Occupation: Tourist Guide in Xochimilco
Residence: Xochimilco, Mexico City
Date of Performance/Collection: 03/17/2017
Primary Language: Spanish
Main piece: A very old man from back then owned the island, and he had a niece. She must have been around 15 years old and he loved her. More than any of his own children, and she had a lot, a lot of dolls that she collected. One day the girl was looking down at the canals while playing with her dolls and she fell and she drowned. Some people say that it was the old man who threw her to the water because he went insane or was possessed, but I don’t think so. It was an accident and a tragedy that happens. The old man was heart broken by this and that is when he started to loose his mind. He saw the doll that she was playing with when she fell floating in the water and he hung it up in a tree because he thought that would bring back her spirit because she loved the dolls so much. After that, the guy hung the rest of the dolls up in his trees and whenever he sees a doll floating by he hangs it up. That’s how the island got its name, and after the old man died people say that it’s haunted by the ghost of the drowned girl. Some say that the dolls move and sometimes they even lure visitors to the island where the ghost of the dead girl gets them. I don’t believe the sorties, but I don’t want to risk it either.
Background information about the piece by the informant: Eloy is a tourist guide and a local of Xochimilco, the water canals of Mexico City. One of the min touristic attractions is that of an island that is characterised by the old, decrepit dolls that hang from its trees. It creates an unsettling atmosphere and it is said that the island is haunted.
Context to the performance: The informant told the story of the haunted island to me and a group of tourists while we were passing by it on a boat.
Thoughts on the piece: The only facts that are known of the legend is that the island was originally owned by Julian Santa Barrera, the alleged old man from the story. He started the tradition of hanging dolls up in the trees of the island, but there is no way of knowing if she had a niece or if she drowned in the canals. The idea of the island being haunted by an original owner could be due to the guilt of commercializing the Xochimilco zone and making it tourist-friendly. The fact that it was a small girl who was specifically said to be around 15 (a transitioning age in Mexico to adulthood) and the use of dolls of terrifying supernatural purposes can also be a commentary on the loss of innocence that is trying be be re-obtained.
For another version of the legend see: http://www.isladelasmunecas.com/