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Latinitas University--Myths for the two of us.

This morning on the Seattle radio station KEXP 90.3 (thank God for live streaming), there was a program on the classic Latino myth of La Llorona. In my six-year-old heyday of throwing temper tantrums, my mother used to tell me the at once tragic, sensual, and frightening story of La Llorona in order to get me to stop screaming. The tale, with too many versions now to count, is, in a nutshell, about a jilted lover who drowns her children, and is forever cursed to moan and wail about their death by the riverside. Desperate to reprise her role of motherhood, she takes children who are alone and unprotected, and if you don't eat your vegetables or stop hitting your brother, she might take you.

The host of the program, "Making Contact," took an interesting comparative look at the legend, translating the personal loss of La Llorona into the bigger losses experienced by struggling immigrants everyday. It's a story about a yearning for a home and a pervading feeling of displacement--losing yourself by losing your family. The story is especially popular in small, female-dominated towns in Mexico, where the men have all gone to the U.S. to work. Seeing La Llorona as a sort of archetype representative of current sociological problems adds a new substance to the story that is rare in other urban legends.

When I heard that La Llorona can be traced back to before the Spanish even came to Mexico, the long history behind it and its relation to modern times reminded me that, growing up, I never heard any American stories that carried the kind of weight La Llorana does. Sure, there's the bogeyman, but none of the American myths I heard were nearly as compelling as narratives, nor were they as embedded in the cultural history of the United States. Is it because the U.S. is still a relatively young country compared to most nations? Or is it that the United States can't be lumped into just one big, all-encompassing culture?

I like to think it's the latter; La Llorona, as ubiquitous as the story is in border towns, can still be heard in places as far away and "white" as Minnesota. It makes me proud to think that, underneath all the controversy swirling around the topic of immigration, our culture has seeped into the country enough to make urban legends theirs as much as they are ours. That's what this country is all about.

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