American Acequias: New Mexicans and National Belonging, Jacquelyn M. Davila, UG '22 (3945831)
Acequias are gravity-fed irrigation ditches managed by communities of farmers called parciantes. At the turn of the seventeenth century, colonial Spanish settlers introduced acequias into the arid fields of Nuevo México. By the time of the Anglo-Americans’ arrival in the mid-1800s, these ditches had developed into local systems of shared water management, labor, and self-governance. These irrigation commons prioritized local interests and subsistence farming but presented challenges for capitalist development throughout the territorial period and into the 1920s and 30s. I argue that in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the prevalence and persistence of acequia systems in New Mexico shaped the formation of two divergent, clashing conceptions of American identity that were demarcated, not by racial, linguistic, or religious affiliation, but by class and irrigation. Thinking beyond simple binaries of acequia-loving nuevomexicanos and capitalist Anglos, I nuance preconceived notions of racialized actors in this landscape and trace the attempts of elite New Mexicans to take control of acequias and the resistance of the rural communities who refused to relinquish control of their ditches. With the West embroiled in a megadrought, the study of New Mexican acequia communities appears even more paramount in the face of mounting water crises that threaten our landscapes and our basic human right to sustenance, at home and around the world. As local systems that have ensured the survival of New Mexicans for generations, acequias offer a democratic paradigm for local water management in an era of global climate change.