aguamiel: secrets of the agave :: on water (Jamie A. Lee and Adela C. Licona)


“aguamiel: secrets of the agave :: on water” is broadly about practices in the space between two nations—a ‘third space’—where the Mexico/US border can be considered a microcosm of globalization to highlight what everyday experts are doing to re-imagine and redress the practices that have entrenched inequalities and environmental injustices. In collaboration with scholars, activists, filmmakers, and community members, aguamiel engages the goals of social justice media and the promise of digital humanities to creatively challenge mainstream mis/representations of Mexican and Mexican-origin households and borderlands’ communities. Our edit “on water” is intended as a coalitional tool that looks to the potential of quotidian knowledges in a transnational context to inform practices of economic and environmental sustainability. This segment considers greywater filtration, the growing of medicinal herbs, as well as the development of waterless toilets for community use and possibly commercial enterprise—in addressing water conservation. The perspectives and practices that emerge are from people who live along the Juárez, Chihuahua/El Paso, Texas/Anthony, New Mexico borders where two countries and three states converge along the river with at least two names.

Watch the video:

Creator bios:

Jamie A. Lee is Assistant Professor of Digital Culture, Information, and Society at the School of Information, University of Arizona. Her research and teaching interests include theories of archival production in digital, community, and moving image archives; social justice media / media studies; LGBTQ Studies; and Queer Theory. As an award-winning social justice filmmaker, her work has screened on PBS, Free Speech TV, and at film festivals and conferences throughout North America and Europe. She presented at the 2008 Women’s World Congress in Madrid, Spain and was the keynote speaker at the 2009 New Directions in Critical Theory Conference about the power of storytelling to make lasting change. She is the recipient of the 2009 Arizona Commission on the Arts Artist Project Grant and a 2010 Arizona Governors Arts Award nominee for her work connecting her artform to community activism.

Adela C. Licona is Associate Professor of English, University of Arizona. Her research and teaching interests include cultural, gender, and sexuality studies, critical theory, social justice media, community literacies, action research, borderlands studies, environmental justice, and feminist pedagogy. She has published in Antipode, Transformations, Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies, Community Literacy Journal, NWSA Journal, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, Nóesis, and Kairos and has publications forthcoming in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers and Peitho. Adela authored Zines In Third Space: Radical Cooperation and Borderlands Rhetoric (SUNY Press, 2012) and co-edited Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward (JHUP, 2009). She co-founded the Crossroads Collaborative and Feminist Action Research in Rhetoric (FARR), a group of progressive feminist scholars in public scholarship and community dialogue. She is the 2015-16 Co-Chair of the NWSA Conference, Editor Emeritus of Feminist Formations, and on the board for Women’s Studies in Communication, QED: A Journal of GLBTQ Worldmaking, and Tucson Youth Poetry Slam.

Transcript and description of video (English transcript and image descriptions were written by Alexis Lothian for #transformDH; apologies for any errors)

[White text on black background]:
A gentle coming together… at other times and places a violent clash. Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza, 1989
[Fade to black, then black and white footage driving of a highway with mountains in the background. Title in the middle of the screen:]
aguamiel: secrets of the agave
on water
directed by jamie a. lee and adela c. licona
co-directed by miguel mario licona
[A man’s voice speaks in an  American accent as we continue driving along the highway and a sign appears for the Anthony city limit.]
This town is actually kind of interesting because it’s half in New Mexico and half in Texas right here.
[We shift to color footage and are now seeing out of a car window as we drive along the streets of Anthony, New Mexico, passing cars and food trucks.]
So we’re in New Mexico right now and that’s gonna– at the light it’s Texas. So there’s borders everywhere.
[Looking from the car windshield toward the river, which is difficult to see amid railroad, highway, stones and brush]
This is the mighty Rio Grande. You’re right next to it, right now.
[Aerial footage of the Rio Grande running through the city]
This is water that runs continually, it’s not being released yet because you go up just a few miles and it’s dry. So there’s places, because of the– under– what do you call it? Subterranean, well, the water table and the material that the ground is made out of.
[Cut from the river to an aerial view of the mountains above the city, roads snaking up the brown slopes]
Especially as you get up near the mountains by Mount Cristo Rey, you’ll see a lot of the water emerging, and that’s where all the Mexicans come and wash their cars, and that’s where you’ll see the American signs saying “Don’t swim here”
[the camera zooms in toward the imposing limestone statue of Christ atop Mount Cristo Rey]
because there’s typhoid, diphtheria, and other dangerous organisms
[Cut to another aerial view of mountains, roads, houses, brown arid-looking land. An American woman’s voice speaks]
There are third world diseases here, Jamie.
[The original speaker responds] But it’s because of – I mean Juárez, which is maybe 2 million people, just recently within the year got its first water treatment center. This is really all wetlands, so it’s been really hard to keep the highways moving.
[Cut to a view from the highway, mountains looming ahead. The camera moves along the sides of the highway, showing the river and houses]
Any time it floods, this is the lowest land this is where the river meanders – or
meandered, before the channelization project.
[Cut to a distant view of the valley from above, city on the low ground and mountains behind. The camera moves around slowly, showing the view from all sides]
And my house is where the river meandered back at the turn of the last century and my house was built on the banks of it, so when I dug the foundation for it and my house was built on the banks of it, so when I dug the foundation for it I found all these model A parts, and–
[The woman speaks again]
Wow. You know that the river meandered, so the international markings,  they were ambivalent, right? Ambiguous. And the–
[man’s voice]:  They were tied to the river
[woman’s voice]: the arbitrariness of having marked the land as divided
[On the word “divided” we cut to a different moving city view marked Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The same landscape as previously, though we can now see houses on terraced hillsides, some of which have corrugated iron roofs. The woman’s voice continues.]
was lived and understood organically.
[We are moving quickly through Juarez, seeing from the window of a moving car. We pass multicolored buildings, stone walls, trees, cars, pylons.] And then the channelization project came in so that land disputes would cease and there’d be sort of a finite border created. [A black and white still image of a woman standing beside a border fence, mountains in the background, taking a photograph through the wire. A man leans against the fence a little further down.]
But it still, in our hearts and in our culture, is a space that is lived fluidly.
[Cut to a shot from the back seat of a car; we see a silhouette of the woman who is speaking as she drives.]
And that border is sort of that scar, that historical scar, that we also carry, I think, psychically and culturally.
[Black screen; the words “the border” in white text fade in. A different American woman’s voice begins to speak.]
This border is a complex area.
[Footage from a camera moving at street level through a town that a subtitle informs us is Juarez. We see people, dogs, houses, fences]
We have had links with Mexico forever, before there was a border here, and so
[White text on black background reads: “3 states & 2 countries”]
families have existed on both sides of the border. We’ve been interdependent
economically forever
[Cut to a shot of a colorful mural; a subtitle reads Anthony, New Mexico, USA.]
and all of these issues come together here.
[Cut to footage of a group of people standing in sunlight near a tall fence; one woman has her hand on her heart. Subtitle reads “border awareness experience, Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico]
And yet, whenever it is politically expedient, or whatever the reasons, immigrants become the scapegoats
[Cut to footage of a group of women seated in a circle. Subtitle reads “women’s intercultural center, Anthony, New Mexico, USA”]
and blame them for all the problems that we may see in this country
[Cut to white text on a black screen: “millions of us interconnected”]
instead of the hard work of looking at the root causes and what part we play in that.
[Footage of children playing on a porch cuts to a split screen. On the left, a plant grows in a pot made from old tires, the camera moving to show a woman standing next to it beside the door of a house.  On the left, a woman from the intercultural center speaks in Spanish. English subtitles translate her words.]
I’d like to see this documentary in all the universities, teaching classes with the film in order to show that the women from the border can teach us a lot.
[The left-hand screen cuts to show a woman showing us her garden, where plants are growing in a concrete trough painted bright pink.]
That education doesn’t occur just in a formal context with a book.
[On the left, a shot from behind of a group of people walking on a wide dirt road]
But also from daily life. That same life can tell us a lot. If we pay attention, with respect and dignity.
[Drops of water are on the camera lens and the sound of thunder in the background as the camera moves parallel with a wall made of concrete blocks. People are walking in front of the camera. The title: “aguamiel: secrets of the agave” appears in the center of the screen.]
[Cut to a woman standing in a light, open indoor space and speaking in Spanish, identified by the subtitle as “tina / Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. English subtitles translate her words.]
I am from Parral and I came when I was 17. I may as well be from here as I have been here for twenty something years. I’ve been here in the colonia for 14 years. We live comfortably even though at the beginning, services were lacking. We didn’t have one, then little by little, struggling, we found the light, and here we are.
[A different woman’s voice, identified as that of “adela / filmmaker,” speaks in Spanish. The camera stays on Tina.]
Tina, do you consider yourself an activist?

[Tina] Well, yes,

[Adela] Tell me a little about it, will you?
[Tina] When we first arrived, we had no electricity, we lacked water; water was delivered monthly. We looked for unity amongst women, making a group so that water would be delivered more frequently. I think that its to be active and look for a better way of life, a more just way because even though we were forgotten, because the government said no water, then little by little.
[Fade transition to the woman whose garden we saw earlier, showing us the laundry area on the back porch of her pink-painted house. A subtitle identifies her as “yoli / Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.” Yoli speaks in Spanish and English subtitles translate her words]
Here I have my washing machine. Here is the hose.  When the water drains I raise it and it falls over there.
[She shows us a system of troughs and channels built in concrete and painted pink.]
Here is the first depository. Yes? I wash it here by hand and the water falls that way. These plants are special. They are called “alcatrazes.”
[Camera zooms in on a trough in which plants with large oval leaves are growing.]
[voice of Adela, filmmaker]: Is this a filter that removes the soap?
[Yoli] No. This is a common depository. This tube is to move soapy water here. These plants are sweet potatoes and function as the filter [she gestures toward different plants] And these plants also help. These plant’s roots do the filtering work. The bottom is first filled with rocks, then two types of gravel, sand, carbon, and finally the dirt. Yes?
[As Yoli speaks, the camera moves around her garden, and a little girl comes to stand next to her.] All of this is filled.
[Adela] In layers.
[Yoli] Here it is. It fills. The water comes this way and drains.
[We zoom in on a pipe in a trough filled with water]
This is for the garden. When this is filled, it waters the garden by itself. [Yoli gestures toward garden.] The tube travels that way and the water comes out back there. [She moves a tree branch out of the way to show us the tube] The tube comes out here. The water comes out very soapy, but here we see that it is very clean. [She dips her hand into the water and raises it so that the water runs through her fingers, clean and clear] The plants, carbon, dirt all work to make it clean.
[Adela] So, that’s the filter. Now I understand.
[Yoli] These are only depositories. Nothing more.
[Transition to a different woman, identified in the subtitle as “sr. petra, Juarez, Chihuahua,” speaks in Spanish. English subtitles translate her words.]
… the harm we are doing to the environment. If here there is this tiny group of people, others can do the same, to go forward and work on behalf of the environment. To work for the environment is to work for life.
[Instrumental guitar music plays over a montage of footage from Juarez, beginning with the text “aguamiel: secrets of the agave.”  Some is of people and places that have appeared earlier, including Tina with a baby, Yoli showing Adela her garden; others show plants growing, children playing, a man measuring in a yard, people walking and talking, a dog.]
[The credits appear over a shot of green plants growing in a stony landscape.]
Jamie A. Lee
Adela C. Licona
Miguel M. Licona
Jamie A. Lee
Adela C. Licona
Assistant director
Miguel M. Licona
Jamie A. Lee
Adela C. Licona
Director of photography
Jamie A. Lee
Graphic and web design
Justin Lee & Jamie A. Lee
Music rights pending
Sophie Villareal-Licona
Funding by Iowa State University, Tucson Pima Arts Council, Arizona Commission on the Arts, many individual donors.
Copyright 2015 aguamiel-documentary & visionaries filmworks. all rights reserved.