V. Castro’s “The Haunting of Alejandra”: A Feminist Folk Lore Remedy

Between San Antonio and Seguin on the I-10, near Exit 591, a creek named Woman Hollering spins its muddy waters into folkloric tales whispered into the ears of young children across Texas, my own ears included. The creek was named after the vengeful ghost La Llorona, or “The Weeping Woman,” who was a specter to be wary of. She was, according to folklore, the worst kind of woman: a mother who was supposed to care for her children but instead drowned them. The tale of La Llorona, handed down to me during a late-night, scary storytelling session at a sleepover, is one of warning, both about the danger of being a child and about the potential consequences of being a woman and mother.

Drawing on her native San Antonio and on the Mexican folklore of her youth, V. Castro, in her new novel, The Haunting of Alejandra, troubles the folklore of La Llorona to new and fascinating ends. Castro is the author of Mestiza Blood, Hairsprary and Switchblades, The Queen of Cicadas, Aliens: Vasquez, and The Goddess of Filth. Her writing has garnered two Bram Stoker nominations. Like much of her other work, The Haunting of Alejandra weaves Mexican folklore with Texas’ urban legends.

Haunting toggles between the present-day titular Alejandra and the women in her family who came before her as Alejandra tries to understand the generational curse that has been passed down through the women in her family since colonial arrival in fourteenth-century Mexico. Readers first meet Alejandra in 2019 after she moves across the country from San Antonio to Philadelphia for her husband, Matthew’s, career. The move comes shortly after reconnecting with her mother, who gave her up for adoption in 1978. A stay-at-home mother of three, Alejandra begins to see a woman in white who whispers dark and deadly phrases: “You want to end it. Let me help you,” “Difficult woman. Sick woman. Dead woman.” Bound by her cruel and absent husband and her loving but demanding children, and separated from her support network in San Antonio, Alejandra begins to suspect that the woman in white she is seeing is a manifestation of an undiagnosed mental illness.

However, after the woman in white also begins to haunt her children and her birth mother, Alejandra realizes that the creature is not just confined to her mental world. In need of help, Alejandra finds a therapist and curandera, Melanie Ortiz. Melanie — who specializes in treating generational trauma and mental health awareness in women of color through folk medicine and Western therapy — begins working with Alejandra to reconnect her to her ancestors and to herself. Castro deftly balances the emotional turmoil Alejandra experiences from her failing marriage and the very real and dangerous horrors that stalk her, revealing the physical and psychic impacts of generational trauma. Mixing folk remedies with Chicana/o/x traditions, Melanie and Alejandra begin to untangle the generational trauma and curse that have haunted Alejandra and the women in her family for centuries.

Readers learn about the curse alongside Alejandra as they are introduced to the women in her family line who have been afflicted by the folk demon that takes on the guise of La Llorona. The women in her line are Atzi from Mexico in 1522, Cathy from San Antonio in 1978, Frances from Texas in 1961, Flor from Mexico in 1900-1919, and La Llorona herself in 1616. From Atzi, readers learn about the violence perpetrated against Indigenous women of color by colonizers. From Cathy, we learn what it is to be a young mother faced with a hard decision. From Frances, we learn the devastating and merciless machinations of the creature that haunts Alejandra. From Flor, we learn about the societal constraints placed on women and how to overcome them. From La Llorona, we hear the story from the woman herself, who flips the traditional tale of “The Weeping Woman” on its head.

The novel is a no-holds-barred exploration of motherhood, mental health, and generational trauma and healing. The novel is also a critique of the historical and present-day violence against women of color. Mixing folklore and history, realism and surrealism, and present and past, V. Castro weaves a complex narrative tapestry that fans of folklore, horror, feminist novels, and Chicana novels should add to their shelves.

The Haunting of Alejandra
By V. Castro
Del Rey Books
Published April 18, 2023