Oral History Interview with Camilo Flores Jiménez
June 22, 2012, in Vícam Switch, Sonora
Length: 48 minutes, 19 seconds
Original (Spanish) Transcription: Benjamin Alonso
Translation: Lianni Andrade and Andrew Offenburger
Finalized: August 22, 2018
Flores: As I was saying, from 1533 there is a watershed in the situation of the Yaqui tribe: when it is recognized as a people or nation defending its territory. That territory was defended very actively by the Yaquis until 1748, when the Spanish government recognized its autonomy. And then the struggle that is established after 1880, in the administration of Porfirio Díaz, they (yorim) see that the Yaqui Valley, which was owned by the tribe, or that defended it, had an advantageous setting of flat land, land of very good quality. Then they (the government) tried to take over. How? Well, with massacres that were used committed against other Indians, from the United States.
Then after 1880 a war of extermination begins, which was successfully implemented ... and that, what was once called the Yaqui Delta, which is the part that is now the Yaqui Valley, from then on the extermination campaigns begin … Among the plans that we believe Porfirio Diaz had, was (the idea) to sell them (lands) to foreigners, mainly from Europe. And yes, to Mexicans from time to time, but (to Mexicans) with means. Then (the government) succeeded in dispossessing the Yaqui tribe, but it cost a lot of blood. I was born in the south.
Offenburger: Ah, yes?
Flores: My father was taken away as a newborn with my grandmother to Yucatan. Then my dad grew up there. And in 1913, when the revolution was in its infancy, they are added to the (military) ranks; this is what they call the draft: they put them in the military without any discussion.
He stayed until (the revolution ended?). Afterwards ... But in the case of the Yaqui Valley, now there are two disputes over two towns that remained on that side (to the southeast), but which the Yaqui tribe withdrew to this (to the northwest) side of the river, which are: Loma de Guamúchil, Cócorit, and Bácum, which goes to Bataconcica, but the Yaqui River was already located in the Loma de Bacum, more this way (unclear). Those were the two main towns, that is, the two towns that were to the south. And because of the distance, in case of invasion, with regard to the (inability to receive) support from other peoples, the towns felt unprotected, and there was also another parallel struggle against extermination. That is, Yaquis were not allowed to be placed in those two towns. In that sense they got together in Cócorit, known today as Loma de Guamúchil, Bácum, and Loma de Bácum.
The point is that in 1937, when General Lázaro Cárdenas became president of Mexico ... (or rather in) 1934. That’s when he began to work with a group of administrators to ensure that the Yaqui tribe received social justice, so to speak, to apportion land and water (to the tribe), of course.
Offenburger: That was with Lázaro Cárdenas.
Flores: Yes, with Lázaro Cárdenas. But in this case, when he meets with the eight towns in Pótam, the general asks them, “What do you want me to do for you, now that I am president?” There is a captain called Santemea who said to him: “Mr. General, we want the old boundaries,” which are from the Cocoraque River, which is beyond the airport (from Ciudad Obregón), or next to Fundición, and the other limit was the Mátape River, which is further down from Guaymas. Between those two was the ancient territory. Then Cárdenas clarifies to them and says, "you can not do any of this anymore because other governments have placed people there. They have already given them there, but I will make them a new territory. One in which you are going to be the owners, you will be the ones that make use of the land, for survival and to have economic support." However, that territory that Cárdenas designated, until now, is not made. In the research that I have on this subject, we have had 57,000 hectares taken away.
Offenburger: Of that unrecognized (by law) territory that you claim … they say it’s the old territory?
Flores: Of the new territory. The old territory is already nullified. There is no way to say: "we want it" because other communities are already there.
So in the new territory, up to now, there is some confusion among us, that they (other Yaquis?) do not understand the crux of that dispossession. Because it was done in a hidden way; advantageously. The government asserted its authority, of course. So that was the task I gave myself, to bring to light precisely that detail. It’s done; I just have to revise it and correct some small details that I have noticed, to add some other parts.
That was at the end of last year. Now at the beginning of this year, when I am seeing that water no longer exists—water for irrigation—(I recall) that there were potentially 80,000 hectares that were going to be supported with water before they were dismantled. But there is no such water now because they took it, too.
Now what I'm seeing is that the federal government, the government of Mexico, can’t find a way to explain that dispossession. That's why they went with Calderón, the President, and PAN officials don’t know, either. The PRI reigned before, but for the last 12 years it has been the PAN. So neither the PRI nor the PAN know how we got into this mess. I understand it, but I need to get organized to give an explanation. I have the details.
So now the Yaqui tribe suffered from this persecution, exile, deportations to Yucatan and Valle Nacional: how does this phenomenon occur when the same revolution aims to reinstate the Yaqui tribe here? But they do not do it later. In 1946, when we arrived, I was a kid. That year is when the government says that we are going to return the Yaquis to their community, so that when they retire they will benefit from owning their lands, their heritage.
But they were not given the land as promised, and the lowest part (of the lands) is that which has irrigation, and that’s the part that has been for many years. And there have been no new re-possessions. Well, there have been, but near the pumping stations, and it has been very limited.
So to answer any questions you have, please ask. For example, what about this, what about that …
Offenburger: Ah, okay. You are doing history in action. [laughs]
Do you see links between those old stories and what is happening today? That is, is it a cycle for you? What do you think?
Flores: Yes, it’s a cycle. Right now we are in a cycle of corruption in which the government itself is harassing us, and due to financial matters the Yaqui tribe does not speak. The government is bombarding a small group of us with money, to buy silence. But now, for example, there is protest.
Offenburger: And that’s why there’s a conflict between …
Flores: … There are the protests against the Novillo Aqueduct to Hermosillo. And yet there are (Yaqui) authorities who aren’t saying anything. Why? Because they are paid off.
Offenburger: [shifting topics] Did your dad and your grandmother ever talk about long ago, when they had to migrate (by force)?
Flores: Yes, they, too, suffered right here, persecuted. ... Government greed was such that it did not want any (land) claims, so there is the ongoing struggle, which was done in an organized way. Within the defense the idea of “win or die trying” lasted a long time. But one had to die trying. As Zapata said, "It is better to die standing than on your knees." So, some people played it like that. For example, military detachments came here, the army, but they, too, died. It was not very easy. In the battle that took place in Mazocoba, at dawn the executions began, with the order to kill, and even at night the machine guns sounded and there were entire families that committed suicide. They threw themselves off the cliff. They threw themselves. That happened more recently, but there were some men who stood out for their heroism ... for example Islas, this boy put on a red shirt to be more visible and mocked the federal soldiers. He wanted them so much, that when they ambushed him, he even said to one of the soldiers, “Give me a chance to split your skull with a stone." This man was already known as the one with the red shirt, he was fighting them and they couldn’t do anything. That is what gave him the most courage. In one ambush they treated him like a hero because as he was leading a group of Yaquis (children, women, and elders), he saw a column of soldiers coming and suddenly said, “You know what, you take the people here while I go to the front,” and he just went to defend them while they went up, and that's what happened. Dolores Islas is known as the red-shirted Yaqui. And so forth. There are many things to tell.
Offenburger: Did your parents or relatives talk about what life was like in Yucatan, or in the South? Do you remember any details? For example, did you think it was slavery?
Flores: Yes, each adult was sold at 65 pesos, each adult person, woman or man. There are two stages, for example, in the National Valley. There was tobacco production. It was a Spaniard who was at the front. There was not so much punishment but the sowing of henequen, yes, in Yucatan. Once, when I was in a meeting of indigenous peoples, I asked a question to an audience from Yucatan. I asked them to tell me if there were Yaqui graveyards. I asked them if they knew why there were no graveyards, or if they knew where the remains of the thousands of Yaquis were, and I explained why (there were no graveyards): when the Yaquis died, exhausted, because they could not continue, they were thrown into a swamp and eaten by the crocodiles. So, this meant that there was not a graveyard. Then I asked another question, that they could not answer, either. I asked them if they knew that the Yucatecans had been sold to Cuba. They did not know. As there was little labor potential, all the Indians were taken. ... So here died two races. They ended, and the Yaquis resisted because they had, I believe, the guts. My dad told me that when they were going to give lunch to those who worked in the henequen fields, he says that the one who had an absence was placed face down on a bale of hay, and there they began to whip him, there was an official lasher. He was not skinny like me. He was a fat man. It is said the Yaqui was punished after the whipping. (There was) a bucket like that, with sour oranges split in half. Once they flogged him, the lasher (squeezed) half of a sour orange (on his back). My dad said that what came to save that sad situation was the appearance of the Mexican Revolution, in 1912-1913 and later.
Offenburger: And from there they went south? Or he had to work in the army, no?
Flores: Yes, he was taken as a soldier.
Offenburger: And then how did they come back here?
Flores: There was a promise from the federal government that the Yaquis would return to their land, but they did not find the right moment. Why? Because of World War II. The war ended in 1945, and we arrived here in 1946. That’s why the issue couldn’t be resolved, of when would be most convenient to return the Yaquis to their homeland.
Offenburger: And when you arrived, maybe you don’t remember it well, but there were social divisions among the Yaquis…
Flores: Yes, there already were. My mom was in Tórim when the persecution (returned), and (Yaquis) went to the mountains. There were many conflicts among the Yaquis themselves because there were two types of Caujomes (Cajomes were the rebels). There were two classes: the radicals and those who were aware that life had to be preserved. They discovered in the end that the radicals were not Yaqui; they were mestizos. The genuine Yaqui is nobler, and the one that is already mixed—we are seeing it now—is more opportunistic.
Offenburger: What I am studying, specifically one part of the history, are the peace commissions that (the government and Yaquis) tried to establish several times, from 1890, or thereabouts. One happened specifically when the revolution began and they had problems, because many leaders wanted to work with the government to achieve peace, but others did not, like Sibalaume. Do you know other stories about Sibalaume or those rebels? Are there relentless rebels today, who either hurt or helped the cause?
Flores: They are more combative. About Sibalaume, we have the notion that he never made friends with any white person. He didn’t trust anyone. In the part of my study about the territory that I’m working on, specifically about Yucatan, various wars, the people, the generals... I’m finding a lot of research material, which I have learned more or less, as they say, in passing. The one who writes a lot about the Yaqui tribe was Alfonso Fábila. He was a professor. He writes in great detail, including the names of the people. Here, first, in 1880, the one that stands out is Juan Ignacio Jusacamea. He had a vision that if we indigenous peoples all join together, we’d make a fighting front. It was the confederation of Sonoran natives. Then the government decides to disband it, and in 1825 to 1928 there is persecution, and it is eliminated. That's when Cajeme appears, when Juan Ignacio Jusacamea is no longer present. After the death of Cajeme, and from then on comes a series of other leaders, who were also part of the defense. ... In the maps that I copied from Fábila, it is when the ... rather, the Yaqui not only fought in the Bacatete, but in part of the Sierra Madre Occidental, up to Caborca, up to Moctezuma. It is a large displacement ... the Yaqui population was numerous.
Offenburger: I'm curious about people like Luis Buli. Do you see him as a traitor because he was a soldier, or do you see him as a noble Yaqui because he was trying to accommodate…?
Flores: It is the same case as Cajeme, who, because he was captain, ... generated suspicion. But this man sometimes did not know the reality (of the situation). For example, the massacre that took place here in Bácum, where they killed many people in the church. Those who were military were ... Bule, Luis Espinoza, are several Luises, Ignacio Mori, the latter was poisoned in Veracruz, ... in Perote, together with his assistant.
Offenburger: By chance, have you heard the name Viljoen? He was a peace commissioner at the time of the revolution. He was not from here but rather from South Africa. He was a Boer, a white man, who came after he lost all his lands there, in South Africa, and a whole colony came here (in Mexico,) in Chihuahua. Viljoen was known as a warrior and Madero asked him for help to work with the Yaqui tribe. And there, my interests in the Yaquis emerged. ...
Flores: It reminds me of the Swede who joined (Pancho) Villa, who had an artilleryman from Ángeles. Years ago I read about him. A curious fact was that he was also a gunner.
Offenburger: There are many curious things, but one thing that remained constant was the struggle of the Yaqui tribe for their lands.
Flores: That is the anguished cry of the Yaqui tribe. Some say inheritance. ... There is a story that dates from the passing of some tribes that are in the south and settled in Tenochtitlan. I do not have it at hand, but it was when they prophetically saw the eagle. There is a testimonio that when they passed through here there were two warrior tribes that were not very peaceful, they were Apaches and Yaquis. It is assumed that the Yaqui tribe was positioned in these lands much earlier than the others that arrived later. That is why it is said that the Yaqui tribe is the legitimate tribe. ... When it is said that the indigenous peoples from Asia passed through here, they establish themselves for a moment. When the Bering Strait turned to ice is when they passed through. There is a lot of research material.
Offenburger: This helps me quite a bit. Do you know of other people who would have stories of those times, of the land and the revolution?
Flores: Yes, there is a teacher who writes about those times. He is in La Loma de Guamúchil. He writes in a newspaper called Vícam Switch. He always inserts history, battles, and other topics in the newspaper. In fact, I have a historical passage pending, about when the Yaquis went to buy arms in the United States. One doubt I have is about whether they exchanged gold for weapons. There was a place where they had gold, on that occasion 37 Yaquis left, of those 37 there were two children. They were successful in terms of the barter they made, gold for weapons, which at that time I think the weapons were a novelty, of the best quality. On their return, they were crossing the mountain, but when they arrived in Magdalena they said that it was an appropriate place to rest. So the head of the group noted that cattle were wandering nearby. One such cow caused astonishment because it did not have its limbs. They thought then that it was a supernatural occurrence, and they saw it as a premonition. That is, they saw it as a warning about something that was about to happen. However, they finished eating and continued on their way, when suddenly they saw soldiers turning into a kind of snail. It was at that moment that they thought of the message of the animal without limbs. They associated it with that. Under the circumstances, they were willing to use their weapons.
But my uncle José María López told me, coming from Tórim, who was one of those who participated in that anecdote, that, of the 37, only 35 returned. The other 2 were killed. Seeing another book, which I do not remember where it was, I discovered in that confrontation the state government intervened and ordered that these bodies be moved to Hermosillo. For the transfer, cars were available, which had been given by Germany to the government of Sonora. One of the significant characteristics of these cars were the tires, because they did not have tubes, they were made of (solid) rubber, they were not like the ones that are used now. They say that when they went to see these dead, they had no alternative but to bury them in common graves or burn them. This is the research topic that I’m pursuing, and in this story I also include what happened in Pótam where a platoon of the army consisting of 12 people (in the cavalry the same number of soldiers is used, but it has another name), this platoon stayed in the church and killed the people who happened to pass in front of them. Killed them. They took away the blood from the cadavers and scratched the wall "the roosters of Pótam." The Caujomes (the Yaquis who lived in the sierra) heard of this, and started to provoke them (soldiers in the platoon) until they were here, near a curve that is near here, where they were ambushed and put into a kind of dry canal, where wagons passed. There were no cars in those days, and they were all riddled with bullets. In 1952 I came from Oroz walking, because at that time where I lived, and where a second curve is (at that time they were building bridges for the international highway) and I saw a mole pushing up earth, and suddenly it reaches where there was … a lot of bones from the corpses. They still kept their boots. ... from 1924, or 1926.
Offenburger: And what is the name of the teacher you mentioned who knows about these stories?
Flores: His name is Doroteo Buitimea, they call him "Francky," and he lives in Loma de Guamúchil. He has a lot of historical material. He's a retired teacher. ...
Offenburger: I'm here until next week, but I'll come back later because I have my family there (in the United States). I have two daughters near New York and it's very far from here. But thank you for sharing the story with me.
Flores: If I had the means, I would have already taken a copy of what I have collected and I would pass it on to you, but I still do not have much at my disposal. I also need to adjust some details, correct data. I have my work in a stage of revision, the issue of water dispossession. I consider my critique … I am reinventing the wheel, that is, "el hilo negro," because the majority (of Yaquis) has many doubts and ignores all this history. Within this issue there is a subject about which the very same government officials are unaware. There was a very esteemed Briton from Cárdenas, he was called Salvador Teuger…. This engineer was the senior official of the agrarian department (now agrarian reform). He discovered how many plans Cárdenas made, how many demands ... the nucleus of the Yaqui population that was served by Cárdenas and betrayed the lawyer Alonso Fernández, by the same dependence. That happens in the first few days of January 1940, when it declares itself devoted to the compilation of some data. The one who was doing all this robbery was the Secretary of Agriculture (now SAGARPA).
Offenburger: That's where the problems started because in 1900 that was already happening…
Flores: There is also a hidden detail that I am bringing to light. In 1880 the extermination of the Yaqui tribe was declared to seize the Yaqui Valley. In (1890) the general Porfirio Díaz makes a contract with an American company that was called Company of Irrigation Sinaloa and Sonora. In 1902 it goes bankrupt, the moment in which there was intense persecution of the tribe. For that reason Cócorit and Bácum were on that side. Then from 1902 to 1908, this company intervenes with a commission to sell the assets, and that's where Carlos Conant comes and claims a quadrilateral (large lot of land), at the price of 10 pesos per hectare. In 1908 the Richardson Company enters and still when Cárdenas enters as president in 1934, a large part of that land was occupied. I also find that he had to be sued. He was sued because he did not want to release the lands.
Offenburger: Yes. I have a map of the Richardson Company, which I found in the State Archives, in Hermosillo. ... What do you work on? I think you are a historian.
Flores: Yes, well, they do not pay us. (laughs) ... I have a long history. I was a military man in 1953-1958 and worked in communications. I was a radio operator, where the Morse code prevailed. I worked in the Rural Bank. I was second secretary of Vícam, second secretary of Pótam. Then I was a municipal police officer of Pótam and now I'm the secretary of an organization called ... Ancestral Medicine. ...
Offenburger: You apparently know a lot and are an important source for the history of the Yaquis.
Flores: With a little direction I could study more closely the historical record.
Offenburger: How will the work you are doing result?
Flores: It is a subject not very well defined. The problem is in the opposition I have right now with the leaders who do not agree to be consulted. ... I need people to wake up.
Offenburger: Have you written some things?
Flores: Yes, I have it written. I'll show it to you. My study on the territory is 400 pages long.