(My most reliable source of information)
Essentially, she is a crying ghost-lady that tries to steal children (from what my five year old students tell me).
The other day I was sitting with a group of my students (Yellow Table, to be precise) who were working on writing in their journals. Ideally, the children will draw pictures and write stories about past experiences, and then I will write back to them in their journals to draw out more information and encourage them to expand their writing. In reality, my students always want to write about being at the park with Spiderman, or at Chucky Cheese with a princess. When I remind them that they have to write about something that really happened to them they will put some sort of absurd spin on it. Typically it goes down like this:
Me: "Tell me about your drawing!"
Student: "I am playing soccer with Spiderman!"
Me: "Hmm, is that something that REALLY happened?"
Student: "Oh, yeah, well, one time I was watching Spiderman and then I was dreaming about him playing soccer with me so that is why it really happened 'cause I dreamed it."
Sometimes I battle with them over this, but on this particular day I wasn't really in the mood so when my student told me he was drawing La Llorona I did not try and convince him to do something else. (I mean, there are only so many times you can write about going to the park!)
I asked him to tell me what La Llorona was doing, and he elaborated, "She is chasing me on my skateboard. She is trying to get me because I was not being a good listener. She steals kids. My skateboard is a fire skateboard and it makes me go fast so I can get away from her. The fire is on her head."
There were four other children at the table. Two of them were very familiar with the tales of La Llorona, and two were not. Upon hearing the first student's idea the two more familiar with the story immediately jumped on the bandwagon and began drawing their own versions of their encounters with La Llorona.
"This is me with La Llorona at a birthday party at the park!"
"I am playing soccer with La Llorona...at the park!"
(Always the park)
The other two students; however, sat confused. "Who is La Llorona?" one little girl asked.
One student offered the explanation, "Oh, she is a lady who has a face like this," makes terrible face, "and hair like THIS, scribbles all over paper with black crayon, "and hands like THIS!" makes gnarled-claw hands.
"But why does she have yucky hands?"
"Because she is trying to steal kids and take them from their moms when they are so bad or they don't clean up their messes!"
She considered this for a moment, then turned to me and asked, "Is it for real?"
I was at an impasse. This was the same little girl that would not put her feet on the floor for the entirety of St. Patrick's day because she was terrified that there was an actual leprechaun in the classroom. As far as make-believe characters go she took them pretty seriously. I could tell her yes, possibly scarring her forever, or tell her no and completely undercut a cultural story that was really important to several of the other students. I turned the question around on her and asked, "Well, what do you think?"
She looked at me, looked at her friends, and said, "No, I don't think it's real."
The student with the original La Llorona inspiration threw down his black crayon (which he had been using to add some extra tangles to La Llorona's hair) and shouted, "IN MEXICO IT'S REAL!"
She looked at him, smiled and said, "Oh, that's OK then." and everyone continued to color.
Well, crises averted. My students still believe in La Llorona, but think she is safely tucked away in Mexico.
I win at teaching.