Legend has it she walks the riverbank looking for the children she drowned in a jealous rage. Elva Rodriguez, former executive director of Arte Americas, explained, "And if she can't find her children she'll take you."
Light reflecting on the water can play tricks on you but for many the fear is real. Brian Garza of Reedley said, "I heard a girl scream really, really loud. I got goose bumps down my body."
Old ghost stories are often shared when people hang out at night near rivers and canals. Many kids grew up terrified by stories of La Llorona -- the lady in white.
Brenda Marquez of Reedley said, "She's saying "Donde esta mis hijos?" and just crying. Mis hijos, mis hijos. My children, my children."
Ghastly images have depicted La Llorona in film and on TV. The legend has been told for centuries in Mexico. Different versions have been passed down in the Valley and throughout California and the Southwest, but they all involve a weeping woman. It is the literal translation.
Elva Rodriguez said family elders have long used La Llorona as a cautionary tale. She said, "That's one way that parents get children to stay in at night, come in at a good time. Don't be out in dangerous places."
Delfina Ortiz recalled, "It was very scary when my mom would say she would come for me if I didn't behave well."
Fresno artist Ailleen Imperatice has painted images of La Llorona. She said, "It's a very scary place to go to but I have to do that. The issues that I brought the image of La Llorona to my work always had to do with human suffering."
Rodriguez added, "Even though it's a myth it's a story that's part of our culture too."
Fresno State professor Shane Moreman grew up in south Texas. Moreman said, "I was told La Llorona lived in the creek underneath the bridge and that I had to be careful."
Moreman published a research paper on La Llorona's impact on pop culture. A character in the movie "Chasing Papi," for example, told her boyfriend La Llorona would get him if he ever was unfaithful.
Moreman said, "I was originally drawn to researching characters like La Llorona because they did and do unify Latino culture."
La Llorona clearly has gone mainstream. She even appeared in a "Got Milk" ad. But the stories are always more scary than funny.
As the sun sets one creepy version unnerves those who drive over bridges alone at night. Jazzy Pinkston of Reedley continued the tale, "And there's a lady in white in your backseat. Oh, just gives you the chills you know."
But the myth extends beyond the river. Elva Rodriguez said, "We always were told don't go in the alley because there's a lady in the alley just waiting to snatch the kids up."
Even as kids grow older, they still get spooked by movements in the dark. Carlos Lopez of Reedley said, "Now that you're asking me about it I'm probably gonna go home kind of earlier."
The parental lessons of La Llorona still hold water.