Local Life and Lore in Albuquerque

From an obsession with chile to the legend of a dreaded ditch witch, find out what it's like to live in Albuquerque.
By: Tamara Shope
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Here are some things to know about local life in Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Spell it c-h-i-l-e

When ordering chile in Albuquerque, don't dare spell it with an "i" at the end. Chile here is the fruit of the plant, served either roasted and chopped, made into a sauce or crushed into a powder. It has nothing to do with chili, that chuck-wagon dish so popular one state to the east. Chile is so much a part of the local culture, the official state question in New Mexico is “Red or Green?” -- a reference to which kind of chile you’d like with your meal. Albuquerqueans are so well known for their love of all things spicy that the National Fiery Foods & BBQ show is held in the city every year, drawing about 15,000 heat-seekers.

Two Q's, one R

The city was named in 1706 for Spain’s Duke of Alburquerque. That extra “r” was later dropped from the city’s name but every now and again, a loyalist will beg the City Council to return the city to its roots and restore the other “r.” Albuquerque’s nicknames include Duke City, ’Burque, The Q and The 505.

Fruits and mountains

Albuquerque is bordered to the east by the Sandia Mountains. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon and the story goes that the conquistadors who wandered through in the 1500s named the peaks for the melony-pink shade they turn at sunset. Farther south and also to the east are the Manzano Mountains. Manzano is Spanish for apple. Not sure where they got that name.

The guy nobody knows

Juan Tabo Boulevard is a major thoroughfare in northeast Albuquerque. No one is certain who Juan Tabo (pronounced Tuh-BOH) was. Local lore says Juan was a shepherd who kept his flock in the area at some point, but history doesn’t say when or confirm his existence.

Monsoon season

Albuquerque only gets about 9 inches of rain a year but it comes down almost daily for a few weeks every summer. This is called the monsoon season and it’s these July and August downpours that replenish the Rio Grande watershed. The monsoons hit in the afternoons, meaning outdoor enthusiasts start earlier in the day and keep umbrellas with their gear.

Look out for La Llorona

Every culture has its boogeyman, and this one is no different. La Llorona, a fictional figure whose name is pronounced “lah yohr-own-ah,” is said to roam ditches crying out for the children she murdered years before. While the story is a myth, it serves as an effective deterrent for Albuquerque schoolchildren everywhere. Even the local campaign to keep kids out of ditches and arroyos is based on La Llorona stories; the art for the campaign is a “ditch witch” and the slogan is “Ditches are deadly. Stay away.”

The legend’s exact origins are generally unknown, but some say they date back to the days of the conquistadors of the 16th and 17th centuries. There are published versions of the legend from the middle 1800s. Most modern stories tell of a woman who lived in the Rio Grande river valley in the 1700s named Maria. She drowned her children either in a fit of jealous rage or because she couldn’t afford them (the stories vary), and she is condemned by God upon her death to either find them or mourn them. Children are told that she will snatch any child who is playing near a ditch bank to claim as her own.

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