USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘la llorona’

La Llorona

Context: I was teaching a class of 6th graders through the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC. Almost all of the students in the class are of Latino descent. When I asked the class to tell me any legends that they knew, this was the most commonly known one amongst the students (whose names have been replaced with aliases). 


Instructor: Can anyone tell me a legend that they have heard of? Maybe one I would not know (the students knew that I was from Ireland and might not know some of their culture’s legends).

Angel: Oh sir, sir! (raising his hand high)

Instructor: Yes, Angel. (gesturing to him to speak)

Angel: La Llorona is a legend.

Instructor: Who’s that?

Angel: She’s like a evil spirit that roams around at night near lakes n stuff and if you hear her scream or…eh…see her, I think (slowed down expressing unsureness), it means you’re gunna die soon.

Instructor: Where did you learn this legend?

Angel: My mom told me.

Instructor: Has anyone else heard of this legend?

Most of the students nodded or said ‘yeh’ or ‘uhuhh’ in response.

Mr. Salamander (presiding teacher): When I was a kid, my mom told me that story too. It’s to scare kids to keep them from wandering around at night, especially near lakes or rivers ye’know? La Llorona means like uh…weeping lady.

Instructor: Do you know the backstory to the legend?

Mr. Salamander: Yah. Apparently, she drowned her kids after her husband left her for a younger woman and so know she is cursed to wander the Earth as a spirit. So she weeps for her children and looks for other kids to drown or replace her own or something.


Clearly this legend has a didactic purpose to keep children from wandering at night, especially near bodies of water. Legends can be useful in this way because children don’t have as much of an appreciation for how dangerous the world can be like adults do. Children have a tendency to think that they’re somehow indestructible and can put themselves in dangerous situations, like standing on the edge of river banks, without appreciating the threat of the situation. These kinds of stories help to give those dangers a face, and a scary face at that, which children respond to better than mere adult interdictions. An adult saying, ‘stay away from the water, it’s dangerous’ will not be taken to heart by a child as much as them saying, ‘remember, if you go too close to the river, La Llorona might come out weeping and drag you under the water’.


Mexican Legend of La Llorona

Subject: The Legend of La Llorona.


“Interviewee: There’s two versions of this that I learned, and it always- it always ended up with the children in the river… So, basically, the one of them that I learned was that her- so, La Llorona was like really annoyed with her two kids, they kept on crying and she didn’t know how to deal with them so she drowned them in the river, right like She was just like annoyed and she like- she just lost her temper and like drowned them, essentially.

Um and then the other one was like her husband like left her, and um like she was left with the kids and every time like he visited like, or visited- not visited but like that he- that he saw her on the street, he was like with another woman or whatever. I know, classic story. Man leaves woman for another woman. And every time, he would like ignore her, and like just care about the children and ignore her. So, she felt like resentment for the children, so she drowned them in the river.

And for both of these stories, when she realized what she had done, she like searched and, uh, it was too late obviously, she threw them in the river… um… she threw them in the river and when she realized what had happened, it’d been too late, and she just like went around, for the rest of her life looking for her boys… Woah! I think they were boys. Yeah! That’s interesting. I think they were two boys. Um, looking for her kids. ‘Mis niños. Mis niños’. Yeah, that’s like the classis thing that they would say…

Interviewer: In what context would you hear them?

Interviewee: Always like in Spanish class… my parents didn’t really like, well I guess they did… I think there was a movie about it too. Um, and yeah, like in school and like other people would tell their version of the story. I don’t know where I first heard it… but the most recent one was always in high school. Like Spanish class, high school.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: This account was given to me by my roommate in a conversation late at night. I asked her to recount it for my records a week later.

Analysis: In Z. Cantú’s accounts of La Llorona, multiplicity and variation are explicitly visible since she gives the two most common legends associated with the figure that she has heard in her lifetime.

In the first account provided, La Llorona is depicted to be cold and murderous, the opposite of how mothers are typically portrayed in cultural models and how they are expected to behave. In the second, La Llorona’s motivations are more human; however, she is still subverting the traditional model of the mother in which the woman is caring and warm. The portrayl of La Llorona aligns more with the archetype of woman as a witch, as opposed to matron. This connotates her character with the histories of witches and unfeeling women, which then compounds upon the content of the legend, strengthening the three categories of women as slut, mother, and witch.

Furthermore, this legend supports traditional societal structures and morals by addressing the story primarily to children. At an early age, young girls are being exposed to good and bad models of womanhood. Their age compatibility to the children being killed would then augment fear and hatred of the woman’s behavior. It also can be used by adults to control their children by evoking the authority and fear of La Llorona. This reinforces family structures and perhaps even sends the message to children to be appreciative for their parents, as opposed to the unfeeling murderess.


La Llorona

Interviewer: You said you had a ghost story?

Informant: Yeah… so La Llorona is supposed to be this woman somewhere in Mexico who was married and had two kids. Her husband either cheated on her or did something similar to anger her. She was super angry at her husband, and, trying to figure out a way to get back at him, she started to think. One night she took her two children to the river, thinking she would play with them. When she got there, though, she thought of a way to get revenge on her husband – by taking their children. Since she had nowhere to go, she decided she would take the kids, to try to harm her husband in return. But, since she had nowhere to go, she instead took her kids and drowned them in the water. At first, she felt good about this, you know, her rage justified it, but after cooling off, she realized that she had killed her beloved children. Obviously, she was distraught, so she went back to the same river and drowns herself in it.

When she reaches the gates of Heaven, she’s stopped and asked by St.Peter about the location of her children. She doesn’t want to say she killed them, so she says she doesn’t know, and so St.Peter sends her back to Earth to look for her children. Until then, she’s trapped between reality and the afterlife, she’s a ghost.

Now, she patrols the streets of towns late at night looking for her kids, the ones she killed, crying out “Mis hijos, mis hijos” while weeping, which is how she got her name “La Llorona”, which translates to something like “the weeping woman”. If she finds kids out late at night, she’ll mistake them for her own kids at first. But, if they’re not her own children, she kills them to try to take the place of her own.

Context: My informant is a nineteen year old college student. Though he was raised in the United States, he was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and his first language is Spanish. This legend was told  in a college dorm room, with the informant sitting across from me.

Background: My informant can’t remember where he heard La Llorona from – maybe his parents, maybe his friends, it’s a very common story in Latin America. He thinks La Llorona is used to keep kids and people in general from going out late at night. This is not, however, just to keep people from staying out late. According to him, la Llorona is used to keep people from staying out past 3 AM. This is because, in Latin America, three is a number associated with God. In the afternoon, 3 PM is considered lucky, but 3 AM, at night, is considered odd and unnatural. Even he  doesn’t feel comfortable going out that late, and told me a brief story of a friend of his who noticed a weird fog and distant cries when she was out at 3 AM.

Analysis: This account of La Llorona demonstrates not only how the legend helps keep people inside and orderly at night, but also a connection to the deep Catholic roots many communities within Mexico maintain. Though not part of the story, many people choose to mark 3 AM as the time when La Llorona begins to stalk the streets, a number commonly associated with God and the Holy Trinity. Interestingly, the use of the number three also reflects a common trend in many other pieces of folklore – namely, a propensity for things to crop up in threes or occur at times with threes in them. Personally, I’ve noticed weird things happening really late at night, whether they’re odd weather or sounds. I’m not sure whether or not I myself believe in la Llorona or similar ghostly apparitions, but I’m still inclined to spend my late nights inside rather than out.


La LLorona


Sophia Lopez is a Senior studying Screenwriting at USC. I was sitting with friends when she approached the table and began speaking to one of my friends that she knew. When I asked her if I could record folklore, she needed no definition–she launched straight into the story of La Llorona.


Sophia: My name’s Sophia. Andddd. Okay, so when I was little, I didn’t ever like to go to bed on time, like I was really kind of like a cool kid, and my Nanny would like, she would get really frustrated with me because I, um, wouldn’t ever be in bed on time, and, uh, my family’s Mexican, so they tell a lot of Mexican folklore, well they did when I was little. And so anyways there’s this woman called La Llorona, you know about her?

Owen: We learned about her in class.

Sophia: Yeah, okay, so basically, when I was little, and a bad kid, they told me a story about this woman La Llorona who her husband. Well, there are two versions. One her husband left her and she killed all her kids by drowning them in the river, and that was one version they said. But the other version is that there’s a terrible mudslide and all of her like eight children died and so at night…you know the La Llorona, like it translates to the Weeping Woman, so at night she wanders the streets looking for kids who are out past their bedtime because she wants to take them as their own and either like out of habit she’ll drown them in the river too, or she’ll take them with her to Hell. So that was my, once they told me that I really wanted to go to sleep on time. She can’t see kids who are already asleep.


When we spoke about La Llorona in our USC Forms of Folklore class, several versions were given from the class. Fittingly, Sophia had two versions handy. The most common trend I have noticed in this legend is that its purpose is to keep children inside the house at night or to get them to go to bed.


La Llorona

Main Piece:


The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as AF. I am marked as DG.


AF: Um, well La Llorona is just this folktale, um, about this woman who…was jilted basically…uh and then, uh, well actually no she wasn’t jilted, her husband died… or something like that, uh, so she…hmm. Well ok, she was murdered. Ok, there are different versions of the story basically. So, um, in some of them she was jilted and killed herself and in some of them she was murdered and stuff like that, and basically she came back and was this, like, spirit who wandered amongst the streets at night… And if you’re, like, a lost kid at night, she’ll steal you away and maybe eat you…I don’t know…but definitely steal you away. Oh, and like an important thing is La Llorona cries, she’s this crying spirit, and you’ll hear her. Um, and yeah. I think maybe she, like, killed her kids.


DG: Who told you this?


AF: Oh, uh, my grandma actually, because I was asking her about folk stuff a couple years ago. She told me this story, um, yeah.





The conversation was recorded while sitting in the lobby of a dorm at the University of Southern California. The story itself was told to the interviewee by his grandmother, as they sat in their living room. He was asking her about folklore in order to feel more in touch with his roots.




The student is from Huntsville Alabama, but took a gap year in New York City, NY, before attending the University of Southern California as a School of Cinematic Arts major. They are a sophomore, and come from an Italian Hispanic background.




I had heard about this folklore story in one of my classes, so it was interesting to hear it from someone. This was true especially so since although I did learn one version, it was already easily jumbled up for me too, and I had learned it fairly recently. This shows how easy it can be for folklore to become changed, as the teller may forget, have pieces jumbled, or slightly change them. This also alludes to how the audience will keep the teller in check, if the teller goes too far from the version they know. This is what helps folklore remain folklore. In my case, I was a passive listener, so the folklore remained jumbled in the retelling for this archive post.



La Llorona, Mexico

This story was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. She told me her version about La Llorona, a widespread legend in the American Southwest, South America, and Central America. A lot of versions of the story exist in different regions, and this is the one her nanny used to tell her when she was growing up. Most versions have themes of maternal love, marriage, and death and suicide.


According to my friend’s version, La Llorona is about a woman whose husband left her, which made her lose her mind and kill her three children. When she came into her senses and realized what she had done, she couldn’t live with it so she committed suicide. She couldn’t go to heaven for having killed herself, so she stayed on Earth. She is supposed to go around looking for her children and taking all of the children she can find thinking they are hers.


My friend says it didn’t have much of an impact on her since she didn’t really believe in ghosts or anything of the sort, but it did make her scared to leave her house at night when she first heard it since she was so young. She also believes that was its intended purpose; something a parent would say to their child to scare them into behaving more safely, since Mexico has some dangerous areas.


I think it’s very interesting that her version has some religious undertones in its incorporation of heaven, since the one that I heard growing up didn’t, which speaks to how religious Mexico is as a country. Also, some other versions portray the woman as “bad,” condemning her behavior saying she intentionally killed her children as a form of revenge yet this version seems to portray her as more of a victim of a terrible situation. This is surprising to me, for Mexico is a sexist country in a lot of ways.


For more versions of this legend, see

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).


K-“Ok so we were told the story of La llorona, and for us it was basically like uh the background was that this woman this beautiful woman in this indigenous pueblo uh she fell in love with the Spanish conquistador and had children but then the conquistador left her for like another woman. Because she was in love with this man so much, every time she saw him in them, the children. And that’s the whole reason she drowned them in a like. After she drowned them, she like mourned them so she would go around at night saying ‘oh mis ninos’ (my children) and supposedly she kidnaps kids at night if they’re near the lake. And she is still a ghost that haunts that area where she used to live”

When did you first hear this story?

K-“Um I heard it in elementary school I think I was in 4th grade”

Have you heard this story from other people as well?

K-“Yup, I heard it from my family and the kids at school. Kind of all the same, all the same versions”

Did you use to live near a body of water or some forested area?


Analysis- This version of the story is seen as a way to ensure the proper behavior of children. The legend is specifically aimed to children, as it is the children that get drowned and the children that get kidnapped. The fact that she did not live near a body of water, which is where according to the legend is where the ghost appears, proves that this is a story told by the adults to make children behave. The legend is also given credibility by introducing some history into it in the form of the conquistador and the traditional Mexican woman. This legend would, therefore, not be easily accepted and used in other cultures.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

The informant, J, is 18 years old born and raised in Coachella, California. His mom is from Delano, California, while his dad is from Indio, California. He is majoring in Print and Digital Journalism with a Media, Economics, and Entrepreneurship minor. He also considers himself Mexican.

J-“So the folklore story that we used to hear was La Llorona and that was a big thing in Mexican culture. La llorona is this ghost of a woman and she lost her children while looking by the river they drowned and you can hear her crying and crying. Parents would tell their kids this stuff this story whenever they would do something that seemed pretty dangerous or they’re like behaving badly. So like I remember going to the park and doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing and like my parents telling me ‘oh you’re going to end up like la llorona’s kids like they drowned in the river because they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.’ Just like when you were behaving bad they’re like ‘I want la llorona to come after you’ and stuff like that. I remember my aunts and uncles would tell me this stuff before going to bed, ‘I would hear her crying at night’, just trying to freak me out. Now as an older person is funny but then it wasn’t funny because you take that stuff pretty seriously when you’re that young”

Do you remember what age you were when you heard this?

J-“I think I was like 7 or 8. Oviously you’re not going to tell a 6 year old that because like they’re still naïve. But like when you’re 7 or 8 you have a better concept of the world around you. That’s when you can start telling kids stuff like this”

Do you still hear the story?

J-“Uh, like everyone that surrounds me is like pretty much grown up so they think its like a running joke like ‘remember when tio (uncle) would talk about la llorona?’ There’s like no little kids in our family”

Do you think there is a specific reason why they told you that story instead of another?

J-“Well I’m Mexican. The area that I grew up in California is mainly Mexican citizens and so that’s something very popular at least in Mexico folklore. So yea that’s probably the reason why. That’s what they grew up with in Mexico”

Are there any forested areas or bodies of water nearby where you lived?

J-“By my house there was this park that also serves as a rain ditch so whenever it rains that park takes all of the water so that way it doesn’t go into the streets. That place is full of grass 8 of 10 times of the year and then like the other 2 is filled with water. So that was usually a point of interest with la llorona because like she’s crying by the river so this would be considered the river by the house”

Analysis- In this version of la llorona, the children died accidentally while playing near the river. Traditionally, la llorona was the one that drowned her children. This could have changed so that it would not be so harsh and scary to the children who it was being told to. The body of water also changed to fit even the rain ditch. This shows how the folklore changes according to its context and who its being to. Since there are no more children to tell the story to, the legend is beginning to die away. It is now only a memory from time to time. If there are no children added to the family, the story may be completely forgotten. It is evidence that while the story is known by everyone, it is predominately used as a legend for children, and it is otherwise not really spoken about.

Folk Beliefs

La Llorona

There is a woman in a small town in Mexico and um she was very vain and prideful of her beauty and she would look at herself in the river in the town and she vowed she would only marry the most beautiful man in the world. And then she ended up marrying him and they had children but he left her and she drowned her children in the river and felt so bad about it and killed herself but the people in the town still see her crying and saying “mis niños” and “mis hijos” and they call her La Llorona because she cries all the time.


Background: I conducted this interview live, so this story was given to me in person. I had heard this legend before from another informant who had not been able to give me a report as detailed as this one. This is a story that the informant had been told many times since she was a young child. I thought this was interesting because it followed the lines of what we had learned in class or what we had read for the class, in the required readings. This was interesting to hear from someone who had not researched it but it was actually a part of the folklore passed around in her culture and from family members, something she had learned just through the environment she was in.


La Llorona

The informant heard the legend of the mythological creature, La LLorona (“She who cries”) was heard when she was a child in Guatemala.


EO: La Llorona. I guess she–I don’t know if she was poor or tired of her kids… so she took her kids to a lake and drowned them. And then afterwards, she felt really bad, so she killed herself. And now she just goes through all eternity crying for her kids. And she screams like “Mis ninos! Mis ninos!”.

Is she supposed to be scary?

EO: I would say so. If I hear La Llorona, I would probably cry.

Where’d you hear that one from?

EO: Um, my mom. I don’t think I heard it from anyone else. My mom.

Why do you think she’d tell it to you?

EO: In Latin America, um, they tell stories to scare children into behaving.



La Llorona is a famous legend in all Latin America, and is one of many used by parents to teach their children about the dangers of the world.

For example, this is a film based off the folklore of La Llorona