La Llorona is a popular legend among Latino communities across the United States. La Llorona means “the crying lady” in Spanish. There are a few different versions, some of which I will cover here. It is such a moving and disturbing story that it has been written about in folk lore, and even song.
The legend revolves around a beautiful young Mexican mother of two. In the first version the mother is a widow caring for her two children by herself. Her beauty attracts the attention of a wealthy man and they begin a relationship. While he is seemingly head over heels in love with the young woman, he will not marry her because she has children and he doesn’t want to have a ready made family. Desperate to get the man to marry her, the mother takes her two children down to the river under the cloak of darkness, stabs them and then throws their bodies into the river.
The path cleared for matrimony, the woman presents herself at the home of her boyfriend resplendent in a white gown splashed with the blood of her children. Horrified by her actions, the man slams the door in her face and she flees into the night. Driven instantly insane by the double pain of rejection and the terrible act she had just committed, she rushes screaming to the river to find her babies. Wailing like a banshee, she paced the water’s edge for most of the night, peering desperately into the dark waters, hoping to see her children brought back to her. Finally, all hope abandoned, the woman throws herself into the murky river and drowns, her body floating gently down river to join those of her two children. Meanwhile, her spirit is cursed to wander the banks of the river, wailing and crying until she can be reunited with the children that have been lost to her forever.
The story changes slightly, depending on what region of the country in which you live. In a Texas version of the tale, the ghostly woman is forced by a curse to wear the head of a horse in lieu of her own beautiful face.
A much more altered version of the tale tells of a beautiful but poor young woman who snares a wealthy man in marriage through her spectacular good looks. They have two children and are happy for a time. After a while, though, the novelty of having a beautiful wife is worn away and the man regrets that he didn’t marry of a woman of a higher station in life, someone of his own class. The husband tells his wife that he is tempted to leave her and start a new life with someone more suited to his stature. He begins to spend more and more time away from their home, eventually only coming by to see the children. Finally, his wife is walking by the river with her children when her husband drives by in a carriage with a beautiful wealthy lady by his side. Ignoring his wife, he greets the children affectionately and drives on.
The woman is beside herself with rage and that rage spilled over onto her children. Violently she grabbed the children and threw them into the water, watching stonily as they drowned. Just as they disappeared under the water, she is overcome with remorse and tries to save them to no avail. The next morning, her lifeless body is found next to the river. Each night her spirit returns to search for her children, screaming and crying with shame and remorse.
My boyfriend is of Mexican descent and grew up in Southern California, where the legend of La Llorona was well known. He told me of an incident when he was a teen when he and a friend of his were walking back from a friend’s house late at night. It was easily one in the morning and the streets were pretty much deserted. Ahead of them, and walking towards them was a woman in a white gown, weeping loudly. My boyfriend’s friend gasped “La Llorona” and took off running down a side street, on a detour to their neighborhood. My boyfriend hesitated and then followed. Now, of course, years later he wonders if it was actually a lady in need of assistance, but at the time his young heart was right up in his throat with fright!