Fuerte River Histories and Ambivalent Mayo Modernity in Mexico, 1926-1970
Mestaz, James V
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This dissertation shows how some Mayo indigenous people of the Fuerte Valley in northwest Mexico accepted irrigation infrastructure into their practices as a way to extend their symbolic connection to the Fuerte River from 1926 to 1970. For generations the Mayo performed religious rituals to pay homage to the Fuerte River for providing irrigation water. Non-Mayo developmentalist strategies limited access to the river system that represented the unifying source of Mayo culture. The uses of dams, pumps, sugarcane cooperatives, and canals allowed some Mayos to both increase crop productivity and protect lands necessary for performing riverine religious traditions that were vital to their cultural autonomy. Such uses of hydraulic technologies reflected an indigenous worldview and knowledge systems that allowed Mayos to engage the modern world while they protected traditions. Mayos used all technologies at their disposal from the mid-1920s through 1960s to defend their way of life, villages, and to survive. In the arid Fuerte Valley, access to irrigation water became increasingly synonymous with power throughout the twentieth century. The opening of political spaces in the postrevolutionary period allowed some Mayos to leverage tangible benefits such as irrigation and land concessions. The inability of other indigenous people of the Fuerte Valley to gain such advantages showed that some villagers were more prepared than others to adapt to changes in the political and physical landscape. The diversity of Mayo approaches to hydraulic technology resulted in numerous river histories reflecting the distinct obstacles, aspirations, and strategies of indigenous villages of the Fuerte Valley. It was in fact these divergent tactics in dealing with changes to the Fuerte River that allowed some Mayos to help shape local hydraulic development while their culture adapted in order to survive.