as told by Paulette Atencio
Cuentos from My Childhood, Legends and Folktales of Northern New Mexico. A bilinueal edition translated by Rubén Cobos. Published by the Museum of New Mexico Press; Santa Fe: 1991.
as told by Paulette Atencio
The story of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) has many origins, but one I feel to have great authenticity is that concerning Marina la Malinche, the faithful companion of Hernando Cortés. She reportedly died of a broken heart, and it is from this sorrowful end that the legend of the weeping woman began. The story traveled to many parts of the world, changing with time, and was eventually told in New Mexico in the following form.
The story took place in the town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, sometime in the early 1800's. A beautiful baby came into the world. She was welcomed with open arms and received the best of everything. Maria was her name. Her parents were very wealthy. They lived in a huge two-story house.
As the years passed, she was blessed with a beauty possessed by few, if any, of the local girls. She had dark skin, eyes like a pair of sapphires and jet black hair that cascaded past her fragile shoulders all the way down to her waist. She was given many lovely clothes, toys, and a collection of dolls, which she placed on top of her canopy bed. But she was nothing but a spoiled brat! Some of the little girls would go to her house and say, "Maria! Maria! Do you want to play with us, Maria?" Maria would answer in a very brattish tone of voice, "I don't want to play with you because I don't have to! My mommy buys me pretty clothes but your clothes are nothing but rags!"
Soon Maria grew older and more beautiful. By this time, none of the girls liked her. But what did it matter! The boys did! They were all in love with her and wanted to marry her, yet Maria wouldn't even give them the time of day. She didn't think they were good enough for her.
One afternoon, she went for a walk with her grandmother. She explained to the older woman that she wished to marry the most handsome and strongest man in all of Santa Fe. Her grandmother, in return, advised her that it was more important to find an honest, kind man who would care for her and a family. Maria laughed and thought her grandmother was just too old and didn't know any better.
Not long after this conversation, the man of her dreams arrived in town. His name was Gregorio Ventura. He came all the way from El Paso, Texas. He was a very good-looking man but was as wild as they come. He loved to drink, gamble, and womanize. When they met, though, it was love at first sight, but both were stubborn and played hard to get. Eventually they married, despite her family's disapproval.
Things were fine for a few years. They were blessed with a beautiful daughter and a handsome son. Unfortunately, Gregorio soon became restless. He returned to his wild ways. Maria was left behind and became very lonely. It was hard for her. Throughout her life, she had received everything her heart desired, but now she could not have the man she loved. She also knew that many people were talking behind her back.
One evening, Maria and her children were sitting out on the porch. Gregorio drove up with another woman by his side. He got down, talked to his children and gave them some gifts, but didn't even look at Maria. Then he drove away. Maria started crying hysterically until she was out of control. No one can say what really happened. Maria dragged her children to the river. She yelled at them and told them that if she hadn't had them that maybe Gregorio would still love her. She then pushed her children into the water. The current was very strong. The children had never learned how to swim and they drowned! At that moment, Maria came to her senses and began to scream for help, but no one could hear. She ran along the riverbank trying to reverse her horrible action. She fell and hit her head on a rock. Death came swiftly for her.
The following day, Maria's parents and a few other people went in search of her body. When they found it, they took her back to Santa Fe. Sacred burial ground was denied her by the local priest, so Maria was buried on the bank of the river where she had perished along with her innocent children. Such a tragedy had never happened before and the community was deeply affected. No one wanted to go home. All the people just stayed outside talking.
That night, people began to hear anguished sounds of crying. Some said it was just the wind, yet most feared it was Maria continuing to cry over her lost children. In fact, they felt certain they could even make out the words, which seemed to get closer and closer: "Ay, Ay, Ay! Where oh where are my children!" she cried. From that night on, no one ever called her Maria anymore. They called her la llorona. All the mothers warned their children to be home before dark because la llorona was out looking for her children and might take one of them away.
There was one boy who refused to listen. One night, he disobeyed and walked toward the riverbank where la llorona was heard. As he got closer to the river, he heard a woman crying and calling out for her children. Soon he could make out a draped figure coming toward him with outstretched arms! She came closer and closer to where the young boy was standing. He was so terrified that he couldn't move. La llorona picked him up and was about to fling him into the river when the church bells started to ring! She dropped him and, in a flash, disappeared from view. The young boy's heart was beating fast, his mouth was dry, and he couldn't stop shaking. Finally, he began to run and did not stop until he reached his house. He was crying and talking at the same time - trying to inform his mother what la llorona had done to him. His mother did not believe him and was about to spank him for being late and disobeying. It was then that she saw the boy's torn shirt stained with blood. She also found fingernail markings imprinted deeply into his skin.
The following day, the mother took her son all over Santa Fe and showed the people what la llorona had done. Years have gone by since the story of La Llorona was told. Many people say that la llorona is just make-believe. Others say that if you listen closely late at night, you will still hear her crying, "Ay, Ay, Ay! Where oh where are my children!"
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