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La Llorona

October 14, 2009
By Delilah Montoya

Photograph by Delilah Montoya

It seems appropriate to hold a panel on La Llorona, a tragic and frightening apparition in Mexican lore, in October. One of the three significant feminine representations in the culture (the others are La Malinche and the La Virgen de Guadalupe), La Llorona was traditionally only heard wailing – not seen; a ghost whose eerie call would freeze the hearts of men.

The panel, assembled by the Columbia Humanities Department, consisted of three experts who each expanded on one aspect of La Llorona. The first, RoseAnna Mueller, gave the historical background on her legend. The first representation found in history is the ‘snake woman’ who appeared before the fall of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Her appearance was a portent of doom for the city and it is here that she is often intertwined with the legend of La Malinche (see the background information for the movie The Cry). She wails because she is mourning/searching for her dead children. Various legends hold that she either murdered her children or was indirectly responsible for their death. Her story is used as a warning or threat to silence children (if you do not behave she will kidnap or drown you), and to keep young women from being sexually active (or they might meet La Llorona’s fate).

Traditionally La Llorona’s legend was passed down orally, but more recently she has made her way into the visual arts. Jesus Macarena-Avila, an expert in Chicano visual art, presented several artists who have explored La Llorona in their work. He postulated that with legend there comes a certain responsibility and each artist attended to that legend from different angles. Some stuck with the cultural monster representation, yet others presented their view of her as protector rather than monster. There were some, who being culturally mixed themselves, combined La Llorona with representations from the other side of their heritage. If you would like to explore this topic more, here is a list of all the artists whom Jesus discussed:

Celia Herrera Rodriquez
Delilah Montoya
D. Denenge Akpem
Esperanza Gama
Marina Gutierrez
Diane Kahlo

The last panelist, Nancy Van Kanegan, brought recordings of various performing arts pieces, which unfortunately cannot be accurately represented in written form. However, I can share that the theme of each was really about connecting legend with contemporary concerns; fear of war, loss of ones own children. One piece she showed was done by the LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department) as art therapy for the homeless and dispossessed. Many of the women who performed in the piece had themselves lost their children; some by direct fault of their own. The play served as a way to explore their guilt and/or mourn their loss.

The panel finished the presentation with a video, which I will now share with you, that will likely cause you to giggle while raising an eyebrow at the same time. This is the milk industries marketing attempt to reach the Hispanic population. As Mueller pointed out, it shows a lack of understanding of the culture and uses legend for a strange purpose, but is amusing in its own right.

This presentation was part of a series called Intersections presented by the Cultural Studies Program at Columbia College Chicago and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. If you would like to know more about the upcoming programs please visit their website.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tita Ali permalink
    October 16, 2009 10:33 am

    The last link did not work. Interesting! I would definitely want to know more. Funny and kind of scary commercial.

  2. October 16, 2009 11:01 am

    The link has been fixed – though there is not as much information there as I would like. There is a number to call.

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