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Where the River Ends

Contested Indigeneity in the Mexican Colorado Delta

by Shaylih Muehlmann

Publication Year: 2013

Living in the northwest of Mexico, the Cucapá people have relied on fishing as a means of subsistence for generations, but in the last several decades, that practice has been curtailed by water scarcity and government restrictions. The Colorado River once met the Gulf of California near the village where Shaylih Muehlmann conducted ethnographic research, but now, as a result of a treaty, 90 percent of the water from the Colorado is diverted before it reaches Mexico. The remaining water is increasingly directed to the manufacturing industry in Tijuana and Mexicali. Since 1993, the Mexican government has denied the Cucapá people fishing rights on environmental grounds. While the Cucapá have continued to fish in the Gulf of California, federal inspectors and the Mexican military are pressuring them to stop. The government maintains that the Cucapá are not sufficiently "indigenous" to warrant preferred fishing rights. Like many indigenous people in Mexico, most Cucapá people no longer speak their indigenous language; they are highly integrated into nonindigenous social networks. Where the River Ends is a moving look at how the Cucapá people have experienced and responded to the diversion of the Colorado River and the Mexican state's attempts to regulate the environmental crisis that followed.

Published by: Duke University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations and Maps

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-24

Although maps still show the Colorado River running from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California in northern Mexico, today the river no longer reaches the sea. While I conducted most of the fieldwork for this book in a Cucapá village in the now-dry delta of the river in Mexico, I began my research upstream in the green mountains of the state...

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1. ‘‘Listen for When You Get There’’: Topologies of Invisibility on the Colorado River

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pp. 25-54

Don Madeleno often repeated the refrain ‘‘We’re still here.’’ The first time I heard him say this, I interpreted it as a triumphant declaration of survival. In this instance, Don Madeleno was narrating the history of the Cucapá people in the delta: a history of war, conquest, disease, water scarcity, the criminalization of fishing, and the rise of the narco-economy...

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2. The Fishing Conflict and the Making and Unmaking of Indigenous Authenticity

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pp. 55-82

A group of eight Cucapá men and women crowded into their lawyer’s office on a sweltering summer afternoon in Mexicali. Andrés Rivioli, the lawyer who handles the Cucapá’s fishing conflict with the Mexican federal government, began the meeting by denouncing the government for denying the Cucapá access to their ancestral fishing grounds. He said that by...

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3. ‘‘What Else Can I Do with a Boat and No Nets?’': Ideologies of Work and the Alternatives at Home

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pp. 83-117

It was late august. Six of us worked by the side of the river cutting tamarisk in a work project for the local river users’ association. It was only 7 AM but already 100 degrees—the sun had been up for two hours. We were covered from head to toe in clothing to protect us from the sun’s rays, and we were soaked with sweat. Some of us had large clippers; the rest had...

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4. Mexican Machismo and a Woman’s Worth

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pp. 118-145

‘'Are we Mexicans?’’ Cruz asked. ‘‘No, we’re Indians,’’ Ana said firmly. ‘‘We’re Cucapá.’’ It was at this point in the conversation that I started listening from the sleeping area late one night. Ana and Cruz, the mother and father in the house where I was staying, had just returned from Mexicali, where they had been visiting Cruz’s mother in the hospital...

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5. ‘‘Spread Your Ass Cheeks’’: And Other Things That Shouldn’t Get Said in Indigenous Languages

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pp. 146-170

Among the Cucapá people who live in Mexico, only a handful of elders still speak the Cucapá language; everyone else has shifted to speaking Spanish. Doña Esperanza often reasoned that it is important for the children to learn Cucapá because ‘‘it’s good to be able to talk a language that outsiders don’t understand.’’ The notion that one of the strategic values of...

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pp. 171-180

As i drove out of the Colorado delta, following the river up from Mexico through California, Arizona, and Colorado, the contrast upstream was striking. Just three hours north of the village, in Palm Desert, California, luxury hotels have misting devices to keep their guests comfortable while they sit by the pool. The Marriot Hotel lobby’s indoor lake and waterfalls take more...


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pp. 181-188


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pp. 189-214


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pp. 215-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780822378846
E-ISBN-10: 0822378841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822354451
Print-ISBN-10: 0822354454

Page Count: 234
Illustrations: 11 photographs, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1