Saludos, everyone! This week I will be reviewing another rendition of the Hispanic legend of La Llorona, continuing to draw from this month’s themes. Our featured book for the week is Prietita and the Ghost Woman, written by Gloria Anzaldúa and illustrated by Christina Gonzalez. Anzaldúa creates a feminist adaptation of the Hispanic legend by featuring strong, female protagonists, and portraying La Llorona as a benevolent spirit, rather than a haunting ghost. The female relationships in the story are loving and respectful, and women of all different ages look out for each other in a lovely constellation of female alliances.
The story is written in English with a Spanish translation on each page, as well as Spanish words peppered throughout the English text. When interspersing Spanish words, Anzaldúa has taken care to provide translations or context clues for English-language readers. For example, when Prietita asks Doña Lola for help, Doña Lola replies, “I’m sorry, mijita, I’m sorry, my child, but I’ve used up all the ruda I had and none of the neighbors grow it.” To complement Anzaldúa’s text, illustrator Maya Christina Gonzalez has created dramatic illustrations reminiscent of mural art. According to Lee and Low books Gonzalez “is a widely exhibited artist renowned for her vivid imagery of strong women and girls.” Additionally, Kirkus Reviews notes that this book’s illustrations “completely fill each spread, laden with southwestern flora and Mexican motifs.” Indeed, the reader can spot an array of cultural and geographical hints, including large cacti, red chili peppers hanging from the wall, and little lizards scampering across the dry, forest floor. The illustrations also evoke an element of the imaginary or the fantastical, as they take the reader through a young girl’s dream-like journey of growth and self-development.
The story begins with the protagonist, Prietita, working in the garden of la curandera, or the healer, Doña Lola. Prietita’s little sister comes running over to tell her that Mami is sick again and that she needs the help of la curandera. Prietita confirms that Doña Lola will surely know how to help Mami: “Doña Lola can cure almost any sickness. She knows lots of remedies. She’s teaching me all about them.” Doña Lola is a knowledgeable, valued woman, who is an integral part of the community, imparting her knowledge upon a younger generation of women.
Prietita reaches out to la curandera for help and learns that the only curative herb is located in the depths of the perilous King Ranch. Although Prietita has been warned not to go into those woods alone, she is determined to find the herb that will cure her ailing mother. Prietita is strong-willed and exhibits full agency throughout the story. Clad in blue jeans and sneakers, Prietita braves her fears and heads to the King Ranch. As the crux of the plot unfolds and the suspense builds, the reader comes to see what a guardian spirit the mysterious La Llorona can be.
With the help of La Llorona, Prietita overcomes the challenges of the King Ranch- a place which adult readers may interpret as a metaphor for patriarchal systems. By creating this diverse cast of female protagonists who need only each other in order to survive, Anzaldúa has crafted a beautiful counter-narrative that inverts the traditional tropes of male heroes saving helpless damsels. From young to old, readers will appreciate Anzaldua’s strong women, and her emphasis on the importance of family and community. While reinforcing a celebratory “girl power” attitude, the story also teaches readers that people may not always be what they seem, and that one should never judge a book by its cover.
Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) often draws from autobiographical experiences in her novels. She has published two children’s’ books with a leading, female protagonist named “Prietita,” as well as an auto-biographical essay titled, “La Prieta.” In Spanish, “prieta” means dark, usually in reference to skin tone; and “-ita” is a diminutive suffix indicating small size, youth, or affection. Thus, “Prietita” signifies “little, dark-skinned girl.” It is reasonable to believe that throughout Gloria Anzaldúa’s writings, she has developed the character of “Prietita” as a representation of her younger self.
Anzaldúa was one of the leading Chicana feminists and continues to be renowned posthumously for her dedication to social activism. According to an online biography from the Annenberg Learner,
Gloria Anzaldúa’s work is fundamentally concerned with articulating what she calls a “new mestiza consciousness,” an identity characterized by hybridity, flexibility, and plurality and focused on the experiences of Chicanas (Mexican American women) and particularly mestizas (Chicana and Mexican women who have mixed Native American and Spanish heritage). Writing fiction, poetry, memoirs, and literary and cultural criticism (sometimes all within the same text), Anzaldúa has helped define and lend authority to women of color as well as gays and lesbians, whom she identifies as empowered by the inclusiveness and expansiveness of mestiza identity.
She has been known for blurring the lines between social movements, and uniting those movements through various commonalities. Her definition of mestiza includes all marginalized peoples, united by the indistinct, medley composition of mestiza identity. In yet another online biography, the writer describes some of Anzaldúa’s philosophies:
She looked for ways to build a multicultural, inclusive feminist movement… Some readers have struggled with the multiple languages in her writings – English and Spanish, but also variations of those languages. According to Gloria Anzaldúa, when the reader does the work of piecing together fragments of language and narrative, it mirrors the way feminists must struggle to have their ideas heard in a patriarchal society.
Anzaldúa pushed tirelessly to empower underrepresented communities, while giving mestiza and feminist perspectives a voice in American literature.
Not only did I love reading this touching story, but I have been utterly inspired by Gloria Anzaldúa’s biography. Anzaldúa would be a perfect historical figure to feature in your classrooms—an inspiration to all!
For those interested in learning more about the author and illustrator:
- To feel inspired by Anzaldúa’s work, see this board of quotes by her
- A biography of Anzaldúa by American National Biography Online
- Illustrator, Maya Christina Gonzalez’s website
For those who intend to share this book with their students:
- “The role of Mexican folklore in teaching and learning,” an introduction to this theme by the School of Education at the University of North Carolina
- “Latina Women: A Cultural Curriculum Infusion Model” produced by the Denver Public Schools
- “La Llorona: Analyzing images of motherhood,” a lesson plan by Jeff McClleland
Stay tuned for an introduction to next month’s themes and a new cluster of great November reads!
Image modified from Prietita and the Ghost Woman, Pages 5, 7 and 11
Image reprinted from Voices Education website