TAOS, N.M. - Over the din of a Taos sports bar where tourists are watching the NBA playoffs and drinking Coronas, orchardist Estevan Arellano is trying to explain the idea of querencia. It means, loosely, a love of home, an anchor to the ground.
It is this querencia that makes him fight
to preserve the subsistence farming culture of Embudo, Dixon and
Pilar. Arellano, who directs the Oûate Cultural Center, thinks
Summo's copper mine would destroy it. To demonstrate, he draws maps
on drink napkins to show how this area looked when it was governed
by land grants given to the Hispanic
Bleeding into the napkin is a sketch of a
prototype village. It could be present-day Embudo where he lives,
or Taos many years ago. A river runs across the top. Below, the
most fertile land is owned by community members, and irrigated by
the communally run acequias, or ditches. Below that, in the less
fertile ground, are the commons with houses and stores. Unlike
public lands, these commons were governed by the local community,
not Washington, D.C.
As the common lands were
gradually incorporated into the public lands managed by the Bureau
of Land Management and the Forest Service, villagers moved mobile
homes onto the fertile croplands, sitting too close to the river
when the floods come.
"The mine would never
happen under the land grant. It would be up to the local people to
make a decision. Local people are not in favor of that type of
"Now they have a small garden, couple of
cows, chickens, trees. With a mine, everyone abandons land. Then
they say, "I can buy chilies, corn, apples, peaches in the store.
I'm not going to bother planting anything." They are missing the
whole idea. It is not about $1,000. It is about preserving our
land, our lifestyle. It is very healthy. We don't have to go to the
gym. There is fresh air, sun, vegetables. People here have been
organic forever. The hippies think they discovered
"Sixty percent of the young people leave (Rio
Arriba County). There are no jobs. We know that jobs from the mine
could provide economic incentive for people to stay, but it is not
worth the damage to the area. Very few people would benefit."
In Rio Arriba County, the fastest-growing
industry is tourism, promoted by recent Anglo immigrants. The
stretch of the Rio Grande from Pilar to Embudo attracts 40,000
rafters every summer, and bed and breakfasts and cafés have
opened to service them. But Arellano also wants to cut back
"Nobody local makes money from rafting.
They go into our orchards and get food, mess up the river, leave
empty cans. ... Local people don't want to end up a ghost town, a
tourist attraction, a living museum, so that tourists can stop by
and say, "this used to be a historic acequia; now it is dry."
"Let's establish comanagement with the Forest
Service and BLM. They're not doing a good job of management. When
local people throw trash in the arroyos, they are doing civil
disobedience. If people knew the land also belonged to them, they
wouldn't do it. We are never in favor of returning common lands to
private ownership. We only want to protect lands from the big
contractors from out of state."