Ask Dr. Sabelotodo: Xelaju

Dear Dr. Sabelotodo,
I don’t get it. The road signs read “Quetzaltenango,” but everyone tells me I’m in Xela. But if I’m in Xela, then why is the city’s anthem called Luna de Xela? Where am I really?
-Identity Crisis

Dear Identity Crisis,
In Pre-Columbian times, the Mam indigenous group called the city “Xelajú,” which was derived from “Xe laju’ noj,” meaning “under the ten mountains.” In the 1520’s, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado defeated and killed Tecum Uman and renamed the city “Quetzaltenango” – meaning “the place of the quetzal bird” – a Nahuatl name used by his Central Mexican indigenous allies. Thereafter, Quetzaltenango became the city’s official name, but locals, especially the indigenous, usually refer to it as Xelajú, in deference to their ancestors, or Xela for short.

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