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▶ La Llorona

La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman”) is a widespread legend in Mexico, the American Southwest, Puerto Rico and Central America. Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria killing her children by drowning them, in order to be with the man that she loved. When the man rejects her, she kills herself. Challenged at the gates of heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona”. 

Read below to read her story. 

Among the old folk tales told up and down the Rio Grande is the story of Maria Gonzales.  She was not a great beauty, and she had nothing in the way of a dowry to offer, but she fell madly in love with a dashing young nobleman who walked past her window each day.  She was not alone in her love for this man.  Everyone on the street watched the young man, and women everywhere wished to marry with him.  He was tall and strong, with deep brown eyes and a warm, winning smile which showed beautiful white teeth.

This man was very popular with all the ladies, and it seemed like he would never take a wife.  Maria believed in her heart that if she could get him to notice her, let him know in some way how much she loved him, then her state of poverty would not keep them apart.  She began to formulate her plans, and on the next day, she began to carry them out.  At the expected time of his walk, she strolled casually out on her patio so he might see her when he walked by.  She had dressed in her finest clothing and had put flowers in her black hair.

In time, she found a little more courage to stroll out to the gate and eventually to the street.  The handsome man did notice her, and when his dark eyes looked into hers, there seemed to be a spark.  That one moment was enough to give her hope that one day he would be hers.  When he asked her to marry, even though she had no dowry, her heart beat madly with joy.

The marriage began happy, but it soon turned sour for Maria.  Although she dearly loved her handsome husband, he did not return her love in the manner she had expected.  He continued his flirtations with other women, especially the beautiful young ladies from the rich side of town, and this deeply hurt Maria’s pride.  He was kind and attentive, but it was not long before he began staying out a little later each night.

After the birth of two children, Maria’s handsome husband became even more distant.  He continued to go out at night, and sometimes, he would not come back until the next morning.  Word came to Maria that he was gambling and spending all his money on other women in town.  She tried to ignore all this, but it began to tear her up a little at a time.  What disturbed her most was that her husband would pay far more attention to the children than to her.  It got to the point where he would come home for a visit, and he would bring the children some kind of small gift, but he would completely ignore Maria.  He would not even look in her direction. 

This kind of treatment began to push Maria further and further into herself.  Her eyes became a little wilder, and her mind seemed to be off somewhere else most of the time.  Instead of trying to appear young and attractive, she began to look older and more tired.  Her once soft features began to harden, and deep lines began to etch her face.

The end came on the day that Maria spied her handsome husband riding with a beautiful young woman in a big, fancy wagon.  This woman lived on the other side of town, a part of town where only the very rich were ever seen.  Maria suspected that he regretted his marriage. As she watched, her children ran to meet the wagon, and she saw her husband give them a big smile and pieces of candy, but he never once looked in her direction. 

Jealous rage boiled up inside Maria.  When her husband and his new young woman companion rode out of sight, she took her children down to the river.  In a moment of insane anger and jealousy, she threw them from the cliff, drowning both of them.  As soon as she did it, she realized what she had done.  But only for a moment did she come back to her senses, only long enough for her to go out of her mind.

Maria fell to her knees and began moaning and crying.  The townsfolk who heard her terrible weeping and wailing quickly made the sign of the cross.  Something evil had happened, and the townsfolk knew it.  Maria never went home again, and her husband disowned her.  She lived like an animal on the outskirts of town until she was nothing but skin stretched tight over her bones.  One dark, stormy night, she finally threw herself into the river at the very spot where she had murdered her children.

It was only a few days afterwards that La Llorona appeared.  At the exact spot where Maria had drowned her children, when it was a dark and silent night, a voice carried thinly on the wind.  It was cold and wavering, choked with tears, calling out “Mis ninos, mis ninos!”  In her madness and with the passage of time, Maria had completely forgotten what her children looked like, so she called out for all children.  Whenever she found a child alone in the dark, near the water, she took it.

Most people think this is just a tale told by parents to keep their children from playing too near the water, but this is not true.  La Llorona does exist.  As late as 1957, a small Mexican boy playing along the Rio Grande with two friends encountered her.  It got to be late in the afternoon, and then the sun was suddenly gone and the moon started coming up.  The two friends were afraid of La Llorona and talked of how she would be out and about on a night like this.  They decided to go home, but their friend just scoffed at their fear.

As heavy clouds covered the stars, and everything was still and quiet, a small hole slowly opened up in the clouds to let a hazy, silver moon shine through.  The boy stood dumb struck, as he saw a ghostly white form rise up out of the water.  Then, he heard the sound.  It was a terrible crying sound.  “Mis ninos!”  He wanted to run, but his legs would not obey, and he felt a harsh coldness slowly move up his backbone.  All the hair on the back of his neck stood on end.  His mind screamed for him to run, but his legs would not move.  He stood rooted to the ground, as a tall woman with a long, thin, pale face that was white as chalk with large, deep empty eyes reached out a withered hand and moaned in a pitiful voice, “Mis ninos!”

The hand took hold of his arm and wrapped long, bony, cold fingers around his wrist.  The fingers began to squeeze tighter and tighter.  Although his fear was intense, he could not move.  It was like a terrible dream where a person just cannot move, and whatever is after you just gets closer and closer.  The boy felt the woman tugging him step by step toward the water, and he was powerless to fight back.

“Mis ninos,” she wailed, and her mouth was as dark and cavernous as the night sky.  She pulled him toward the water, drawing him closer and closer to her.

At that moment a church bell rang.  By the time that first tone had wavered off into the night, the boy felt that the icy grip on his wrist was growing looser.  The bell rang again and again, and it was as if her fingers were melting away.  By the last peal, he was free.

The boy ran home.  When he got home, his mother was very angry, until she saw the whiteness of his face.  She demanded to know what had happened, but the boy could no longer speak.  He drew pictures to tell what had happened, and there were the terrible red marks on his wrist where the bony fingers had touched him and held him too tightly.

La Llorona still cries for her children.  She comes in the dark, on the wind, seeking that which is forever lost to her.