Haunting Mexican folklore comes to life in lecture

By BenitaZepeda

Each culture has unique stories that are passed down orally from generation to generation. In Mexican culture, one story that is often interpreted many different ways is the story of La Llorona:

The Weeping Woman.

“La Llorona: The Weeping Woman: The Sixth Portent, The Third Legend,” was hosted by the Cultural Studies Program and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs on Oct. 7.  This was the first lecture of Intersections, a series of lectures that explores the complexity of contemporary culture and the arts.

Oriana Riley THE CHRONICLEThree Columbia faculty members presented the tale of La Llorona at the Chicago Cultural Center by discussing ways in which the tale has evolved over the years.

RoseAnna Mueller, associate professor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department, explained that La Llorona is seen as a phantom that mourns the deaths of her children, for which she is responsible for. La Llorona is believed to have killed her children for many reasons including payback to her husband who left her, the concealment of an illegitimate childbirth, rejection of motherhood, her inability to provide for her children or for an option of a quick death instead of watching their prolonged death.

Mueller also said some people say La Llorona is not a killer, but a mother who has lost her children in an accident and mourns their death as The Weeping Woman.

At the lecture, Mueller spoke of the historical background of the tale.  She said it is important to see how this tale has evolved through contemporary art and literature to become what it is today.

“Chicanas and feminists reinvent the stories so that La Llorona helps those in need,” Mueller said. “It’s a precautionary tale, which is the best way to describe it.”

Although people believe the story has several origins, Mueller said it can be traced back to Mexico.  La Llorona is a feminine figure who is often compared to La Malinche and The Virgin of Guadalupe, two prominent figures in Mexican culture.

The legend says La Llorona would find children if they were out too late and kidnap or drown them.  Mueller said this is often used as a scare tactic to make children behave and to stay away from lakes and rivers. The legend diverted young women from being sexually promiscuous because if they were to become pregnant and then scorned by their lover like La Llorona was, their fate was to be like hers.

Even though La Llorona is viewed as a bruja, or witch, she is not thought of as ugly and terrifying. During her portion of the lecture, Nancy VanKanegan, adjunct faculty member at Columbia, described La Llorona as a beautiful woman, temptress, specter of death, kidnapper, baby killer and sheltering mother who warns of disaster.

“It’s such an evocative legend,” VanKanangan said. “It’s so interesting, as an

artist and in my own academic research as a teacher, to see how peoples’ lives are affected consciously and sometimes unconsciously by these legendary

or mythical figures.”

VanKanegan said she chose to research how La Llorona has been manifested in contemporary performance in ways that could be easily recognized and identifiable by young women. The artists she chose showcased La Llorona as a warning figure in a very positive way.

Jesús Macarena-Avila, an adjunct faculty member at Columbia, presented how La Llorona has been depicted through Chicana art in present day. He picked out several artists, but described how Kentucky-based artist Diana Khalo applied La Llorona to social situations like the war in Iraq.

“I also believe when you praise the dead, it’s a way of reminding people of what people have sacrificed,” Macarena-Avila said.

Macarena-Avila also said the importance of showing the fusion between figures in Mexican culture is to make them more accessible to many different people through art.

“I feel that artists have the ability to cross over and I think that artists can sometimes be judged for that,” Macarena-Avila said. “I think it is important because when they do that artistically, it creates bridges for other communities that don’t always see connections with each other.”

Tales such as these have transformed from simple folklore to a story that has become applicable to people even now.  Mueller, VanKanegan and Macarena-Avila all said throughout the lecture that it is important to recognize the re-envisions of the legend through art and literature.