Florida-based storyteller Carrie Sue Ayvar tells a Mexican folktale about a mourning mother whose spirit is forever in search of her dead children. The story is told in a combination of Spanish and English.
“La Llorona,” the tale of the weeping woman, is a very old Mexican folktale. And yet it is not as old as many Native American or Spanish tales. Scholars suspect the story has been told since the era of Spanish colonization in the New World. The tale is still widely told today.
Like many ghostly tales, this tale includes a warning. Is there just one warning or multiple warnings? Warnings about what? Warnings for whom?
As you watch, here’s another question you may want to consider: Do you think people tell this story today for the same reasons people told it many years ago?
Whether your first language is English or Spanish, you can enjoy the story because it is told in both languages.
“La Llorona,” a Mexican folktale, is also widely known throughout the southwestern United States. It’s a ghostly tale, but because it likely originated during the Spanish colonial era, it also raises issues about relations between Spaniards and Native Americans. That connection makes it a good fit for cross-curricular uses. It’s also a ghostly tale with a typical “watch out or someone will get you” ending; however, it also can be viewed as commenting on male-female relationships and issues of class and race in society – issues that are still grappled with today.
1. Many people have grown up hearing this story. Why do you think parents and other adults would tell this story to younger people?
2. What do you think would happen to a child if caught by La Llorona?
3. The storyteller says not to go near the water at dark or La Llorona, the weeping woman, might mistake you for one of her own children and try to take you with her. This type of ending is typical of a cautionary tale – a story that warns the listener to do or to avoid specific behaviors. Avoiding the water is a stated warning in this story. What implied warnings are within this story? What other stories have you heard, read, or seen that include stated or implied warnings?
4. The idea that someone or something will “get you if” is common in many families and cultures. If you’ve ever been told to watch out or something will get you, who or what was going to get you and what behavior were you to do or avoid to stay safe? How has your reaction to the warning changed between the first time you heard it and now?
5. Imagine this story being told by a woman to other women. Then imagine this story being told by a man to other men. Do you think the meaning (message or theme) to the audience would be the same? Why or why not? If different, what do you think would be the differences, and why?
6. La Llorona is a famous folktale from Mexico. It is also a famous folktale from the southwestern United States. How does the history of the United States help explain why this tale is so widely known?
7. Why did the storyteller emphasize that Maria was an Indian/Native American woman and the fiancée was a Spanish woman?
8. Some scholars believe this story developed during Spanish colonial days. Who do you think developed the story -- Spanish colonists or Native Americans? Why do you think those storytellers told this story when it was first being told, and who do you think they told it to? Why do you think the story is still being told today?
1. Different storytellers tell this story differently. By using two versions of the story, one retold by Carrie Sue Ayvar and one by Joe Hayes, both told bilingually, you can help students increase their understanding of how different choices made by the two tellers can impact an audience’s understanding of characters and events. This story has two main characters: Maria and the man (he is not named in either retelling). To help your students focus on character development, play the following portions of each version.
• For La Llorona retold by Carrie Sue Ayvar (on this KET World of Stories site): Stop the story at 2:06 and have students make note about Marie (both physical characteristics and character traits).Continue to 4:49 and have students make the same notes about the man.
Compare and contrast what has been learned about these characters based on how the tellers are introducing them into the story. Then watch each retelling to the end of the story. This should generate a lively discussion and plenty of observations about how although the basic plot remains the same, the different choices made by the teller make a difference in how listeners feel about the characters and their actions within the story.
2. Include this story as part of your study of Spanish colonialism in North America, especially with regard to relations between native people and colonists. Who do your students think would have been more likely to have first started telling the story: Spanish colonists or Native Americans? Why?
The following resources describe Spanish colonialism and Spanish and Native American relationships:
• The Pueblo Revolt, a short video clip from the PBS series Finding Your Roots that references the colonists’ determination to “police the boundaries of race.”
• The Last Conquistador, another short video clip from the PBS series Finding Your Roots that references relationships between Spanish colonists and Native Americans, with some concluding information about systems and language invented to keep the “whitest” people in charge.
3. Share this story with your students when you study the Mexican-American War. Even though portions of the country changed governments after the war, the people and their culture remained. The popularity of this story in Mexico and the southwestern United States is an example of what persists even when governments change.
The Mexican American War is a brief video that also helps explain why this story is in the folklore of both Mexico and the southwestern United States.