Embraced by Latin culture and American mainstream, “La Llorona” is as frightening as ever.
The tale of La Llorona is a one of death and despair, of a longing ache for redemption. It’s deeply disturbing, capturing the imagination and frightening the reality of Latino children. It’s done so for decades, kept alive through the retellings of her story and horrifying accounts of personal encounters. Even now, the monster is fed. Her weeping never ends.
Like any folklore, the story varies. But the common narrative goes a bit like this: La Llorona (Spanish for “The Weeper”) begins with a woman who loses her children in a drowning. She succumbs to complete madness, inconsolable with her children gone. She cries out for their souls. In her state of mind, she’s lost all sense of reality, and goes after living children to replace her grave loss. David Delgado Shorter, associate professor and vice chair in the world arts and cultures/dance at UCLA, said the story’s changing contexts that help it live.
“To think of a ghastly mother calling you toward her, with her arms open wide, is to both want a hug and want to run,” he said.
The tale of La Llorona found itself surfacing in some mainstream material but never created widespread attention. That changed in October when the NBC show “Grimm” aired an episode revolving around the myth. The series is a dark fantasy drama, a horror TV show often employing modern retellings of stories created by the Brothers Grimm. In the episode, La Llorona is depicted in the same manner as the stories: long dark hair, disheveled white dress, and a face that can shift from a human face to a demon’s mug in seconds. They employed Kate del Castillo, veteran Mexican soap opera actress, as a guest star.
In the age of social media La Llorona’s presence is even more inescapable. She can be found on Twitter. She doesn’t have many followers, less than 400 as of press time, but she definitely has a photo worthy of a thousand more. Her Facebook pages, because there are several, seem to be faring a lot better, with more than 70,000 combined ‘likes,’ and that’s only counting the two biggest pages. On YouTube, a search for La Llorona ends up locating a popular song with the same name but, unfortunately, no found-footage of the weeping woman.
Shorter doesn’t feel the Internet will ever replace the role of storytelling folklore.
While the “Grimm” episode certainly represented a wider introduction of the legend of La Llorona, a quick search on the Internet Movie Database reveals no less than 20 movies inspired by or featuring a character based on her myth. Many are American-made films, with other versions from Mexico also listed. None of the movies have ever reached much recognition at the box office or in critics circles.
Shorter grew up with the story in his hometown of Alamogordo, N.M. Describing himself as half-Latino and half-white, he said the story reminds him and others where they come from, geographically speaking.
“The story reminds me that although I’m half white, I’m also not half-gringo. I know that for many reasons, but one of them is that La Llorona still haunts me.”