heard disembodied weeping -- the ghostly
wail of the dead Maria. She came to be known as La Llorona, a ghost
seeking to fool El Señor with other children by claiming them as hers.
To accomplish this, she pulls other people's children into the rivers
of the Americas and drowns them.
had their own version: the Goddess Cihuacoatl, said to have appeared
just before Cortés invaded Mexico, weeping for her lost children.
This has been interpreted as an omen of the fall of the Aztec empire.
La Llorona is also sometimes identified with La Malinche, the Native
American woman who was interpreter to Cortés. Persistent stories exist
that La Malinche betrayed Mexico to the Spanish conquistadors. One
version says she was Cortés' mistress and bore him a son only to be
abandoned so he could marry a Spanish lady. In this context, the Spanish
invasion of Mexico and the demise of Native American culture after
the conquest are compared with La Llorona's loss. She has also been
compared with the Greek legend of Medea who murdered her children
after she was abandoned by Jason.
the Republic of Texas, variations of the same story are told: Maria
is an American peasant and the boy is from the upper class. They marry
secretly and have three children. The boy's father, unaware of the
covert marriage, arranges a wedding between his son and a Spanish
heiress, forcing the son to leave Maria. Crazed by his marriage to
another woman (which she observed heavily veiled, hiding at the back
of the church), Maria seeks revenge by drowning their innocent children.
Texas is a big place. They have more than one version. The next has
Maria, a beautiful young woman with two small children, falling madly
in love with a very rich man. But he refuses to marry her because
he doesn't like children. This is Maria's reason to drop the children
off a bridge to watery deaths. This time, God is even angrier than
in the Mexican version, and conjures on Maria the head of a horse,
condemning her to forever wander the banks of the Rio Grandé looking
for the children. She has been sighted many times by visitors and
residents alike, always searching, never finding.
Llorona's birthplace differs, depending on the storyteller. She may
come from Juarez, or Tequila, or El
Paso. In Guerrero, she was a prostitute who threw all her unwanted
babies into the river of Tecpan over a period of many years and, when
she finally died a natural death, El Señor punished her by forbidding
entrance into Heaven until she found all the children she had killed.
He dressed her in white and sent her on a quest to wander the rivers.
Those unlucky enough to see or hear her are marked for death. La Llorona
may be dressed all in white, or all in black. She always weeps; sometimes
her tears fall from empty sockets. Sometimes she appears as a skeleton,
and sometimes she deceives her victims by appearing as someone familiar
La Llorona has been seen or heard in locations other than Mexico
and Texas, including New Mexico, Chile,
El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama. Movies (1933's La Llorona,
Mexico; 2006's The Wailer and 2007's The Cry, both U.S.A.), TV shows
(Supernatural 2006) and at least half a dozen books, are devoted to
the tale of the Wailing Woman.
If, in the dark of night, you happen to hear a wailing, weeping woman
crying out "¡O hijos mios!" or "¡Ay mis hijos!" or "¿Donde estan mis
hijos?" or "¿Has visto a mis hijos?" don't answer her and -- don't
go near the water. Grab your kids fast and rush to the nearest desert.
"A Balloon In Cactus" August
10, 2008 column