Graphic by Shay Suban
It is said that La Llorona weeps for her children, whom she drowned as revenge against her husband. She walks an ethereal plane, searching for their lost souls so that they may enter the afterlife. That tale is a fabrication, one that was heteronormatized and used to dissuade women from abandoning their supposed commitment to a “womanly,” maternal lifestyle. This is the real legend of La Llorona.
During life, he was Alejandro…most of the time. You see, Alejandro was a gay man living in la Colonia Tabacalera, widely known throughout the land as a haven for queer people. Despite this, it still wasn’t entirely safe to be queer, and Alejandro felt that he shouldn’t express his more feminine side in public… as Alejandro. He created a drag persona instead.
At first, she was just María. Her appearance mirrored those glamorous wives Alejandro had seen walking around the streets, but one day, she accidentally smudged her mascara as she was getting ready for a gig. She liked how the smudged line ran down her face from her eye, but people in the underground scene snidely remarked that it looked like María was crying black tears. Instead of heeding their snarky words, Alejandro embraced the tears as representing La Llorona’s sorrow for all the queer people she had seen humiliated and arrested – or worse. María was reborn as La Llorona – “the weeping woman.” With her symbolic black tears, long flowing gowns, and unparalleled status as a chismosa, La Llorona quickly become an icon for the local queer community. She even added a marigold to her hair to further honor all of the queer people who had passed to the Land of the Dead. Everyone loved La Llorona.
One day, Alejandro went to a grand ball in la colonia. There was to be dancing, drinking, and of course, a drag performance featuring La Llorona. Much to everyone’s surprise, forty-two people showed up to the gala, the most the underground scene had ever witnessed. Many of them were even dressed in drag, inspired by La Llorona. Even the mayor’s son was there. There were drinks aplenty, and Alejandro had heard some especially gag-worthy chisme that morning. This would be a night to remember.
And remember it they did. Hours into the party, the house was raided by the police. Only one of the forty-two escaped arrest. The forty-one were all made to clean the streets in front of the gathered onlookers with their feminine attire serving as rags, and Alejandro was exiled to the ongoing war in the Yucatán.
Alejandro died in that jungle, and what’s worse – his spirit was bound to this Earth. This confused Alejandro, as he had assumed he would accompany the sun on its journey across the sky in his role as a fallen warrior, albeit a forced one. His spirit even took on the mournful appearance of La Llorona. Alejandro was constantly stalked by a shimmering bat with emerald eyes, who did nothing but whisper in a deep growl, “Remember the forty-one…”
Alejandro hated that bat. Surely it was sent to torture him and mock the way he had lived as a gay man. Maybe he was unworthy of the sun, but what other explanation could there be, that not even the arduous trials of the underworld were suitable for his soul? He was being punished for being gay, and for dressing as a woman, by remaining in the jungle and being mocked for eternity with the memory of that disastrous gala.
For years, Alejandro sat on the steps of the old temples among the vines, imploring Mictlantecutli, the king of the underworld, to grant him entrance to somewhere, anywhere but the world that had mocked and destroyed him. Alejandro never got a response, just that accursed bat, screeching its cruel message through the trees.
One day, as he was sitting on the temple steps, a teenage boy appeared from the vines. The boy looked like hell, and was wiping tears from his eyes. This was the first time Alejandro had seen a living person since his death, and to his shock and surprise, the boy approached him. Alejandro wasn’t even aware that he was visible – he had assumed spirits were imperceptible.
“Why do you shed these tears?” Alejandro asked, somewhat gruffly. The boy managed to choke out words through the tears.
“My family found out that I’m gay. My father beat me and kicked me out and told me to never come back. I have nothing left, so I’ve come to throw myself at the mercy of the gods. I don’t know what else to do, but when I recognized you here, Llorona, I found it a sign of fate. I can’t go back there, my father’s the mayor…”
“Remember the forty-one…” whispered the bat in Alejandro’s ear.
My father’s the mayor. This was the forty-second person, the boy that had escaped arrest at the gala. Alejandro’s heart broke. He saw so much of himself in this boy, and suddenly it all made sense. The spirit of La Llorona was not bound here as divine punishment, but because she could make an impact. Alejandro could use the memory of the gala as motivation to empower other young queer people like himself, so that they wouldn’t have to suffer like he did.
“I can help you,” Alejandro interrupted the boy. Alejandro told the story of La Llorona, the symbolism of her tears and marigold, and what had happened to her. “You seem old enough to live on your own, perhaps you should move to the colonia where I once lived. It’s not perfect, but it’s much more accepting of people like us than your father is. And fuck what he thinks! If they can’t accept you, you can find your own chosen family in la colonia, and they’ll never judge you for being who you are. I’ll guide you there myself.”
So the boy emerged from the jungle and went to live in la Colonia Tabacalera, accompanied the whole way by his newfound spirit guide. Once there, La Llorona continued to travel around and give guidance to queer people, who spread word of her kindness within the community.
La Llorona still visits queer people in their times of struggle to offer a voice of support and compassion. She dries their tears, and it’s said that people are still comforted by her own ubiquitous weeping appearance. She tells everyone she visits of her mascara and marigold, just as she did that day so long ago on the temple steps. She may even share the latest chisme from la colonia, which remains a refuge for those she helps. Even her bat accompanies her on some visits, still whispering its message: “Remember…”
So remember the legend of La Llorona – the real one. The one discarded by those who would erase us from their history. The one defined not by misogyny, but love. The one where the tears of La Llorona represent not eternal punishment for breaking the norm, but an honoring of the queer people that dared to embrace themselves. Remember the original La Llorona, and remember our past. If we don’t, who will?
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