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“Part of This World” Meanings of Land and Water The natural environment had rich significance for Antonito Mexicanos. As Peña (1998b, 11) has written, “Place . . . is a primary repository for human constructions of meaning and identity.” In the rural area surrounding Antonito, cultivated fields, vast expanses of wild llano, nearby mesas, distant mountains, and especially watercourses formed significant parts of people’s environment and held many meanings. The land was a place of both belonging and exclusion. It was a site of birth, death, home, family, and ancestors, yet also a reminder of dispossession and the struggle to survive.1 It was a spiritually renewing locus of beautiful sights, smells, and sounds, yet also, during the cold winters, severe droughts, and violent winds, a place of challenges and hardship. Land, like water, was a resource, commodity, producer of wealth, and source of food and life. Some people held spiritual beliefs about land and water, seeing them as a common good to be shared and conserved; others saw them as commodities to be exploited. In the Antonito area, dramatic landforms marked the four cardinal directions. To the south, the ancient volcano, San Antonio Mountain, 3 Counihan_2PP.indd 44 Counihan_2PP.indd 44 8/20/09 10:15:21 AM 8/20/09 10:15:21 AM 45 Meanings of Land and Water rose like a huge upside-down bowl fringed with dark trees. To the east, the low-lying, tawny, flat-topped Piñon Hills commanded the foreground and behind them soared the jagged Sangre de Cristo Mountains topped by saw-toothed Culebra Peak. To the north, Mount Blanca dominated the San Luis Valley. To the west, the beloved triple-toothed Mogote Peaks overlooked the beautiful Conejos River valley. To the east and west of Antonito, fertile riparian corridors lined the rivers where the early Hispanic settlers established hamlets, in places like Los Sauces where the Conejos River met the Rio Grande, and La Isla where the San Antonio and Conejos Rivers joined. Farther from water the llano, the dry sagebrush plain, stretched for miles east of Antonito from the San Antonio River to the Rio Grande. Much greener due to the heavier winter snow and summer rains were the nearby San Juan Mountains to the west of town, accessible by road up the Conejos River canyon past San Rafael, Mogote, Las Mesitas, and Fox Creek, rising to the passes at La Manga (10,232 ft.) and Cumbres (10,080 ft.) and then down into the Chama River valley of New Mexico. People lived in small nucleated settlements or scattered dwellings near rivers or irrigation ditches. Although Antonito itself was founded in a rocky, arid spot as a railroad town, many of the people who settled there came from and had continuing roots in the agropastoral hamlets along the rivers. These shared many characteristics of Hispanic villages throughout the siete condados, in particular with the Rio Arriba and Tewa Basins of nearby northern New Mexico: small size, nucleated settlement, a Catholic church (and occasionally a Protestant one too), an agropastoral economy, and common lands for hunting, gathering, fishing, and grazing.2 Many people in Antonito mentioned their roots in and affinity for New Mexico. Janice, for example, said, “New Mexico calls to me a lot. I keep saying it’s the light, and it’s also a feeling. There’s a feeling of the terrain.” The Antonito area was an important part of the rural Chicano homeland. As Gonzales (1999, 131) remarked, as late as the 1920s most Mexicanos lived in rural areas, and these have been vastly understudied. History of Land: Acquisition and Loss The principal way Hispanics acquired land in the Southwest was through land grants (Gonzales 2003; Martínez 1987). To foster settlement in the northern territories, Spain (1500s–1821) and Mexico (1821–1848) issued land grants to settlers, who established communal villages that Counihan_2PP.indd 45 Counihan_2PP.indd 45 8/20/09 10:15:21 AM 8/20/09 10:15:21 AM A T O R T I L L A I S L I K E L I F E 46 were the heart of Hispanic social and economic organization. The area around Antonito fell under the 1832 Conejos/Guadalupe Grant, one of the earliest Mexican grants in Colorado, given to four men—José Martínez, Antonio Martínez, Julian Gallegos, and Seledon Valdez (study participant Ramona Valdez’s great-grandfather)—who came from nearby Rio Arriba and Taos Counties in New Mexico and established...


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