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Mexicolore contributor Dr Amy Fuller

La Llorona and the Days of the Dead (2)

We are sincerely grateful to Dr. Amy Fuller, Lecturer in the History of the Americas, Nottingham Trent University, for this illuminating introduction to the legendary figure of La Llorona, who features prominently in Mexican popular culture, and her connections with Mexico’s Days of the Dead festival. This is the conclusion to her article.

Pic 1: Sugar skulls display, Day of the Dead festival
Pic 1: Sugar skulls display, Day of the Dead festival (Click on image to enlarge)

Though in essence, it is a version of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Día(s) de Muertos, celebrated from 31st October to 2nd November, has ambivalent origins: thought by some to be an indigenous tradition appropriated by the colonisers, and by others as a colonial practice that has retrospectively claimed an indigenous origin in order to promote a ‘pure’ Mexican identity. The personal family traditions of Day of the Dead (decorating graves and constructing ofrendas in homes dedicated to deceased family members) are rather different to the exuberant festivities displayed in the town centres for tourists to enjoy.

Pic 2: Giant sugar skull, Day of the dead festival
Pic 2: Giant sugar skull, Day of the dead festival (Click on image to enlarge)

Día(s) de Muertos is seen by outsiders as the quintessential Mexican festival and has become a very lucrative tourist attraction. Town councils receive state funding to put on elaborate displays, processions, exhibitions, and theatrical presentations in order to attract visitors. For example, the town of Tzintzuntzan was one of eleven that the state of Michoacán selected in the late 1970s for tourist promotion, and today it has become one of the most popular destinations for Day of the Dead celebrations. Every year the festival’s attractions become more elaborate, with bigger and more extravagant celebrations to keep up with the demand of visitors.

Pic 3: Day of the dead ‘skull rack’ display, UNAM, Mexico City
Pic 3: Day of the dead ‘skull rack’ display, UNAM, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

For example, in 2016 Mexico City put on its first Días de Muertos parade, inspired by the opening scene of the 2015 James Bond movie, Spectre. However, though the tourist market continues to change the public face of the festival, and its characteristic sugar skulls and other iconography have become well known throughout the world, the family traditions of remembrance have remained a traditional and private affair.

Pic 4: La Llorona, Day of the Dead festival, Morelia, 2012
Pic 4: La Llorona, Day of the Dead festival, Morelia, 2012 (Click on image to enlarge)

By way of conclusion, the evidence suggests that La Llorona, as she is now known, is a fairly modern myth that has evolved over time, and has been used since the late nineteenth century to reflect and comment upon the socio-political situation of Mexico. By presenting La Llorona during the Day of the Dead celebrations, both of which have disputed origins, but are thought to be “quintessentially Mexican”, it can be used to present to the world a new version of Mexico’s history, and an official representation of Mexican identity.

Pic 5: Dancing skeleton, Day of the Dead festival
Pic 5: Dancing skeleton, Day of the Dead festival (Click on image to enlarge)

Suggested Guide to Further Reading:-
• Stanley Brandes, Skulls to the Living, Bread for the Dead: Celebrations of Death in Mexico and Beyond (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006)
• Caroline Dodds Pennock, ‘Women of Discord: Female Power in Aztec Thought’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 61, No. 2 (June, 2018), pp. 275-299
• Sandra Messinger Cypress, La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000)
• Domino Renee Perez, There was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008)
• Karen Vieira Powers, Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500-1600 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005).

Pic 6: Model graves, Day of the Dead festival
Pic 6: Model graves, Day of the Dead festival (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources, Part 1:-
• Pic 1: photo by CarlosGalvanMex, Wikimedia Commons (Llorona)
• Pic 2: photo by KatyaMSL, ditto
• Pic 3: photo source Web Gallery of Art, Wikimedia Commons (Médée furieuse)
• Pic 4: photo by Ana Laura Linda/Mexicolore
• Pic 5: image from Wikimedia Commons (Tzitzimitl)
• Pic 6: Image scanned from our own copy of The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript by Gisele Díaz and Alan Rodgers, Dover Publications Inc., New York, 1993
• Pic 7: photo by Luidger, Wikimedia Commons (Coatlicue)
• Pic 8: photo by Gabriel Perez Salazar, Wikimedia Commons (Llorona)
• Pic 9: photo from Museo del Prado, Wikimedia Commons (Philip II)
• Pix 10, 11 & 14: photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 12: photo from, Wikimedia Commons (Hernán Cortés)
• Pic 13: photo by Drkgk, Wikimedia Commons (Palacio Nacional México)
• Pic 15: photo by Wolfgang Sauber, Wikimedia Commons (Diego Rivera)
• Pic 16: image from Bancroft Library, Wikimedia Commons (La Malinche)
• Pic 17: photo by Javier Delgado Rosas, ditto
• Pix 18-20: photographer unknown, courtesy of Amy Fuller.

Picture sources, Part 2:-
• Pix 1-3, 5 & 6: photos by, courtesy of and thanks to Maria Elena Kirk
• Pic 4: photo by and courtesy of Amy Fuller.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Oct 28th 2019

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‘The Aztecs and the Day of the Dead’

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