We grow up hearing many cuentos and legends of figures like La Llorona, or even those of us who were raised Catholic know just how much La Virgin de Guadalupe is idolized and praised religiously. However, such figures, according to many Chicanas, are seen as archetypes of women, or rather they become “the idea of ‘woman’ [which] is simultaneously idealized and vilified; both processes serve to reduce the idea of woman to symbol, rather than acknowledging real women’s complexity.”** On top of that, these figures have very interesting origins that are never talked about unless you go looking for them yourself.
The legend of La Llorona is a story many of us grew up hearing and is commonly used to scare children into behaving and more specifically, to prevent them from going out at night. Though there are a couple of variations of her story, La Llorona is commonly believed to have been a woman who married a rich man and had two children. After finding out her husband was leaving her for another woman, she drowns her two children in anger. However, she immediately regrets this, and it is said that her spirit roams in search of them for all of eternity. Her spirit can be heard at night roaming the streets or near a river weeping for her children.
The origin of La Llorona actually predates colonization and the arrival of the Spaniards in Latin America. La Llorona is tied to both an Aztec Goddesses and to one of the 10 omens foretelling the eventual conquest of Mexico. She has been tied to Ciuacoatl (Snake-woman) and Coatlicue (she of the snaky skirt) was the mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war because their similar descriptions in appearance and what they were known for. Omen number 6 also describes a woman crying for her children as she roams the street, except she is crying for the future generations of the Aztecs as their people will eventually be conquered and destroyed. The story we are told now is actually a colonized version of her story, and one we must know the history of.
La Malinche (Trigger Warning: this section talks about r*pe)
Sometimes confused with La Llorona, La Malinche was an actual historical figure, but much of what we know and express of La Malinche is tied to our folklore and the oral history we pass on as “cuentos”. La Malinche is tied to the figure of the mother of one of the first mestizos. She had children with Hernan Cortes, translated for him, and thus has grown to be seen as a traitor to her pueblo. Many of those who talk about La Malinche, or even when her name is used in popular culture, it’s always with disdain and hatred towards this person for eventually aiding in the destruction of the Aztecs. In reality, Marina/Malintzin (her real name), was only a young woman, who was sold as a slave to Cortes. She really had no say in the matter, and instead did what she had to survive. Many chicanas agree that Mariana was raped and she is seen as a victim, not the reason for Mexico’s conquest.
La Llorona and La Malinche, are iconic examples of the bad woman and failed mother, that are passed down from generation to generation as simple myths.
La Virgin de Guadalupe
Lastly, in contrast to both figures above, La Virgin de Guadalupe is said to be a figure that portrays the “perfect” Mexican women: one who is submissive, quiet, a virgin, and only seen through her role as a mother. Like mentioned above, these sort of archetypes can be damaging to woman as it influences societies expectations, and once if they fail, they must face societal consequences. But, like the figures above, Chicana scholars have wanted to reclaim this important figure in ways of empowerment instead. “Many scholars believe that the figure of Guadalupe has roots in traditional Aztec goddesses, evolving from Aztec fertility and earth goddesses that were eradicated after the conquest.” Many of these goddesses were worshipped as powerful and independent figures. And today we see many artists (such as Alma Lopez) use her as forms of resistance.
According to Gloria Anzaldua, a chicana writer and activist, “La gente Chicana tiene tres madres. All three are mediators: Guadalupe, the virgin mother who has not abandoned us, la Chingada (Malinche), the raped mother who we have abandoned, and la Llorona, the mother who seeks her lost children and is a combination of the other two…In part, the true identity of all three has been subverted—Guadalupe to make us docile and enduring, la Chingada to make us ashamed of our Indian side, and la Llorona to make us long- suffering people” (30).* The reclaiming of these three figures, has been one of the many goals of the Chicana movement, in order to retell their oppression, and the on-going struggles for women.
*Anzaldúa Gloria, and Cantú Norma E. Borderlands/La Frontera: La Nueva Mestiza.
Universidad Nacional Autónoma De México, Programa Universitario De Estudios De