Smithsonian Latino Center

¡Ay, mis hijos!, a Llorona Story

Smithsonian Latino Center avatar representation of La Llorona
Smithsonian Latino Center avatar representation of La Llorona

La Llorona is one of our most beloved, deeply-rooted, and terrifying legends among Latinos in the US and beyond. Who, as a child, hasn’t asked for a bedtime story because we weren’t able to sleep? Then the telling of the legend of La Llorona gripped us. We weren’t really able to sleep after that, after hearing about her, being enthralled with the story and, at the same time, being terrified of her. I know this all happened to me.

La Llorona is a childhood favorite, and who is she? What does the legend of La Llorona say about this wayward mother? The legend affirms her moaning echoed through los barrios de la Ciudad de México. Instead of walking, she would float as fog surrounded her while she was searching for her lost children. While one version of the legend declares she drowned her own children, yet another contends she lost them at the river. In both scenarios, she weeps for them and painfully declares: ¡Ay, mis hijos!

What do we know about the history of La Llorona? On the one hand, the legend of La Llorona became popular during Colonial times in Mexico, beginning in the 16th Century. On the other hand, La Llorona dates back much further and is indigenous. She has kept several features of indigenous, pre-Hispanic female deities that became the popular Llorona of colonial Mexico. The myths of her, having survived centuries, include motherhood and female goddesses, such as Tonantzin or Cihuacoatl, who partially or completely project a mother-like energy. Both goddesses have a strong mother-like energy and are represented differently. Tonantzin is for example nuestra madre or mother nature, who later became the Virgen of Guadalupe. Cihuacoatl has several roles. She is snake woman and the leading goddess of the cihuateteo—women who were given the status of warrior women because they died giving birth. She is always in the presence of water and her moaning is murmured through the night.

Of La Llorona here in the US among Latinos, niños y grandes, we love our many legends about her. She is en los barrios, on the streets, present at night for bedtime stories, and is still transforming and continuously adapting herself to her new country. Perhaps she’s speaking to us in Spanish, English, Spanglish or in one or in several of the indigenous languages from the many beloved Latin American countries where our abuelos, padres, madres, and ancestros originally came from.

I would love to end by asking you, dear reader, what does your Llorona sound and look like to you?