In September 2008, the Mayordomo Project was spearheaded by a collaboration between the New Mexico Acequia Association and the UNM Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies. Its purpose is to address a situation the NMAA calls the “mayordomo crisis,” involving knowledge loss, attrition, and inadequate replacement of New Mexico’s mayordomos de las acequias. The mayordomo, or ditch boss, is essential to the practice of acequia irrigation. Today the old mayordomos are dying and taking their knowledge with them, and they are not being replaced by younger individuals who know how to manage and deliver the water and maintain the ditches in a given community. The Mayordomo Project seeks to investigate and record the practical local knowledge of living mayordomos in order to develop a method and program for the transmission of this knowledge to a new generation of mayordomos. It aims to identify, describe, understand, and transmit knowledge that is common among all mayordomos as well as particular to a specific individual and location.

The methodology of the project is community-based participatory action research (PAR), whereby a community of interest defines a problem it faces and seeks to solve through a collaborative, group process of investigation and action. The project began with a three-hour conversation between the NMAA and OC directors and has continued through 2010 in a series of more or less monthly meetings or working sessions held in the NMAA conference room with a core team of participants: Kenny Salazar (NMAA Associate Director), Quita Ortiz (NMAA Asst Land and Water Program Manager), Paula García (NMAA Executive Director), Lucille Trujillo (NMAA Membership Coordinator), Gilbert Sandoval (NMAA Concilio member and mayordomo of the Sandoval Ditch in Jemez), Juanita Revak (mayordoma-in-training), and Sylvia Rodríguez (OC Director). Elise Trott, a graduate student of anthropology at UNM, joined the team in early 2010. Other NMAA staff persons and community members sit in on meetings from time to time. The working sessions are lively, productive conversations about the design, methods, personnel, goals, findings, progress, evaluation of, and plans for the project. There is also a lot of storytelling, or anecdotes about acequia life based on personal experience and memory. This regular face-to-face interaction is integral to the project as a research, learning, and practical process.

The project has evolved through several overlapping and ongoing stages: fall 2008: conceptualization; winter and spring 2009: design (development of questions for interviews or pláticas, selection of individuals to interview and be interviewed, preparation); spring and summer 2009: recording of pláticas; fall 2009: review of recorded pláticas and identification of recurrent themes; winter 2010: design and commencement of pilot mayordomo internship, transcription of pláticas; spring 2010: decision to record more pláticas, field trips to record internship activities in Jemez; summer 2010: recording of more pláticas; fall 2010: La Mesilla field trip and overall project review. The two major foci of the project to date are the Pláticas and the Pilot Internship, described below.

As of December 2010, a total of 33 interviews, or pláticas, with mayordomos have been conducted, all based on a set of questions worked out by the group. Fourteen of them were audio recorded and have been transcribed; another 14 were not recorded but summarized in writing. Five more were audio recorded in the summer of 2010, four of which are excellent candidates for transcription. Twenty of the pláticas were conducted by Estevan Arellano, six by Harold Trujillo, five by William Gonzalez, one by Juanita Revak, and one by Kenny Salazar. Roughly half of the recordings are in Spanish. The majority of those conducted by Estevan Arellano are from the Embudo-Dixon area; some are from Mora, one from La Mesilla, and one from Jemez. An attempt to expand the geographical scope went into selecting five additional mayordomos in 2010. Both the interviewees and the interviewers received honoraria from the NMAA. Signed consent for the use of the material was obtained. The most successful pláticas consist of relaxed, in-depth conversations in Spanish, the language of the acequia, between two experienced parciantes about the particulars of what the mayordomo does and how and why he does it in his particular community. María Dolores Gonzalez, a retired UNM professor with expertise in spoken New Mexico Spanish, was hired by the OC to transcribe the initial 14 recorded pláticas. The team reviewed the recordings in the fall of 2009, identifying obvious recurrent themes. These themes were summarized at a Mayordomo Workshop held at the Annual Congreso de as Acequias in December 2009. Elise Trott, a student in Sylvia Rodríguez’s graduate seminar in Public Anthropology, wrote careful analyses of two of the pláticas, and was welcomed to the team. The plática material is extremely rich and in-depth study of it lies ahead. The NMAA will establish an archive and develop policy for how acequia community members and other researchers may access it once the project is completed.

Discussion of the plática material led to the creation of a pilot Internship program involving two members of the team: Gilbert Sandoval, longtime mayordomo of the Sandoval Ditch in Jemez, and his daughter, Juanita Revak, who plans to succeed him in this role. The pilot internship is intended to demonstrate and simultaneously document how an experienced mayordomo trains his successor. A detailed calendar round of mayordomo tasks or duties was drawn up based in the case of Jemez, to use as a guide for the process, which began in January 2010. Juanita’s internship role involves learning the job as well as documenting the process. The team took two day-long field trips to Jemez in the spring to learn about mayordomía and and document places, and another in September to La Mesilla, where Kenny irrigates and serves as a commissioner. Quita Ortiz, Elise Trott, and Juanita Revak use flip video cameras to record parts of these trips; still photos are also taken. The idea surfaced during the summer of 2010 to produce a video about mayordomos and mayordomía, based on past and future field trips as well as the pláticas. In September Kenny and Gilbert agreed to develop a working outline of what ought to be covered in such a video. The film is now near completion and is expected to be completed in July 2012.

Early 2013 will mark the completion of a Mayordomo Handbook, which is an in-depth companion guide to the film, illustrating the method of mayordomía that was developed through the information extracted from the mayordomo interviews. Future steps include the replication of the mentorship model in other communities. We plan to solicit the participation of others who want to share their knowledge and take part in the mentorship process to pass on the tradition of mayordomía in their acequia community.

If you'd like more information about this project please contact Quita Ortiz at (505) 995-9644 or email