Oral History Interview with
María de Jesús López Valenzuela and Teodulo Rubio Jusacamea
June 28, 2012, in Pótam, Sonora
Length: 21 minutes, 11 seconds
Transcription: Benjamin Alonso
Translation: Andrew Offenburger
Finalized: June 27, 2018
Offenburger: You were saying that they just left the injured bodies there.
Valenzuela: Yes, injured. They left them there because the military didn’t want to lose time with the yaquis, and since they couldn’t carry the bodies, they just threw them there. The mexican military didn’t care about the injured. They’d say, “What good are those to us?” One doesn’t know if they did it out of pity or to just have a good laugh. One person who participated in the revolts was my grandfather, who said that the military often saw them (the bodies) injured, and that they (makes a sign to indicate cutting a throat) finished them off right there. Also when they moved the bodies of those they took to New York to study, they never published anything about that. Only five years ago we realized that, yes, they were indigenous peoples, but we don’t really know if they took them dead or alive.
Offenburger: Was your grandfather a soldier in the Revolution?
Valenzuela: He was a soldier in the government's army. He later deserted and joined other Yaqui troops to defend their land.
Offenburger: When he talked about that ... or rather, I wonder why some people say yes, that their grandparents and parents knew a lot about those times, but yet they didn’t say much about it, while others did talk about it and have memories of it. So I’d like to ask you: why did your grandfather pass along his stories to you?
Valenzuela: Simply put, he did it so we wouldn’t lose our customs and traditions, and so we would defend the land, as they used to say. They would say to us that this land was earned by their blood, and they didn’t want this to be forgotten, so that the fight over this land would last as long as the Yaqui Tribe itself.
Offenburger: Something else I’m sensing through these interviews is that some Yaquis today want to work with the Cultural Department, or with the government, or they’d like to share their history, and others don’t want to do this. Why don’t they want to, from your perspective?
Valenzuela: Some don’t want to. I think it’s due to ignorance, for a lack of understanding, a lack of history of their predecessors, that they don’t discuss what Yaqui culture really meant.
Offenburger: What was your grandfather’s name?
Valenzuela: Feliciano Valenzuela Rábago, and his (gesturing to Jusacamea) grandmother also was in the war. Her name was Manuela Baumea.
Offenburger: (To Jusacamea) Do you recall any stories that she told you?
Jusacamea: Well, in the age of Yaqui extermination, on behalf of the government and of (President) Porfirio Díaz, I was told it was a horrible time, because they (government officials) tried to eliminate the Yaqui Tribe at all costs—in plain view—including by bullets. They hunted them (Yaquis) like rabbits, and in all possible violent ways. They say that, to escape, my grandmother once ran with a bullet lodged in her leg. And they migrated without food, while sick, with pregnant women, and they’d stop in any cave, or they’d stay hidden so that they wouldn’t keep dying with their children, or they’d stay with other injured or sick people. They didn’t even have water to drink. That’s how it was to escape, without taking anything: no clothes, nothing, not even guns. The only way to fight was to escape. That was the ugly truth. There are books that say that they dispersed the Yaqui Tribe, that they took them by train to all parts of the country. There are Yaquis in Baja California, Oaxaca, Yucatán, Veracruz, Puebla...In all places there are Yaquis. Some managed to escape, walking by foot across the Western Sierra Madre, and they arrived to the north with the Americans. There they have a special reservation for the tribe. I have relatives there still. Many people here (in Sonora) have relatives there.
Valenzuela: And that’s even why an indigenous Yaqui especially values nature, because in those times Yaquis lived on the trees, by the fruit of the trees, by the roots of various plants.
Jusacamea: Like one edible root called sallas, a nutritious food that, in Hong King, or I’m not sure exactly in which country, it has the name ginseng—in Korea—they say it doesn’t exist (outside of the country) but it does exist here in the right climate. To be productive that fruit needs a tropical climate, and this (Sonora) is not a tropical climate, and yet the root still exists.
Valenzuela: One thing that’s never spoken about is the Massacre of Bonansita, where all the dead bodies are. Not even in books have I seen that, that massacre that happened in the sierra. There are even crosses there that yaquis themselves put some time later, when peace prevailed.
Offenburger: Where is that?
Valenzuela: It’s on the way to the sierra. It’s called Bonansita. No, it’s not Bonansita. It’s closer to us. (To Jusacamea) Where is it? ... There where we ascended and saw many graves and I asked, “Why is this graveyard here?” When we went on the trip, I asked the governor of Vícam now, and he told me, “here the crosses were placed because here, in this valley was the largest massacre there was against the Yaqui tribe.” It’s called Trincheras. And supposedly it was the largest massacre of the Yaqui tribe. In the Mozcobampo countryside. I’ve never seen that in books.
Jusacamea: In the jurisdiction of Pitahaya.
Offenburger: Any other stories/histories? I don’t have more questions. I am just collecting these histories. ... (To Valenzuela) You assist with delivering babies, no? You’re a midwife?
Valenzuela: Yes, I am a midwife. My name is María de Jesús López Valenzuela.
Offenburger: (To Jusacamea) And your name is...
Jusacamea: My name is Teodulo Rubio Jusacamea.
Valenzuela: There are so many stories that have never been told. But they are also depressing stories that the Yaqui Tribe does not want told.
Offenburger: Why not?
Valenzuela: We have always feared the whites, or those that come from the outside. We always think they’re going to betray us. That has remained (from those times).
Jusacamea: One interesting point worth analyzing: they say that the Yaqui was never subjugated, throughout all of history. From childhood mothers prevent their children ... they even prepare their children to be on alert and wary of the yori (outsider). Even in the days of breastfeeding, if a mother sees a yori and she says (to her child), “Look! Be careful! Here comes a yori!”
Valenzuela: When the yori comes, she takes away the breast.
Jusacamea: “Be careful! He will hurt you!” It continues like that to this day.
Valenzuela: It was a lot of pain, a lot of suffering throughout the generations, and it hasn’t been forgotten, nor will it ever be, I believe.
Jusacamea: That’s not from now, nor from the era of the Revolution. It comes from the Spanish conquest.
Valenzuela: First they had to fight against the Spanish, later the Jesuits, and later the Chinese that the government settled here...
Jusacamea: ...and against France, against the Americans. They’re always trying to take the land away.
Valenzuela: So, that’s why the Yaqui is constantly fearful. There are secrets they don’t want to share. It’s a natural defense. If an animal (snake) loses its venom, how will it defend itself? That’s how we are, too.
Jusacamea: Here’s another interesting point, which gives us an idea of how it was before, regarding respect for each other. It’s like a law. They say that before, for a convicted killer, they’d mourn him together with the victim. They’d place all his belongings, (including) the victim's shroud, and they’d sit on one side of the victim, with everything—flowers, candles—everyone helped, beyond the ecclesiastical officials and the singers to mourn them. They put them together, performed the ceremony and prayed for them as if there were two dead people there, the victim and the killer. The next day, at dawn they dug the grave. They put the body in the grave, and they made the killer stand at the foot of the grave. In front of him they put a firing squad, and there he would be shot and fall into the grave, dead.
Valenzuela: That’s why, before, there was no use for the thief, or the murderer. In the Yaqui Tribe it didn’t exist. But then human rights came, and they began to strip power from autonomous (indigenous) authority, and so there began to be many things (crimes). Like now, they no longer allowed sovereign authority to carry out its law (as before), for example, if someone reported a theft, they’d take the thief and cut off a hand and say, “If you rob again, you’ll be without your other hand.”
Jusacamea: That’s how the people saw it. With the bullet, with the murderer standing in front of the grave, falling backwards and buried together. For example, for a thief, in public (they’d do that ritual). It happened here, to a relative of a person who lives in Pótam, on the trunk of an Álamo (tree) they cut his hand with a machete, with one swing. The law was unforgiving.
Valenzuela: It was very strong ... but the government ... modern laws have diminished sovereign power, but it is still strong.
Jusacamea: Recently, for example, in the indigenous authority center there’s a mesquite tree trunk, and when someone is being disrespectful, they punish him in public to shame him. They hang him, naked, by his hands. And if he persists, they whip him, and if he still persists, they whip him until he stops. Another punishment in the authority center is when they use a torture device from the days of the Inquisition. It’s an apparatus with two big pieces of wood. They put the feet in there while the person sits, and they lock his arms to hold him still. They still use it. A little while ago, at the celebration of the trinity, they used it. They put three young people there because they were very wild. They then calmed down. And that’s how you deal with an extreme case, when someone doesn’t want to abide by orders, they put them there and they don’t let them go for three days. They don’t even give food or water. Nevertheless, these days family members can bring them food and drinks, but there they take care of their own needs. ...
Offenburger: How old are you both?
Jusacamea: I am 61.
Valenzuela: I’m 55.
Offenburger: Do you mind if I take a photo of you?
Valenzuela: Ha! He’s naked (shirtless). He was working. (To Jusacamea) Put on a shirt. (To Offenburger) The knowledge, the customs, the laws, they don’t end, they’ll never end. Our grandfather would sit us down and talk about the bullets in the body. He said they were never cured. By themselves they got better because the body healed itself. And in order not to stay shot on the mountainside, he says they took great effort to walk.
Offenburger: One more formality, above all else: do I have your permission to use this in my work, in my Ph.D. studies? In other words, in my dissertation?