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Mexican-American folklore refers to the tales and history of Chicano people who live in the United States.


People of Spanish descent have been living in the southwestern part of the United States since Mexico had been a colony of the Spanish empire prior to 1821. Mexico gained independence in the aftermath of the Mexican war of independence. Following the Mexican–American War, “most of this area, almost half of Mexico's northern territory, was ceded to the United States, and approximately 80,000 Spanish-Mexican-Indian people suddenly became inhabitants of the United States”.[1] After the war, the United States acquired a huge chunk of land and, as a result all of the Mexican nationals living in the area were now part of the United States. Citizens of the U.S. began flooding into the area to find land to live on.[2]

La Llorona

Drawing of the La Llorona
Drawing of the La Llorona

The most famous example of a woman in Chicano folklore is La Llorona, the weeping woman. There are varying different variations of La Llorona, but the common consensus is that she is the ghost of a murderous mother who haunts near water like river banks or lake shores. She is always described as having long hair, down below her waist, and is seen wearing a white gown. As the tale goes, her lover left her with their two children. Angry, she drowned her children in an act of revenge or grief. For that reason, she is doomed to walk the earth forever in search of her children. La Llorona “serves as a cultural allegory, instructing people how to live and act within established social mores”.[3] Her tale is often used as a bedtime story to get children to go to sleep or behave when out in public. However, to others her legend is just another spooky story meant to scare children. Given the popularity of the legend, there are many works done by “folklorists, literary critics, anthropologists, and feminist writers. Children's books, short stories, novels, and films” are just a few of the ways La Llorona has been inscribed into history.[1] As Gloria Anzaldua, a scholar of Chicana cultural and feminist theory, discussed in her article “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”, living on the U.S. side of the border made it difficult for Hispanics to relate to their national identity due to their oppression by Anglo-Saxon colonizers. These colonizing groups forced those of Hispanic descent to speak English at schools and other institutions. Anzaldua stated how she recalled being caught speaking Spanish at recess and got “three licks on the knuckles with a sharp ruler.”[4]


Mythical homeland of Aztlan
Mythical homeland of Aztlan

Aztlan is the legendary homeland of the Aztecs. During the 1960s, Chicano peoples living in the greater American Southwest began to use the concept of Aztlan as a way to show their pride in their national identity. It came to be known as a mythical homeland for those of Mexican American heritage; an imaginary place "based on a revival of Mexicanismo".[5] Aztlan was a place that was inclusive to all those of Hispanic descent and encouraged them to support one another and live in prosperity.[6]

Some examples refer to Aztlan in terms of land annexation. After the United States conquered the southwestern part of North America, thousands of Mexicans suddenly became Americans and were encouraged to adopt different cultural traditions. They lived on the same land they always had, but were now considered foreigners. According to De la Torre and Gutierrez, two scholars of Chicano studies based in Mexico, due to the “illegal” immigration of the Mexican Americans back and forth across the border, social links and mutual commitments were able to be maintained.[5] Aztlan is occasionally talked about as the land that the United States took from Mexico after the Mexican–American War. De la Torre and Gutierrez imply that for this reason Aztlan was an attempt for Mexican Americans to regain lost history and identity.[7]

The concept was first seen in El plan de Aztlan adopted at the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, held in Denver, Colorado in 1969. The manifesto itself was based on a poem by Alberto Alurista who pushed for it to become the central theme of the conference.[5] The plan brought together community and cultural activists from across the southern United States. It inspired the Chicano population of America to become more aware and self-determined during their struggle for equality. Aztlan would soon become ingrained in the Chicano movement as an important political and spiritual symbol.[8]

In modern times

Today most of the Mexican folklore, aside from the more popular folklore stories, including the mentioned La Llorona, is based in cultural identity. The primary reason for this is that folklore offers one mean of reconciling the individual's split loyalties insofar as it often deals with very real problems, thus lessening tensions at least.[9] Subsequently, a division between retaining their Mexican roots or completely assimilating to the American way of life developed. Examples of this can be as simple as speaking English opposed to Spanish in public, or as serious as identifying as American rather than a Chicano. This inner conflict of choosing between identities usually yields harsh results, as individuals can ultimately lose their original culture. In today's modern society, many Mexican nationals traveling from Mexico to the US struggle with these problems of identification. Some folklore stories told today, for example The Bracero (Mexican Agricultural Worker), reflect this struggle of identity. This story revolves around a young Mexican man who, during WWII, came to the US for farm work under the Bracero program. Throughout the story he finds himself in awkward situations where he must act more American or more Mexican. It also important to note that the stories themselves revolve around humorous behavior that is not culturally accurate within the context of the Bracero program.[10]

Another type of folklore that Mexican American culture presents is the one of a more Robin Hood like nature. An example would be the story of Tiburcio Vasquez. He was regarded as a proud figure who resisted social domination and fought to maintain and preserve his culture.[1] The story is based around his life in California where, after being involved in a murder case, he lived a life constantly on the run. Although the claim to his involvement was unfounded, he knew he wouldn't be treated justly if he returned home, thus deciding to fulfill his life with thievery and crime. Similarly to Robin Hood, Vasquez maintained a 'steal from the rich, give to the poor' mentality, for example, “One source refers to his captives as hog tied.”[1] Although on the run, he also flirted with many women as he moved from city to city. Considered a legend of Mexican folklore, his stories offer a wider themes than entertainment or crime, also commenting on resistance to unjust authority and discrimination. Stories like Vasquez's have influenced attitudes and behaviors of Mexican men and women even today. They understand stories like these bring hope to their communities when dominant social groups exercise primary control.[11]

It is also important to note how these stories have evolved over time. They may keep to the same narrative, but the use and interpretation of these stories has undoubtedly changed in modern times. A great example of this evolution is the La Leyenda Negra story. Also known as the Black Legend, this folk story explains the origin of the belief Spanish people are inherently bad and cruel people. This idea has evolved with the story itself and is now used to explains the rude way Anglo Americans treat Spanish descent people, specifically Mexican Americans.[12] This story, or at least its name, has since been used as a reference to anti-Latino bias by the 2020 film La Leyenda Negra.

Connection to the Chicana movement

The most influential and significant figure to Mexican and Chicano women overall is the La Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe). Known as the virgin Mary, she represents the ideal woman in the Mexican culture. Although she is the preeminent representation of womanhood, she has since become an icon for women's subjugation and oppression.[13] As the catholic faith is a driving force within the Mexican American community, figures like the Virgin Mary hold very high and relevant importance. More importantly, she is one of the few figures of importance to the Chicana movement that is female. Being female, the Virgin Mary can therefore connect with all Mexican American women, as seen in Ruiz's work 'From Out of the Shadows'.[14] Some of the values upheld and reflected by the virgin Mary include faith, strength, family, and independence. As the Chicana movement moves forward, the ability to fall back on the values of the virgin Mary are considered and trusted to be able to overcome future barriers.[15]

Vicki Ruiz, a professor of History and Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California Irvine, entails the way matriarchs or Mexican families pass on their values to their daughters based on those encouraged by the virgin Mary. She also comments on having the actual Virgin Mary present in the home and its importance to the entire family. Her presence in the home serves as a place of worship as well as a reminder to act accordingly. Ruiz also entails how the Guadalupe acts as a source of independence for women. Young women and girls in the Mexican American culture use this idea to grow and establish themselves outside the family and within their communities. Chicana feminist groups also use the idea of independence to separate themselves from the wave of the Chicano movement. Both look to the Guadalupe for strength and belief in their cause.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d 1943-, Castro, Rafaela G. (2002). Dictionary of Chicano folklore. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0874369533. OCLC 248482986.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Texas Migration History 1850-2017 (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 1 April 2021).
  3. ^ Lopez, M. (2011-01-01). "There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture; Chicana Sexuality and Gender: Cultural Refiguring in Literature, Oral History, and Art". American Literature. 83 (1): 217–219. doi:10.1215/00029831-2010-081. ISSN 0002-9831.
  4. ^ Gloria., Anzaldúa (2012). Borderlands : the new mestiza = la frontera. Aunt Lute Books. ISBN 9781879960855. OCLC 951460344.
  5. ^ a b c de la Torre, Renée; Gutiérrez Zúñiga, Cristina (June 2013). "Chicano spirituality in the construction of an imagined nation: Aztlán". Social Compass. 60 (2): 218–235. doi:10.1177/0037768613481706. ISSN 0037-7686.
  6. ^ Ph. D., Anthropology; M. A., Anthropology; B. A., Humanities. "Historical Evidence for Aztlan, the Mythical Aztec Homeland". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  7. ^ de la Torre, Renée; Gutiérrez Zúñiga, Cristina (2013). "Chicano spirituality in the construction of an imagined nation: Aztlán". The Social Compass. 60 (2): 224. doi:10.1177/0037768613481706. ISSN 0037-7686.
  8. ^ Leza, Christina (2019). "Indigenous Identities on the U.S.-Mexico Border". Divided Peoples: policy, activism and indigenous identities on the U.S.-Mexico border. University of Arizona Press. p. 146. ISBN 9780816537006.
  9. ^ Caro, Rosan Jordan De (April 1972). "Language Loyalty and Folklore Studies: The Mexican-American". Western Folklore. 31 (2): 77–86. doi:10.2307/1498226. ISSN 0043-373X. JSTOR 1498226.
  10. ^ B. S., Texas A&M University; Facebook, Facebook. "The Bracero Program Recruited Millions of Mexicans to Work in the U.S." ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  11. ^ Thrall*, Will H. " | People | The Haunts and Hideouts of Tiburcio Vasquez". Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  12. ^ "La Leyenda Negra". The Ultimate History Project. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  13. ^ McDowell, John H.; Paredes, Americo; Bauman, Richard (July 1995). "Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border". Western Folklore. 54 (3): 245. doi:10.2307/1500353. ISSN 0043-373X. JSTOR 1500353.
  14. ^ Ruiz., Vicki L. (2008). From Out of the Shadows : Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-1282367487. OCLC 816344888.
  15. ^ Wolf, Eric R. (1958). "The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol". The Journal of American Folklore. 71 (279): 34–39. doi:10.2307/537957. ISSN 0021-8715.
  16. ^ Peterson, Jeanette Favrot (1992-12-01). "The Virgin of Guadalupe". Art Journal. 51 (4): 39–47. doi:10.1080/00043249.1992.10791596. ISSN 0004-3249.