Talking New Mexico

My husband and I were fortunate to spend most of our summer in New Mexico this year. We stayed in Santa Fe, Taos and the Albuquerque area, where my husband’s family lives. We also drove far north, which we usually don’t have the time to do, visiting the picturesque mountain town of Chama and the wilds of the Carson National Forest.

As a language person, I love seeing and hearing Spanish words used every day in New Mexico. Some people who visit New Mexico don’t necessarily know the Spanish words key to the local culture, so today I’ll share a few that I’ve learned about over the years. If you go to New Mexico, make sure to keep your eyes and ears open for these Spanish words!


National Geographic tells us that “(t)here are close to 700 functioning acequias in New Mexico, according to the state’s Acequia Commission, and a score more in Colorado. Many of these gravity-fed ditches that bring runoff from the mountains to the fields have been operating for three centuries, and some were likely dug long before that.” Local farmers and homeowners depend on these acequias to irrigate crops and gardens. If you have property with an acequia, you likely pay an annual fee to be part of the system in your neighborhood. Land with an acequia is like gold in these dry parts of the Southwest.

This acequia is in the village of Corrales, just north of Albuquerque.


On the subject of acequias, the mayordomo is an important person within a community with these irrigation ditches. This individual oversees the maintenance and fair use of the acequia. People often take turns in the role. The mayordomo interfaces with community members, property owners and local government to make sure everything runs smoothly, with fair use for everyone with water rights. A well-known account of a mayordomo in Northern New Mexico is chronicled in the book “Mayordomo” by Stanley Crawford.

This mayordomo is opening the sluice gate to let water into the main stream.


Without water, we wouldn’t have chile! Whether you prefer red or green, a typical meal in New Mexico isn’t complete without it. Note that it’s spelled “chile”, and not “chili,” which is the chili stew with beans, meat, and vegetables you’d get in neighboring Texas.

This chile is turning from green to red.


When it comes to art in New Mexico, you’ll find paintings, sculptures, music, theater…and one of the most traditional art forms is the carved wooden “santo”, or saint. Some santos are plain wood, and others are painted with brighter colors. Santos can be three dimensional statues or simple wooden wall hangings with a picture of a saint. The Harwood Museum in Taos has a gorgeous collection of santos by Patrociño Barela. His simple, deeply thoughtful works are considered to reflect the universal human condition.

This collection of santos is in a home.


A portal is a covered porch, with the overhang usually supported by large wooden beams. It’s a classic feature of most New Mexican homes, even if the home is a modern one. It’s the place to be on a hot day with your lemonade or beer!

This building in Santa Fe has a portál along the front.

Are there any words you’ve wondered about during a trip to New Mexico? Let me know and I’ll answer your questions!

Images courtesy of Yes Magazine, the Santa Fe New Mexican, Archaeology Southwest, KUNM and On the Luce.

Published by Alison Trujillo

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