Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water
University of New Mexico Press, 220 pages
For several reasons, Estévan Arellano’s recent book, Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water, can only be described as a tour de force. Foremost is the author’s depth of knowledge of his native watershed. This knowledge is centered on the many streams born of springs and snowmelt, which flow together to comprise the upper Río Embudo watershed and its nearly 40 major acequias. Through the acequias’ diversion and channeling of the río’s waters to fertile bottomlands, they successfully irrigate the traditional agricultural holdings of Arellano’s ancestors in La Junta, near Embudo.
Secondly, Arellano manages to integrate into an already complex tapestry a wealth of knowledge regarding every other aspect of regional northern New Mexican life that has had a bearing on the acequias and local agriculture. As a result, he brings into sharp focus land-settlement patterns, family histories, legal documents governing the use of the land and water, as well as the relentless tides of history that shape and reshape the landscape and its hydrology.
One learns about the Laws of the Indies that prescribed the layout of “New World” Spanish settlements that, in northern New Mexico, were a reflection of peninsular Spanish, Criollo (“New World Spanish”) and Mexican Tlaxcalan Indian components. One also learns about Pueblo Indian resistance to the “Spanish” settlement of the Embudo watershed, of the two varieties of corn most commonly grown here before the American period, together with innumerable other pertinent facts that increase our understanding and appreciation for this historic place from the point of view of a critical native thinker.
Thirdly, the book takes on the world and many other outstanding examples of waterworks akin to acequias, all the way from the Indus Valley of India, Jericho and Yemen, where it is thought the agricultural revolution took place nearly 9,000 years ago and where acequias may have had their beginnings, all the way to southern Spain, the highlands of Perú and central México. What is more remarkable is that in the midst of conducting this captivating grand tour of the world’s most impressive, ancient irrigation systems, Arellano, like a good New Mexican, invites you into his home, his family and his heart and shares with you not only his most intimate insights regarding the wisdom of the land and his knowledge of the water but also his own sense of cultural identity as a Chicano. It is clear from all that he writes, the late Estévan Arellano was in love not only with the acequias of northern New Mexico and the water-transmission technologies of other parts of the world but also with the continuously adapting mestizo culture and people of his país, or homeland, upon which the acequias and their greening of the world depend if they are to endure.
– Alejandro López