In today's episode, we discuss La Llorona, a spirit from Mexican folklore. We discuss the prevalence of female ghosts wearing white across world folklore, the varied interpretations of folktales, and the merits of modern retellings.
Absolving La Llorona: Y.H. Addis’s “The Wailing Woman” by Rene H. Treviño
“La Llorona” and Related Themes by Bacil F. Kirtley
Lizzie: Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.
Zoe: I’m Zoe.
Lizzie: And I'm Lizzie. And how are you today, Zoe?
Zoe: I'm good. I am a little nervous to be presenting with my new microphone for the first time because it is very finicky. So if there are any—
Zoe: —weird noises, I'm sorry about that. We are working on adjusting.
Lizzie: We're getting used to the fancy microphones.
Zoe: So that's the thing I'm a little nervous about. But other than that, it looks like it's going to be a beautiful day outside. So I'm excited about that. And I'm also going on vacation again in a few days, so I'm also really excited to—
Zoe: Same place as before, just with my parents again.
Lizzie: The Cape. Yeah. Beautiful place. Yup. Anyway. Oh, you didn't actually ask me. [laughs]
Zoe: Yeah, Lizzie, how are you today? [both laugh]
Lizzie: [laughing] I was just going to go into it. Anyway, I'm good. I turned 25.
Lizzie: A couple days ago.
Zoe: Happy birthday!
Lizzie: Thank you. And I'm getting my second dose tomorrow. So that's exciting. And I was asking my family because obviously they got they got vaccinated like months ago. But they said they didn't have a really big reaction, any of them. So that's good news for me.
Lizzie: Because of genetics. I assume it applies to vaccines.
Lizzie: Yeah. So that's how I am.
Zoe: Yeah, that is really exciting. I am very excited for you to get vaccinated.
Lizzie: Thank you. Me too. And my best friend who I have not seen in like a year and a half is now in Amsterdam. So that's very exciting.
Zoe: Yes! I'm very excited about that. Because you know, all know we all love your friend very much.
Lizzie: Yes. We all love Konstantina.
Zoe: Yes, Konstantina.
Lizzie: Shoutout. Yeah. So who are we talking about today? Zoe: Okay, so today we are talking about La Llorona, who is— Lizzie: Oh!
Zoe: —a spirit from Mexican-American folklore.
Lizzie: Yes, I am familiar with her. And I'm very excited that we're gonna talk about her because I always figured we talk about her eventually.
Zoe: Yes, I've mentioned her like five times. So I was like, you know, I'm just gonna talk about her because otherwise it's gonna get silly. So Lizzie, what do you know about her? Let's start there.
Lizzie: She's from Mexico. There- I think there's probably different legends but I think the main thing is that she like lost her... child? And then so she just like walks around the water like grieving and like, maybe scaring children and crying. And her name means like the crying woman.
Zoe: Yeah. So that is pretty accurate. Her name does mean the Weeping Woman or the Wailing Woman, as far as I'm aware. She appears as a woman, often in white, and she roams near water and mourns the loss of her children. Most stories say that she drowned them. So that's a little, a little wrinkle there.
Lizzie: Ah, yes. Oh, yeah. Well, I have I feel like I've seen also ones that say that, like ones that say that she drowned them and also ones that say that she like, they died like, not her killing them. But I don't know. You'll tell me, I'm sure.
Zoe: Either way, there are dead children. And so just as a warning, this episode will deal pretty significantly with themes of child loss and infanticide. So if that's something
that you're sensitive to, you might want to wait till the next one. And the legend, as you sort of implied, is often employed by parents to scare their children into good behavior, often to prevent them from going out after dark or to keep them from playing near dangerous bodies of water. So she's sort of like a Boogeyman figure in like the popular conscious of Mexican and Mexican-American culture. So the basics of the legend, we've sort of already gone over them, but it has many regional variations, as all legends of this type do. The most typical version goes as follows. There's a beautiful woman. I saw several names, of course, one I saw I repeated often was Maria. I also saw Luisa and then according to Wikipedia, she's often named Xochitl, which was, which I didn't see anywhere else. But according to Wikipedia, it's common, so, there's that. And she's determined to only marry the most handsome man she finds and rejects all her other suitors. She falls in love with a rich ranchero or conquistador and manages to woo him by playing hard to get, being aloof or acting uninterested, and eventually they marry and she has two children with him. They're most often said to be sons. One day she sees her husband with another woman, being unfaithful. And in her rage and grief over this betrayal, she drowns the children in a nearby river. Immediately regretting this, she drowns herself as well. However, due to her actions, she is unable to enter the afterlife and is forced to wander the world in search of her children weeping all the while. And that's the general story that's told about her.
Lizzie: That's very sad.
Zoe: So the origins of the story are debated. There are colonial texts that show this legend has pre-Hispanic origins in the region. The Aztec creation myth tells the story of the hungry woman who is a spirit that cries constantly for food and is never satisfied. So there's the weeping theme there as well. And then she's also been linked to the Aztec Goddess Cihuacōātl, who is associated with motherhood and fertility. And she's also known to weep for her lost son Mixcoatl, whom she abandoned at a crossroads. So similar themes there. However, the legend of La Llorona is most often associated with the colonial period, as we can see from her marriage to a Spanish colonizer that is in the sort of general understanding of the legend. And she's often associated with La Malinche, who is the Nahua woman who served as Hernán Cortés's interpreter, and is thus believed to have aided his conquest of the Aztecs.
Lizzie: In what way is she associated with her? Just like...
Zoe: Well, they're just sort of like, linked together as like, a similar archetype, which I'm going to talk a bit more about later.
Lizzie: Ah, okay.
Zoe: But there's just you know, the idea of the woman, often an indigenous woman, which La Llorona is often like, sort of imagined as an indigenous Mexican woman who is romantically involved with a white Spanish man. And La Malinche's obviously also involved with a white Spanish man. So there's that sort of similarity there. Yeah, I'm going to talk more about that a bit later. There is- the first written reference to like the name La Llorona, in a 19th century sonnet by Manuel Carpio. But this poem is about a
woman named Rosalia, who was murdered by her husband and it doesn't involve infanticide. So it might just be a reference to like a Weeping Woman and not like the specific spirit. So. So again, there's a lot of variations on the story. Also, in some retellings of the story, in fact, actually a lot of retellings, La Llorona is not actually married to the father of her children, and the children are illegitimate. And so in some versions, she kills them to avoid losing them to their father who wants to take them away and have his wife raise them. Or others say that she kills them when her lover refuses to make her his wife, often due to- and often his reasoning for that is due to her status as an indigenous woman. And so because of the vulnerability of being an unmarried mother, she kills her children. In another version I found, La Llorona was a huge flirt that was prevented from going out dancing with men by her children. So she often left them alone during the evenings. And one day, the bodies of children were found drowned in a nearby body of water, either through an accident or on purpose.
Lizzie: Like they drown themselves or like somebody else drowned them?
Zoe: So either... The implication is either she was an irresponsible mother, so she left them alone because she wanted to go dancing, and they got into trouble and like drowned, because she wasn't looking after them. Or because she couldn't like go dancing, she drowned them to get rid of that, like, you know that little.
Lizzie: Oh. So she could go dancing.
Zoe: So she could go dancing, so she could be free again. In some versions, it's purposely highlighted that it becomes very clear, after La Llorona gets married, so it's a version where she's married, that her husband really only cares about the children, not her. And that sort of highlights her motivation to kill them when he's unfaithful as a way to get revenge on him because he doesn't really love her. And then, looking at the legend of her as a spirit, there are some variations that depict her as very malevolent and purposefully causing harm to men. So some stories say that she appears in bodies of water and lures men into them with her crying where she drowns them. And in other variations, she's said to steal people's children to replace her own lost ones.
Lizzie: I mean, the image of her like seducing men by like the waterside. It's very classic.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. So, any preliminary thoughts on all these sort of stories?
Lizzie: I've always I've always thought La Llorona was really interesting. I think we've talked, like at least mentioned her on like every episode we've talked about, like women's grief and like crying and everything.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely.
Lizzie: I feel like she's like the, like, crying woman from, like, folklore.
Zoe: She's the blueprint. Yeah.
Lizzie: Exactly. I mean, her name is like the crying. weeping. Yeah. But yeah, I mean, I'd love to know more about her as I'm sure you're going to tell me but I'm already intrigued.
Zoe: Yeah. So a thing I found during my research was in an essay entitled "Women Hollering: Contemporary Chicana Reinscriptions of La Llorona Mythography" by Barbara Simerka, researcher Pamela Jones noted some clear differences between the recollected explanations for La Llorona's actions between different research groups. So in the first group, which was Chicano students at the University of Oregon, over two thirds of their explanation for her murdering her children focused on her lover, either his abandoning her, or him tempting her to neglect her children. So they were like, she murdered her children because he abandoned her or he like led her away from her children, and so they died. But in the second group, which was composed of Mexican- born clients seeking aid at a Women, Infants and Children Clinic or WIC clinic, the focus was much more on the difficulties of an impoverished single mother and described her decision to kill her children as a result of her frustrations and her inability to provide for her children. And really, like, be a mother with the resources available to her.
Lizzie: That is really interesting.
Zoe: I know right? That's so interesting.
Lizzie: I mean it goes to show you like, how like your like, status, like as a person, like your gender, or like your situation, like really goes—
Lizzie: —like it really changes the way you interpret a story.
Lizzie: And like the amount of sympathy that you have for a character.
Lizzie: And it also makes me wonder if you're going to talk about Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Zoe: I mean, it's not in my notes that I was planning to talk a bit about Beloved if it came up.
Lizzie: Okay [laughs]
Zoe: Because yes, Beloved is very relevant to the story.
Lizzie: And you just read it.
Zoe: I just read it. Yeah. So, and also urban sightings of La Llorona report her at dumps or landfills as opposed to the traditional water or river settings, because in cities there are less water settings.
Lizzie: Makes sense.
Zoe: So yeah, as we discussed briefly, La Llorona can be seen to parallel many other women from mythology. So first of all, notably Lamia and Medea, from Greek mythology. So do you know about Lamia?
Lizzie: I think there's two Lamia in—
Lizzie: —Greek mythology and one of them is like a vampire. And one of them is like, not.
Zoe: Fascinating. Okay, so the Lamia I know about was a woman who was having an affair with Zeus and had several children with him. But Hera learned of the affair and killed all of Lamia's children, and in her grief and sorrow, Lamia became a monster that kills other women's children.
Lizzie: Okay, maybe that is the vam- maybe? I could be wrong actually.
Zoe: I mean, yeah, that was my thought was that maybe that's the sort of vampire figure because that's—
Lizzie: Do you know what, I feel like there's two Wikipedia entries. But you know what? I could be wrong. Continue.
Zoe: I know, you know who Medea is.
Lizzie: Of course.
Zoe: Yeah. So Medea, who we will definitely do an episode on at some point, but—
Lizzie: I love her.
Zoe: —she was a witch and the lover of the hero, Jason, but he became afraid of her powers, and he left her for another woman. And so in her rage, she killed their children and his new wife. So definitely—
Lizzie: You know what, I think she was justified. Not in the children killing, but she was definitely justified in like being mad at Jason because he treated her horribly.
Lizzie: And that's my opinion on Medea.
Zoe: Absolutely. And there's also very many similarities between her and a German legend known as Die Weisse Frau, or the White Woman, as well.
Zoe: Yeah! And so, in this story, there's a wife of a count, who was widowed and left with two children, and she wants to remarry. And so she's mistakenly led to believe that a distinguished aristocrat would marry her if it wasn't for her two children. So of course, she murders her children. However, she was mistaken, and shunned by the aristocrat afterwards and entered into intense penance for the rest of her life for the crime of murdering her children. And her spirit is said to appear wearing white wandering the streets at midnight. So—
Lizzie: Yeah. I mean, I was I was also thinking about Aisha Qandisha.
Lizzie: Because she, I mean, they have a lot of similar themes. Like they both wear white, and they like hang out by the water and they like lure men and like, they're both like terrifying, like, urban legend type characters.
Zoe: Absolutely. The only real difference is that there's no like, child murder in that legend, but besides that—
Zoe: —it's very similar.
Lizzie: They really are. Yeah.
Zoe: And like, a lot, I mean, there's just so many different stories throughout many cultures of weeping women, often wearing white who are said to be the ghosts of woman who killed their children and then themselves, which is just so interesting to me. And for some reason, I literally could not find like any scholarship on this. And that was—
Lizzie: Yeah, you'd think it would be quite an obvious topic.
Zoe: Yeah, and it's like, there's women in white everywhere. Like there's 20 different women in white in like the UK alone, like at least. And so I'm like, hello? Hello?
Lizzie: I do wonder like why white? Because in my mind, white symbolizes like virginity and like purity.
Lizzie: But if they're sort of like, kind of malicious figures and they're also like, in mourning. Why white?
Zoe: That's such a good point. And that's so interesting. I think there's this sort of like, perversion of like the wedding dress purity of womanhood in their—
Lizzie: Like it's sort of like, ironic in a way—
Lizzie: —maybe? Possibly? I mean I would think that if I was like a, you know ghost, like, spirit who was like, wandering around like crying I would probably wear black.
Lizzie: Like, the color of mourning.
Zoe: There are also lots of women in black, but that is not relevant to the story right now.
Lizzie: Okay, I suppose there are.
Zoe: Yeah, those are like the two- there's like a woman in black and a woman in white, in like so many places. But yeah, so I don't know. Anyway, that's a very int- there's like, a lot. I really wanted to like, do a small like, dive into weeping women in white across the world, but I literally could not find any articles about it and I was so frustrated. So, like.
Lizzie: I mean, that's crazy. I'm sure there's so many.
Zoe: I think it's interesting. I think—
Lizzie: Well, I agree. And I mean, I know that in like a lot of countries in Asia, that white is for mourning.
Zoe: Yeah! So that makes sense.
Lizzie: Yeah. Like, I think we- I think. If I remember correctly, in the Oiwa episode, which is of course, Japanese, she wore white to like symbolize her mourning.
Zoe: Yeah. So there's another like spiritual, like, sort of scary woman in white spirit.
Lizzie: But it's kind of a different context.
Lizzie: Because of. Yeah. The color of white. But maybe there has been like, historically, like different colors for mourning or something like I don't know.
Zoe: Yeah. I mean, I don't know. I remember there's some like context of like—
Lizzie: Not recently.
Zoe: —black being only a big mourning color when like, Queen Victoria's husband died.
Lizzie: Yeah! I was also thinking of Queen Victoria cuz she wore black for like a really long time.
Zoe: But I am not a fashion historian, so.
Lizzie: You know what, I'm not either.
Zoe: Don't take anything I say about that as fact. I love fashion history, but—
Lizzie: We're just guessing.
Zoe: Yeah. So anyway, that is a thing. And it's very interesting to me, but there's like no scholarship about it. If anyone has any articles they want to send my way, please do.
Lizzie: And it's also interesting, because there's only like, what, like a limited amount of like iconography for like a particular person. Like it's not that specific for most people.
But like the the white thing is always mentioned.
Lizzie: Like, and also we get a lot of like, long dark hair. And—
Zoe: Yeah, oh, yeah. I mean,
Lizzie: I don't know if La Llorona has long hair.
Zoe: Oh, she does. Oh, she does, yeah.
Lizzie: Oh, okay.
Lizzie: But it's interesting because they all like call attention to the fact that they wear white.
Zoe: Yeah, I mean, if you have dark hair, then if you're wearing a white dress, that becomes all the more prominent because there's that contrast, you know.
Zoe: So, La Llorona exists both dually as a victim and a villain. And she's portrayed most often as a victim in her story. She's jilted by her lover, she's mourning the loss of her children. However, when people tell stories about her, often she sort of becomes the villain. And I'm sort of thinking about at this point, the stories of encounters with La Llorona, because, again, she is sort of this like, scary figure, she is this urban legend, there are so many people who have like stories of, oh, I saw La Llorona when I was out one night, and stuff like that. And in those sort of stories, she is the antagonist, and like,
the person who's telling the story sort of becomes the, you know, the protagonist, and she's like, the scary being, that like, comes to like, frighten them. And so, in those moments, and in those storytelling, she becomes like, her tragic story and her background, are forgotten and lost. And she's just like, the scary figure sent to like, teach children a lesson.
Lizzie: And it's also interesting, I feel like the way that she's like her spirit has to like roam the earth forever, like, mourning her children like mourning her mistakes, because I feel like it's a very like, you know, Greek kind of, you have to suffer for eternity—
Lizzie: —kind of thing.
Zoe: Well, it made me think like, like actually Cain from the Bible because he has to like wander for eternity, or, well, for the rest of his life because I guess he's not immortal at that point. But yeah, like he—
Lizzie: I haven't read the Bible.
Zoe: Well, I haven't either but [laughs]
Lizzie: Okay. [laughs]
Zoe: He, basically, when he kills Abel he's sent to basically wander the earth for the rest of his life.
Zoe: As punishment, so.
Lizzie: Yeah, like there's a lot of Greek figures who that happens to, like Sisyphus has to roll the boulder up for eternity and then there's like, who's the one who has to, like, get his liver picked out like everyday? I can't remember.
Zoe: Our man Prometheus.
Lizzie: Like it's that kind of thing. Like you do something wrong. And then you have to suffer literally for eternity. Kind of thing.
Zoe: Yeah. Yeah, it's very interesting. La Llorona could be said to represent basically the monstrosity that occurs when one fails to follow the roles of womanhood. She basically rejects the role of mother. She rejects the role of mother and murders her children, basically, she does like the least, the antithesis of mother, the least motherly thing you can do, which is take back your actions as a mother and unalive children. And
so many of the stories she's also said to be having a relationship with a man out of wedlock, which, like, shh, you're not supposed to do that.
Lizzie: Yeah, that reflects badly on your character, or whatever. Also like, as you said, it was like after colonization, so it was probably like, a majority like Christian—
Lizzie: —belief system. Where like, you were definitely not supposed to, like have sex out of wedlock.
Zoe: Yeah. And I mean, like, I don't, I mean, if we're looking at like the pre-colonial origins, I remember from our Tlatzolteotl episode that like, the Aztecs were also not big into, like, infidelity. That was like a big—
Lizzie: Yeah, that's true.
Zoe: So her decision to kill her children in the moment, and her immediate regret afterwards can also reflect ideas about emotional instability of women and their tendency towards hysteria. So like, you know, she was really upset. And she did this like, crazy thing. And, you know, oh, women are so unstable, you know, like, this is what women do when they're upset is they kill their children, you know, that sort of idea.
Lizzie: Yeah. Like to just reflect poorly on women in general.
Lizzie: And also the fact that she doesn't have like a name, like she has like—
Zoe: A title. Yeah.
Lizzie: Yeah. Like, that could, in theory apply to like any woman as just like, has a feminine ending, you know.
Zoe: Mm hmm. But when discussing the story of La Llorona, I want to focus on a quote from folklorist Rosan Jordan, who states that we must study women's folklore as, quote, "an important means of indicating differences in male and female ethos and worldview and exposing ideologies that have been accepted as representing the total culture as reflecting only a male ideal". So—
Lizzie: I totally agree.
Zoe: —that interpretation of La Llorona, I think, really reflects primarily a male ideal.
Lizzie: Definitely. And I also feel like I mean, I think it's important to like, look at stories that are very clearly from like, patriarchal, like, society, that are, like, you know, male storytellers as being like, well, this is probably biased and like—
Lizzie: —that, but also at the same time, I do like, I, as we know, like, I have this urge to, like, defend all the women who like, you know, kill people and everything, because I'm like, well, they were misunderstood. And they were like, victims of like, misogyny and everything.
Lizzie: And I tend to, like, make a sympathetic backstory. I'm like, you know, what, she, it wasn't her fault. Which is kind of interesting. Because like, I mean, sometimes people do do bad things.
Zoe: Yeah. I mean, I think that, so I think that ultimately, like, La Llorona's decision to kill her children, if we're talking about a version in which she does kill her children. Like, that's not a good thing.
Lizzie: No, that's wrong, for sure.
Zoe: But also we have to think about the society she was in at a time where it was very difficult to be a woman, a mother without a husband, an unwed mother, you know, a single mother, and the fact that there was likely so much stigma against, you know, having children out of wedlock.
Lizzie: And there's also a stigma against like, the children in general, like, you're not supposed to be like an illegitimate child even though it's not your fault if you're illegitimate. So.
Lizzie: In a way, I don't know if this is at all part of your interpretation, but you could perhaps view that as her like saving them from a life of like being judged their entire life for being illegitimate.
Zoe: Absolutely. And I think that there's a quote I heard recently, and I can't remember who said it, I can't remember the exact quote. So I'm very sorry. But it's basically like, when you create a culture that creates such a stigma around having children out of wedlock, you know, having children without- outside of marriage, then you also create a culture with a great case for infanticide.
Lizzie: That's true. And like, it's also like, it's a really hard decision to like, you know, commit infanticide. Like it's a horrible thing, like, no mother wants to do that.
Zoe: I mean, it's clear that she, she's upset about it, like—
Lizzie: Yeah, like it's a hard decision.
Zoe: Her whole thing is that she's crying. It's like she's crying for eternity because of what she did. But also like—
Zoe: I think, you know, she was put in a situation where her actions where... she was put in a situation where things were really rough for her. There was not any good choices.
Lizzie: Yeah, like they're like, obviously, it's not good to kill your children. But it's like, it's also really easy to, like condemn her without thinking about the context that she was living in. And like how she must have been feeling.
Zoe: It'd be like, well, if I was La Llorona, I would have simply not killed my ch- like, you don't know that. You are not La Llorona.
Lizzie: Yeah, I mean. Consider the circumstances. And like, sometimes when you're put in like a horrible circumstance like you, like you're not thinking like, clearly, like, obviously looking at it like a subject- or like a from an objective, like outside view. Your obviously like, okay, well, that's wrong. But like, if you're living that situation, I sound like him defending I'm infanticide. I'm honestly not. But you know what I mean?
Lizzie: Like being inside, like a particular situation. It's like, harder to, like, make the right decision.
Zoe: Yeah, to figure out what your way out is gonna be.
Lizzie: Yeah. I mean, it's hard to like live, like such a disadvantaged life.
Zoe: And I feel like we really need to talk about how putting all the blame on La Llorona really absolves the man in the story.
Lizzie: That's so true, honestly.
Lizzie: It's always like if two, like, if a man and a woman like both commit like, whatever, like adultery or like they have sex out of wedlock or whatever. It's the woman who always gets punished.
Zoe: Yeah, because Yeah, because she's the one who got the physical burden in like most traditional stories, where the woman is generally the one pregnant, she's the one who has like the physical burden. And the man like, the man is allowed to be a mystery. Because like, you don't know the father is but you know who the mother is. But like, the man is also like the one who has responsibility here. And if we're talking about the story of La Llorona, and we're talking about a story, where in a lot of the versions, this is a
story of a real serious power imbalance, because we're talking about a story between a man who is a colonizer and a woman who is part of the class in which he has colonized.
Zoe: And like, maybe they were in love. And maybe he decided he wasn't in love anymore. But that's still a huge power imbalance. And that basically makes it very even clearer that without him, like, she has very few options. Because—
Lizzie: And, like, knowing like, what would happen to her if like, he left her or whatever.
Zoe: Because she's already from a disadvantaged class.
Lizzie: You have to, you have to put some of the responsibility on him as well.
Zoe: Yeah. And even in stories where it's not a story about colonization, it's often the man is from a higher socio-economic status than the woman. Than La Llorona. So even in those versions of the story, there's still a power imbalance because he is able to, like, move on and like go and be rich somewhere else. But she is already living in a vulnerable situation.
Lizzie: She's stuck with the pregnancy, and yeah.
Zoe: And she has children. And as the women from Pamela Jones's study, noted, like, it's hard being a single mom, but when you have you have no money and no options and no resources, like what are you, what can you do?
Lizzie: You don't have as many options as—
Zoe: And you also have the stigma of being a woman who had a child out of wedlock, and then therefore, you might not have community support. So like, you know, what are you, what are you supposed to do?
Lizzie: Yeah, like, you don't have all the choices that you might want to have. Like, you don't have like, the resources, and you also don't want to live with, like a horrible stigma forever.
Zoe: Yeah. And so like he, if he is the one who has the power to put her in a situation where killing her children feels necessary, he's also the one with the power to take her out of that situation, but he doesn't. And like that doesn't mean he had to get back together with her, but he could have given her some money he could have like, helped make her situation feel more secure. You know, like, and ultimately, I feel like it's less on La Llorona as an individual not to murder her children than it is on society to not put women in situations where infanticide seems like it's the only option.
Lizzie: That's so true, because people are punished for like, doing things that like, they were kind of pushed into doing.
Lizzie: By like, societal stigma and like, you know.
Zoe: Absolutely. Yeah. And I feel like the story of La Llorona is a story of a society in which cruelty towards women goes unpunished. And therefore, women must take drastic actions in order to preserve themselves and make their feelings hurt. Because now we all hear La Llorona's suffering. We all hear her pain. Like, we hear her crying.
Lizzie: Yeah, that's so true. And I mean, we've mentioned this before, but like, I think it's so cool that what was that researcher's name?
Zoe: Pamela Jones.
Lizzie: Who, um. Yes! That she like, interviewed or like surveyed people like, different—
Zoe: Yeah, that's just so interesting.
Lizzie: Like, the understandings that they had about La Llorona. That's, I think more people should do that. Like, yeah, it's like totally true that I think, I mean, obviously, like women in general have like, more sympathetic views towards like, mythological and like folkloric women who were—
Lizzie: —like, evil or like supposedly evil and who did bad things. Because, you know, we like understand that it's not always that simple and that we shouldn't always just condemn people. I mean there's such a thing as like a bad action like killing your child is wrong. There's no way around that. But, like, there's also some nuance to be, to be had around this subject and just the way women are treated that like everything we do gets punished.
Zoe: Yeah and the one more like sort of layer I want to add to it is that like when I mentioned earlier that La Llorona is often seen at like dumpsters and like trash yards and cities is like, as much as it's like hard to talk about, situations like La Llorona's are still, still happen to this day. In such, in like places where women have children and feel like they can't take care of them for whatever reason. And dumpsters and trash yards are places where women in cities will dispose of children. So there's that layer as well. So the character of La Llorona is also a very influential archetype for Mexican and Chicana women alongside the archetypes of La Malinche and also the Virgin of Guadalupe. So both the story of La Malinche and La Llorona depict Mexican and Chicana women as passive and sexually abused beings. In their stories, they commit violent and unforgiveable acts due to the love they experience for white colonizing men and therefore are sort of viewed as traitors to their people. And these stories really define gender roles for women and Mexican and Chicane cultures. As described by Mary Louise Pratt, author of Yo Soy La Malinche: Chicano writers and the poetics of ethnonationalism, “whether committed by a man or woman, betrayal is coded in the
language as female. To be a traitor is by implication to become female, while to be a female is to be inherently a potential traitor.”
Lizzie: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Zoe: So, basically, La Llorona and La Malinche are positioned opposite the Virgin of Guadalupe and they basically create a virgin-whore dichotomy that Mexican and Chicana women are forced into to this day. Like, you don't want to be La Malinche, you don't want to be La Llorona. You want to be the Holy Virgin, basically.
Lizzie: So, like, exists to like, warn women against like, you don't want to become this.
Zoe: Yeah. And so, thus, many contemporary Chicana writers have worked to reclaim and redeem the character of La Llorona. And so, for example, Monica Palacios rewrote La Llorona into a tragic lesbian romance in her story, La Llorona Loca: The Other Side. Sandra Cisneros reimagined La Llorona in her story Woman Hollering Creek, where the main character, Cleófilas, leaves her husband instead of being abandoned, with the help of two other women, ends the story laughing instead of wailing. And in her poem “La Vie, I Never Said It Was Simple,” Angela de Hoyo rewrites La Llorona as transforming her wails into poetry, thus producing and birthing something new with her sorrow instead of taking a life.
Lizzie: That's really nice.
Zoe: Yeah. And so all these rewritings and many, many more, those are just a few examples, allow for the expansion and redefinition of Chicana and Mexican women outside the patriarchal roles that have been set for them through these replication of legends and figures, which is really cool.
Lizzie: Yeah, I think that's really nice. And I think like, retelling a story that like, you feel like the character in it, or the figure in it is like, so like tragic and so like, oppressed and everything and like turning it into something like more sympathetic or, like, more happy is like really beautiful, especially if you're taking something from like your own culture, like rather than, like—
Zoe: Yeah, and when it's like, a role that you feel like you're being forced into, and to take that and just sort of, like, reclaim it, and rewrite and be like, this is, this is who I see, this is the person that I want this character to be.
Lizzie: I feel like that's such a beautiful way to like, interact with, like, folktales and like mythology.
Zoe: Yeah, you know, I mean, Lizzie knows, I'm always like, oh, there's this new rewriting of like a mythological woman.
Zoe: Like, I'm going to read it now and see if it's good, like, but yeah, it's really awesome.
Lizzie: It really is. I have like I, I've been like wanting to, okay, I've always liked retellings, but I do, like want to read more of them now.
Zoe: Me too.
Lizzie: Like, it's just so interesting. And like, the ways that people like interpret their own, like, stories, like from their culture, or from their religion, and like, it's just like a nice way to interact with stories that are probably like very old and like, yeah, possibly, you know, like, written and like, interpreted by men, like throughout the centuries.
Lizzie: I think it's really nice. Like, take that into your own hands.
Zoe: I mean, like what you said about how stories that are told or sort of “birthed”, quote, unquote, in a patriarchal time, and to sort of take that and rewrite it and like, reimagine it is really awesome and really powerful and cool. Because I think these stories are still meaningful, and really important. And also—
Lizzie: Yeah, and it also gives them a little bit of an update for like the modern time as well.
Zoe: Because like the context in which they're, like, were first told and understood is important. But then there's a way to be like, here is how we can take it from the context, the patriarchal context, and still make it into something meaningful for us.
Lizzie: Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, it is really beautiful to like, take something and like, give it like, even more meaning to you and to like people in your community. It's, it's really beautiful. And also, retellings can just be very fun.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely.
Lizzie: Yeah. So thank you very much, Zoe, for today's episode. It was very interesting. And thank you for listening. Please feel free to subscribe, leave us a review, listen to our other episodes, and follow us on Instagram.
Zoe: Yeah, thank you so much. Goodbye. [outro music]
Lizzie: Mytholadies podcast is produced, researched and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @mytholadies, and find us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening, see you in two weeks.