Tag Archives: Mexican legends

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

Legend of El Serro de la Campana ( The Hill of the Bell)

 Context: AB is a 49 year old mexican woman that works in the auxiliary department for the USC payroll. I met her with her twice when I applied for on campus jobs. I asked if I could have coffee so she could tell me about known legends from her hometown. 

YM: So can you tell me about some interesting stories you know about 

AB:  Oh my god, yes ! There’s a lot of stories i know about ghosts and stuff, but I have a favorite one in which I had a personal experience 

YM: wow that’s awesome ! tell me more 

AB: Alright so it has nothing to do with ghosts but it is about an enchanted hill. So in San Miguel Tilapa, there had always been rumors and stories that ranchers from outside town would see strange things on this hill on their way to Puebla. It wasn’t specific when these strange things happened but that there were times at night when people would pass by this hill named El Cerro de la Campana, la campana because it was shaped like a bell. And…t is said that this hill would open up because it was enchanted. That the person that had the luck or had the vision could see this hill open up. 

YM: So it was selective ? meaning it only happened to some ? not everyone ?

AB: Yes! not just anybody, because that hill was enchanted. I guess it was for people that I guess the hill wanted to bless. 

AB:They would see the hill open. They would look and would see a store with a lot of beautiful things. So when people would see this they would become enthusiastic and would you know think “ wow what a beautiful store, I’m going in.” The story goes that the person who would enter the store or the hill and do it quickly and come right back out before the hill closes… And a lot of people know this… people that would go in quickly and come back out with an item they grabbed from the store… that item would turn into gold.

AB: But some people at the sight of these beautiful things would get excited and lose track of time and stay in there. They would stay in there for years. For them it seems like a moment that they were in there. And when the hill opens up again, and the person comes out he dies when the air hits him. 

YM: and that’s because they were in there for a song long that the air sort of kills them ? 

AB: aha right.. That is why they have to go in quickly and come right back out as soon as possible. You know people were found dead there and no one knew what had happened to them. The people would then remember that they had disappeared long ago

YM: wow and people knew of people that had come out?

AB: yes and this people would say that the item they had grabbed had turned into gold… and something actually happened to me and my sister on that same hill when I was 13 years old. I remember when I told my dad about what we’d seen he got super mad at us because during that time there were no crops of any kind. You couldn’t even seed any plant and on that hill we saw a plant with two HUGE tomatoes… I mean HUGE, out of the normal kind. And me and my sister were surprised to see this, my sister being the older one said we shouldn’t go up and pluck them since… sometimes there were snakes around. So we went our way… on our way back the plant wasn’t there anymore! When we got home I told my dad what we’d seen and he exclaimed “ why didn’t you guys pluck them ! it was money!” so the enchantment was the tomato plant. Had we plucked them they would have turned into gold. At the time I didn’t know about this, if I had I would have snatched those babies hahaha 

YM: hahaha oh my god… so the enchantment wasn’t just a store? 

AB: no, there were all kinds of enchantments that people saw that were strange but the most common one was the store

YM: that’s so interesting 

AB: And years after around 1994, people dug up part of the hill to plant cane and underground they discovered gold ! the government even came to claim the gold. It’s true… I guess the hill would bring out its gold in a magical way to the people it thought were deserving of

YM: What ! that is crazy! Amazing. So you believe this ? 

AB: Yes 100%, I think there are parts of the world or land that are more magical than we think they are

YM: Beautiful 

Background info: AB was born in Tilapa, Puebla. As a child she would often pass this hill and it wasn’t until her strange encounter with the hill that she learned about this legend. Years would pass by and never again did she see a strange thing . 

Analysis: This legend includes a memorate: personal experience explained by traditional narrative. This experience reinforced the belief that this hill is enchanted for AB. It also seems to have localized history inside the contemporary realm. However this history is unofficial. You can tell this legend was also reinforced by FOAF (friend of a friend) telling. Meaning these strange occurrences that happened to people were passed along from people to people. The legend is liminal, in between or right on the line between the real world and a supernatural world. 

The Legend of El cucuy

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G.’s family is originally from South America, namely Mexico and Honduras. His family immigrated to the US when his mother was a child and have strong ties to their heritage, tradition and culture back in their homeland. Many of the stories and traditions that A.G. knows have been passed down from generation to generation, and instill a cultural and familial understanding in the younger generations. The Legend of El cucuy is one such piece of folklore, that is told to young children to scare them into behaving appropriately and being obedient. The story itself has many parallels to ones like La Llorona, or other similar ghost stories that are based around children. A.G. initially heard this story from his uncle, who learned it from his mother, whom would tell him this legend at night when he was a young boy. I have transcribed his telling below:

Main Piece

“My uncle told me that his mother, my abuela, would tell him to behave or the cucuy would get him. Cucuy is like a small, bat eared, hair monster that has huge red eyes and it would kidnap you if you did something bad or misbehaved. He said this his mom would always tell him to go to sleep on time, to behave, never doing anything bad by anybody else and to listen and respect her, which was the most important. If he didn’t behave properly, the cucuy would come and take him into the night. Some of his friends would tell him that when they were up past their bedtime or sneaking something, they would hear screeching or suddenly see red eyes in the bushes. Whenever that happened, someone would be missing the next day. To this day he says he’s still scared of it, especially if he goes back to Mexico”

Thoughts

El cucuy from Mexico that has long been known by the Mexican people and a lot of latin americans. It has traveled to the United States and spread at a tremendous rate. The legend is reminiscent of La Llorona or the American boogeyman due to the similar roles that the stories play; to scare kids into staying in their beds and not misbehaving. When asked about whether this story was relevant when he was a child, A.G. noted that while he was aware of it, it wasn’t told to him in the same way that it was told to his uncle. For A.G. he learned it more as a reference to his culture, and less as a cautionary tale used to make children behave. He also noted that in his uncle’s telling of the story, he naturally began acting out the legend, and made it sound ominous as if he was reciting it to some unruly children and really trying to convince them of El cucuy’s existence. Apparently, there is still superstition and belief in this creature, much the same way that there is belief in Ll Llorona.

It was interesting to me to hear how similar this legend is to other and the role that these legends play specifically when related to children. In the folklore course with Tok Thompson, there has been discussions about the way that folklore is used to teach children about social and cultural norms, and how to behave. It seems that in this case, the myth of El cucuy’s purpose is directly related to scaring children into acting appropriately, in the same way that Cinderella informs them of gender norms. Belief in the legend also prompts real changes in behavior and of perception, for example when a child does act out of turn and “sees” El cucuy in the bush, someone goes missing. This then strengthens in the “validity” of the legend and further impacts the cultural behavior around it.

Two loving volcanoes

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-“In Mexico city there are two volcanoes known as Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. These two volcanoes have been there for as long as everyone can remember but the story behind them is what makes them special. A long time ago during the Aztecs, one of the tribes was at war with another one. At the same time, Popocatepetl, one of the tribe’s warriors, saw and fell in love with Iztaccihuatl, who was the king’s daughter. Popocatepetl asked the king for Iztaccihuatl hand in marriage if he lead the king’s army against the other tribe and defeated them. The king agreed and Popocatepetl left. Iztaccihuatl, meanwhile, was worried the whole time and was thinking about Popocatepetl and how he was doing. At the same time, one of Popocatepetl’s enemy, Tlaxcala, was jealous of his achievements and popularity. Tlaxcala decided to go to the king and tell him that Popocatepetl had lost the battle and had died. Iztaccihuatl heard the news and quickly fell into depression and into a sad death. Later on, Popocatepetl returned victorious from battle and was ready to marry Iztaccihuatl until he found out she had died. With a broken heart, Popocatepetl took her body with a torch to the top of a hill where he would weep over her body. Meanwhile, Tlaxcala, wanting to avoid the fury of the king and Popocatepetl left the tribe and traveled back to his homeland where he would soon die. The next day the tribe woke up to see two new giant volcanoes next to the tribe. One of these resembled a woman laying on the ground asleep while the other a man kneeling down looking down at the woman with smoke coming out of the top. On the other side of the tribe further away, another volcano had appeared as if it was facing the two volcanoes. The tribe realized that the two volcanoes were Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl. Iztaccihuatl was the sleeping woman while Popocatepetl is always active with smoke from the torch mourning the death of his loved one. The third volcano was Tlaxcala, who now had to face the two lovers for the rest of time. The volcanoes were named Iztaccihuatl, Popocatepetl, and Pico de Orizaba since its located in Orizaba”

When did you hear this story?

J-“I think it was in 3rd grade in class we learned the history of the volcanoes. Although I did not find out about the part of Tlaxcala until much later on when I was in high school”

Is this a common story in Mexico?

J-“Yes, I think pretty much everyone knows this story by word of mouth or through school”

Do you tell this story?

J-“I sometimes tell it to my friends, but I don’t really talk about. The only time I do is with my family. We like to talk about them a lot especially since we pass by them when we go and visit my family in Mexico”

Analysis- The legend has some truth in it as it incorporates real people and real tribes like the Aztecs. The part of the characters becoming volcanoes could have appeared from the traditions and beliefs of the Aztecs, who worshiped all different aspects of nature. It is clear that the country wants to maintain its traditions and culture as it teaches its students not only history but also legends and myths. It also helps create a fun and creative explanation to the children about a natural effect such as the creation of volcanoes. Even though the informant does not really talk about the legend, the fact that it is still being taught in schools means that it will not disappear.Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl

“La Llorona”

The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature. 

Informant…

“There was a woman in Mexico named Maria. Maria was gorgeous, more beautiful than anyone else so she believed she was above everyone else. As Maria go older, she got more beautiful and prideful because of it.When she was old snout to have an interest in men she wouldn’t look at the men from her village. She believed they weren’t good enough for her and what she thought she deserved so she would say thing about how when she would be married it would be to the most handsome man in the world. And then one day, a man who fit her standard rode into her village. He was a handsome young ranchero as well as the son of a rich rancher from the south. He only rode wild horses, he thought it wasn’t manly to ride a horse if it wasn’t half wild. He was the most handsome man in the world, but he had various talents as well he sang beautifully and played the guitar. Maria decided that that was the man for her. Maria played mind games with the ranchero, if he would speak to her on the pathway she would ignore him and pretend he wasn’t there, he would go to her how at night to play the guitar and serenade her but Maria wouldn’t go to her window, she wouldn’t accept any gifts from him. This all made the ranchero want her even more and he knew he had to get her to love him. Everything went according to Maria’s plan and they were soon married. Things were great in the beginning of their marriage they had 2 kids. But the man became bored with Maria and wanted to live his crazy wild life again, he showed more affection to the children that he showed to her. As proud as Maria was, she became very angry with the him. She also began to feel anger toward her children. One night she drowned her kids in the river and when the man found out that she drowned her kids he basically rebuked her away. So she was cursed because she drowned her kids for all eternity to wander the earth crying for her kids, hence the name la llorona.”

Analysis…

“La Llorona” translated in english as the woman who cries

When asked about where he heard the story he said his mother and grandmother had told him but he wasn’t sure where the story originated or came from but he knew that it came from Mexico. The informant believes that La Llorona is real. He came into close contact with her when he was young around the ages of two or three. He said that his mother and his aunt were in Mexico cleaning his grandmother’s house when they heard her painful, creepy, whaling cries. He said that she was saying “oh my babies” and when his mother and aunt heard that they took all the children and threw them under the bed in the next room. He said they did this because it is believed that if she finds children she will take them as her own because she had lost hers. He believes that this story is also told to children as a scare tactic method to keep them in the house at night so that La Llorona doesn’t take them. He believes that because his mom used it as a scare tactic on him, his brothers, and his cousins.

Tales like this are told all over the world as a scare tactic to force kids into doing whatever their parents feel like they should be doing. Most Americans have heard of having monsters under their beds (to keep children in their beds at night) or the boogie man (forces kids to bah in fear of the boogie man coming after them. This tale reminds me of those and I initially make the connection between them. The crazy part of this tale is the informant swears that the came into close contact with the la llorona meaning that it is possible that she is real which would lead to ghosts and unwanted spirits being real.

Another version of this legend can be found in movie form and is called The Crying Woman (1993) directed by Ramón Peón.

Getting Rich From Fire

Getting Rich from Fire

“Supuestamente se dice que si alguien ve lumbre en cualquier lugar, es que hayi ay un tesoro Escondido. En Zacatecas hay muchos tesoros escondidos porque cuando empeso la revoluccion, la gente escondia sus tesoros para cuando vinieran los soldados no les quitaran nada. Entonces pues a mucha gente la mataron, o los hisieron que se movieran a fuersas, asi que todos esos tesoros se que daron ayi. Por eso dicen que si alguien ve lumbre, es que el espiritu del que le pertenecia el Tesoro te esta llamando para darte su Tesoro… estas historias se cuentan mucho en el rancho y supuestamente asi fue como mucha gente se fue hacienda rica. Dicen que un senor era bien pobre y de un de repente, mando hacer una casonona y puso mucho negocios y pues dicen que de donde agarro tanto dinero para hacer todo esto de repente, asi que se tubo que haber encontrado dinero.”

“Supposedly it is said that if one sees fire in any place, it means that there lies a hidden treasure. In Zacatecas there are many hidden treasures because when the revolution started, the people would hide their treasures so that when the soldiers came, they wouldn’t take their belongings from them. But then they killed off a lot of people or forced them to move out so all those treasures stayed behind. That’s why they say that if one sees fire, it means that the spirit of the owner’s treasure is calling you to give you his treasure… these stories were told back in the ranch and supposedly, this is how many people stared becoming rich. They say that there was a very poor man and out of the nowhere he had a huge house made and also had a lot of businesses so they then say that where did he get all that money to make all that happen in so little time, he therefore had to have found some money.

The informant is a 61 year old man who was brought up and lived in mexico until the age of 26. He then migrated to the US and has lived there since. He never attended school, so most of his education came from knowledge others around him bestowed upon him. He also relies on many first hand experiences to account for the things he believes in. therefore, most of the stories he knows have been directly informed by himself.

This story is interesting because it is in a sense giving people hope in regards to somehow coming up on some money. It is also even more interesting to have found out that the story of lost treasures is very common to the village which lets one infer that the people living in the village tend to know the same stories as one another which means that essentially, what one in the village knows, everyone does. This then means that this society relies on learning from one another rather than by institutions. Regardless, this legend is really cool, because it gives one motivation to begin the haunt for a treasure that is somewhere hidden around the village.