Kidnapping in Mexico: La Llorona and Gang's Actions

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • La Llorona Story and Its Origin
  • Perception of La Llorona
  • Kidnapping Incidents in Latin America
  • Targets of Kidnapping
  • The Causes of Kidnapping
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited


From movies like The Book of Life and Coco, Latin American culture has managed to diffuse its way into the United States with much acceptance and approval. Behind the joyous fiestas and quinceñeras, Latin American culture has a dark side too, which is where La Llorona and El Chupacabras come from. It could be argued that the culture is immigrating into the United States as quickly as the people from Mexico. The instability of the Mexican government and the prevalence of drug cartels makes headlines often. Lately, Mexico has seen an increase in the number of kidnappings per year, in addition to the other crimes being committed throughout the country. It can be argued that there is a strong connection between the tragic story of La Llorona and the fear of kidnapping amongst Mexican citizens.

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La Llorona Story and Its Origin

There are a number of accounts describing the stories and origins of La Llorona covered by Cristina Santos in “La Llorona”, Orquidea Morales in “Chicana Feminism and Horror: Fear La Llorona”, and Joann Furlow Allen in “Seeking Safe Sisters: Sandra Cisneros’s Use of the Source of the Myth La Llorona as Sister Figure”. La Llorona, according to Santos, Morales, and Allen, was a woman from Mexico who fell in love and had children with a man. This man eventually left her (for different reasons depending on the story) and La Llorona drowned her child(ren). She can be heard wailing and crying for her lost kids along the riverside. All three of these authors make mention of La Llorona being closely associated with Cihuacoatl, an Aztec Goddess, and La Malinche, an Aztec princess. Cihuacoatl, goddess of the earth, war, and birth, is also known as the Serpent Woman (Allen). She appeared to Moctezuma I and the Aztec City of Tenochtitlan saying “Dear children, soon I am going to abandon you!”. This cry was believed to forewarn the downfall of the Aztecs after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors (Santos). La Malinche is described by Santos as a gift given by the Aztecs to serve as a translator for Hernán Cortés, and later a mother to his children, whereas, Allen briefly mentions her as the “raped one” (par. 19). Morales refers to another possible origin story of La Llorona as she recounts a tale from her mother about a Mexican woman who lived on the border between the United States and Mexico, and fell in love with an man from the United States. Santos’ version differs slightly as she claims the woman lived in Mexico City and fell in love with a Spanish Captain, which is similar to the story of the Aztec Princess, La Malinche.

Perception of La Llorona

Monsters are known to represent part of the culture or the people that it originates from. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen in his paper, “Monster Culture: Seven Theses” states “Like a letter on the page, the monster signifies something other than itself…” (par. 4). Some view La Llorona as “treacherous, selfish woman who murdered her own children” (par. 22) out of revenge, as noted by Allen. In the same article, it is suggested that La Llorona drowned her children “ keep the Spanish from taking them, as it was their practice to take the most beautiful Indian children and present them to their wives as slaves” (par. 22), putting her in a more positive light. All three articles discuss the possibility of La Llorona’s cries serving as a shout for feminism, as the “machismo culture” is sometimes the practiced culture amongst Latinos. “Machismo” is the idea that the man in a family has the final say in everything. The man can make choices as extreme as extramarital affairs and abuse his family, but the woman is only allowed to be submissive. Santos writes about the belief that La Llorona’s cries are representative of “a shout of female empowerment and self-esteem” (par. 6) against unequal treatment between men and women. Morales agrees saying “La Llorona is a cultural icon… who represents women’s voice and agency” (par. 1) in opposition to the machismo culture prevalent in Latin America. Allen contributes by noting under the perspective of feminism, “Llorona stops being the pitiful wailing wench or the villainous perpetrator of infanticide, and becomes a symbol of strength and assertion” (par. 25). This cry of strength and liberation is possibly a source of inspiration for the people of Mexico as they deal with the kidnapping problem that has grown in the last couple of decades.

Kidnapping Incidents in Latin America

In 2014, the number forty-three became a symbol of justice amongst the citizens of the country of Mexico. Students of Ayotzinapa traveled to Iguala, Mexico to protest the hiring practices of teachers that they believed to be discriminatory, according to Justin A. Behravesh in “'Ya Me Canse” 1: How the Iguala Mass Kidnapping Demonstrates Mexico’s Continued Failure to Adhere to its International Human Rights Obligations”. When the mayor of the town heard about these protests, he worried that they might disrupt a speech that would be given by his wife. He told the police in the area to make sure that the students did not interfere. As a result, the “Iguala police responded... with gunfire... Forty-three students went missing for several weeks after being taken into police custody” (par. 1). This is one of many kidnapping stories in Mexico, thousands upon thousands of people have been abducted, many have not returned. It has become a real and present danger to the citizens of Mexico. Kidnapping has become increasingly common throughout Latin American countries as of late, with “Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela... identified as regional leaders” according to the article “New Kidnapping Trends on the Global Stage” on (par. 5). Mexico alone has seen a 200 percent increase in kidnappings following the year 2007, according to Rory Smith in the article “Hundreds of people in Mexico are kidnapped every year. And the problem’s getting worse”. As of late, most kidnappings are less dramatic than the one described above, though, kidnappings of that caliber are still frequent. describes a form of kidnapping called “paseo millionario” which translates to “millionaire tour”, (par. 5). During this type of abduction, a person will be taken to an ATM machine right before midnight to withdraw as much money as possible, and will repeat the process immediately after midnight. Smith also describes a form of “express kidnapping” called “secuestro exprés” that differs slightly from the “millionaire tour”; the victim is taken for a short amount of time until a smaller ransom is met, sometimes for as little as five hundred dollars. In 2016, about sixty-six percent of all kidnapping crimes were classified as “express kidnappings” (par. 11, 12, 13). Criminals in Mexico have put their country at the top of the list for utilizing this form of kidnapping (, par 5). Rolando Ochoa did not view this as a form of kidnapping in his article, “Not just the rich: new tendencies in kidnapping in Mexico City” saying, “In this case, there is no demand made on a third party as a condition for the person's release.” (sec. 2, par. 2). He preferred to define it as “extortive kidnapping” where a person or group of people are held for a price that must be provided by an outside party (sec. 2 par. 2). Even with Ochoa’s more specific definition, there was a 300% increase in kidnappings between 2005 and 2009. He claims that kidnapping is an underreported crime (quoting Magaloni and Zepeda) by mentioning that only twenty-five percent of all crimes in Mexico are reported. He adds,“victims are very reluctant to make the crime known for fear of reprisal by kidnappers” (sec. 3, par. 2). Regardless of the different definitions of kidnapping between sources, there is evidence that the numbers of people abducted per year have increased dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Targets of Kidnapping

Smith explains that “In the ’90s, most kidnapping gangs... targeted the affluent citizens of Mexico’s business and political elite” (par. 15). Rolando Ochoa adds to this by elaborating about the “three most renowned gangs of the late 1990s” (sec. 4.1.2) and their contributions to the aforementioned kidnapping problems in his article. When these larger gangs were dissolved, authorities expected a decrease in kidnappings, but were proven wrong. Smaller, “less-experienced” groups and individuals began kidnapping (Ochoa). Smith states, “...criminal groups, beginning in the early 2000s, shifted their efforts toward the middle and lower classes” (par. 17). It did not matter that those who were kidnapped had to be held at a lower ransom price, what mattered was that a group could kidnap more individuals without attracting attention from the police. Ochoa (quoting Jesús Jiménez) adds “I can assure you that the big kidnapping gangs are practically extinct… the constant is young people, rookies…” (sec. 4.1.2). The large, attention-grabbing kidnappings that made headlines have devolved to frequent, everyday occurrences committed by people that are close in relation to the victim. The frequency it occurs at now makes it much more difficult for the authorities to exterminate the problem.

The Causes of Kidnapping

Many crimes, not just kidnapping, go “unnoticed” because of the corruption of the Mexican Government. Justin A. Behravesh in “'Ya Me Canse” 1: How the Iguala Mass Kidnapping Demonstrates Mexico’s Continued Failure to Adhere to its International Human Rights Obligations” reports “... the inconsistencies within Mexican law, make it difficult for Mexico to adhere to its international obligations under the Convention” (Sec. 3, par. 9). Smith’s article talks more about the unreliability of state authorities, and their relationship with kidnappers. Deborah Ramirez, in Smith’s article, said “The authorities are colluding with the kidnappers… They know where they are. But... they launch a raid at some other random location” (par. 31) . Ochoa agrees with Smith’s claim saying “The Mexican justice system suffers from this problem. It has proven in the past few decades to be highly ineffective and suffers from considerable corruption” (Sec. 4.2.1). Smith also notes “85 to 95 percent of Mexicans believe the police are corrupt”. With this information in mind, criminals do not feel any real threat or fear of punishment for committing crimes (par. 27) This lack of stability within the justice system puts fear deep within the hearts of the Mexican people; they go throughout their day in constant fear of having a loved one abducted, or being abducted themselves.


It is not difficult to see why Mexican mothers warn their children of La Llorona; that she will kidnap them should they venture alone or too close to water. In a sense, it is a way to expose the children to the real and present kidnapping problems in Mexico without putting it bluntly; the story helps the children understand until they are old enough to truly see the dangers that are present in their country. Until Mexico is able to mend the issues between the authorities and powerful gangs, La Llorona will be a present part of many Mexican children’s bedtime stories.

Works Cited

    1. Allen, Joann Furlow. 'Seeking Safe Sisters: Sandra Cisneros’s Use of the Source of the Myth La Llorona as Sister Figure.' Journal of Intercultural Disciplines 7 (2007): 9-25. ProQuest. Web. 16 Feb. 2019.
    2. Behravesh, Justin A. ''Ya Me Canse' 1: How the Iguala Mass Kidnapping Demonstrates Mexico’s Continued Failure to Adhere to its International Human Rights Obligations.' Law and Business Review of the Americas 21.3 (2015): 291-340. ProQuest. Web. 16 Feb. 2019
    3. Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Culture (Seven Theses). 1996,
    4. Morales, Orquidea. “Chicana Feminism and Horror: Fear La Llorona.” University of Texas Pan-American, University of Texas Pan-American, Sept. 2010.
    5. “New Kidnapping Trends on the Global Stage.” Supporting Hostages and Their Families, Both during and after a Kidnap., 2016,
    6. Ochoa, Rolando. “Not Just the Rich: New Tendencies in Kidnapping in Mexico City.” Taylor and Francis Online, 14 Nov. 2011,
    7. Santos, Cristina. 'La Llorona.' The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, Ashgate Publishing, 1st edition, 2014. Credo Reference, Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.
    8. Smith, Rory. “Mexico Has a Kidnapping Problem. And It's Getting Worse.”, Vox Media, 11 May 2018,


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