|Dino, family shepherd dog in Agua Zarca|
In a previous blog (August 17), I wrote about Agua Zarca, the rancho located in Northern Jalisco about 15 minutes from Atolinga and the place of origin of a number of Mexican families who live in Monmouth. I described the movement back and forth between the two places as a common pattern for families of the area, including those who currently live in the US, who usually have one property or two and return once a year – often during the fiestas – to take care of land, renovations and relatives. Those family members who live permanently in Atolinga – like Chavo’s paternal grandparents--still own their rancho there in Agua Zarca.
|Entrance to the rancho of Agua Zarca (meaning "clear water" in English)|
Even before I even went to Jalisco, I talked to people from Monmouth about the rancho (it’s often used in the singular, emphasizing the mythic and nostalgic character ascribed to it). When I talked with children of emigrants from the rancho, I had a peculiar awareness that, even for those who were not born here, the space evokes deep cultural memories and quiet refuge (the line between comforting and boring was sometimes not clear, even during the fiestas). When I first wrote about the rancho in my earlier blog entry, I left much information undeveloped. Having read now spent a total of eight weeks in Jalisco, I feel I have a more complex understanding of the history, geography and myth of the rancho. I won't be able to discuss all my ideas here and my knowledge still lies far from complete; however, I can definitely say that it lies at the center of my questions about the configuration of land, power and identity in the region.
Ranchos are not unique to the North of Jalisco, but, rather, can be found all over Mexico and in the US. The word means different things in different contexts, but it generally can be used in two different ways. First, it connotes a small settlement or community of between 50 and 200 people. Second, it signifies a portion of land cultivated for agriculture or used for livestock.* In addition, the rancho is located in a remote and isolated rural space. Within this general sense, it indicates an individual property with a small adobe home on it, or the home along with corn or wheat fields and livestock (ganadería). Rancho dwellings are generally made of a brownish adobe with some bushes, rocks or trunks below ground to support the tile roofs, corrugated metal or cardboard (or a mix of all the above). There’s usually a corral for domestic animals like pigs, chicken and even large livestock. A photo of mine testifies to the fact that cow meander or sprint about the rancho using the paved road or the paths between houses. They may have ropes hanging from their necks, as if they'd busted out recently from their fenced-in area. They appear to be looking for sustenance and enjoying their freedom. From time to time, the shepherd dogs discipline them.
|Meandering cows in Agua Zarca|
I can't say much about the specific organization of the rancho in Agua Zarca yet, but will return to one of the photos from my earlier blog, showing Dino, the family shepherd dog, standing erect in front of a pile of rocks stacked intentionally to create a fence, or cerca around the property. A gate closes off the two sides of the cerca. One anthropologist** who studies the area notes that, during the colonial period, landholders distinguished between land for pasture (which was communal property "given by nature" and thus to be shared), and land for cultivation (not to be shared). Even around the time of the Mexican Revolution, there were few cercas or bardas in the area, in spite of the individualist spirit of rancheros mentioned in most the literature I've read.
The photo of Dino in front of the cerca helps me to recall the organization of the rancho space. Across the street from this house lies Chavo's uncle and aunt's property. In the context of the fiestas, this is where family members would congregate for fiestas and dinners. There are several distinct living areas on the property, as well as a garden and green lawn at the back of the house, leading to a separate dwelling with bathroom. Their daughter, her husband and their two daughters stayed here while visiting (the youngest daughter was baptized in Totatiche on the Sunday of my visit). Other visitors stay in the second bedroom inside the house.
One day during our visit, Tia lay out a sumptuous feast of tacos with adobo, beans and homemade cheese on the outside table. On a table inside the house, she put desserts. Chavo and I skipped right to the homemade cheesecake, then went back for tacos. There was also ample Corona. Don Luis seemed very proud of this reunion; four generations of family, separated and dispersed across two countries, came together on this property for this occasion. In Atolinga, he hired and transported a three-piece Huichol banda (fiddle, bass and guitar) in the maroon pick-up to the rancho to play requests (I will talk in more depth later about their relations with the mestizo population in the Atolinga/Totatiche area, a subject yielding substantial information about race, ethnic identity and socio-economic power in the area.
Ranchos are “vestiges of a tumultuous agrarian past,” writes another Mexican anthropologist.*** The property appears to be unfinished, since the property is composed of new additions as well as old adobe structures in ruins. This conjunto or ensemble gives the onlooker the impression of a “provisional and unfinished world”*** whose state of existence is in progress and construction ongoing and dream of completion constantly deferred. According to this same anthropologist, the constructions, grouped together with little "apparent" logic, are sometimes viewed by the outsider with contempt and scorn (especially in contrast to newer, urbanized spaces), appearing irrational and chaotic to the outsider (later note, dated November 6: in this sense, this outsider perception of the rancho is not too different from outsider ideas about the sociedad ranchera, as well as those community members who come home from the US for the fiestas. While teaching a class at the UDG on Chicano writer Tomas Rivera, I discovered some recurring stereotypes or clichés in urban Mexico about migrants who return to the rancho in August or at Christmas time, eagerly boasting of their success "over there," wearing t-shirts with the U.S. flag on it, speaking majority English and spending loads of money. While I spent time in Atolinga/AZ in August, I noticed a much more forgiving attitude towards migrants, perhaps because mostly everyone has family over in the US. However, I will definitely explore this social ritual of identity “performance” during Christmas time.
The "tumultous agrarian past" in this particular sociedad ranchera likely relates to the decline of colonial power, together with land reforms following the Mexican Revolution, the remoteness of the place, the lack of demographic infusion from the outside, and, finally, the population decline produced by emigration. Certainly, these factors have not been mitigated by NAFTA (although most the emigration began to take place a decade before NAFTA). During my travels next week, I'm certain I"ll begin to locate the origins of this tumultuous past.
In a separate blog entry I'd like to talk more about national myths of the ranchero (the masculine ending -o describes the man who inhabits the rancho, whereas ranchera would describe the woman) as a solitary explorer who wanders about expanses of isolated land far from urban agglomerations with his rifle and dog. I'd also like to explore the part of the ranchera society that is linked to fervent Catholicism and rustic entrepreneurship.
Logistical updates: I'm leaving for Atolinga/ Agua Zarca on Monday. I will not likely conduct interviews while I’m there, but there are a few things I’d like to do, 1) set up a living arrangement for the time I spend there at the end of December, January and February, 2) talk with Helena, a 50-something, blonde store owner Chavo met one August day and whose uncle wrote a history of Atolinga, 3) visit local Cristero War sites to understand the importance of this event for the region, 4) visit libraries in Atolinga and Temastian, especially for knowledge about archives and periodicals, 5) meet teachers at the secondary school to see whether they would be open to hosting me as a teacher for two months, 6) talk more with Chavo’s grandparents, 7) meet other families in Agua Zarca with Monmouth connections, and 8) visit area haciendas. I don't think I'll realistically be able to achieve all this, by the way.
* = Patricia Zamudio Grave, Rancheros en Chicago: vida y conciencia en una historia de migrantes.
** = Robert Dennis Shadow, Tierra, trabajo y ganado en la region norte de Jalisco.
** = Robert Dennis Shadow, Tierra, trabajo y ganado en la region norte de Jalisco.
*** = Esteban Barragan, Con un pie en el estribo.
|Dino relaxing at the entrance to a rancho property|