By: Stephanie Casias

La Llorona is a classic Southwestern folktale. She is called La Llorona, which translates in English to "the weeping woman," because of her cries at night. The general legend is that there was a beautiful young Native American girl. A handsome man came riding into town and ended up marrying her. She had a child or maybe two or three, no one is really quite sure. When her husband left her she threw her children into the river out of madness. When she realized what she had done she ran after her children. The next day she was found dead on the river bank. They buried her, but that night they heard a shrieking cry of "AIIIEEE mis hijos" which means "Oh my children!" Legend has it that she wanders the river at night looking for her children. Parents warned their children that if they were out late at the river at night, La Llorona might mistake them for her own children and take them.

There are many different versions to this story. Some say it originated in Spain. Some of the versions give her a name. There is a big debate about the girl's sincerity. One side says she was sweet, innocent, and obedient. The women were jealous of her beauty. The other side portrays her as a beautiful girl who knew she was beautiful and used her beauty to her advantage. Her husband has been described as a Ranchero or a Spanish Hidalgo. He either leaves her permanently or finds himself a richer lady and shows up with her. In the latter version he stops to talk to his children and ignores her, making her jealous of her children. No one knows how she really died either. Some say she killed herself and others that she drowned. Whatever the version the basic idea of the story remains the same.

A second version of the La Llorona story is that she appears to young men who roam about at night. The young men believe that she is a young, beautiful woman, but when they approach her with sexual intent in mind, she shows herself to be a hag or a terrible image of death personified.

Jimmy Santiago Baca mentions the river in his book Martin and Meditations on the South Valley many times. He talks about the evils of the river and how it takes lives. He associates this with La Llorona. He related death and water. He also mentions La Llorona directly,"The silver whistling blade of La Llorona carving a small child on the muddy river bottom." Later in his book he talks about the rivers "mood of lust" swallowing up its victims as if the river is a living, breathing being.

Many other books make reference to La Llorona. Rudolfo Anaya in his book Bless Me, Ultima mentions the river taking lives on three different occasions. The river is again associated with death and as being evil as it swallows lives. Rudolfo Anaya has another book call La Llorona which suggests that La Llorona derives from La Malinche (another Spanish folktale). La Malinche helped the Spanish conquerors who invaded Mexico and her name became synonymous with one who betrays.

No one truly knows if the story of La Llorona is true or if it was made up, but it has been carried down for many generations. Stories about La Llorona have been heard in Spain. The story was told to me by my mother who heard it from her mother and so on and so on.

La Llorona is largely associated with "evil". Men going to red light houses at night are called by La Llorona. Children who stay out at the river at night probably doing things they shouldn't be doing are called by La Llorona. Throughout the years the story has changed and newer literature associates La Llorona with the abused and neglected children of the world. There are many poems of lost love that mention her.

She has almost become a symbol of sadness and pain instead of evil, hatred, and selfishness. She is idolized as the poor woman who had no other choice, much like Billy the Kid is idolized when in actuality he was a heartless murderer. The ironic twist to this story is that she would not be looked at as the poor woman who went mad. Two years ago the major story broke about Susan Smith, the mother who left her two children in the car and let it roll into the river, drowning her two boys because her lover didn't want them. The world was outraged at the despicable behavior. She was a true life La Llorona but the world did not want to tell a folktale about her.

La Llorona was possibly originally used as a scare tactic towards "evil behavior," but as society changes the story is told much more often to frighten small children and to tell on Halloween night. The story of La Llorona has spread to the East and different versions of the story are told. The legend of La Llorona lives on.

    La Llorona (the crying woman) has terrified Hispanics across the United States and Latin America for over five hundred years.  Below is a historical timeline detailing her ascension as a living legend.
1502     In the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the goddess Cihuacoatl takes the form of a beautiful lady draped in white garments. Throughout the night she cries out in misery, “Oh hijos mios…ya ha llegado vuestra destruccion. Donde os llevare?” (Oh my children…your destruction has arrived. Where can I take you?) Many believe that Cihuacoalt was speaking of the future conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards.
1505     A girl child named La Malinche is born in the Aztec province of Coatzacoalcos of a noble Aztec family.

La Malinche is given to Mayan merchants for slavery. In addition to her mother tongue of Nahuatl (Aztec), she learns to speak Mayan.
1521     La Malinche gives birth to two twin boys by Cortés. Cortés continues his conquests. The King and Queen of Spain, fearing that Cortés has betrayed them and is building his own empire, repeatedly ask him to return to Spain. He refuses, saying that if he leaves they will lose their new territories. The King and Queen send a beautiful Spanish lady to convince him to return.
1522     The Spanish lady seduces Cortés, convincing him to return to Spain with his two sons. Cortés tells La Malinche of his decision to return with his children and to leave her behind.

La Malinche, now realizing the role she has played in helping Cortés massacre her people, prays to her gods for help. One of her gods appears to her and says, “If you let him take your children, one of them will return and destroy your people.”

The night before Cortés’ departure, La Malinche escapes with the babies. Cortés’ soldiers soon discover her absence and set out after her. Upon arriving at the lake that Mexico City now rests on, the soldiers surround La Malinche. Just as they are at the brink of capturing her, she pulls out a dagger and stabs her babies in the heart, dropping their lifeless bodies into the water.

La Malinche lets out a heart-wrenching cry, “Oh, hijos mios.” (Oh, my children.)
1531     La Malinche dies. Up to the time of her death she is seen and heard near the lake weeping and wailing for her children. She is given the name “La Llorona,” the crying woman.
1531     The first apparitions of La Virgen de Guadalupe occur in Mexico.
1547     Hernán Cortés dies of dysentery. In a letter preserved in the Spanish archives, Cortés writes “After God, we owe the conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina (La Malinche)” .

While in Spain Cortés praises her name, in Mexico “Malinche” becomes a word denoting betrayal.
1550     The first documented appearances of La Llorona after La Malinche’s death occurs in Mexico City. She is most often seen on the night of a full moon, wandering the streets wearing a white dress with a light veil covering her face. Her agonizing cries terrorize everyone who sees or hears her. Her last stop is always La Plaza Mayor where she lets out her most desperate, horrific cry, after which she vanishes into the lake.
1550 -
Present       Sightings of La Llorona spread throughout the most of the Americas with people in each town/city/country believing she is local to their own area, creating a powerful and passionate belief in this horrifying ghost.
1970s     Like many Hispanics in the U.S. and throughout Latin America, the director of The Cry, Bernadine Santistevan, is told stories of La Llorona—a woman who, betrayed by her husband, drowned her children out of revenge in a nearby river. The punishment for this horrific act: La Llorona’s spirit is condemned to roam the earth for eternity, crying for her children.

Bernadine, along with the other children in her small northern New Mexico town, is told that if she plays by the river alone or misbehaves, La Llorona will take her away.
1995     Susan Smith is found guilty of murder in the drowning deaths of her two sons by strapping them in their car seats and rolling the car into the John D. Long Lake in South Carolina.

A portrait made of Smith is published where she is referred to as “A Modern Day Llorona.”
1998 -
2003       Bernadine starts her search for La Llorona. Initially, she believes this ghost is from her home town in New Mexico. She soon discovers that La Llorona’s reign of terror has blazed across Latin America and the United States.

In the end, Bernadine spends 5 years searching for La Llorona across the Americas—interviewing people who believe they have seen or heard her, collecting music, poems, and art work dedicated to her, and working with historians and Jungian psychologists who study La Llorona as a cultural phenomenon and universal female archetype.
2000     Bernadine creates a community website with some of the findings she has uncovered about La Llorona. To date, the website,, has been visited by millions and is being used by numerous schools and colleges across the U.S. as a teaching tool.
2001     Andrea Yates drowns her five children, ages 6 months to 7 years, in the bathtub of her suburban Houston, Texas home. Yates claims that she heard voices.
      Andrea Yates is convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.
2002     A woman named Bernadine Flores drowns her two children and herself in a river near Pilar, New Mexico.
2003     Bernadine writes a script about La Llorona titled , a contemporary supernatural thriller that includes much of the factual discoveries about La Llorona that she came across in her search.
2004     is shot in New York City and in northern New Mexico.

Bernadine learns only a few days before shooting the key scene where La Llorona drowns her child that the river location she had selected is the same place that Bernadine Flores drowned her two children and herself.
2005     Brooke Shields’ book “Down Came the Rain, My Journey through postpartum depression” is published.
2006 -
      is in post-production.
2006     Claudia, the post-production manager for , has a freak experience at work where tears of blood drip out of her eyes. In , La Llorona says, “Sisters. You’re like me. You’re fingers will scrape the bottom of the rivers searching for your child…and you will cry tears of blood.”
2006     A screen test of a near complete version of is held in Santa Fe, NM where close to 2000 people stand in line for hours in the hope of attending the showing. A second unscheduled screening is held to accommodate the crowd, and is overwhelmingly well received.
2006     A Texas Jury overturns Andrea Yates’ capital murder conviction and she is declared not guilty for reasons of insanity. Yates is committed to North Texas State Hospital.
End of
2006     is completed. Meanwhile, Bernadine receives numerous emails and phone calls from people throughout the U.S. who have heard of the Santa Fe test screening of and who want to watch the film. 
Present     In the United States alone, an estimated 28 to 35 million Hispanics have grown up with stories of La Llorona, with this vengeful ghost considered by many to be the Latino world’s “best kept secret.” The majority of these “believers” are located in California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Illinois.

is in distribution negotiations.

After many years searching for La Llorona, Bernadine is still convinced that La Llorona is real.
      *Based on legend