Interviewed and written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff
“The Acequia does not let me want for nothing! The acequia feeds our friendships, people, animals and crops. You don’t have to work hard at it just make yourself available for the land and your neighbor and the acequia will continue to take care of us!”
-Cordelia Coronado 84 years old, Parciante of Acequia del Rio Chama
Cordelia Coronado was born on January 8th 1933 in the Chama Valley to Agueda Martinez and Eusebio Martinez. Eusebio was originally from Chimayo of the greater Ortega weaving family and Agueda learned her weaving skills from the Ortega’s. Agueda supported her family by selling her woven goods and subsistence farming. Eusebio was a school teacher for many years until 1945 when he became the Post Master in Medanales, NM where he moved his family and they began their new life. Agueda taught all her daughters how to weave and became a nationally renowned weaver who was featured in National Geographic and Smithsonian Museum. Agueda has been acknowledged as the matriarch of the weaving community in Northern New Mexico as she continued this cultural tradition of weaving and passed it on to all of her daughters. Cordelia was one of ten children in the Martinez household who farmed all summer and wove all winter.
Cordelia is now 84 years old now and has eight children of her own who live within walking distance of her home and family farm. They continue to work together, weave, and carry on a long cultural tradition in the sacred Chama valley.
What is the history of your acequia community, as you know it (or as you’ve been told)?
La Acequia del Rio Chama was first used and dug between the years 1702-1714 according to archival and acequia records. When I was growing up in the valley I remember the large gathering of the neighbors and relatives to gather the harvest! Anywhere between 20 to 30 people would go from one house to the other to till and plant with horses, thresh wheat by hand, and husk corn. It was such a special time as a young girl and one of my favorite memories was harvesting corn in the fields. Our elders would hide a watermelon between the rows of corn and whoever got to the watermelon first got to keep it! Our people have always worked so closely together and helped one another but not so much these days. A few weeks ago we had our acequia meeting and nobody can afford to give up their time to be Mayordomo. You see, back then people were working for staples, not money. It worries me that I am the second oldest in the community and can barely find anyone to help me for pay. However, I am incredibly blessed to have children who come help me every weekend and as new people have come into the community there is interest to get involved with our acequia.
What kinds of crops does your acequia community grow?
We grow everything except head lettuce because of the heat. Corn, beans, squash, and melons do well in our valley. Last year I and three other farmers formed a food co-op with the help of the Center of Southwest Culture out of Albuquerque. The center helped us with seeds, soil testing, crop growth and marketing our produce. With their help we learned how to nurture our soil to keep it more productive, weigh and package our produce, and get assistance in taking it to the Ghost Ranch Conference Center for the farmers market. I have learned so much through this process and mostly the hard way but now I have very healthy soil and a strong crop every year! I have cultivated and protected a very special heirloom Chimayo chile seed that I got from my family. The seed grows best in the Chama Valley and I have people coming from all over the North to buy my crop!
What traditions and practices does your acequia community maintain? (Food and agriculture, limpia, etc.)
Next weekend we will clean the ditch and every parciante will send 1 worker per 10 acres. People come from the neighboring community to clean the acequia and we are hoping to have water as soon as possible! When that water is flowing that is the greatest feeling in the world.
Our community has a yearly Dia de San Yisidro celebration in which we choose a different farmers field every year that we will gather at to pray and celebrate. San Antonio is our Patron Saint and in the good ol’ days they blessed people fields after a procession of at least 4-5 miles long! At the end of the procession one farmer world open his farm and we would have a huge fiesta with a potluck and where the musicians from our church choir would sing and play music all day! We are all one human family and no matter where you come from if you are here we can all eat, plant, and celebrate together on this day and every day!
What is your irrigation season? (Time frame)
Acequia del Rio de Chama irrigation seasons starts now in the latter part of March and then we run all the way until the end of October. We close it up in the winters now because the Gophers make holes everywhere!
What are your commissioners and mayordomos doing this time of year?
We have very active commissioners who frequently apply for funding through our legislature, and persue grants for infrastructure repairs. Normally it is not a big load because we have a strong board and about 52 members. When I was younger, there was fewer people but with more acreage. We recently have had a big influx of new comers from California, Arizona etc., but it is important to remember that everyone is a part of this human family and their participation and influence is what will help the community and acequias to survive! I have had people from Peru and Ugondad join me at my table and people from all around the world. Did you know that we all have the same problems, wants, joys? We are all the same! It is our leaders that are turning everything upside down. People all over the world have grown the same foods but prepare it differently. They share the same values of the land or a late ancestor once did and we cannot forget that! So I share my food with them because if you don’t have anyone to share the food you grow with it just doesn’t taste good.
What makes your acequia special?
The acequia is the glue; it’s what keeps a community together. Even if we don’t see each other every day I know that my neighbors are here for me if I need them. It is the glue that keeps the people together because it feeds the friendships, people, animals and crops. You don’t have to work hard at it, just be yourself and be available and the acequia will take care of us. I go to the store once a month if I am lucky just for coffee and sugar but my freezer keeps me going through the winter until I start filling it again in the summer. The acequia doesn’t let me want for nothing, I go outside and farm and have all the means to cook. Because of the acequias I have lived a very rich life and am very blessed. I know where my food comes from and I am thankful and want to teach others about where it comes from, honor and give thanks to our water and mother earth and all she provides for us.
Great interview! I have known Cordelia Coronado and her family for many years and I never knew she had roots in the Chimayo weaving tradition. Cordelia and her family have been excellent teachers by the example they set. Reading about someone like Cordelia is inspiring and gives us the energy to want to continue farming and assisting our Acequia community.