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Hundreds Gather for Congreso de las Acequias in Taos

Mentees honor their acequia mentors. Congreso atendees were also invited to take a blue ribbon to give to someone important who has passed down acequia and farming traditions to them. Photo via NMAA

By Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director

The coffee was ready by 7:30am. Farmers and ranchers, who are inclined to be early birds, started arriving before 8:00am for on-site registration for the Congreso de las Acequias, the annual membership meeting of the New Mexico Acequia Association. Soon after, the conference room started to come to life with Las Mañanitas, the traditional mexican ballad that welcomes the day. On an early Saturday morning in Taos, nearly 400 acequia parciantes and supporters from across the state gathered for the Congreso de las Acequias, which was also the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the New Mexico Acequia Association. The previous day, Friday afternoon, the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District hosted a tour of local acequia projects that would contribute to the long-term viability of irrigated agriculture in the Taos Valley. 

As is customary, the official start of the Congreso was Canción de las Acequias, a song written by David García, Roger Montoya, and Cipriano Vigil, which has become the anthem of the New Mexico Acequia Association. A collective of musicians, led by David García and Jeremías Martínez, and which included former Lt. Governor Roberto Mondragon, performed music throughout the day. In the Bendición de las Aguas, waters from acequias and rivers throughout the state were shared and mixed together with a prayer for the well-being of families and communities and for protection of waters that are believed to be a don divino or divine gift. 

The Congreso de las Acequias is the gathering and governing body of the New Mexico Acequia Association. As a federational body of regional delegations, one of the important moments in the annual convening is the roll call of regions which illustrates the statewide scope of the acequia community in New Mexico. While the gathering is infused with culture from the very beginning, the Congreso is very much a meeting of governance, where leaders come together and affirm their core values and to make collective decisions that form the basis for the policy positions and strategic directions. 

The day included a moving tribute to the late Senator Carlos Cisneros including testimonials from important leaders in his district who spoke of his commitment, work ethic, and the wit that so many of his friends and colleagues had grown fond of over the years. Esther García, former mayor of Questa and former commissioner on Cabresto Lake Irrigation Community Ditch, and Mary Mascareñas, long-time school board member for the Peñasco Independent Schools and former commissioner on Acequia del Llano de San Juan Nepumoceno, shared their memories of the Senator as a friend and as an advocate for rural communities. Musicians ended the tribute with a despedida, a traditional farewell ballad. 

Harold Trujillo, NMAA President, and Paula García, Executive Director, provided a retrospective of the NMAA’s 30 years of advocacy and contributions to the acequia movement in New Mexico. Special thanks was given to the Taos Valley Acequia Association as the first regional association to help form the Congreso de las Acequias as a statewide governing body. A timeline included some of the major milestones in acequia advocacy over the past thirty years, including important pieces of legislation and the founding dates of some of NMAA’s education and youth programs. Attendees were invited to add to the timeline with important dates from their own acequias.

A highlight of the day was a segment entitled, “Sharing Querencia Across Generations.” It was a time of recognition of both mentees and their mentors who have made a conscious effort to keep traditional knowledge alive across generations. The recognitions were an expression of gratitude by mentees for their mentors and an affirmation that the acequia tradition would continue for another generation. Chavela Trujillo of Abiquiu recognized her mom Isabel Trujillo, Juanita Revak from Jemez Springs recognized her father Gilbert Sandoval, Marcos Valdez recognized his mentor Kenny Salazar from La Mesilla, Zia Martinez recognized her mentor Lorenzo Candelaria, Nicanor Ortega recognized his mentor Miguel Santistevan, and Donne Gonzales recognized her mom Juliet Garcia-Gonzales. The heartfelt recognition illustrated the intergenerational nature of the acequia movement.

Other topics on the agenda included a youth mapping project with the Carson National Forest and presentations by participants in NMAA’s Sembrando Semillas youth project and Los Sembradores Farmer Training project. For some of the youth participants, the Congreso is one of the most important public speaking experiences of their young lives. It is part of NMAA’s leadership development work to include youth as speakers at the Congreso.

Another highlight of the day was a performance by renowned poet Olivia Romo, who shared a poem entitled “Fighting the Tragedy of the Commons” in which she critiques the privatization of communal waters of the acequias and pays homage to the elders who dedicate decades of their lives to defend water rights in the adjudication process. Her poem recognizes the work of the acequia leaders of the Rio de las Gallinas Acequia Association in the Las Vegas area who fought for fifty years to overturn a doctrine for the city to have an expanding water right and who continue to fight the fragmentation of their acequias.

Vibrant and spirited conversations took place during the lunch hour which was followed by an awards ceremony honoring two individuals who have likely spend the most years of their life directly involved with NMAA’s grassroots organizing and advocacy work. Harold Trujillo was honored as a co-founder of NMAA in 1989 and David Benavides was honored for his nearly 30 years of service as an attorney dedicated primarily to acequia water law. In the midst of the festivities, volunteers Martha Trujillo, Patrick Blumm, Olivia Romo, and Priscilla Romo worked the silent auction as an NMAA fundraiser.

The day concluded with the adoption of a series of resolutions that were proposed by NMAA’s regional delegates, leadership caucuses, and policy working group. Generally, NMAA’s resolutions express a policy statement or a proposal for a new programmatic direction. There were four policy resolutions addressing a range of issues including opposition to proposed exploratory mining in the upper Pecos watershed, support for expanding the use of a fund for acequia legal expenses, and details regarding the guidelines for the newly created Acequia Infrastructure Fund. Another resolution generated by caucuses involving youth and young adults urged NMAA to implement a project to document storytelling by community members and elders. All resolutions passed unanimously in large part due to the extensive participation in writing the resolutions well in advance of the Congreso.

The 30th Anniversary Celebration was a day to celebrate history and the passing of the torch to new generations. The event was a success with the teamwork of the NMAA staff and our much-appreciated volunteers. It will long live in the memories of those who were there. Que Vivan las Acequias!

Additional Photos:

Acequia roll call. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Bendición del Agua. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Concilio Member introductions. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Bendición del Agua. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Ofrenda. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire Times
Despedida to Carlos Cisneros. Photo via Seth Roffman/Green Fire times
Teatro Acequiero. Photo via NMAA
NMAA Sembrando Semillas youth program shares their visions for the future of their acequias. Photo via NMAA
NMAA 2019 Los Sembradores Farm Apprentices, and NMAA staff, share about their year. Photo via NMAA
Olivia Romo shares her poem ‘Fighting the Tragedy of the Commons’. Photo via NMAA
David Benavides (left) and Harold Trujillo (right) receive awards for their outstanding service to acequia communities. Photos via NMAA

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