My Land Sings: Stories from the Río Grande

My Land Sings: Stories from the Río Grande

by Rudolfo Anaya

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A magical collection of 10 stories based on the folklore and oral traditions of Mexican and Native American cuentistas

Rich in the folklore of his ancestors, Rudolfo Anaya’s tales will delight young readers from across the globe. In stories both original and passed down, this bestselling author incorporates powerful themes of family, faith, and choosing the right path in life. In “Lupe and la Llorona,” a 7th grader searches for the legendary Llorana; in “The Shepard Who Knew the Language of Animals,” a shepherd named Abel saves a snake and gains the ability to understand the language of animals; In “Dulcinea,” a 15-year-old dances with the Devil. Other tales feature coyotes, ravens, a woodcutter who tries to cheat death, the Virgin Mary, a golden carp, and a young Latino who seeks immortality.
Deeply rooted in ancient mythological beliefs, these accounts of enchantment are as beautiful and mysterious as the Rio Grande itself—and serve as a testament to the lost art of oral storytelling.
This ebook features illustrations by by Amy Córdova.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504021654
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 169
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 9 - 13 Years

About the Author

Rudolfo Anaya is professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico. He has received numerous literary awards, including the Premio Quinto Sol and a National Medal of Arts. He is the author of the classic work Bless Me, Ultima, which was chosen for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read. Anaya’s other books for adults include TortugaHeart of Aztlan, Alburquerque, Rio Grande Fall, Shaman Winter, Jemez Spring, Serafina’s Stories, The Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories, and Rudolfo Anaya: The Essays. His children’s books include Farolitos of Christmas, My Land Sings, Elegy on the Death of César Chávez, Roadrunner’s Dance, and The First TortillaBless Me, Ultima was adapted into a feature film in 2013. Anaya resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

My Land Sings

Stories from the Río Grande

By Rudolfo Anaya, Amy Córdova


Copyright © 1999 Rudolfo Anaya
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2165-4


Lupe and la Llorona

When the clock in the kitchen struck midnight, Lupe quietly got out of bed. She dressed hurriedly, crept to her bedroom door, and listened intently. In the adjacent bedroom, her parents were sound asleep.

Quietly, she slipped out of the house. The village of Puerto de Luna, a farming community on the banks of the Pecos River, was also asleep. An October quarter-moon hung over the valley, but it shed very little light. Lupe shivered as she ran to meet Carlos by the church.

Earlier that afternoon in the schoolyard, Carlos had been bragging that he wasn't afraid of la Llorona.

"It's just a story our parents tell to scare us," he said to the seventh graders gathered around him.

"No, she's real," one of the girls replied.

"I don't believe it," Carlos said, looking at Lupe. "I dare anyone to go to the river with me."

"At midnight?"

"Yes, at midnight!"

The others glanced nervously at Lupe. She was strong and tall like Carlos, and she was the only one in the group who stood up to him.

"It's a crazy idea," Lupe said.

"What's the matter, you chicken?"

Lupe clenched her teeth. Carlos had been after her all week, ever since her team had beaten his in baseball. She had tried not to pay attention to his needling, but nobody called her chicken!

"I'll prove who's chicken," she shot back. "I'll go with you tonight!"

The kids had cheered her, but later, as they walked back to the classroom, José fell in step beside Lupe. He was her neighbor, and the boy she secretly admired.

"You don't have to go," he whispered. "It's dangerous by the river at night."

"Do you mean it's too dangerous for a girl?"

José blushed. "You know what I mean."

"I know," Lupe answered. "But Carlos dared me in front of the gang. I won't let Carlos call me a coward."

"Yeah," José agreed. He knew Carlos had been hassling Lupe all week. "Do you want me to go with you?" he offered.

"No, Carlos challenged me." She looked into his eyes and saw he really was concerned about her. "Thanks," she added.

José shrugged. "Just be careful" were his parting words.

Maybe I'm like Carlos, Lupe thought as she approached the church at midnight. I want to find out if la Llorona is real or just a story our parents tell. She stopped cold when she spotted a shadow at the door. Her skin tingled. "Who is it?" she called.

"Booooo!" Carlos cried, jumping out at her.

"Boo yourself!" Lupe said, faking laughter to show he hadn't frightened her.

"Bet you thought it was la Llorona," Carlos teased her.

"Don't be silly," Lupe answered boldly.

"Are you afraid?" asked Carlos, peering toward the river.

Lupe hesitated. All her life, she had heard the different stories people told about la Llorona. Some said she was a young woman who long ago had lived in a neighboring village. She had fallen in love with a rich man's son and had a baby, but since she wasn't married to him, the young man's parents were going to take the baby away from her. The baby was all the poor girl had in the world, and she vowed not to let them take it.

When the family came with the sheriff for the child, the young woman gathered the baby in her arms and fled to the river. The sheriff and his deputies followed, using hound dogs to track her. The baying of the dogs could be heard up and down the valley.

As the sheriff and his men drew near, the frightened girl threw herself into the river. The strong current swept her off her feet and tore the baby from her arms. It disappeared into the watery depths.

Later, some villagers would say she had intentionally thrown the baby into the river. The sheriff had saved the young woman, but the baby drowned. It was never found.

After the accident, the young woman was overcome with grief. She walked along the edge of the river, looking for her baby. At night, the people of the village heard her crying and calling the child's name.

"You can still hear her crying at night," the old people told the children. "She became la Llorona, 'the crying woman.' Don't go near the water. She might think you are her child and take you."

Parents told the story to warn their children not to play near the river and its dangerous currents.

"I'm not afraid," Lupe said, shivering. She wasn't going to let Carlos scare her. Besides, she had the medal of her guardian angel hanging around her neck. She touched it and said a silent prayer.

Carlos, too, had hesitated. Across the road, the river and its dark forest looked menacing. "Okay, let's go," he said.

They left the village and hurried through the river bosque. Overhead, the tall, stately cottonwood trees formed a canopy that shut out the scant moonlight. Around them, river willows and salt cedars pressed in on the thin trail. Finally, they came to a small clearing in the brush.

"Here's where she cries at night," Carlos said.

Lupe shivered. She knew the spot. This was the place where the young woman and her baby had jumped into the river.

There was something evil about the place. Dank vapors rose from the river. The awful stink of something dead touched Lupe's nostrils. The trees rose in the dark like giant specters.

Suddenly, they heard an eerie sound and they froze. A shadow appeared in the moonlight and shimmered on the water. It seemed to be the figure of a young woman walking on the water, coming toward them. A shrill noise filled the night, sounding like the cry of a grieving woman.

Shivers ran down Lupe's spine as the shadow seemed to reach out to grab them. "Oh, my God!" she cried.

"La Llorona!" Carlos shouted, and he turned and ran. Lupe followed. With adrenaline pumping in their bodies, they ran as they never had before. Branches whipped at them as they stumbled through the brush. Behind them, they heard the icy cry of la Llorona. Lupe and Carlos didn't stop until they were safely back at the church.

From the door, they looked back toward the river.

"It was la Llorona!" Carlos gasped, panting for breath. "But she can't come here!"

Lupe, too, was out of breath, and she was shivering, but she wasn't sure if it was la Llorona she had seen or a shadow. And the cry could have been the screech of an owl or cats roaming the river's edge. Sometimes cats' cries sounded almost human.

"You ran!" Lupe exclaimed.

"You did, too!" Carlos shot back, his voice trembling.

"You were scared."

Carlos nodded. "Don't tell the others."

"I won't," Lupe promised, but she was disappointed they had run. They should have stayed to see if the shadow really was la Llorona.

"I gotta go," Carlos said, and he bolted down the street toward home.

Lupe, still shivering, also ran home. She quietly let herself in the house and crawled into bed, but she couldn't sleep. All night, she kept seeing the shadow of the weeping river woman. She did have one satisfaction: Carlos had run, too.

"He isn't any braver than me," Lupe said to herself; then she fell asleep, saying a prayer of thanks to her guardian angel.

In the morning, she was too sleepy to get up at the usual time. Her mother finally had to pull her out of bed. She was late for school.

During recess, the kids were eager to learn if Lupe and Carlos had gone to the river.

"I saw her," Carlos bragged. "I wasn't afraid of her."

"Did you see her?" José asked Lupe.

Lupe didn't know how to reply. Carlos had lied. She wanted to tell everyone they had run, but she couldn't.

"Yeah, I saw her," Lupe mumbled, and walked away. She knew Carlos would soon be telling the gang that only he, Carlos, had been the brave one. But Lupe didn't care.

When she returned home in the afternoon, she hurried to help her father with the chores.

"Why are you so lazy today?" her father asked as he milked the cow and Lupe gathered the eggs in the chicken coop.

"I didn't sleep well, I guess," she replied, knowing she had lied again.

"Father," she asked, "is there really a Llorona?"

"Oh yes," her father answered. "She lives by the river, and if you misbehave, she'll get you." He winked.

"I try to be good," Lupe said.

"I know. But I think your mom is right; you have to start acting like a girl."


"Well, you can't be a tomboy forever. You're changing."

Lupe knew she was changing. Playing games with the boys on the playground wasn't as much fun anymore. Even proving to Carlos she could keep up with him had lost its sense of adventure. But la Llorona intrigued her.

"Why does she cry?" Lupe asked. She knew the story, but each time she heard it, there seemed to be a new twist.

"Some people say la Llorona was a young woman who drowned her baby. When the woman died, St. Peter told her she couldn't enter heaven until she brought the soul of her baby with her. So her spirit came back to earth. She cries as she searches the river, looking for the child she can never find."

Lupe was intrigued by her father's version of the story. She always loved to hear his stories. He knew all the old cuentos.

"But is she real?" Lupe asked.

"Who knows?" her father answered. "Some people claim they've seen her."

"Have you?"

Her father shook his head. "No."

He lifted the bucket of milk and Lupe picked up the basket of eggs she had gathered. Together, they walked toward the house, where Lupe's mother had a hot supper ready.

"I guess if you want to find out the truth about la Llorona, you're going to have to meet her yourself," her father said.

Was he teasing? Lupe wondered.

"And don't forget, this Saturday is the fiesta," he added.

"How can I?" Lupe replied. "Mother's sewing me a new dress. I'm supposed to act like a lady and dance."

Her father laughed. "Save a dance for me."

"I will."

Every year, the village celebrated the feast of its patron saint. There were games and dancing. People came from other villages to participate in the fiesta. This year was different. Lupe would dress like a young woman and dance with the boys who asked her.

"Are los Abuelos coming this year?" she asked.

"Seguro que sí," her father replied. "Los Abuelos come to make sure the kids have been behaving. If you're naughty, they might grab you."

"Are you going to be one of the Abuelos?"

"Can't tell you. Just remember to be good. Some children think they're too grown-up to listen to their parents. Those are the ones the Abuelos are after."

Lupe wondered if her father knew she had slipped out of the house last night.

She remembered how frightened she had been when she first saw the Abuelos. She was six and her parents had taken her to church. After Mass, the Abuelos came walking down the street, cracking their whips. Lupe was so scared, she ran to hide behind her mother's skirt.

Now she wasn't afraid of los Abuelos. She knew they were men from the village who wore masks on their faces. They cracked their whips to scare the children into good behavior. But la Llorona? Lupe still wasn't sure if she was real or just a story. She had to prove to herself that she wasn't afraid of la Llorona. She would go alone to the river, tonight.

That night, Lupe slipped out of bed again and dressed without a sound. Then she headed for the river and entered the bosque. The shadows were thicker than she remembered. Occasional bird cries sounded in the darkness, and tree branches moved in the breeze.

She was in a very dark area of the path when she heard something behind her. Someone was following her. She walked faster and tried to whistle a tune, but the sound wouldn't come out. She wished she hadn't left the safety of her bed. Maybe Carlos was right; maybe last night they had seen la Llorona.

Lupe turned a corner in the trail and there in front of her stood the figure of a woman. She was dressed in a long, tattered dress. Her tangled hair fell over her shoulders, nearly to the ground. Her eyes were red from crying. She raised her arms and Lupe saw her sharp fingernails. Then her terrible cry filled the night, and Lupe's blood turned to ice. Her knees quivered.

She turned to run, but she hit her head on the branch of a tree and fell to the ground. Just before she passed out, she felt the arms of la Llorona lifting her up.

When Lupe opened her eyes, she found herself in a dark cavern. A small fire illuminated two figures who sat in front of the flickering light. They turned to look at her, and Lupe saw two of the scariest monsters she had ever imagined.

Lupe trembled with fright. "La Llorona," she gasped.

"Yes, I am the creature they call la Llorona," the woman in the tattered dress answered.

"And who is he?" Lupe asked, pointing at the monster with the huge head and red eyes. His nose was long and green. At the ends of his large arms dangled two big hands. In one hand he held a whip, in the other a sack. His gnarled legs were like old tree trunks in the dim light.

"This is the Coco Man," la Llorona said. "Some call him el Kookoóee."

Lupe had heard some of the old people tell stories about this bogeyman. Now she knew the Coco Man was real. She shivered, wondering if they planned to eat her alive.

"I want to go home," she whispered.

"You will," replied la Llorona, "in due time. We brought you here for a reason."

"Why?" Lupe asked.

"We want you to know our story and tell it to your friends."

"My friends are afraid of you," Lupe said, drawing close to the warmth of the fire. The two creatures of the night weren't so scary after all.

"Are you afraid of us?" la Llorona asked.

"No," Lupe replied.

"Only naughty children should be afraid of us," said la Llorona. "It is true that I cry by the river at night, but only because I am looking for my child."

"And him?" Lupe asked, meaning the giant Coco Man, who still sat quietly by the fire.

"El Coco is a creature of the river forest."

"Why does he have a sack?"

"He throws misbehaving children in the sack. But if you're good, you don't have to worry. Actually, he's a very good son."

"Is he the baby who drowned?" Lupe blurted.

"No. El Coco is an adopted son. One day, I was walking near here and I met Don Cuervo, the crow. Don Cuervo felt sorry I could not find my drowned child, so he told me about a secret cave in which I would find a creature of the forest. I went to the cave and inside I found a bundle. I unwrapped it, and there was el Coco. He was an orphan, so I became the mother of the Kookoóee."

"You raised el Coco?" Lupe asked.


"What does he do?"

"He makes sure naughty children obey their parents."

The giant figure of the Kookoóee stood up, his head almost touching the roof of the cave. His jaws opened, showing teeth like those of a great white shark, and his eyes flashed fire. His long arms reached out like tree branches.

Lupe jumped back in terror.

"Tell the children to be good," the Kookoóee said, and he cracked his whip. The sound echoed like thunder in the cave.

"I will!" Lupe cried. "I will!" She struggled to get up and run, but her arms seemed pinned to the ground.

"Don't move!" a voice said. "It's okay."

"El Coco!" Lupe shouted, thrashing out and trying to run.

"Lupe!" somebody called to her. "It's me. Stop fighting!" It was her father, kneeling and holding her in his arms.

Lupe opened her eyes. Her mother knelt by her. Behind them stood people from the village.

"My child," her mother comforted her. "You hit your head, but you're all right now. Gracias a Dios."

"We've been looking all morning for you," said her father.

"What happened?" Lupe asked.

"You must have hit your head on a tree branch," her father explained.

"What were you doing at the river? Alone?" her mother asked.

"I saw la Llorona and the Kookoóee! They were in a cave!" Her father laughed. "You had a dream. A nightmare."

"No!" Lupe insisted. "I saw them! They're real."

Her mother felt the bump on Lupe's head. "Try to be still, mi hija. We need to get you home where you can rest. You'll realize it was just a bad dream."

Was it a nightmare? Lupe wondered. It seemed so real. Should she tell her friends? She had thought la Llorona and the Kookoóee were only creatures from the old stories.

Perhaps Carlos and the other boys who cut school and went to the river to smoke had seen la Llorona because they were misbehaving. If you obeyed your parents, you didn't see these creatures.

Lupe had sneaked out at night. Maybe that's why la Llorona and el Coco had appeared to her.

"You're fine," her father said, and lifted her in his arms. "A little rest and you'll be ready for the fiesta."

Lupe rested all day. When she slept, she saw the Kookoóee in her dreams, but they weren't threatening dreams. The Coco Man cracked his whip, creating a wind that swept over the cottonwood trees along the river. Then he dissolved into the green forest, becoming like a tree.

The next day at school, all the kids surrounded Lupe. They knew she had been lost and that the entire village had searched for her.

"Why did you go to the river?" asked José.

Lupe couldn't bring herself to say that she had wanted to prove she wasn't afraid. But her true motive was that she had wanted to know if la Llorona was real or not.

"What did you see?" asked Carlos.

"I saw la Llorona and the Coco Man," Lupe replied. She hoped José wouldn't laugh at her.

"You saw the Kookoóee!"

"No way!" Carlos shook his head.

"Did you really see him?" one of the kids asked.

"Yes." Lupe nodded.

"I believe you," José said.

"Ah, there's no such thing as the Kookoóee," Carlos scoffed. "You're making it up."

"I saw him," Lupe insisted. "He lives in a cave with la Llorona! He has a long nose, big teeth, and legs that look like tree trunks! He cracks a whip just like the Abuelos!"

The other kids nodded. Maybe Lupe was telling the truth.

"If you saw him, show him to us," Carlos said. "Let's go to the river right now."

"Yeah," one of his friends said, "let's play hooky."

"How about it, Lupe?" Carlos asked.


Excerpted from My Land Sings by Rudolfo Anaya, Amy Córdova. Copyright © 1999 Rudolfo Anaya. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Lupe and la Llorona,
The Three Brothers,
Doña Sebastiana,
The Shepherd Who Knew the Language of Animals,
The Fountain of Youth,
The Lost Camel,
The Miller's Good Luck,
Sipa's Choice,
Coyote and Raven,
A Biography of Rudolfo Anaya,

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