Written by, Enrique Lamadrid
Professor Lamadrid (Ph.D. University of Southern California) is a Professor of Spanish and former director of Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies. His teaching and research interests include Southwest Hispanic and Latin American folklore and folk music, Chicano literature, and literary recovery projects. His research on the Indo-Hispanic traditions of New Mexico charts the influence of indigenous cultures on the Spanish language and imagination. His literary writings explore the borderlands between cultures, their natural environments, and between popular traditions and literary expression.
Allí viene amaneciendo, There comes the dawn,
yo sigo trabajando I keep on working
para mantener to take care of
lo que yo quiero tanto. what I love so much.
-“Canto a la acequia” – David García y amigos
When we are born, our mother literally gives us the light. “Da luz,” we say in the language of our Iberian forebears. As soon as our eyes are accustomed to the brilliance, we memorize the features of her face. As we rise to walk upon the earth, we transpose her profile to those first intimate horizons: a house, cottonwoods by a river, an acequia, a field, a road, a distant line of hills beyond. Because we are human we see faces in the rocks. Clouds are animate visitors to this realm. Trees lift up their arms to greet them as they pass. The river at their feet is a messenger who sings of life and distant oceans. Drink from this stream and you are destined to return to its waters.
Querencia is the place of returning, the center space of desire, the wellspring of belonging and yearning to belong, a destination overflowing with life but suitable to die in, that vicinity where you first beheld the light. The place of birth or re-birth. Querencia is remembrance of harmony, a longing so profound even trees and stones share in its emotion: “Los palos, las piedras lloran / por verme salir cautiva.” In the old ballads of exile and captivity, a compassionate landscape is moved to tears by human suffering. “Este valle de lágrimas, this valley of tears” is the place of our pain and redemption, of the prayers we offer to the mother of pain.
In an arid land, home is always by the water. In the most primordial sense, Nuevo Mexico is P’osoge, the Río Bravo, Río del Norte, the great river that cuts its verdant course through the desert. Since all human beings need to be by the water, the banks of this river are by definition a contested space. The Españoles arrived with all the fury and suppressed desire of the Spanish peasant to possess the land and its waters. The price of arrogance was paid in blood in 1680 when the Río Grande Pueblos arose and reclaimed their heritage. When settlers returned in 1693, they were already calling themselves Españoles Mexicanos. In an alliance of necessity with the Pueblos, they all defended their valleys from the new lords of the land, los Comanches, los Apaches, los Yutas. Captives were taken by all sides in the conflict and an economy of slavery emerged. Human beings in trade were worth more than livestock, more than the produce of the land. In the space of a few mestizo generations, the newcomers who sought title to the land were instead possessed by the land. As they became Nuevomexicanos, indigenous to this place, the boundaries of the Campo Santo, the Sacred Ground, spread past the narrow church yard and the bones of the dead towards valleys, plains, and mountains beyond. Tierra sagrada.
In the center of this sacred landscape are the native and mestizo peoples who have survived the rigors of the northern desert and the cost of each other’s desire. They are dancing. From Taos to El Paso del Norte they step in unison to the insistent but gentle music of drums and rattles, guitars and violins. Two intertwined traditions of Indo-Hispano danza emerged. The Matachines reconcile the spiritual conflicts of colonization. The Comanches honor the fierce struggles of our history and remember its victims and survivors, los Comanchitos. Both are rituals from which our communities draw their strength and desire to defend their heritage. Acequia culture is built in this bedrock.
Se defiende lo que se ama, You defend what you love
se ama lo que se entiende, you love what you understand,
se aprecia lo que se enseña. to appreciate what you are taught.
Amar es aprender a defender. To love is to learn to defend
– Estevan Arellano
El agua no se vende,
el agua se defiende.
¡que vivan las acequias!
Note: In this continuing series of cultural sketches, Olivia Romo, NMAA and Enrique Lamadrid invite readers to submit poetry and cultural documentation of the rituals of water.