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Alburquerque is Anaya’s exploration of the ethnically and culturally diverse world of New Mexico in the 1990’s. The book focuses on the conflict between the heritage of the past and the challenges to it posed by economic growth unscrupulously promoted by developers and politicians. In its structure, the novel parallels a young man’s search for the identity of his father to the city’s search for a sense of community amid divisive political and ethnic tensions. Anaya’s spelling of the city’s name in the title reflects the city’s history; according to legend, a gringo stationmaster dropped the first “r” from the town’s name “in a move,” Anaya says, “that symbolized the emasculation of the Mexican way of life.”

Near death from cancer, Cynthia Johnson, a highly respected New Mexico painter, sends for Abrán González, a former Golden Gloves boxing champion who is now a college student, telling him that he is the son she gave up for adoption twenty-one years ago. Intensely proud of his Mexicanness and of the culture of the Barelas barrio where he was reared by his adoptive parents, Abrán is shocked to learn that he has an Anglo mother and naturally wants to know who his father is. By the time he arrives at the hospital, however, Cynthia is too weak to speak, and she dies without revealing the identity of her lover, a secret she confided to no one, not even her parents. Abrán turns for help and companionship to Lucinda Córdova, a nurse who had been close to Cynthia during her final days and to whom he is deeply attracted. Together, they begin a search for the identity of Abrán’s father.

This quest takes Abrán first to one of Cynthia’s high school classmates, Frank Dominic, who is now a wealthy lawyer running for mayor on a platform of legalized gambling and commercial development. Dominic promises to use his resources to find Abrán’s father, but only if Abrán agrees to return to the ring for a fight to be held as a part of an elaborate celebration Dominic has scheduled to kick off his campaign.

Drawn into the orbit of power, Abrán succumbs—but only once—to the charms of the present mayor, Marisa Martínez, a beautiful and highly capable woman whose election was in large part the result of Cynthia’s support. Unaware of Abrán’s intimacy with Marisa, Lucinda takes him to northern New Mexico to meet her parents in the small village where they live. Dominic, furious when he learns that Abrán has broken training, arranges for Lucinda to be told about Abrán’s infidelity, causing Lucinda to break off their relationship.

Additional complication results from Dominic’s attempts to convince the Indian pueblos to sell their water rights to supply enough water for the canals envisioned in his urban development plan. Abrán’s friend Jose Calabasa has returned to his pueblo to try to dissuade the council from selling out, but he is unsuccessful. Discouraged and depressed, he awakens after a two-day binge to learn that it is the day of Abrán’s fight. Having promised to be there, Jose rushes back to Albuquerque. After a series of wildly comic adventures, he learns that a lawyer from Santa Fe has been trying to get in touch with Abrán about one of Cynthia’s paintings, which may depict Abrán’s father. Jose remembers having seen the painting at the house of Ben Chávez, a writer and teacher at the university who was another of Cynthia’s high school classmates. Rushing there, Jose confronts Ben, who admits to being Abrán’s father. Hoping to reveal Ben’s secret to Abrán and make it unnecessary for him to...

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go through with the fight, Jose rushes to the convention center where the fight is being held. Lucinda, having talked with Marisa and forgiven Abrán, is also rushing to the convention center. She arrives to find that Jose has been badly beaten trying to get to Abrán. As he is being taken to a waiting ambulance, Jose manages to tell Lucinda that Ben Chávez is Abrán’s father.

Yet the match has already started, and Abrán is taking a bad beating. It is not until the end of the ninth round that Lucinda is able to make her way to ringside, where she is joined by Ben, and together they tell Abrán the truth. Still, he decides to continue the fight although he no longer needs Dominic’s help. Inspired by the discovery of his father’s identity and the return of Lucinda, Abrán makes an incredible comeback, knocking out his opponent in the tenth round and giving the people of Albuquerque the hero they need. Dominic’s plans to change the city collapse, and both Abrán and the city have found who they really are.