LAS CRUCES — If you were a child who grew up in a Latino community, you might have heard the tale of a woman who drowned or abandoned her children and now cries at night while looking for them in the river.
The “La Llorona” (weeping woman) story is told in many Latin American countries to frighten children from staying out too late and to stay away from dangerous waterways.
The legend originated in Mexico and is popular throughout the southwest and Mexico. The myth has been passed down from generation to generation and its versions vary.
According to one popular folk tale, the legend of “La Llorona” begins in a rural Mexican village when a young woman named Maria falls in love with a wealthy Spaniard nobleman. It was love at first sight and the pair married and had two children.
But Maria’s husband slowly fell out of love with her and only paid attention to the children. Angry and hurt, Maria took her children to the river and drowned them out of jealousy. After she realized what she had done, she killed herself.
Legend says that she can be heard weeping for her children in the afterlife and if you hear her cry you should run the opposite way.
The Sun-News sat down with author and owner of Casa Camino Real Bookstore Denise Chávez and retired Las Cruces educator Edward Fernandez (both baby boomers) to discuss the cultural significance of “La Llorona” and to get their thoughts on the upcoming film, ” The Curse of La Llorona,” which hits theaters Friday, April 19.
The horror film, which is produced by Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema, is directed by Michael Chaves and written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. The film was also produced by James Wan through his Atomic Monster production company.
The film inspired Buzzfeed Unsolved Network to come to Las Cruces to conduct their own investigation on the terrifying myth. The Buzzfeed Unsolved crew set out to La Llorona Park, at the Picacho Bridge over the Rio Grande, to see if they could try to catch a glimpse of one of Mexico’s most famous ghosts.
Question: When did you first hear about ‘La Llorona’?
Edward Fernandez: I came to know about “La Llorona” later as a teenager. … It was around but we weren’t scared of that. We were more scared of my aunt’s temper.
Denise Chávez: We did grow up with that story and it didn’t stop us from going to the river. We didn’t need “La Llorona.” My mother never told us about “El Cucuy” because our own lives were scarier. All my mother had to do was put up her hand. In other words, enough, basta, se acabó…
Q: What version of ‘La Llorona’ do you know?
DC: There’s so many versions and there’s going to be different versions all the time. Whether she was scorned by her lover, went insane, some say she didn’t kill her children and some say she did drown them — or that they got lost. She was mainly used as a cautionary tale.
EF: One version is that the lover did not want the children. So, consequentially she drowned them to please the lover.
DC: He was Spanish and she was Mexicana. … So, there you get into the class system of who was she? Was she an indigenous woman, a native Mexicana? And he was the guy that came into town? There’s so many minute details.
Q: Why do you think ‘La Llorona has remained so popular and unique over the years?
EF:I think the mystery behind it, I guess…
DC: Also, it’s a forbidden thing. No Latina mother in her right mind would kill her children, at least not in that era.
Q: Did you ever tell the story of ‘La Llorona’ to your children?
EF: I never told my son that. I didn’t have to scare them with anything. Frankly, we weren’t in the business of scaring our son.
DC: I don’t have children, but if I did, I would never tell them the story. There’s enough scary things.
Q: What are your thoughts on the new movie that’s coming out, ‘The Curse of La Llorona’?
DC: I don’t want to talk about “La Llorona.” I’m not interested in seeing the movie. Let’s take our children out of the prisons, the refugees — we’re living through a “llorona” period but it’s an ugly, dark period, of children sequestration. I’m still delivering books to families. What’s happening in real life is so gruesome already.
We’re traumatized here on the border. Do we really need this movie? We need some really good Latino movies about empowerment, the power of education. … Other than Edward James Olmos who played Jaime Escalante in “Stand and Deliver,” there’s not that many Latino-empowering films.
They have a lot of trailers on Telemundo. I watch my novela every night and they play it every night and it looks scary as hell.
I’m sick of “La Llorona” and “El Cucuy.” People do too much. They appropriate culture and where is the money going to go? Is it going to help people? Who is making money off our fear? I would like to see it twisted around where she saves her children. Poor thing, she’s been through bloody hell. Let’s give her a different face.
EF: I would like to see it just to see what version of “La Llorona” they come up with. Just like “El Cucuy,” “La Llorona” is specifically about this mother. I don’t know who “El Cucuy” is; it could be anybody.
Q: Who is scarier, ‘La Llorona,’ or ‘El Cucuy’?
DC:When I’ve asked and talked to kids in schools, I’ve seen kids scared to death of “La Llorona.” There are people that will torment their children with that and I asked the children, “Who is scarier, ‘La Llorona’ or ‘El Cucuy?'” The woman is always scarier.
EF: Because “El Cucuy” is an indefinite character. Who is it? What is it? I never knew what “El Cucuy” was.
DC: Well women are scarier, let’s face it. Don’t mess with an enraged woman. In a way, it’s a stereotype, a cultural stereotype and a class stereotype.
Q: What kind of Latino movies would you like to see be made?
DC: One with authenticity and the right language. There are so many untold Latino/Chicano stories like Dennis Chávez, one of the first Mexican senators in the United States. He was my godfather. Or Ed’s historical take on Las Cruces, there’s so many interesting characters. I would like also like to see a movie about Fabián García, the father of green chile — a film about the multicultural of the reality of our community.
EF: The History Channel has a lot of good documentaries, I would say. There’s a lot of good information there.
Jacqueline Devine can be reached at 575-541-5476, JDevine@lcsun-news.com or @JackieIsDevine on Twitter.
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