When I was a little girl, I used to play a darker version of hide and seek with my older cousins in Ecuador. In our little game, whomever was the seeker would role play as La Llorona, and do the trademark wail of the mythical Weeping Woman: "Donde estan mis hijos?" ("Where are my children?").
It was all innocent fun, but now that I think about it, it's a creepy concept, and not something I'll be passing onto my own children one day.
My experience growing up with this mythical figure as part of my consciousness was not uncommon. In homes all across Mexico, the southwestern U.S., certain parts of the Caribbean, and most countries in Latin America, La Llorona is collectively known and feared.
Though there are several versions of the legend, La Llorona originates in Mexican folklore as a woman who drowns her own children in a river in order to be with the man she loves, only to be rejected by him and, after killing herself, is not allowed through the gates of heaven. Instead, she is condemned for all eternity to roam the earth looking for her children. In Mexico's oral and written tradition, La Llorona sightings – typically she's dressed in white and near a body of water – abound.
Some versions make a connection between La Llorona and the more ancient Malinche, an Aztec woman believed to be Hernan Cortés' mistress. By many accounts, La Malinche gives birth to two boys by Cortés, and betrays her own people by helping the Spaniards conquer Mexico. Legend has it that she also murdered her own children after Cortés decides to leave her for a Spanish woman.
There are parallels between the legend of La Llorona and certain characters in ancient Greek mythology, like Medea, who murders her own children as an act of revenge over Jason The Argonaut.
Countless filmmakers have attempted to bring La Llorona's story to life on the big screen, even as far as the 1933, when actress Adriana Lamar portrays a black-and-white hybrid of La Llorona and La Malinche. Sadly, no one has made a definitive film that really does her justice. Maybe Tom Harper can take this on after he's wrapped the Woman in Black sequel.
She may not have her own epic movie yet, but over the past few weeks, La Llorona has gotten some major play in other areas of pop culture. At Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, she's getting her very own maze, a section called "La Llorona: Hunter of Children," where she appears in a white dress, drenched in blood and holding a child in her arms. Wilmer Valderrama is one of the celebs tapped to share their childhood Llorona stories. In this fun video, he talks about how his parents used her as a disciplinary tool, warning that if he stayed out too late or wandered far from home, she'd get to him.
This past Friday, the show Grimm dedicated a whole episode to the Weeping Woman, and even injected some Spanish into the storyline – with mixed results.
La Llorona is especially haunting because the legend deals with a mother's love for her children – something that's supposed to be pure, sacred, and unconditional, across all cultures.