When I worked as a group home therapist, I heard a myth that always haunted and remained with me. Several of the Mexican American boys would speak of “the crying woman,” (they also called her “La Madrona”), and like their own personal stories, “La Madrona” was a fragmentary myth steeped in deeper truths.
The boys in the group home were either tough, or trying to be, and so they rarely spoke about emotions or showed vulnerability. And yet as a parent the pathos of these boys who looked to the male staff as father, brother, cousin figures still all palpably missed, if not their mothers, at least a mother.
Every now and then the mood might be right for vulnerability; perhaps it was the holiday season when sitting around on the heartbreakingly ugly couches after dinner meant it had been dark since four p.m. and thus felt like midnight at eight-thirty; maybe it would be in the melancholy afternoons of late summer when something would trigger a memory, or a feeling and an association to La Madrona; maybe it would be in fall, when the Santa Anna winds howled across the San Fernando valley, hot and dry out of Death Valley.
And the story the boys would re-construct was little more than this: The sound of the wind at night, in the tunnels of Mexico City, was said to be the voice of “La Madrona” who cried for all the lost children.
It wasn’t much of a myth, yet it packed a resonant punch when told by boys without mothers to care for them. And just as cave painting are not pictures of horses and bison—they are horses and bison (and if you ever are fortunate enough to step into a 40,000 year old cave and encounter them you will viscerally sense what I mean), to my boys in the group home, “La Madrona” was not a myth, she was/is real; she was the one who cared about them, who cried for them.
Knowing that I wanted to blog about “La Madrona,” as she had been real for me ever since I learned about her, and since I thought about her any time desolate wind tried to tell me something, I Googled her… and found nothing. A little more searching for Latino stories and “crying woman” lead me to something about “La Llorona” and modern Latino myths. In this tale a mother who has lost her children tries to capture other children to replace her loss—a tale meant to be read to kids, by their moms, to warn them not to wander off, talk to strangers—and to know how much mothers love their children and would grieve their loss.
“My kids,” however (and there was one who all the other boys teased as being a dead ringer for me, and thus my son) were children who had lost moms to cancer (and then been told it was their fault); or who had been dropped off at the police station and told to take them because they were bad (and eight years old); or who had been conceived, via rape, by a psychotic mother in a state mental hospital. And having spent some years with these children, with their maddening troubles, their pathos and their vibrant humanity, I can tell you that the wind does cry for them, as our society really doesn’t—doesn’t even see them. And so in their story at least, the crying woman cries for all lost children… including even them.
I don’t know if I misheard the kids who told me the tale, or if they misheard it to start with, but the veracity of hearing about “La Madrona” (and not La Llorona) in a specific place, at a specific time, from specific children who, if they knew nothing else (although they in fact knew much indeed), certainly knew this story at a personal level… and for that reason the wind in the tunnel, for me at least, will always be “La Madrona.”
So let’s dedicate today to honoring, and making “La Madrona” real, by truly caring about all the children who have little but the wind to comfort them.