In So Far From God by Ana Castillo, is, in many ways a quintessential novel of the Chicano experience, so it’s no surprise that the quintessential Mexican-American legend–La Llorona–appears.
The basic legend is that La Llorona–literally the Wailing Woman–is a spirit who wanders–usually at night and usually along water–in search of her lost children. In most of the versions, she drowned her children out of revenge or despair over an unfaithful husband. Occasionally, she is the unfaithful one and drowns the children to free herself to follow a lover(s). In either case, she is doomed to spend eternity wailing her remorse over the act, and searching for them along waterways. Again, there are variations over why she is searching–some versions say she steals away living children, drowning them in hopes of somehow regaining her own lost children, some say she warns of death. Some of the versions are downright horrific.
All of them seem anti-woman to me, sort of like all of the evil stepmother tropes, so I absolutely love Castillo’s (and Sofi’s) take on it.
Sofi knew a little about the antiquity of this tale, but mostly she just knew what her father had told her, that La Llorona was a bad woman who had left her husband and home, drowned her babies to run off and have a sinful life, and God punished her for eternity, and she refused to repeat this nightmare to her daughters.
I love that Sofi refuses to use the story to scare her daughters into staying away from the acequia, refuses to tell them the story at all. Of course, the variation that Sofi’s father apparently told her, where La Llorona was the unfaithful one, is even less flattering to women than the version where La Llorona was the abandoned one, which Sofi also refutes.
Sofia had not left her children, much less drowned them to run off with nobody. On the contrary, she had been left to raise them by herself. And all her life, there had always been at least one woman around like her, left alone, abandoned, divorced, or widowed, to raise her children, and none of them had ever tried to kill their babies.
Castillo/Sofi also refers to some of the theories about the history of La Llorona, which are not any less bloody and gruesome!
The land was old and the stories were older. Just like a country changed its name, so did the names of their legends change. Once, La Llorona may have been Matlaciuatl, the goddess of the Mexica who was said to prey upon men like a vampire! Or she might have been Ciuapipiltin, the goddess in flowing robes who stole babies from their cradles and left in their place an obsidian blade, or Cihuacoatl, the patron of women who died in childbirth, who all wailed and wept and moaned in the night air. These women descended to earth on certain days which were dedicated to them to appear at crossroads, and they were fatal to children.
But in So Far From God, La Llorona has been visiting La Loca down by the acequia for most of her life, since Loca’s miraculous resurrection, and, on the day Sofi learns of this, has come to tell La Loquita Santa of her sister, Esperanza’s, death.
Who better but La Llorona could the spirit of Esperanza have found, come to think of it, if not a woman who had been given a bad rap by every generation of her people since the beginning of time and yet, to Esperanza’s spirit-mind, La Llorona in the beginning (before men got in the way of it all) may have been nothing short of a loving mother goddess.
I like this reinterpretation of La Llorona, which Castillo reinforces later by comparing her to the Virgin Mary or the Lady in Blue who visits La Loca when she is dying to comfort her. In this section, neither Mary nor La Llorona is mentioned by name, and it is said explicitly that the Lady in Blue, “was not the woman Loca had known down by the acequia,” but the fact that both are discussed in similar ways–as vaguely genial companions to La Loca–serves to realign La Llorona, at least a bit.