My friend spent part of her childhood growing up in Mexico, and she would hear this story of La Llorona from other kids.
“La Llorona was a beautiful young woman, as every young woman is in stories, uh… who, like, married this man, and uh… had like beautiful children and… I don’t know, there were like six or something, and…then… he cheated on her, and she got super angry, and killed the kids by drowning them in a river. And, uh, the legend goes that if you’re a bad child, or if you, like, don’t do something that you’re supposed to do, uh, when you’re a kid, like… the threat of La Llorona is that… um, she’ll come and like, steal you away or something, and there’s like, this legend that she’s still wandering around in riverbeds going like ‘mi secos, mi secos!’”
My friend didn’t believe in La Llorona as she grew up. Her friends often did, however, and would cite the danger of being caught by La Llorona as reasons to not cause mischief. I think there’s a different effect when kids tell the stories their parents tell. I often think of stories such as this as cautionary tales created by parents to warn children to be on good behavior. For my friend, hearing that other children believed in it made her think the stories were rather silly. My friend points out that “La Llorona was a beautiful woman, as every young woman is in stories”… I think that she notices there’s a motif in which someone/something beautiful becomes spoiled. And this ruination of somebody causes them to somehow haunt this world. I do agree with her; I think La Llorona is not the only ghost story that involves ghosts somehow beginning beautiful and ending as abominations after their actions. The ghost of La Llorona also hangs around riverbeds, which makes me believe that her existence as a ghost comes as a form of punishment for drowning her children. It’s interesting that the story that my friend knows of does not really emphasize on the husband. Instead of a tale of infidelity, La Llorona ends up as a ghost story about a homicidal mother that intends to scare children into compliance. On the other hand, there might be something more about the husband in other versions – other than the elements my friend finds kind of silly or fascinating, she doesn’t remember too much of a specific narrative.