Today is All Soul’s Day, so I thought I would tell a local ghost story about a poor soul. I am not from Albuquerque, as most readers of my blog know, but my children are authentic Burqueños and when they were Burqueñitas, they brought home a story from school of the Ditch Witch, La Llorona. We live in the valley, a traditionally Hispanic area of Albuquerque that because of this distinction, was allowed to keep the Spanish language programs in the public schools, (thank God), long after it was taken out of the other schools in the city. And with that came the traditional stories as well.
As the story was first told to me by my girls, the Ditch Witch hung out on the ditches looking for her children and would drown kids if she found them up there alone. The legend of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, is told in various forms all over the Spanish speaking lands of the Americas, but in a nutshell the story is that she was a beautiful woman who fell in love with a man who rejected her, so she drowned her children, killed her self. He may have not wanted a woman with children, or rejected hr for some other reason and her kids caught the backlash, but whatever happened, It didn’t go well for anyone and she was doomed to roam the world looking for her children along the ditches and waterways, weeping and wailing. Also told…she would kidnap children wandering by themselves.
I believe that in Albuquerque this story evolved into the Ditch Witch because of the valley’s vast system of irrigation ditches, also called acequias. The valley of Albuquerque is the land adjacent to the Rio Grande, and it has historically been farmland because of it’s close proximity to this water source. An intricate and widespread irrigation grid was established to handle the needs of the farms with a a system of ditches crisscrossing the valley forming a patchwork quilt of crops. As time goes on and the population increases, the valley struggles to hang on to its agrarian roots while neighborhoods exploded into subdivisions. The ditches prevail and offer up strips of semi-wooded playland for the kids of the valley. The acequias still flow and while there are very few farms using the water now, many residents in the valley refuse to give up their “ditch rights”, so instead of watering their yards and gardens they flood them once a week in the spring and summer months, much to the puzzlement of people not from “round here”.
It is a natural thing that the legend of La Llorona evolved in Albuquerque to be about the Ditch Witch. A story to promote a healthy fear of the ditches for children was needed and she filled the niche. It worked. I never told my kids it wasn’t true. They didn’t go up on the ditch alone either and swore they heard her crying. Today the ditches are used for jogging, shortcuts from one neighborhood to another, as horse trails and as hiking and dog walking paths. There has been some talk of adopting some of them into the city park system, but I doubt that will ever happen. The ditches are owned and maintained by a separate government entity called the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. They have a lot of clout, answer to no one, and the likelyhood of this ever changing is slim to none. It’s enough to make all of us weep and wail.
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