I was called “llorona” growing up. For a long, long time, this was a family joke. “La Priscila llora por todo,” my family would quip. It was said so often that even my parrot back home in Nicaragua began calling me llorona.
For most of my life, I believed that I was a crybaby, but in hindsight, I can see things clearer: I was crying out for help after years of mistreatment.
I grew up with a terrible brother who loved to torment me. He never hit me, but he did use cruel words to demean me and make me feel stupid, ugly and unworthy. I have blocked so many memories of his torture, but I do remember that the only time I felt validated was when one of my favorite tias called him “jayán.” This is a Nicaraguan term for grocero, or rude. He seemed to enjoy making my life miserable, and I always ended up crying due to his cruel behavior.
As I got older, I realized that this was neither healthy nor normal. In fact, it was toxic. He was emotionally manipulative and abusive. As an adult, I’ve created a distance between us, and, coincidentally, I’ve also stopped bawling.
I’ve learned that I did not cry because I was a llorona; I cried because I did not know how to explain emotional abuse or how to deal with it as a little girl. Yet I was dismissively called llorona, while no one ever corrected his behavior.
My older brother abused me, and my parents were complicit in his violence by allowing it to happen and ignoring my cries for help. My brother’s vicious behavior, which continues with his wife, my mami and my baby sister, was normalized, while my reaction was vilified and mocked.
We do that. In my context, we call mujeres locas, lloronas, putas and a slew of other terms that are specifically meant to shame them for not following the rules and for speaking up for themselves.
As someone who has been called a loca — when I left my ex-husband — a puta — when I decided to enjoy sex and have lots of it — and, growing up, llorona — for trying to thwart abusive behavior, I now know that this coded language was only ever meant to keep me from complaining further and stop me from living life on my terms.
Pondering on my childhood nickname, I was reminded of another woman who was called a crybaby for surviving violence: La Llorona.
La Llorona is a ghost story we tell kids about a woman who snatches children. This figure brought fear into my life growing up; yet, thinking back on it, she and I share a similar experience.
This was a mujer who was a victim of brutality. Her husband, who some believe abused La Llorona, left her. It’s often said that, after her abandonment, she killed her children, though that has not been proven, and wandered the earth sobbing, mourning her losses and trying to find her kids. Yet we view her as a terrible mother and do not stop to analyze that she has reasons to grieve. We give women these dismissive names like “La Llorona” instead of holding them and healing with them.
I identify with La Llorona because I mourned at five years old, and 10 years old and continued until I was 15, when I stopped talking to my brother for my own mental health. Nobody listened. Nobody helped change his behavior. I was just mocked, so I stopped crying and learned how to protect myself instead.
I hope that we can move away from being a society that blames women instead of protecting them. Till then, la llorona will be my memory of a little girl who desperately cried for help and was left to her own devices until she had no tears left.