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date: 22 September 2023

La Malinche, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and La Llorona: The Recuperation of Divine Supernatural Powers in Late 20th-Century Chicana Literaturelocked

La Malinche, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and La Llorona: The Recuperation of Divine Supernatural Powers in Late 20th-Century Chicana Literaturelocked

  • Rita Cano AlcaláRita Cano AlcaláDepartment of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, Scripps College


Myths and legends are the way in which human beings try to understand the divine or supernatural and their relationship to it. Created by humans, myths are reflections of the values and beliefs of the people, time, and place from which they emerge. Once they are in circulation and affirmed by religious doctrine or official historiography, myths are used as an explanation and then a legitimation of why things are the way they are. They become instruments of vigilance and control of human behavior, which in patriarchal cultures means principally of female behavior. Patriarchal cultures produce myths that justify and reproduce the principles of male supremacy.

In the early centuries of Christianity, the Virgin Mary supplanted and absorbed the rituals and feast days of some of the pagan goddesses, but she was not endowed with their powers. Christianity reinforced an insistence on the one, true, male God. The mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, is the lone female figure in Christianity. The Catholic Church has sought to limit the Virgin Mary’s role to that of vessel bringing the son of God into the world, but she has resonated in the hearts of some believers to an equal or even greater degree than Jesus. The Church has responded to the popular religious zeal for Mary by making every effort to rein it in. The Church has officially recognized Mary, but with each proclamation it has put a nail in the proverbial coffin of women’s equal representation in the Church. Mary has been described as a Trojan horse for the perpetuation of male hierarchical control and supreme power in the Catholic Church.

The principle way in which the Church’s construction of the Virgin Mary is detrimental to Catholic women is through the virgin–whore dichotomy embodied by the Virgin Mary and Eve. As the “great exception to women,” the Virgin Mary is held forth as an unattainable ideal against which to find fault with real women. In particular, any woman who does not remain a virgin until marriage and a chaste wife is automatically cast as sinner, as whore. There is no middle ground. The Virgin Mary and Eve follow a parallel trajectory in Catholic history by which each one is increasingly sexualized, one hypo- and one hyper-. The virgin–whore polarity has been handed down in Mexican Catholicism through the Virgen de Guadalupe and the woman who has been called the Mexican Eve, La Malinche, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés’s interpreter and the mother of his son, who has been considered the first mestizo (historically, he was not). In México, the process of usurping and replacing pagan goddesses with the Virgen de Guadalupe replicated almost exactly that seen with the Virgin Mary in the early centuries of Christianity. The popular legend cluster of La Llorona, the archetypal Weeping Woman, also dates to the colonial era in New Spain, a territory that comprises what is now México and the southwestern United States. The real woman who kills her children out of revenge for her lover’s abandonment and becomes the phantasmagorical La Llorona falls squarely on the whore end of the dichotomy. She is meant to serve as a negative role model that girls should do everything in their power to avoid following. But a funny thing happens on the way to the moralistic legend about female blamewothiness and untrustworthiness. Legends are notoriously recounted by women to their children, and in women’s narrations the legend of La Llorona takes on other contours.

Girded in a cultural nationalism with the traditional Mexican family as its foundation, the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s invoked Malinche and Malinchista as epithets against women who pursued leadership roles or feminist principles. In response to these efforts to reaffirm and justify the virgin–whore dichotomy—personified in the figures of La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Malinche—Chicana writers, artists, and scholars produced work in the late 20th century that exposes the patriarchal values that undergird all three figures and offers empowering feminist reinterpretations and positive affirmations for female sexuality.


  • North American Literatures
  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)

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