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Classroom Play about La Llorona

“Ay, ¡Mis hijos, mis hijos! ¿Dónde están mis hijos?” (“Alas, my children, my children! Where are my children?”)

 

If you’re teaching a class that includes Latino students, it’s likely that they’re familiar with those words—the dreaded and pitiful cry of the legendary La Llorona, “The Weeping Woman.”

 

Just this year, my wife and I returned to the U.S. after living for 13 years in Mexico, where we adopted our now-14-year-old daughter, Monserrat (“Monse”). While we were there, we got involved with working-class Mexican youngsters struggling to stay in school. We founded the San Miguel PEN Scholarship Program for at-risk Mexican students, working with kids one-on-one.

 

Needless to say, we got caught up in many Mexican traditions, including weddings, baptisms, first communions, and quinceañeras (celebrations for girls turning 15). We also found out how powerful—and how real—legends and folklore can be.

 

The story of La Llorona is one of the oldest and most haunting legends of Mexico. According to many retellings, La Llorona was once a beautiful but poor young woman who married a wealthy man. He was unfaithful to her, and she revenged herself by drowning their two sons in a river Repenting her deed, she ran along the riverbank crying, “Ay, ¡Mis hijos, mis hijos! ¿Dónde están mis hijos?” Her heart broke, and she fell down dead. But her ghost still haunts creeks and rivers, and by night she steals living children from their families.

 

Just how old the story is or when it was first told is hard to say. It may go back to the pre-Columbian myth of the goddess Cihuacoatl. The legend has become mixed with that of La Malinche, the Aztec woman who interpreted for the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, became his mistress, and gave birth to his son. According to one tradition (probably untrue), La Malinche turned murderously vengeful when Cortés left her for a Spanish lady. So the story of La Llorona is often considered to be a parable of Mexico’s troubled history, especially the bitter meeting of Aztecs and Spaniards.

 

Today, the story continues to spread throughout the Americas. It is told by people of Mexican heritage as far north as Montana and as far south as South America. To many people, it is more than a story, and La Llorona is quite real. Countless people claim to have heard, seen, or even met the Weeping Woman. And in Mexico, children are warned not to go out at night for fear that La Llorona might take them away.

 

Telling stories like this in U.S. classrooms helps bridge divisions in our increasingly diverse culture. So I was delighted when READ magazine hired me to write my own version of the La Llorona legend in 2010.

 

You can find this play my new book Classroom Plays, which includes 5 plays and 105 Reading Comprehension questions. Author notes and answers are provided in a free downloadable Teacher Guide. See my ChironBooks plays page to find out how to order the book and download the guide.

 

Here’s an excerpt from my version of “La Llorona,” in which a Mexican-American narrator (“Older David”) recalls when he was a child (“Younger David”) and visited his aunt on a Mexican ranch. This passage begins as Older David remembers being awakened at night by a terrible outcry. I’ve included many Spanish phrases (with the help of my bilingual Mexican daughter!), along with pronunciation guides and translations.

 

 

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Older David: The next thing I knew …

La Llorona: Aaaiiiiii!

Older David: A terrible outcry pierced the night.

La Llorona: Aaaiiiiii!

Older David: I was wide awake in an instant.

La Llorona: Aaaiiiiii!

Younger David: What’s that? A coyote?

La Llorona: Aaaiiiiii!

Older David: I jumped out of bed, ran to the window, and threw it open.

Younger David: It’s not raining anymore—not a cloud in the sky. And what a bright, full moon! I’ve never seen the moon that big before!

La Llorona: Aaaiiiiii!

Older David: I was a city boy, and I’d never heard a coyote, but …

Younger David: That doesn’t sound like an animal.

Older David: No, it actually sounded …

Younger David: … human!

Older David: Then all was silent. I looked out over the moonlit plain.

Younger David: I don’t see a living thing. Where did that voice come from?

Older David: And then, yet again …

La Llorona: Aaaiiiiii!

Older David: … and finally I could tell.

Younger David: It’s in front of the house.

Older David: I slipped out of the bedroom and made my way to the patio. Its stone floor glistened with puddles of water. I tried to step around them as I dashed toward the front foyer, but my bare feet got wet anyway. At last, I stood right at the door, and I heard …

(A loud scratching sound is heard.)

Younger David: Something is scratching the door! It must be an animal!

Older David: But then came that voice again, more quietly now …

La Llorona: ¡Mis hijos, mis hijos! ¿Dónde están mis hijos? (meess EE-hohss, meess EE-hohss! DOHN-deh eh-STAHN meess EE-hohss? “My children, my children! Where are my children?”) 

Younger David: A woman! Looking for her children!

La Llorona: ¡Ay de mí! (EYE deh MEE! “Woe is me!”) ¡Mis hijos! ¡Aaaiiiiii! 

Older David: The woman sobbed and moaned horribly. I wanted to open the door, but …

(Scratching again) 

Older David: … I didn’t dare—not yet.

Younger David: Who are you?

La Llorona: ¡Joven! ¡Ayúdame, por favor! (HOH-vehn! ah-YOO-dah-meh, pohr fah-VOHR! “Young man! Help me, please!”

Younger David: You want me to help you?

La Llorona: ¡Ayúdame, ayúdame!

Older David: I was terrified—but my heart was full of pity.

Younger David: I’ve got to find out who’s out there—and how I can help her.

Older David: Slowly, with difficulty, I tugged and pulled at the long steel bolt that held the wooden door shut. I opened the door slowly and peeked out …

Younger David: Lady?

Older David: … but I saw no one.

Younger David: Lady? ¿Señora? (seh-NYOHR-ah?)

Older David: I took a few steps outside.

Young David: Where are you?

Older David: I turned slowly around. The moonlight cast an eerie, greenish light across the flat, scrubby landscape of the mountain plateau.

Younger David: Nobody’s here.

Older David: When I turned to go back in the house, I saw deep, long gouges across the grain of the wooden door.

Younger David: Claw marks? Was it some kind of animal?

Older David: Behind me I heard, as if in reply—

La Llorona: ¿Bestia? ¿Humano? ¿Hay alguna diferencia? (BEHSS-tyah? oo-MAH-noh? EYE ahl-GOO-nah dee-fehr-ENH-syah? “Beast? Human? Is there any difference?”)

Older David: I turned again and saw her and gasped …

Younger David: Where did you come from?

Older David: For really, there was no place she could have come from—not on that brightly moonlit plain.

Younger David: Who are you?

Older David: But she stood facing away, as if she didn’t dare show herself to me. Her thick, black hair hung down to her ankles, all tangled up with twigs and briers. Her long, white gown was badly torn and discolored. Large patches of it were stained and caked with dry, brown mud­—or was it blood?

Younger David: Tell me!

Older David: She turned toward me slowly—so slowly that it seemed like whole minutes passed before she faced me. A lacy white veil hung over her face, but I could tell that it was long and gaunt.

Younger David: May I—see your face?

Older David: She began sobbing again.

La Llorona: Todavía no. (toh-dah-VEE-ah noh. “Not yet.)

Older David: She lifted her hands in a pleading gesture—gnarled, dull-colored, bony hands with frightfully overgrown nails.

La Llorona: ¡Ay de mí! My children! Where are my children?

Younger David: You speak English.

Older David: Her sobbing was interrupted by a bitter laugh.

La Llorona: I do not speak at all, joven. You hear me only with your heart.

Younger David: Are you a ghost?

La Llorona: Are you fool enough to believe in ghosts?

Younger David: What do you want from me?

La Llorona: Where are my children?

Younger David: I don’t know.

La Llorona: You do. You made friends with them. You’ve been playing with them. You are helping them hide from me. Eres muy travieso. (EHR-ehss mwee trah-vee-EH-soh. “You’re very naughty.”)

Younger David: I don’t know them.

Older David: She said nothing for quite a while. I couldn’t breathe from fear. Although I couldn’t see her eyes, I could feel them peering at me—peering into me, to see if I was lying or telling the truth. Then, at last …

La Llorona: No. You don’t know them.

Older David: I could breathe again.

Younger David: I … I’m sorry you’ve lost them.

Older David: I thought surely she’d go away then.

Younger David: I hope you can find them.

Older David: But she didn’t move, fell silent again. At last …

La Llorona: Will you help me?

Younger David: How?

La Llorona: Will you come looking with me?

Older David: My breath caught again. My lips shaped the word “no,” but only a hollow gasp escaped my throat.

La Llorona: You are kind.

Older David: Then she turned and began to walk along the road away from the house.

Younger David: She’s leaving! Oh, thank heavens!

Older David: But my relief vanished in an instant. For as if by some unspoken command, my own feet began to move, one in front of the other, following after her.

Younger David: ¡Señora!

Older David: She had me under some kind of spell.

Younger David: I don’t want to go with you!

Older David: I couldn’t help following her.

Younger David: Please!