Now for the serious side of our river lore. Many Mexican parents tell their children about La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman — a white-clad woman who haunts rivers and waterfronts and steals children.
There are many stories about how she came to be, but this is one of the most common:
A beautiful young woman was madly in love with a wealthy young man. In some versions of the story, she was of mixed race while he was a Spaniard. He, however, would not take her with him because she had two children. In desperation, she drowned her children in the nearby river. Sounds improbable? Read the papers.
She was placed under a curse: she had to wander the world through eternity, searching for her children. And if she couldn’t find hers, she would take any children she found.
She is described as a truly terrifying figure: long haired, clad in white, screaming and wailing along the river banks, irrigation ditches or the waterfront — wherever there is water.
Her story has been — and still is — told by parents and grandparents to keep their kids indoors at night, and many children believe in her.
Now I have no wish to go into child-raising theory, but there are indeed plenty of scary things and people out there that prey on children. All you have to do, once again, is read the newspapers. And whether La Llorona stories are more or less harmful than factual accounts of killer pedophiles, I am not competent to judge. But there she is.
Where? All over the Mexican and Mexican-American world. She has been seen along the Chicago waterfront, along the Mississippi where it flows through Minneapolis, all over Mexico and into Central America. Mexicans carry her along wherever they go. She is a truly frightening figure — a Killer Mama, the total opposite of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so beloved within the same culture.
She has fascinated the Mexican intellectual world for years. There, she had been identified with La Malinche, Cortez’ Indian mistress and interpreter, who according to some, sold out her people by serving their conquerors. She became La Llorona, mourning for her beloved Indian “children.”
I said that she is “all over the Mexican world.” But what of Tucson? Does she weep along our waterless rivers? That’s for our next installment.