Recuperating La Muxer:
Mothers, Madonnas, y Diosas de Mexico
Opening Reception Thursday October 10th
5:00p.m.-6:30p.m. At The Access Center Gallery
Recuperating La Muxer: Mothers, Madonnas, y Diosas de Mexico is inspired by La Llorona, and the works of Gloria Anzaldua and Cecelia F. Klein. Specifically, Borderlands: La Frontera The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua, and the essay “Rethinking Cihuacoatl: Aztec Political Imagery of the Conquered Woman.” by Cecelia F. Klein.
I was acquainted with Anzaldua’s book, but it wasn’t until I traced the legend of La Llorona for my senior paper at Cal State Bakersfield, that I internalized her work. La Llorona is a spirit of a woman that was abandoned by the father of her children. In a fit of rage, she drowned her children in the river and as a punishment her soul cannot rest until she finds the souls of her children. For that reason, she wanders by the rivers or bodies of water crying for her lost children. In some versions of the story she was abandoned because she was poor, and he was rich. In other versions she was indigenous, and he was Spaniard. However, in most versions she was promiscuous and unmarried and that is why he left her. The legend has survived through storytelling, folkloric dancing, and an iconic folk song. Though La Llorona has survived through all these mediums, I have not found paintings or depictions of La Llorona executed before the 20th century. This caught my attention because this legend is older than the conquest. A few years before Cortez arrived in Mexico, the goddess Cihuacoatl was heard wailing throughout the streets. Luis D. León explains in his book La Llorona’s Children that “the story of La Llorona comes in the form of the ‘highest’ Aztec goddess, who was said to be Cihuacoatl.” She was dressed in white, her face was colored in black and red, and at night she walked around the walls of Tenochtitlan weeping “My children we must flee far from this city.” The essay “The Malinche-Llorona Dichotomy: The Evolution of a Myth” by Luis Leal gives another account in which Cihuacoatl wept “My beloved sons, now I am about to leave you.” Leal affirms that the goddess Cihuacoatl evolved into La Llorona (a ghost) shortly after the conquest of Tenochtitlan. This information I first discovered in Anzaldua’s book Borderlands. On page 57 it read “She was, I think, Cihuacoatl, Serpent Woman, ancient Aztec goddess of the earth of war and birth, patron of midwives, and antecedent of La Llorona. Covered with chalk, Cihuacoatl wears a white dress with a decoration half red and half black…The lower part of her face is a jawbone, signifying death…” This ignited my curiosity and imagination, but when I read “Rethinking Cihuacoatl: Aztec Political Imagery of the Conquered Woman,” a deep and serious undertone settled within.
I thought about the conquered woman.
In her essay, Cecelia Klein states that Cihuacoatl was “one of the most important Mexica supernaturals at the time of the Spanish Conquest.” So, she couldn’t be erased, but she could be conquered and appropriated. Cihuacoatl originated not from Tenochtitlan, but from the neighboring cities. When those cities were seized by the Mexica Clan, Cihuacoatl also became the name of a real human person (a male) that held political office and sacrificed the captive slaves in her name. Humiliating the captive survivors and others was a military tactic to prevent a rebellion. So, according to Klein, Cihuacoatl became “everyone’s “enemy” –untrustworthy, competitive, and hostile.” By the time Cortez arrived, Cihuacoatl had gone from powerful goddess to evil monster. Cihuacoatl’s shocking ability to endure such systematic annihilation (that which I refer to as “indigenous feminism”) morphed into a ghost, but not without first crying out for her children.
Cihuacoatl’s weeping was also recorded by the Spanish in the Florentine Codex. Before the arrival of Cortez, eight evil omens manifested in the city of Tenochitlan. The Florentine Codex contains in Nahuatl and Spanish an account of the omens. The codex reads:
“A sixth evil omen: often was heard a woman going weeping, going crying out.
Loudly did she cry out at night.
She walked about saying: “My beloved sons, now we are at the point of going!”
Sometimes she said: “my beloved sons, whither shall I take you?”
That weeping woman according to the Florentine Codex was Cihuacoatl. In another Florentine Codex account, she
“appeared before men,
she was covered with chalk, like a court lady, she wore earplugs, obsidian earplugs,
she appeared in white, garbed in white, standing white, pure white.
Her womanly hair-dress rose up.
By night she walked weeping, wailing; also, was she an omen of war.”
These are the oldest documented accounts of La Llorona; her descendance from Cihuacoatl is undeniable. Her evolution was one of survival. Due to the evangelization and strict ways of the Catholic colonizer she transformed from Goddess to Mother to Ghost. These accounts are represented visually through the codices, but are not represented in “high art.”
Between Anzaldua and Klein’s research I couldn’t stop thinking of the conquered woman, of the pre-Columbian woman, and the contemporary woman. I couldn’t help but think of the importance of Mothers, Virgencitas, and of the ancient Diosas. They are the main female archetypes that form part of Mexican and Mexican American Culture. There are many other authors and books that informed my work and my senior paper, but Anzaldua and Klein informed my imagination. Although, this body of work is inspired by both authors, this is merely a visual process that I must go through to make sense of what I’m learning. This is a sort of visual notetaking. I hope to conceptualize my work further, as my research grows.