"íLa Llorona te vas a pescar!"
That's what the elders tell the kids in the village: The wailing ghost of a woman who drowned her children in the nearby river will snatch them up if they get too close to the water.
With Halloween and Dia de los Muertos upon us, one would imagine that sightings of La Llorona -- the bogeywoman of the Southwest -- would increase. Sure enough, when the New Mexican asked readers last Friday to share their La Llorona stories, they came pouring in.
Eerie, weeping noises heard outside windows late at night. The vision of a screaming woman calling for her ninos after midnight. The specter of a lady in white roaming the streets along the Santa Fe River. (One gentleman said he only met La Llorona once, but he escaped by divorcing her.)
But La Llorona is a year-round and worldwide phenomenon, according to Santa Fe storyteller and cultural historian Nasario Garcia.
"When you talk about La Llorona, you are speaking about a universal figure," Garcia said. "It is not limited to Northern New Mexico or Southern New Mexico; it is much more global.
"Her figure encompasses Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, California, Arizona and extends into Mexico. She is no longer confined to the Southwest. She has become much more global."
La Llorona has inspired movies (including at least one involving the Mexican wrestler/actor Santo!), poems, books, songs, stories and plays.
Artist, playwright and storyteller Rosa Maria Calles, a native of Tome, N.M., still recalls the stories that her grandmother told her about La Llorona.
Calles' nana was trying to protect her from falling into an arroyo or ditch and perhaps drowning during the monsoon season, when the elder warned her to avoid the waterways of the region -- or La Llorona would get her.
Later, as Calles matured into a grown woman, her nana would still use La Llorona to keep her granddaughter from venturing into the bad part of town, saying that the crying woman might appear in the back alleys of the big, bad city.
Norma Duran of La Mesilla confirmed this idea via email: "Often our parents would tell us to be good or else La Llorona would come for us. I think that they frightened us on purpose so we wouldn't be out late at night with our boyfriends/girlfriends."
Calles' husband, Ray John de Aragon, wrote the 1980 book The Legend of La Llorona. It examines the historical origins of the character and offers one version of the myth.
In it, the commoner woman Luisa Gertrudis de Panuelo, forsaken by her nobleman lover, kills their two children with a knife and is hauled before the courts of the Spanish Inquisition. There she is stripped, tortured and eventually burned at the stake as a witch. Naturally, she comes back to haunt.
The author debunks one Spanish legend of La Llorona as being the spirit of the Aztec princess Malinche, the mistress of Spanish conquistador Herman Cortes, who reportedly killed their children rather than see them raised as Spaniards. The author notes that Malinali (aka Malinche) was from the Coatzacoalcos port region and not an Aztec, and that while she gave birth to one of Cortes' children, she later married a man named Juan Jaramillo and lived out a normal life before dying.
Calles' play Cuento De La Llorona -- which her daughter, actress Rosalia de Aragon (who also does her own one-woman show about La Llorona) has performed -- portrays La Llorona as a Spanish woman who is accused, perhaps wrongly, of killing her children. That tragic touch permeates most accounts of the tale.
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