Monday, October 31, 2011

La Llorona

See, I really do dress like a calavera and/or Frida Kahlo whenever I am feeling lonely or strangely unpresent in my skin.  Sometimes it coincides with Dia de los Muertos, other times it is a random day in July. I transform when I paint my face white, not just externally, but I feel stronger, more beautiful. I cannot tell you why. It feels more me than me. Today is Halloween, and tomorrow and the next day Dia de los Muertos celebrations. I have been writing a bit about my Day of the Dead preparations on my blog still life everyday. And today, I am over at Glow in the Woods where I am talking about the holidays and La Llorona. You know, I really considered reading this piece in face paint for the camera. There is a lot of Spanish words in the piece. I think it might give it that oomph, but perhaps you can tell me if that would be cool.

This year, I thought I might just dress like La Llorona, but knowing probably no one really knows who she is here, I thought it might ruin the whole dressing up thing. I am just a ghost to them. I'm going to share the background of how I became acquainted with La Llorona, hoping my ex-husband doesn't mind me sharing about his family a little. (I adore and adored them like they were my own. Just like I adore his wife, just like she were my wife. Wait, that came out wrong.)

I didn't grow up with La Llorona. She came to me one night over some almond tequila on the border town of Nogales, Arizona. I was nineteen. My ex-husband's abuelo told us the story as we sat around the table after dinner. My Spanish was strong then, but I struggled with unexpected words, particularly when his tia told a story that heavily featured a mono. I couldn't figure out what she was talking about.

I whispered to my husband, "Is she talking about monkeys?"
"Okay. I thought I was missing something."

His grandfather had a thick white mustache and thick white hair. I met him only a few times in my life, but I loved him with that deep soul respect you get when you meet a kindred spirit. He created artists and thinkers and writers. My ex-husband's aunt dressed like Frida Kahlo on random days when the spirit of the great artist moved her. My ex-mother-in-law created vibrant, large paintings of Navajo medicine men and rituals of the desert. When she created sculpture, she hiked to the mountain to dig her own clay out of a earth. She told me you can only create from your soul when you include your sweat. The old man, El Viejo, worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad as they carved its path through Arizona.

We had dinner with his grandparents this night. As the candles flickered, everyone began telling ghost stories. I sipped my tequila and translated in my head. El Viejo talked with his whole face, his hands gesturing as he told his stories. His story was about La Llorona, the Wailing Woman. He left his house in Nogales to drive to work in the back of a truck with four other guys. It was before dawn, and the trip took hours. In those days, the arroyos ran with water, and even small ponds were around Southern Arizona. Cattle farming has eradicated most of the water in the area now, but here and there, you would find veins of water, as precious now as the gold that once drew people there. El Viejo saw something on the small pond they passed. He told the driver to stop, and they all gaped. It was La Llorona, the Wailing Woman, walking along the edge of the pond. Though walk, perhaps, is misleading, she hovered and  wailed. She stared right into the Old Man's eyes. She was so beautiful, so white. She cried, "Dios mio, mi hijos! Mi Hijos!" She screamed, and the men shook in their boots. Tore off in the truck. La Llorona.

My ex-husband told me that every viejito has a story of seeing or hearing La Llorona. La Llorona means the Wailing Woman, the Crying Woman. The old people hear someone wailing, "Oh God, my babies, my babies" somewhere in the night. It is a ghost story, a nightmare, to lose your children. La Llorona is a warning told to children. Do not venture out at night or La Llorona will snatch you. (Us, babylost mamas, want any child to take as our own. We are so grief-stricken we will mistake you for the one gone too soon.) It is a warning to mothers--do not foresake your children. See, La Llorona was a woman named Maria. And she had many children. The father left, and Maria fell in love with another man, who grew jealous of the children, so she drowned her children to be with the man. She is punished for eternity by having to search the arroyos and lakes, swamps and ponds of the world searching for her children. I never believed that version. The other version of that story is that all her children were washed away in a flash flood in the arroyo. And she wanders the Earth grieving, screaming. Now that is a legend I get. La Llorona mourns, walks along banks and cries for her babies. Mis hijos. Mis hijos.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed a ghost story today. 

A toast to communing with ancestors!


  1. I've decided to leave my comment here although I may allude to bits from the still life everyday and glow posts.

    La Llorona isn't part of my cultural heritage although I'm sure that I could find something similar in Eastern European folklore if I dug around a bit. Still, I kind of get her even though she's not really mine to get.

    I'm perfectly happy to own up to my crazy babylost-ness. A little part of my mind does wander around a bit every now and then watching children who seem unattended. I don't want to snatch these children but I can't help but think that I wanted R more than those negligent parents want their children. Perhaps a trade could be arranged...

    I've always thought of these types of stories that are rooted deep inside the lizardy, cross-cultural parts of our brains where we store the most fundamentally upsetting things. A memory of my own mother in distress, trying to bring down my fever is just a couple of steps away from the wailing woman. And you don't want to mess with either one. It seems like it ought to be cliche but I know that there's more to it. Is helplessness generally terrifying or is it the notion that she has nothing left to lose?

    I think I've officially wandered off topic.

    Let me close by saying that I think you look pretty badass. Maybe you should wander down to the river and ask for Lucy. If I were in charge, I'd bring her to you.

  2. You look amazing Angie - and I understand La Llorona - grieving and screaming. Yes, I get that.

  3. always make me think. I have always been fascinated with folklore stories, especially as a quilter. This one feels very true when a babyloss mom is in the thick of it....or even on the fringes. Weeping and wailing for our lost babies....

  4. always make me think. I have always been fascinated with folklore stories, especially as a quilter. This one feels very true when a babyloss mom is in the thick of it....or even on the fringes. Weeping and wailing for our lost babies....

  5. You look amazing. Strong, resilient and beautiful. I love reading about your traditions.


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