Tag Archives: Latin American

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

Grapes and Red Underwear on New Years Eve

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. Her aunt taught her this and said it’s a Venezuelan tradition.

Text:

MV: You’re supposed to eat thirteen grapes in the last ten seconds of the new year. And if you do it, then that’s good luck. Also if you wear red underwear.

JS: Why grapes?

MV: I don’t know, that one’s just a weird challenge.

Thoughts:

Ritual transitional ceremonies such as new year celebrations often involve superstition and folk belief, as ways of marking a transition from one period to another. In other iterations of this practice, you eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. The element of skill and difficulty make this tradition a fun and competitive ritual. The tradition can be traced back to Spain, where the bourgeoise adopted it from the French, who ate grapes and drank champagne on the new year. The tradition was picked up by members of other classes who ate the grapes likely to make fun of the upper class. The fact that one is scarfing these grapes at a high speed can be seen as a mocking gesture towards the elite, who would daintily eat the grapes with their champagne, a way to mimic and critique the ways in which they cover up their pernicious and consumptive practices of economic exploitation with a mask of civility and decadence.

As for the red underwear, red symbolizes lust, luck, and life in many cultures. Being a Spanish tradition, the use of red resonates with the colors of the nation. The choice of garment suggests sexual overtones in this bit of folk superstition, with the new year as a time for new beginnings, creation, and sexual proliferation. The belief also, for the duration of the new years celebration, allows undergarments to be a topic of conversation, allowing for a less sexually repressed and euphemistic celebration, with the topic coming up more apparently to the surface.

Colombian Proverb

Informant: Maria Clara Williamson. My mom who is originally from Colombia but has lived in Mexico City for 25 years.

Informant:

Original: “Al que madruga, a Dios le ayuda”

Translation: The one who rises early, God helps

Informant: “My mom was a firm believer in this saying. Every morning, she would tell me this as a constant reminder to persevere. Growing up in a Catholic household, I was taught not to complain and follow set values. My mother would often use my father’s determination as an example. By 6A.M. he had already showered, changed, and was ready for the day. “Your father’s success comes from rising early and having determination,” she would always say. Throughout my life, I have kept my mothers words with me and have really strived to follow it.”

Thoughts: This is probably the proverb I have heard the most throughout my life. My parents both mention it as they stress the importance of productivity. If one rises early there is so much more one can do with the day. Because religion is an important part of life in Latin America it makes sense that God is included in the saying.