That's "Hello!" in Nahuatl; the language of the Aztec.
What would you think if you were walking home, late at night, after a few hours of heavy drinking with your friends and you saw a young woman wandering towards you in a white dress? At first you might think nothing of it, maybe there's someone behind you she's walking towards, but as she get closer and you get ready to do that awkward which-one-of-us-is-going-to-side-step-which-way shuffle, it becomes apparent that she's walking to you.
Alright, no big deal, she seems nice enough, she's probably drunk too; just trying to make it home same as you. But as she approaches she passes under a streetlight and in that moment, seeing the death on her face and the blood in her eyes, and then hearing the weeping you couldn't hear until she was this close, you realize: this is La Llorona, "The Crying Woman" and star of this blog entry.
The Story of The Crying Woman
In 1502, in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the Goddess Cihuacoatl takes the form of a beautiful woman dressed in white. She stands on the edge of town and cries to its citizens,
"Oh hijos mios, ya ha Ilegado vuestra destruccion. Donde os llevare?" Meaning "Oh my children, your destruction has arrived. Where can I take you?"
Many people believed, then and now, that she was speaking of the future conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards.
Just a few years later in 1505, a child was born and named La Malinche. She was a beautiful baby and a noble in Aztec society. She learns to speak Mayan in addition to her native Nahuatl and at age sixteen is impregnated by Hernán Cortés; soon after, she gives birth to twin boys (1521).
Word of Cortés having a child with a "native" get back to the King and Queen of Spain who begin to fear he is planning to betray them and build his own empire. They asking Cortés, again and again, to return to Spain. Cortés refuses. He says that if he leaves now, he will lose all the territories he's conquered.
Eventually, knowing that Cortés has a weakness for young women, the King and Queen send a beautiful teenage girl to seduce him and bring him back to Spain. It works and Cortés tells La Malinche that he is leaving a that the children are going with him.
Discarded and betrayed, La Malinche now realizes that she was used, and that she was a willing participant and assistant in the slaughtering of her own peoples; all for a man that didn't care about her.
A goddess appears to La Malinche and tells her that if she permits Cortés to take her children, one of them will return and destroy the Aztecs completely. Unable to accept this, La Malinche steals her children away in the night and runs from Cortés.
But she doesn't get far before Cortés realizes she's gone and sends troops after her.
In 1522, just a few days after her attempted escape, soldiers surround her on the banks of a small river. Rather than give up her children, rather than risk their returning to destroy all of Aztec culture, she pulls out a dagger and stabs them both repeatedly in the heart.
"Oh, hijos mios!" she cries as she plunges the knife into their bodies again and again. "Oh, my children!"
A few years later, in 1531, La Malinche dies. Up to her time of death she was regularly seen and heard near the river where she murdered her children; always weeping and crying out for them, apologizing and begging their forgiveness. She became known as La Llorona, "The Crying Woman."
Cortés dies of dysentary in 1547; one of his last letters praises Doña Marina (anglicized La Malinche), saying that without her he could have never conquered the Aztec. In Mexico, of course, it's a different story. In Mexico "malinche" has become a word synonymous with betrayal.
In 1550 people begin to see La Llorona, not just in Mexico but beside the rivers of many Central and South American countries. She's even seen in the south western parts of the U.S. Every appearance is the same: she wanders the streets in the white dress she was buried in. She cries and wails and attempts to steal children to replace her own. When these appearances occur in Mexico, La Llorona's last stop is always the La Plaza Mayor - home to the father of her children. Here she belts out her most terrifying screams and then disappears back into a nearby river or lake.
For hundreds of years sightings of La Llorona have spread throughout the Americas, even Canada. The Hispanic community has a particularly strong belief in this spectre; with nearly 100% of people truly believing that La Llorona is real.
So be careful the next time you see a drunk woman in white, stumbling towards you with bloody eyes and a whimper on her lips... it could be La Llorona.