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La Estrellita
Paulette Atencio

One of my favorite stories while growing up was "Little Star", also known as La Estrellita.

To me, it has always been the Spanish version of the "Cinderella" fairy tale.

Many years ago, there lived a kind and humble man. He was a hard worker, and his life had been blessed with happiness. He had a beautiful wife and a daughter who loved him dearly. One day, the wife became sick and, within a few weeks, died. The poor man was left alone to raise his young daughter. She was very kind and showed due respect for her elders. Years passed by and the young girl realized how lonely her father was. She proved that someday he would find a kind lady whom he could marry.

There was a widow, raising two daughters, who lived nearby. She pretended to be kind and generous to her young neighbor. She combed the little girl's hair and even made a pretty dress with a matching bow for her. The little girl pleaded with her father to marry this wonderful lady. It made all the sense in the world to her. Both adults were alone and in need of companionship. Together, they could all become a family again.

After several months, the two were married. Things were fine for a few weeks, but with three more mouths to feed, the father was forced to leave home to work as a sheepherder. He had not been gone more than two days when the stepmother began to show her true nature. She slept all day and refused to do any work. The stepsisters were worse. The kind young girl did not understand. She blamed herself and decided that if she did everything for them, they, in turn, would be happy and wouldn't be so mean to her. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The harder she worked, the more demands they placed on her.

One day, they received a letter from the young girl's father with some money for all of them. Part of the money was intended to purchase a sheep. Immediately, they bought the sheep and slaughtered it. The stepmother ordered the young girl to go wash the tripitas (intestines) in the river. The tripitas would be used to prepare chonguitos (Mexican sausage).

The stepmother yelled, "Don't lose even one of them, I want them as clean as possible! If you mess up, you'll land up in the chicken coop with nothing but grain to eat".

The step sisters laughed. The kind young girl packed a piece of bread and a jar of water and went to the river to begin working. She was almost finished when she dropped one of the intestines into the river. She panicked and ran along the river with a stick in hopes of recovering the intestine. She was crying so hard that she couldn't see where she was going. Suddenly, amidst a great cloud of smoke, la viejita de la buena suerte (the little old lady of good luck) appeared.

In a soft voice, she spoke to the young girl. "Please don't cry."

"Oh!", said the young girl, "you don't know what my stepmother will do to me if I go home with one less intestine."

At that moment, the old lady handed her the lost intestine. The young girl hadn't felt such happiness in a long time.

"How can I ever repay you?", asked the young girl.

The old lady smiled and asked her for some food. The young girl gave her the piece of bread and some of the water she had brought to the river. Before the young girl left, the old lady touched her forehead and said goodbye.

When the girl walked into the kitchen, her stepmother began to scream. She demanded to know how she had gotten the beautiful little star on her forehead. The girl had no idea what the stepmother was talking about. Suddenly, the stepmother tried to remove the star. Instead of coming off, the little star shone brighter and made the young girl more beautiful. From that day on, she was known as Estrellita (Little Star).

The stepmother eventually discovered what actually happened down by the river. Instead of being angry, she decided to send her own daughters, in hopes that they might have the same luck. They grudgingly complied and took some fresh tripitas down to the river. When they got there, they pretended to lose some of the tripitas. They also pretended to cry, muttering under their breath, "That old lady better hurry! We don't have all day! " Just then, the old lady appeared and returned the tripitas. Instead of thanking the old lady, the ugly daughters replied, It's about time!" The old lady asked for food but received nothing from them. They both insisted that she touch their foreheads. The old lady did so, and off went the girls. They walked back with an air of confidence, sure that all had gone well.

When they arrived home, their mother became hysterical. Estrellita sat there in shock. The two daughters believed that their newfound beauty was causing all the commotion. They found a mirror with which to admire themselves and soon let out piercing screams! Instead of beautiful stars imprinted on their foreheads, one had a horn and the other had a donkey's ear! The stepmother tried in vain to remove the ugly horn and ear, but it only caused them to grow longer.

Meanwhile, a very young and handsome man had been elected as Governor of the state. He invited everyone to attend the Governor's Ball. The stepmother and her daughters were excited and spent days getting ready. Finally, the evening arrived and the stepmother and her daughters left in great haste. Estrellita did not have a dress or shoes to wear, but she decided to follow them to the ball. She stood outside, looking through the window. Everyone was dancing to the wonderful music. People were so light on their feet that they seemed to float in the beautiful rhythm. Oh, what great joy the music brings to the people of this land, she thought. Suddenly, the music stopped. Everyone was talking, pointing in her direction. "What is shining so brightly? It is blinding us," the voices said. Estrellita realized that all the attention was focused on her star, and she ran all the way home.

Her stepmother and stepsisters were furious. The dance had come to an end soon after. The Governor heard of the beautiful Estrellita. He and several other men went to her house. When they arrived, they found her crying in her room. One of the men encouraged her to come out. As soon as she stood up and took a couple of steps forward, there was a flash. With every step Estrellita took, her appearance changed. The tattered clothes turned into a gorgeous gown with matching shoes. The little star on her forehead shone like a diamond. She had never felt more beautiful. The young Governor could not believe his eyes. He loved her from the first moment he saw her! He knew that soon they would marry. The stepmother and her daughters fell on their knees, begging for forgiveness. Estrellita, filled with so much love, patience, and understanding, placed her hand on the forehead of each sister. At that moment, something magical happened! The horn and the donkey ear disappeared from their foreheads and the sisters were transformed into gentle and kind ladies. Estrellita sent for her father. He arrived just in time to walk his beautiful Estrellita down the aisle!

Paulette Atencio
Chama, New Mexico

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