For the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to cover Warner Bros./New Line Cinema’s upcoming horror film, THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. Throughout that time I’ve learned a lot about the Mexican folklore through interviews with the cast and my own research. One thing that was told to me over and over again was that for many Latin Americans, this folklore is much more than a scary story, but an important part of their upbringing and a culturally significant icon. To put it bluntly, this isn’t a story that white people, such as myself, should tell as it’s not part of our culture, which is why I felt it was important to reach out to the Latino community to hear and share the stories of their encounters with the Weeping Woman. For this article, I spoke with 7 individuals whose stories range from being saved by La Llorona to the generational impact that La Llorona has had on their family.
Gigi Saul Guerrero – Director (currently finishing her first feature with Blumhouse Productions for “Into the Dark”)
La Llorona, even just thinking of that name gives me goosebumps, but then again every single legend my grandma has told me scares me. My name is Gigi Saul Guerrero, born and raised in Mexico City. Now, as many of you already know, Mexicans are not only the best humans to party with…but we are also very, very spiritual people. We can be too superstitious and we sometimes are convinced everything is the Devil or at least our abuelitas think to say so.
We also have a different perception of death. We are not afraid of it, but instead, we cherish it and we celebrate it. Since childhood, we have grown up with stories to scare us so badly that it disciplines us to be a good person. From our Boogeyman “El Coco”, to our trolls “Los Alushes”, they all hold a dark entity which grandparents or parents are NOT afraid to describe to their children.
La Llorona, the ghost of the Weeping Woman, is one of the most visceral and scary legends that I was told since childhood. My own Abuela (grandmother) would genuinely say La Llorona was searching for me – to drown me in my sleep. But you see, she KNEW I was being bad, she KNEW.
For a lot of kids in Mexico and, even South America in general, what makes our Legends in our folklore so impactful and memorable is the fact that everything is extremely built and painted out from us from our elders. We never really get to see what the monster looks like, but only being told what it looks like. That applies to filmmaking as well – the less you see the scarier it is. Our imagination plays tricks on us and what our mind can build is actually much more fucked up than seeing it for long periods of time.
We are the only ones that know what scares us, why have somebody else show us what is “supposed” to scare us. When you walk around the streets of Mexico there is a lot of symbolism everywhere you go, from the churches to shrines to people’s jewelry – you name it! Death is everywhere and the country itself has its struggle already. We already have a huge imagination of what scares us. Guillermo Del Toro said something similar after winning the Oscar for The Shape of Water.
I remember as a child going camping with my elementary school and the teachers told us to be quiet and listen… and we happened to be camping by a lake… and we clearly could hear the Weeping Woman crying by the lake. Whether that night was real or not, we’ve grown up to believe a lot of these things. Now, I’m not telling you that I believe it or not but I can tell you I do believe in the supernatural. I do believe that there is something always watching us.
As a proud Mexican, I want to create the same stories if I ever have kids or at least continue the tradition to keep the stories alive. I’m very curious to see the new film as I know the visual of La Llorona was created and I just hope to not see the monster too often. Maybe it’s similar to what I thought she looked like. What’s important is keep the authenticity of the country it came from and hopefully, Warner Bros. threw Spanish language and culture into the film.
Sabina-Lissette Graves (Director and Journalist)
My earliest recollection of la Leyenda (La Llorona) being more than a scary story my older cousins would tell when I was little was when I visited the home of my grandparents in Mexico City. My Abuela told me that they lived by where the river was and that if you walked around there at night you could hear her and that on some nights she would wander through the neighborhood looking for children to take, wailing, “Ay, mis hijos.”
I remember not being able to sleep and hearing the sounds of a river and dripping footsteps and a woman’s voice crying out for her children in the hallway that night as I hid under the covers so I wouldn’t be taken. Even when I went back home, I didn’t forget that. She’s a wandering spirit and I don’t doubt for a second that she can follow anyone who knows her story or who she’s tried to take or who stupidly seeks her out.
Bella Sin (Burlesque Producer. Performer and Costume Maker. Born in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Immigrant currently living in Cleveland)
La Llorona is a cultural icon of Mexico for a few reasons. There are a few backgrounds that La Llorona’s legend comes from, one of them that peaked my attention is the one that says she is an indigenous woman much loved by her community that finds her home destroyed by fire. As she tried to save it, her children were left unattended in a riverboat that was taken by the flow of the river. The children went missing and the whole town looked for them till they were found washed up by the river’s edge. She went crazy with grief and soon after took her own life and came back as a spirit roaming trying to find her children. They said that she would aid lost children and those without parents she would take to care for. This was a far cry from the evil woman that was manipulated by a man to get rid of her children over the promise of marriage and few other serious patriarchal backgrounds and churches (colonizers) warning women against not being married.
When I was young, my first experience with La Llorona was the Chavela Vargas song that really changed my life, to be honest, and it made me take an honest look at the legend as an icon vs. a tale of warning. That did not stop me from not being afraid though. In the river down by my house, my Abuela always said when the fog went down and it was dark the wails of La Llorona would be heard. I was told that if I went down there I would not come back. So, what is an 8-year-old girl to do… GO DOWN THERE! Well, needless to say, I found out the river was not really a river but when it rained a lot there was huge flooding that happened and it turned into a makeshift river with a hell of a current and you could not see much because of the fog. As I kept walking I slipped and fell in but then I heard her or I thought I did. Something pulled me out of the river and all I remember is my Tia and Tio, but I swear to you it was La Llorona who pulled me out. Since I do not go around bodies of water at night, as I am too afraid to see her again, in my own way I thanked her by leaving flowers around there.
Isaac Rodriguez (Director. Born and raised in San Antonio, TX)
Growing up as a kid in a Hispanic family, I was always surrounded by crazy haunted house stories and weird folk tales. Hispanic culture tends to lean into the superstitious side and takes it very seriously.
The first time I heard about La Llorona was from my grandmother. She was a very religious person who was up praying to God at 6 am every morning and never missed church. She told me that when she was a young girl she was staying at her Aunt’s house deep in the woods of Mexico. One night, from her second story window, she heard a woman crying from the trees. She tried to ignore it but the crying got louder and louder.
My grandmother looked out the window and saw a woman in a long white dress and blue pruned skin just standing there in the yard crying, “Oh Hijos Mios!” (Oh, my children!)
Sebastian Munoz (Artistic Director at Force of Nature Production)
Growing up in Mexico (and now residing in the States since 1991), it’s near impossible to not have heard the story of La Llorona as a very young child. Many have different stories of who she is or was. If she was real or not. One origin story says she was inspired by famous Nahua women known as La Malinche in the 1500s during the Spanish conquistador days. She was Hernán Cortés interpreter and lover who gave birth to his bastard children only to have been left by him to marry a noble Spanish lady. The other story I heard was the more traditional one of a local woman drowning her children then herself after her husband left her for a younger woman. She was denied entrance to Heaven until she was able to find her children and bring them with her. Whether you believe in her or not; here’s a personal story I’ve rarely shared with anyone. All of it true as I describe it below.
As a child of 8 years old, my family was very trusting of me and allowed me to play outside with my friends, but always wanted to make sure I was back home inside before nightfall. They told me if I wasn’t inside by sundown, I’d run the risk of running into La Llorona. I listened most of the time, but sometimes those street soccer matches with friends would be too good to stop, but I always managed to get back just in time. However, as many young boys often do; I tested the boundaries of my family’s request on a particular night.
Having discovered an empty, weeded, dirt-filled lot about 2 blocks from my house, my friends and I, of course, played longer than we were allowed to. The match ended at sundown and by the time the adrenaline and excitement had settled, my friend Lupe and I found ourselves alone to walk back in that now silent empty field. I remember telling him that we should leave as it was now much later than we were allowed to be out.
The wind and soft, night creatures noises were the only sound we had as we made our way out of the lot. Now, call it a combination of fear of being in trouble coupled with your brain suddenly reminding you what lurks in the night while you should be safe at home, but my friend and I started to panic a bit. Then, as if in a bad dream, a particularly strong wind filled the lot. It was deafening and ear piercing. But when it reached us, it transformed into what my friend and I swore was wailing. As if something or someone was mourning. We looked at each other and I’d never see Lupe so pale in my life. Without missing a beat, we started running as fast as we could. We didn’t stop nor looked behind us, yet we felt that cold wind and energy as if it was just steps behind us, like heavy breathing at the back of our necks.
My heart felt as if it was going to beat out of my chest. We didn’t stop until we ran into my grandmother, Luciana, on the street. She was out looking for us and not particularly happy about it. I’d never been so happy to see her in my then short 8-year-old life. She escorted my friend home and then we walked back to our house. I was in trouble, of course, but was never happier to be grounded inside the safety of my house.
Lupe and I talked about it at school and with other friends for weeks to come. Some believed us and others laughed at us, but we knew that whatever we experienced was very real to us and would be an experience that would bond us for life and wouldn’t soon forget. Whether you believe in La Llorona or not, may it be fact or fiction; I feel it best to respect the energy of what’s around us and not test the powers of the unknown. You may not want to face what you might find.
Melissa Arlene Camacho (San Diego based artist)
Growing up as a first generation Mexican-American, I would get my good share of legendas urbanas mexicanas, or Mexican urban legends, to keep my siblings and me in check. Besides the good’ol Cucui, which I quickly grew out of, La Llorona is the one that I still personally believe in. Especially since my own dad swears he saw her while growing up in rural Mexico. His experience goes as follows:
One night, my dad (age 9) joined his uncle (age 15) to buy some things from the convenience store. He remembers it was close to midnight since they were rushing to get to the store before it closed at that time. Once they got their things, they started to hurry home before the night fog got thicker. Casually talking and making their way down the street a tall figure suddenly appeared in front of them almost out of nowhere. My dad described her as having long messy hair with light tattered clothes and pale bony hands that met each other near her chest. Her eyes were dark and sunken in. He doesn’t remember if she saw them or not, but they didn’t stop to find out. As soon as they both passed her, they made a run for it.
As they ran, scared out of their minds, my dad exclaimed to his uncle how tall she was. He replied saying that she wasn’t tall at all, she was floating a few feet off the ground. After running about a mile back home, my grandpa was up waiting for them. When they both finished gasping for air, they frantically explained to my grandpa what they saw. He just shook his head and shrugged, “Por traviesos,” “For being troublemakers.”
My dad believes he saw her, the infamous Llorona. I believe he saw SOMETHING, regardless if it was her or not. But from the way he describes her and how the legend of La Llorona goes, I believe my dad was spared that night.
Angie Coronado (Journalist)
I first heard about La Llorona through friends when I was probably about 8 or 9. A lot of my Hispanic friends and people of Latin American origins that I’ve encountered over the years though, have told me that they first heard of La Llorona through their parents, and stories that their parents would tell them if they misbehaved. When I asked my mom why she had never told me about La Llorona before, she told me that she thought it was a cruel way to get your kids to behave, similar to the stories of El Cucuy aka the Boogeyman.
Similar to the stories of El Cucuy, a lot of parents would use La Llorona in order to get their children to behave, telling them that if they were bad La Llorona would come in the night and take them to replace her own children that had died. When my friends told me the story of La Llorona, it wasn’t as a warning to not misbehave, it was more like an urban legend you tell during slumber parties. The story of a woman who had lived long ago and had drowned her children in a nearby body of water. Overcome with grief she wanders our living plane unable to rest, howling for her dead children and taking any child that came across her path. I guess at the time, I took it as a warning not to go out alone at night or wander. Urban legends like La Llorona and El Cucuy, as well as Bloody Mary, were what first got me into horror as a kid, and they’re fun stories that I think back on as an adult. I haven’t decided if I’d want to tell my kids these stories if I ever have any, but knowing me, I probably will. I’m hoping they won’t be babies about it!
THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA is now in theaters and IMAX.