Tag Archives: femininity

La Llorona

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. She learned this story from her grandmother, who told it to her as a child. She grew up in near the Rio Grande in Albuquerque New Mexico, a river which also goes through Mexico.

Text:

MV: So the story goes that um.. there was this woman. She doesn’t really have a name, but… she was like a really beautiful woman and she lived in this little town and she fell in love with this man and she loved him so much and they got married, and she was like really obsessed with him, she really wanted to like… marry him… and just have him. So they ended up getting married and they had a few kids, a boy and a girl. She really loved the kids and they were really beautiful too because she was the most beautiful woman in the village.

One day, like, she was noticing that he was, like, was coming home really late, and was really sus, and wasn’t telling her where he was going or if he was at work or what was going on. And so, she found out that he was having an affair, and this, like, shattered her entire world… she went crazy!

So, she goes into the Rio Grande, and she takes her kids, and she’s so sad about what happened and she can’t stop crying (which is why she’s called La Llorona, hehe) So she’s bawling and bawling and she drowns her kids! In the river, cuz she’s just so sad, crazy, and like, I don’t know she was really into this guy… She drown herself in the river too, with her kids, after that. And pretty much, the legend after that is like, when you hear the wind going through the bosque (forest) near the Rio Grande, like that howling is her crying… that’s La Llorona!

JS: What do you think the story means?

MV: I think it’s just, like, a heartbreak. She had her heart broken really badly and she didn’t know how to handle that.

Thoughts:

The legend of La Llorona appears across a wide swath of Mexican and Central American folklore. In her historic-geographic study of the legend, Ana Maria Carbonell finds this destructive motherly figure to date as far back as the early days of colonization in the Americas. La Llorona is often seen as a figure to be feared, a deranged mother bent on murdering her kids, but Carbonell reads her against the patriarchal system which backgrounds her, and which causes her to place her self-worth or ontological justification within the (patriarchal) institution of marriage which, when shattered, has disastrous and deadly effects. This narrative shows the loss of the children not as a result of psychological derangement, but of hierarchical relations which compel la Llorona to destructive acts of love. Water is here a figure for destruction as well as birth. This figure of la Llorona, instead of a passive subject of the patriarchal gaze, has some subjective agency and is able to act out against a patriarchal order which subjugates her and which she fears for her children to enter. Note that the informant explained la Llorona’s actions in terms of the violence that was afflicted upon her and her inability to cope with it, not because of some internal fault, but because of external oppressions.

Carbonell, Ana Maria. “From Llorona to Gritona: Coatlique in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros.” MELUS, vol. 24, no. 2, Religion, Myth, and Ritual. Summer 1999

El Cucuy

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and the other half is mestizo. Much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. She learned this story from her grandmother, who told it to her when she was a child.

Text:

JS: Tell me the story of El Quiqui (alternatively el cucuy)

MV: All right so el quiqui lives in tunnels in the mountains. And he’s a really creepy guy who takes away bad children and eats them. There’s this girl, her name is Rosa or some other Mexican shit it doesn’t really matter (laughs). And she’s such a good kid, always does her chores, is obedient and all that. Her sister, though, her name is… Margarita (laughs), she’s awful, just a bad kid all around. So one night el quiqui comes and takes her to the mountains. Rosa goes up and just as he is about to eat Margarita, she saves her, and also finds all these other kids in his tunnels and sets them free.

JS: What do you think the story means?

MV: Classic. Classic! “Do your chores or you’re gonna get eaten (laughs)”

Thoughts:

The practical utility of this legend, as the informant stated above, is obvious. It is a tool for persuading children to take care of household duties. Paradoxically, to give them a sense of responsibility, the story scares them into obedience. The informant’s response, “classic,” suggests that household duty and obedience are important parts of being a woman in a Mexican family. Interestingly, in this informant’s account, the two children were girls. This gendering of the objects of El Cucuy’s aggression suggests that young girls are more often trained at a young age to assist with chores around the house than young boys. The faithful Rosa is a model child, one with a sense of responsibility to her sister and to her family. She is a model of domesticity and virtue. Additionally, El Cucuy is masculine, suggesting that a girl who is not obedient will be taken away and consumed by a mysterious and dangerous man. The story can be used to scare children into doing their chores, but it also contains a gendered lesson of matronly duty and selflessness, that if one does not practice obedience, she will end up with an unfavorable man and meet her demise.

For a more comprehensive look at El Cucuy and other Mexican children’s folk legends, see Domino Renee Perez’s book There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture

Perez, Domino Renee. There was a woman: La Llorona from folklore to popular culture. University of Texas Press, 2008.

Ivan Kupala

“Ivan Kupala, which is celebrated on a midsummer night, celebrates the young women of the community. The girls wear flower wreaths on their heads, though at the end of the night they let them float down the river. Everyone, especially the girls, sing happy and innocent songs all day, and they do not sleep for fear of demons or witches that arrive in the night. A bonfire is lit to symbolize purity and renewal as well. Eventually, everyone goes through the forests in search of a fern flower. When you find it, you make a wish and the flower has the power to grant your wish.”


 

The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. The interlocutor stated that of all the holidays unique to Russia, she enjoyed the concept of Ivan Kupala the most because of its positive imagery and perspective on femininity. She laments that she does not know of any event that celebrates femininity in the way the Ivan Kupala does, and she hopes to receive a flowered wreath or herb wreath on her next visit to Russia during the summer. However, she does not know if she could last through such a long event, especially as it lasts through the night.

A prominent theme throughout this holiday is the celebratory sentiment regarding the budding fertility of women. The flowers represent their nascent ability to bear fruit of their own, yet it is not a shameful or ascetic acknowledgement, but one of commemoration and joy. This goes for the fern flower that is sought after as well; its special capacity to grant wishes also symbolizing the power that women have through their fertility.

Cameroonian Views on Femininity

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.

“In my culture it is believed that a woman who has no children is considered wicked, a man, and worthless. If she is married and childless, she will be divorced and asked to return her dowry to her husband. From what we know today, infertility could be from the man. Yet, yet all the blame goes to the woman, but back then, it was only the woman. The belief is that the wickedness comes in because gods would not bless a bad person and children, children are the most cherished gift to a women. So she would be shown without a child and no man is supposed to love a woman who could produce no heir. Next to a woman without children is one who has only one child—especially if it is a girl child—or has all girls. Women are blamed for not being able to produce an heir since most believe that only the boys should inherit the family s fortune. The irony here, is that, these same people who prefer boys stand to benefit when a girl gets married through the bride price and dowry.”

 

Analysis: My informant learned these cultural beliefs from relatives and extended family while living in Cameroon. This piece of cultural knowledge gives a very clear picture of the gender lines and distinctions within Cameroonian culture. From even this small amount of verbal exchange the listener gets an immediate and clear understanding that Cameroon is a patriarchal country that places incredible pressure on the women to live up to the standards of men. It is also interesting to note that in many cases after having moved from Cameroon to America these beliefs do not hold as much weight. My informant’s daughter, who is a close friend of mine, acknowledges her cultural beliefs, but does not hold the belief that the importance of women should be placed underneath that of a man. This gives the impression that cultural folklore has a much stronger meaning when the folklore is being spread in an area where the majority of people hold those same beliefs.