La Llorana

Relief Woodcut

12" x 12"


Throughout Marcus Benavides’s life, he has suffered from night-terrors and sleep paralysis. Episodes seem to stem not only from his early affinity for horror films and comic books, but also, more poignantly, the disturbing fables and ghost stories passed down from loved ones. As a child, many cures for the nightmares were attempted, from throwing holy water on his bed, to visiting various Curanderas (Mexican witch doctors), including his twin great aunts. Nothing has been able to stop the episodes. During cold nights while living in Madison, WI, Marcus was frequently awakened by sounds of a screaming woman just outside the room. Her shrieks, full of rage and regret, were usually followed by the apparition of a pale, elderly woman clothed in a white house dress. Seen and heard not only by himself, but by nearby witnesses, La Llorona and Marcus’s other recurring night-terrors remain unexplained.

Throughout the southwest United States, tales of La Llorona instill fear in the minds of Mexican-American children. Passed down from generation to generation, stories of this weeping specter are used to scare young children and moralize foolhardy women: “If you’re not careful, La Llorona’s gonna’ come for you!” The story usually goes as follows: La Llorona, a middle-aged, single, Mexican mother of two, fell in love with a charming man from her neighborhood. Upon realizing that her feelings were unrequited, she was filled with envy over his many young and beautiful admirers. To win his attention, she drowned her two children in a nearby river. Shortly thereafter, full of shame, La Llorona drowned herself as well. As punishment, La Llorona was forced into limbo, sentenced to wander the darkened streets forever in search of her lost children.

In a way, this story parallels that of La Malinche, another legendary figure in Mexican folklore. In the early 16th century, La Malinche, a native girl from Central America, was sold to Cortez upon his arrival to the New World. Wooing the conquistador, La Malinche became his mistress, informant, and translator; she relayed the knowledge and speech of her land, and she gave birth to his first child. This child was the first Mestizo (a person of both Spanish and Indigenous descent). La Malinche’s actions aided in Cortez’s rule and subsequent obliteration of the Aztec nation. Throughout the years her actions have become an archetype of betrayal and the forsaking of culture, attributed to lust. In the Mexican-American community, some would say that both the Malinche and La Llorona tales, as well as the absence of parallel stories for men, sustain both a residual shame about female desire, and a predisposed bias against women and their sexuality. Just as La Llorona haunts the dreams of those who will hear her, these narratives haunt the margins of a complex regional culture.