La Saca y la Limpia: Some Thoughts on a Springtime Practice, Ritual and Rite of Passage  

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by Dabi García, Promotor Cultural

Ya vamos a la acequia
A la acequia van todos
Agarra ya la pala
Para limpiar el bordo

La primavera brings with it the sights and sounds of work crews and officials walking the easements of locals acequias. The workers file into a line inside the acequia canal and the Mayordoma/o or rayador mark the individual work duties or tareas. The peones with palas, chainsaws and rakes clear debris and remove silt, sand, rocks, and cut back and burn overgrown grasses and jaras that have impeded the canal since last year. The purpose of this work is to have a clean and clear pathway so that the main diversion point headgate can be opened and water can be brought into the community. In some acequia communities this spring time practice is called la limpia which involves removing debris. There is also a more labor intensive form called la saca that describes the digging out of the sand and silt from the causeway of the water.                                                              
These work days on many acequias are traditionally understood as tequios or work days for the benefit of the community. The tequio focused on community cooperation and mutual aid. The word tequio comes originally from the nahuatl languages of mesoamerica meaning communal labor or tribute. In many NM acequia communities parciantes or members were expected to send laborers on the days of the saca. This was often seen as a rite of passage as it was often the first public job younger men were to take up in their community. It served as a rite of passage as their status into adulthood was marked by their work contributing to the wellbeing of the cohesion of the placita. If the family did not have kin who could fulfill this responsibility they could contract with a day laborer or peón.
Women also had the duty on these days of providing meals for the workers. 

During the 1930s as men left New Mexico as migrant workers to the neighboring states of Wyoming, Utah, California and Colorado many women took up the management of the farms. They often were tasked to contract out peones to clean the main acequias. However, during this time, as the men were away, women often took up the responsibility to clean their own family’s lateral ditches or enfrentes and prepare and tend to kitchen gardens near the resolana of the home as well as in some cases the larger fields. In addition to these responsibilities the communal construction work of replastering which was also a tequio and structural maintenance on the home was often the role of women. The 1930’s saw a shift in gender roles on the ranchitos as women who did a majority or oversaw the management of subsistence agriculture as well as animal herding were known during this era prior to WWII as las mujerotas or strong women. Today many women hold positions within acequias as Commissioners and Mayordomas. In some communities, the space of the Limpia in some communities is becoming desegregated as women also participate in this springtime ritual. 

Today the practice of the community limpia is waning as acequias with limited resources have difficulty contracting day laborers. In some areas the acequia officials have opted to commercially contract out this work to firms who use machinery such as tractors and backhoes. As this occurs the connection the community has with each other and  to the natural world around them also wanes. The importance involved in the tequio is not only physical labor or economical, it also involves a communal spiritual practice which is essential for community health. Its key is to contextualize these practices as movement, cleansing, prayer as well as communitas and conviviality among neighbors as a rite of passage for younger members to contribute to the maintenance of the cultural commons and becoming adults on their way towards becoming acequia citizens or parciantes.                            

Typically, these practices happen during the same time that religious observances of la cuaresma or lent, where the community and individuals are focused on the preparation for Good Friday and Easter. Often it is a time of solemnity, fasting, purification and or cleansing. At the start of lent with Ash Wednesday rites we are reminded that our bodies are of the earth and will return to the Earth. Throughout the Americas as with many acequia communities beliefs and practices go beyond the orthodoxy of the Church and encompass aspects of animism that the natural world is understood as a living extension of the body. Acequias are seen as channels of life bringing energy. The limpia is a practice that clears away the obstructions and hindrances of the life forces that flow and bring substance to the people. It’s a preparation clearing the pathways for energy for rebirth.
It is interesting to ponder the parallel to the Chicana/o/x and Indo Hispano Religious and spiritual practices of curanderismo that also has a practice called la limpia. In this context la limpia is energy work grounded in preparation and clearing the channels of the individual’s body, mind and spirit of ill will, and negative energy. In the acequia it is the same as workers clear out the irrigation channel for the water, the lifeblood of the community. The acequia is an extension of our own bodies and the connection with the land and its body. It is in this aspect that the limpia has an important role in the cohesion of the community. It ties us together and as we work together we share the sweat of our brow with our vecinas/os/xs. In working together we are not alone as the dicho states, entre más manos el trabajo es menos



Commissioners and Mayordomos, here are aspects to think about as your community holds its annual limpia.

  1. Affirm the cultural significance of your work. Share intentions, prayers, teach the young people the ritual, honor and dignity of this work and its importance in the identity and values of our communities.                                
  2. Know that acequia officials and workcrews have a legal right to pass their through customary easements. State law says that the width of the easement must be adequate to allow for reasonable maintenance, use, and improvements to the ditch. The easement carries with it the right to access the entire length of the ditch, to maintain and use the ditch in a reasonable manner, and to make reasonable improvements. Disputes can sometimes be avoided by informing parciantes and landowners prior to spring cleaning. (See NMAA Governance Handbook)                                                                                                                                                             
  3. During Spring Cleaning some disputes arise due to confusion about the official duties of the cleaning crew. Generally, during the spring cleaning, the cleaning crew should remain together. Individual peones should be discouraged from walking along the acequia unless on official acequia business. (See NMAA Governance Handbook)                                                                                                                                                                  
  4. Commissioner/ Mayordomos: Wear clothing that signals your status or bring a copy of your bylaws or letters to distribute to property owners whose land the easements pass through.   
  5. Maintain a safe work environment for workers: a) assess job sites beforehand to gauge risk, b) make sure workers are trained and able to use tools and, c) make sure workers have proper protective gear, i.e. eye protection, face masks, gloves, sunblock, and hats.  
  6. Have an emergency plan in case of emergency dealing with workers: Have emergency contacts at hand. Provide the work team a well prepared first aid kit, (crossing fence lines and barbed wire are a potential risk for infection) and and finally have plenty of water for your workers.


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