by Nancy Sepulveda
Typically, when children are frightened by things that go bump in the night they rely upon their parents (assuming they weren’t the ones doing the bumping) to reassure them that, no, there are not monsters in the closet or scaly creatures lurking beneath the bed. Yet in many Latino homes, it’s the parents cautioning their children to beware of ghostly entities or supernatural anomalies.
El cucuy and the chupacabra are prominent characters in the memories of many a Hispano, used to elicit caution from would-be wayward children. The fairly recent rise in chupacabra sightings have gone the way of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster: blurry photographs and film clips, images of bizarre creatures ultimately determined to be either staged or otherwise explainable through science. And, as in cases of the aforementioned monster forefathers, there remain those who refuse to believe the stories as anything more than sensationalized hogwash while others cling steadfastly to the assertion that chupa lives.
Perhaps, the most well-known specter is La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, whose plaintive wails and icy gaze haunted my nightmares well into adolescence. The stories of her origin vary, but most versions agree on the key points. For many Latinos, La Llorona is as real as their own flesh-and-blood relatives. Whispered recollections of those sightings often erupt during chisme and chit-chat at the “grownup table” at family gatherings. Her legend has become the stuff of poetry, artistic interpretation, and Hollywood fodder.
From an anthropological perspective, the folk tale of La Llorona and other supernatural beings in Latino culture provide a fascinating glimpse into its value and belief systems. The tales are an oral history; that the stories are passed from generation to generation speaks to the value of familial relations and respect for the wisdom of elders (few children challenge their abuelo’s stories as fables.) They are also evidence of the importance Latinos place on the obedience of children. Even those parents who perhaps do not believe wholeheartedly in the chupacabra will still gladly use it to ensure unruly kids are frightened enough to stay in line and avoid potentially dangerous situations.
The stories themselves are also revealing; the husband of La Llorona faces no “moral of the story” for his adultery, and in fact his infidelity is used as a just desserts for his wife’s former pride and haughtiness. She herself is alternately the contrite woman atoning for her sins, and an evil wench incapable of controlling her emotions. Some trace the roots of her story to La Malinche, and liken La Llorona to a creepy take on the classic Madonna/Whore conundrum. Her symbolism encompasses motherhood, lust, religion, fidelity, sin, retribution, gender inequality, paternity… the list is varied.
Regardless of your belief in them (or lack thereof), mystical entities from El Cucuy to the practice of Santeria are examples of the surviving connections between Latino culture and the supernatural.
Contributor, Nancy Sepulveda.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.