Friday, December 27, 2013


When I go to the Yucatán next month it is quite likely that somewhere I will hear my favorite Yucatecan song, a song that is still dear to the hearts of the people of Yucatán even though it was written 90 years ago... "Peregrina".

This beautiful ballad is even more poignant because of the history behind it.  In my last post I mentioned the Yucatecan governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the reformer who sought to improve the lives of the downtrodden Mayan people.  Carrillo Puerto is also at the center of one of the most famous love stories in Mexican history.  The object of his love was an American journalist named Alma Reed.  Alma Reed worked for a newspaper in San Francisco.  Her articles frequently exposed injustices committed against the Mexican immigrants in California.  Her work drew the attention of Mexican President Alvaro Obregón, and in 1922 he invited her to visit Mexico.  As a part of her tour, she traveled to the state of Yucatán where she met the new governor, Carrillo Puerto.  He escorted her throughout the state, and the two quickly fell in love.  He proposed marriage, and as an engagement present he had the lyricist Luis Vega and the composer Ricardo Palmerín write a love song in her honor.  Thus was born "Peregrina"

(image from the web)
Governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Alma Reed

The two of them traveled to San Francisco to meet Alma's parents, and they gave their blessing to the marriage.  Felipe returned to the Yucatán, and Alma was to return in three weeks for the wedding.  They were never to see each other again.  The wealthy landowners who opposed the governor's land reforms instigated his assassination.

Alma continued her work as a journalist, and was also a noted patron of the arts.  She brought the famous Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco to the attention of art lovers in the United States.  She eventually returned to Mexico to live.  She died in Mexico City in 1966 and was buried near her beloved Felipe in a cemetery in Mérida, Yucatán.

Here are the lyrics of the song with my translation (my apologies for being less poetic and for taking liberties with some of the more obscure words.).

Peregrina, de ojos claros y divinos
y mejillas encendida de arrebol,
mujercita de los labios purpurinos
y radiante cabellera como el sol.

(Pilgrim, of light colored, divine eyes
and cheeks enflamed with a red glow,
little woman of scarlet lips
and radiant tresses like the sun.)

Peregrina, que dejaste tus lugares
los abetos y la nieve, y la nieve virginal,
y viniste a refugiarte en mis palmares
bajo el cielo de mi tierra, de mi tierra tropical.

(Pilgrim, who left behind her places,
the fir trees and the snow, the virginal snow,
and came to take refuge in my palm groves
under the sky of my land, my tropical land.)

Las canoras, avecillas de mis prados,
por cantarte dan sus trinos si te ven,
y las flores de nectarios perfumados
te acarician y te besan en los labios y en la sien.

(The songbirds, little birds of my meadows,
if they see you give their trills to sing to you,
and the flowers of perfumed nectar
caress you and kiss you on the lips and the temple.)

Cuando dejes mis palmares y mi sierra,
Peregrina de semblante encantador,
no te olvides, no te olvides de mi tierra,
no te olvides, no te olvides de mi amor.

(When you leave behind my palm groves and my mountains,
Pilgrim of enchanting face,
do not forget, do not forget my land,
do not forget, do not forget my love.)

I searched YouTube for a good performance of the song.  The best was sung by Plácido Domingo at an outdoor concert given in 2008 at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itzá.

If you would like to listen to this beautiful song, here is the link...

La Peregrina sung by Plácido Domingo


  1. What a beautiful story. Except for the assassination, of course.


    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we are visiting our dear, old mother.

    1. Yes, but the tragedy of Carrillo Puerto's death makes the song all the more touching. Supposedly, at the time of her death, Alma was writing her memoirs to be made into a movie, but the manuscript was never found.

      Saludos, y feliz Año Nuevo,