CE: “Essentialy El Paso kinda runs along this main river that borders Mexico and the United States, El Rio Grande. So there’s this really famous, um, old tale, kinda like a legend that exists, it’s called La Llorona. Um, it’s basically about…”
Interviewer: “And will you translate La Llorona please?”
CE: “Yes. La Llorona is like ‘the crier’ it’s a woman who just sobs and cries and, um. The story was an old woman who lives by the river and she, um, used to have a really nice farm and this beautiful garden and then a really tragic accident in the Rio Grande, she lost her son. He got washed up because he was playing to close to the water when it was high tide and so he ended up passing away and dying and so now every night if you go by the river, late at night, and the water is high you’ll hear her sobbing and crying for her son to return her. So, it’s all in Spanish, so she goes like *breathes* ‘Ay mi hijo’ just like really sad kind of like wallowing and depression, it’s a very sad story. Essentially just to encourage kids not to play by the water late at night or else they’ll get taken up by this, like, scary woman who’s, again, called La Llorona.”
CE is a 21 year old Mexican/Colombian American from El Paso, Tx and is a third year student at USC studying urban planning. She first heard the story from her grandmother and mother growing up in El Paso, and said the tale was especially prevalent in her household because her home was so close to the Texas/Mexico border. It was used as an incentive not to travel too close to the border, which since her childhood has been a more dangerous region of her town.
This story was told in CE’s household, and in other’s she says usually by a maternal figure to younger more impressionable children in order to keep them from straying too far away from the house and towards the river, and coinciding national border. The story only works as a deterrent if the children believe in and are afraid of La Llorona.
La Llorona follows a larger folkloric trend of children’s stories designed to protect them by preying on their fear of the unknown, or upon instilling that fear. By using a story like La Llorona or Hansel and Gretel, parents are able to use a terrifying fictional character to protect their children from perhaps less terrifying real-world threats such as wild animals or losing their way. Children are naturally curious and may not understand the dangers of the world, but will certainly be scared of a vicious monster that steals children and lives in the river. This story is told with good intentions by Latina parents and grandparents alike and is effective at achieving its goal, but this interviewer wonders if building a world view on fear of the unknown has detrimental consequences in the long run.