USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘la llorana’
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Legends

La Llorona’s Curse

Main Piece

H: “This guy in our town would always tell the story of La Llorana and he died in his house in a weird way. It looked like someone choked him.

My cousin invited us to play Mario kart. So we played and then were like let’s go outside and talk to my uncle. His name was Miguel. We asked him questions about his stutter. We were kids, so some ppl were born that way, but some other people they become that way with a stutter. When I was young he used to speak fluidly. So we asked him why he started talking that way.

 

This woman who lost their children, it dates back all the way to when the Spanish ppl came to the first time to America and they invaded the Mayas. There was this girl who was trying to be a Maya and her husband put her in a hole with her children so they could escape the killing of that the Spanish people were doing. But it started to rain, and she was able to survive but her children died.

 

You can see her ghost and hear her voice asking for her children. The way she said, “Ayy chicos.” It’s just that in there, that there are a lot of people who are able to replicate her voice and they sound like her. I was with my mom and my sister and you started to hear someone in the house, I was looking at the window and was trying to see what it is. And I was scared. She looked at me weird and was like, “Oh, it’s probably someone.” It sounded so real, it was a woman’s voice, when I heard it – my skin got like chicken skin. People use it so people would get scared in communities, so people would get scared and get inside their houses. So people do it so they can steal your animals like cows and pigs. So you get scared and you lock yourself in your house so those people can get your things.

 

Anyways, back to the original story I was telling you. He used to have a parcel, a small land where he farmed corn. The thing is, is that the places where I lived in Mexico, you have the place where you live and the place you farm the corn is far away. So his parcel was a mile away from where he lives. So he had to walk there. people in my town used to work very late, they wouldn’t get to their house until 8pm. So he used to tell us one day he was working there in his parcel, on his way home he realized he forgot his bag with tools, on his way back to the parcel to his farm. First, he started feeling someone was following him. The weather started to get really windy, and then, how do you say it, when you have a lot of mist?”

 

Me: “Foggy?”

 

H: “Yeah it started to get a little foggy. Being a kid he was 12 he started realizing something was moving in between the trees and he actually felt someone threw a rock at him. He saw this girl in a white dress. That’s how a lot of people describe La Llorana – this woman in a wedding dress. When he saw her he started to run, he tripped and when he tried to get up, La Llorana touched him on the lips. So that’s why he stutters, because he was so scared.”

 

Context

The informant told me this story when I asked him to tell me some ghost stories from his childhood because he grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico. He told me about the main experiences he’s had with La Llorana. The context of how my friend heard the story is included in the main piece.

 

Notes

 

It almost feels like these stories came from a documentary or movie. It follows so many creative tropes like the typical old man in the village who has a quirk because he was touched or saw a ghost. Plus, how people will pretend to be ghosts to scare people into their homes so they can steal their livestock. I have heard the story of La Llorana before, but not so many stories that came from one person to where, while my friend was telling me the stories, I started to really believe all of it was true. I don’t actually know if it is true or not, but I was definitely convinced while he was telling them to me.

Legends
Narrative
Protection
Signs

La Llorona Legend

KF: Ok so, um, there’s this tale, or folklore, or urban legend- I’m not quite really sure what it is…um, where- I think they recently made a movie on it too. Uh, La Llorona is a woman who was married and she had children, but her husband ended up cheating on her or leaving her, and so she decided to get back at her husband she was gonna kill her kids, and um, she drowned them in like a nearby river or something and she ended up- I think she ended up committing suicide herself. And so then at night, she comes back uh crying, um, “my kids, my kids!” And So practically, it’s well known throughout like Mexico that like if you live near a river, and she like- you hear her say like “my kids, my kids,” you wanna hide your children cause she’ll like she’ll take them…um, and they’ll disappear forever or something like that.

 

Background:

Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friend’s with KF.

 

Analysis: La Llorona has extensive foundations in the conquistador era, and the lack of knowledge about the historical context demonstrates to me how extensively the legend has spread and varied amongst different communties. I have studied La Llorona before but never had I heard about the warning cry “my kids, my kids!” Therefore, this is one of the more impactful versions of La Llorona I have heard because it actually has a physical effect on the people who might believe they have heard the cry because they remove their kids from a physical space.

Annotation: Another recent version of this legend is the The Curse of La Llorona movie that was recently released.

Citation: Chaves, Michael, director. The Curse of La Llorona. New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster Productions, 2019.

Legends

La Llorona

Main Text

La Llorona is a story about this grieving, um, it’s a grieving mom who lost her children, and that, she goes around taking kids from, from other families, screaming, “¡Ay! Mis niños, ¿donde están?” which translates to, “Oh! My kids, where are they?” You know what, you know he’s just—she’s, they’re looking for them, because. They died or, they were lost.

Background

The subject is a 21-year-old Mexican American in his third year at USC. He recalls first hearing the legend of La Llorona at around the age of four or six. Through childhood, he was frequently told the story of La Llorona by his parents as a form of discipline. If he or his siblings misbehaved, their parents said that La Llorona would come and take them away. The subject mentions that this usage of La Llorona as a form of parental discipline was common in every Mexican-American household, along with corporal punishment via the chancla (a flip-flop) or the belt. In terms of disciplinary severity, the subject as a child would have considered La Llorona to be less of a threat than the chancla and the belt. The subject stopped believing in the literal existence of La Llorona around the age of seven, eight, or nine—around the same time, he says, that most children realize that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Context

Growing up, the subject often discussed the legend of La Llorona with other Mexican American children in his hometown of Van Nuys. The purpose of such discussion was less to ascertain whether La Llorona was real, and more to affirm a shared folk experience of being disciplined by parents in the same manner. He felt that only other Mexican Americans would understand the normalcy of the disciplinary method, rather than reacting judgmentally and mischaracterizing the discipline as a form of child abuse.

Over time, the subject’s childhood fear associated with La Llorona dulled into nostalgia, and he began to view La Llorona as a central part of his cultural history. Based on this current perception, the subject says that he finds it fascinating the legend was even used as a disciplinary tactic to begin with. He characterizes its use as a disciplinary tactic as “negative”—as the opposite of how he believes folklore like La Llorona ought to be used. He thinks folklore like La Llorona should be used as a “positive” way to build a shared sense of cultural identity through the passing down of traditions.

Another “positive” use of La Llorona, the subject argues, is for entertainment. The subject mentions an instance when his Spanish teacher showed the class a cartoon adaptation of La Llorona, to give the class a simple task to occupy their attention on a relatively work-free day. The class, which was majority Latino, was familiar with the legend; as such, the teacher had offer little explanation for what the plot of the story was. The subject especially enjoyed the video retelling of La Llorona because of its “authenticity,” which he defined in terms of aesthetic choices, such as including all the major motifs in the legend (e.g. the river, the ghostly spirit), and casting Mexican voice actors who spoke Spanish with a proper Mexican accent.

Interviewer’s Analysis

When asked to elaborate on what constituted “authenticity” in folklore adaptation, the subject compared the La Llorona video to the Scooby Doo film, The Monster of Mexico, which he felt portrayed both an inauthentic version of the Chupacabra (another legendary Mexican monster), and an inauthentic version of Mexico. The Monster of Mexico made the Chupacabra look like Bigfoot, characterized Mexicans through stereotypical sombreros and maracas iconography, and most condemnably, featured an all-white cast. For the subject, authenticity in Mexican folklore adaptation hinged on the folklore not being whitewashed. Here, the interviewer asked the subject how one might strike a balance between fighting the hegemony of whitewashed folklore, and not establishing a new hegemony by claiming to have a singularly authoritative “authentic” interpretation.

Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. The subject replied that he didn’t think ought to be a singularly authoritative authenticator for adaptations of folklore. In the context of Latino folklore, the subject suggested that his concern was less with defining authenticity, than fostering a sense of accountability. He didn’t want people to create adaptations of Latino folklore for a mainstream general audience, without creators being mindful of what portrayals of Latino culture they could potentially misinform non-Latinos with.

While the subject’s answer certainly adds nuance to defining the boundary between artificially authoritative authenticity and hegemony, the question of where that boundary is still remains—and, in the interviewer’s opinion, cannot be answered without defining what precisely “whitewashing” is. Is whitewashing the same as Americanization? Who defines and authenticates what is American, when America houses multiple types of cultures? What counts as “white” culture? Is any insertion of “white” culture into a historically nonwhite folklore adaptation automatically considered whitewashing? For instance, in the La Llorona video, the children are portrayed as trick-or-treaters, to appeal to a broader American audience—does that count as whitewashing?

These questions are complicated, and any definition of “whitewashing” for the purposes of evaluating “authenticity” of folklore will inevitably struggle to cover every scenario. Perhaps a more appropriate starting point, would be to consider folklore adaptation in terms of social power structures. What cultures does one group get a “pass” to freely adapt from? Who authenticates the “pass” under what circumstances? How do dynamics play out when authenticity gets contested?  Who is contesting authenticity, under what definition, and why?

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