Apprehending Solidarity: Race and Governmental Power in Middle Rio Grande Water Politics

Authors: Sam Markwell*, New York University
Topics: Political Geography, Development
Keywords: environmental politics, infrastructure, water, solidarity, race, colonialism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper traces the possibilities and foreclosures of solidarity that took shape when Indian, Mexicano and white farmers physically blocked the movement of government machinery (draglines, bulldozers, trucks, etc.) during conflict-ridden water infrastructure development projects in the early 20th century Middle Rio Grande. I focus on the ways these struggles not only shaped the relationships between different racial groups, but also played a crucial role in demarcating the very grounds of intra-group racial and territorial coherence on which Rio Grande water politics and their regulation by U.S. governmental formations are waged.

When railroads traversed the Rio Grande in the 1880s, capitalist speculation drove new resource extraction enterprises that accelerated erosion, flooding and water-logging in the watershed. These new environmental problems affected Pueblo Indian nations, Mexicano and white settler communities, and to a certain degree these communities held common interests in addressing these problems through water infrastructure development (e.g. dams, levees, drainage and irrigation canals). However, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which was formed in the 1920s to develop these infrastructures, faced prolonged legal battles and physical blockades from the very communities whose well-being it was mandated to care for. By tracking how blockade alliances were formed and subsequently policed, I show how historical and emergent solidarities were divided by governmental regulation and adjudication of water and land rights claims. I conclude by reflecting on how the policing of these solidarities continues to shape the limits and possibilities of environmental politics in the region and in North America more broadly.

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