EL AGUA ES LA VIDA A VILLAGE LIFE PORTRAIT
1992 - Present
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    In a region of ghosted presences, the remote Spanish Land Grant village of El Cerrito, New Mexico, has endured through centuries. This village life portrait is animated by the residents’ interdependence on water from the community irrigation ditch, or acequia. No one in El Cerrito remembers hearing of the acequia’s origins, lending to speculation that it was created by indigenous Americans who settled in this Pecos River Valley. Others believe its existence can be ascribed to the efforts of colonizing Franciscan priests, who were directed to establish two vital elements of village life—water and faith.
    Acequia also refers to a self-governing association of users that honors water as a community resource not as a commodity. For generations parciantes (water-rights holders) have shared in the responsibility of maintaining the waterway that feeds their families, orchards, gardens, fields, livestock, and watershed. They select a mayordomo (caretaker) to oversee the acequia’s maintenance, and who, in an almost religious involvement, directs the spring limpia (cleaning). In El Cerrito the limpia is the one social gathering outside the rare wedding and more common funeral for which extended family and curious students of traditional village life return.
    Seeing the universal in the specific, this exploration of El Cerrito’s survival provides insight into sustainability through cooperation. The availability of water looks to be the defining issue of our nascent century, and monetary considerations are strongly pressing rural residents to sell their water rights for urban development needs. Doing so would effectively sever the ties to the water and land that are a deeply cherished cultural component of this region’s agrarian communities. In resisting, villagers ensure the vitality of the Southwest’s oldest extant water system while reinforcing a universal truism:

El agua es la vida. Water is life.

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