In the spirit of Halloween, the Office of Public Affairs is reintroducing some of its spookiest stories.
Original run date: Oct. 29, 2007
By Jennifer McAndrew
The south Texas night air held an uncharacteristic crispness as six-year-old Domino Renée crept toward the dark shapes huddled around a fire. It was late and she was supposed to be in bed, but the sound of familiar voices rising and falling in the sing-song cadence of storytellers made her risk a scolding from her mother.
A hush fell over the group when her cousin Ricardo began a new tale. On his drive home from el baile he said, he passed a woman in white walking along the road. The hour was late and the road deserted, but he didn't think much of it. Then he passed the same woman a second time.
"La Llorona," he whispered, gripping the steering wheel a bit tighter. Ricardo sped around the next curve when suddenly the figure appeared in the middle of the road. The tires screeched as he slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the woman.
For a long moment, he stared at the mournful figure who extended her hand toward the windshield. He blinked. The apparition burst into a flock of white birds and disappeared into the night. All that remained was the smell of burnt rubber and two pale headlight beams across the empty road.
Domino was terrified. As she raced back to the safety of her bedroom to huddle under the covers, she realized that although no one had caught her sneaking out of bed, she had been punished all the same. The tale of La Llorona (Spanish for "weeping woman") would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Today, Domino Renée Perez is an assistant professor of English and of the Center for Mexican American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. She has returned to the ghostly story from her childhood for inspiration. Perez spent 10 years researching the stories and images of La Llorona for her forthcoming book, "There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture."
Since the days of the conquistadors, the legend of La Llorona has haunted Hispanic culture in the Southwest.There are countless interpretations of the story, but they all carry the same theme: a weeping woman in white roams rivers and lakes, searching for children to send to a watery grave. Mothers scold unruly children with the admonition, "If you don't behave, La Llorona will come and get you!"
"La Llorona is one of the most famous figures in Mexican oral and literary tradition," Perez says. "Many variations of the legend's origin exist. According to the traditional version, La Llorona is abandoned by the man she loves and left to raise their children alone. Grief or desire for revenge compels La Llorona to murder her children and throw their bodies into a river. Despair ultimately contributes to her death. In the afterlife, La Llorona is condemned to wander for all of eternity, crying, until the bodies of her children are recovered."
The legend of La Llorona is as dynamic as it is old.
"She is alternately, and sometimes simultaneously, a person, legend, ghost, goddess, seductress, moral tale, metaphor, story and symbol," Perez says. "As her story has evolved, storytellers and artists both inside and outside her community continue to adapt her story to new contexts."
Watch a video of professors reading their favorite spooky passages.