Core to the Living Roots model is a community-driven approach to cultural protection and economic development - aiming to cultivate local leadership, facilitate community dialogue and cooperation, and empower the realization of a shared community vision.
Living Roots' Community Representatives
María Eugenia (Maru) Gutiérrez Catillo, President, El Peloteado
Maria has lived in the ranch community of El Peloteado for 25 years. Originally from Mexico City, Maru came to this small community of 25 inhabitants as a primary school teacher at the age of 18. As she tells it, and giggles, she fell in love with a cowboy two years later and never left. She said when she first arrived to Baja, she cried, when her mom asked her why, she said, “because it is so ugly.” Since then, she has fallen in love with the landscape and the lifestyle and says she will never leave. She acts as a community nurse and is considered, trucha, (very intelligent and willing to speak up) by her neighbors.
Valentina Delegado, Secretary, San Javier
Valetina comes from one of the old San Javier families. Her father works a section of the mission orchard and her mother’s sisters make up most of the middle-aged females in the town. A mother of two young girls, Valentina is spunky and animated and has thrown herself into the role of being secretary, filling notebooks with notes and measurements for the cultural center. She laughed and said one night, she had forgotten a pen she had tucked into her ponytail, and it poked her as she lay down.
Trinidad (Trini) Castro Romero, Treasurer, Los Corrales
Trini, born in rancho los Dolores, now lives, a couple kilometers up the arroyo en rancho Los Corrales. A master seamstress, Trini taught most of the women in the sierra how to make sobrecamas, (quilts), a skill that was passed down to her from her mother. Trini is very vigilant about Raíces Viva’s small savings, and is always generating new ideas of how to grow the pot.
Samuela Castro Osuna, Representative of Segundo Paso
Samuela grew up in Rancho el Belen, which is the last ranch in Arroyo Los Dolores before heading into the high sierra. There, her family made goat cheese and wine, and planted figs and mangos. She remembers before the road was finished to the ranch, they used load up mules and donkeys and take the goods to Loreto over the sierra. She job used to be helping extract honey from wild hives. She hopes that her children will be able to study, but is worried that they just don’t have the resources to send them to school, especially now that she has been practically immobilized by a yet to be diagnosed problem with her knees and ankles.
Victoria (Viki) Gasterom, Representative, Rancho La Fortuna
Viki moved to rancho La Fortuna six years ago from Cuidad Constitución with her husband Juan, who is from the ranch. Viki is known for her goat cheese, people have come looking for it from other cities and even states. She says, “nothing compares to this way of life.” Though from town, she would never go back. Viki is known by others as an “entrona,” (joiner), and understands the need to include everyone fairly in the association. Viki studied Information Technology in high school and hopes to be able to put the learning to use one day, she also loves to read books and inspired the idea of including a small library in the Cultural Center.
Ana Velis Baeza, Representative, Los Dolores
Ana, from Rancho El Horno, but married into Los Dolores, helps organize both communities. Ana known as, “pura risa,” (all smiles), says, “I was born on a ranch, and I don’t know anything else. But I like it, it is tranquilo, and there are many fewer expenses. Ana remembers learning how to make various crafts in school, such as lamps out of dry cholla wood that she has begun to make again.
Elizabeth (Elisa) Romero Osuna, Representative Agua Escondida
Elisa grew up in Rancho El Ajuage, but at the age of 17 was married and moved to Agua Escondida. She tells the story of having known her husband since they were young, when she turned 15, he started coming to visit her, he would come every two weeks, or they could go to San Javier when there were dances. Elisa makes sweets sweet bean empanadas and sweets from grapefruit peel and goats milk, she also embroiders, but says she is not as good as her sisters in El Aguaje.
Yolanda (Yoli) Velis, Representative, El Aguaje
Yolanda calls El Aguaje, the land of quilts, saying everyone makes quilts there. Yoli, mother of five, moved from the other side of the sierra, Rancho Nuevo, when she got married and learned to quilt from her mother-in law. Negro, Yoli’s husband has been quite supportive both of his wife and Living Roots, coming to volunteer during the Semana Santa event, despite the hour and a half drive from his ranch. Most women in the sierra don’t know how to drive, so having supportive husbands is essential for these representatives.
María Cristina (Yiya) Verdugo Murillo, Representative, La Higuera
Maria Cristina, as her mother-in –law puts it, could have been president of Mexico if she had just been given the opportunity of an education. From Rancho El Carralito, the last ranch in Arroyo El Peloteado , Maria Cristina just about entirely organized the December sales trail in San Javier. As she says, “I like to work and I like to participate.” Luckily, Juan Antonio, her husband is also a Living Roots supporter, and is teaching her to drive. Maria Christina embroiders, but her prize product is sweet cheese empanadas with a dash of cinnamon, which mostly get eaten by those of us who work the booth.
Francisca (Pancha) Mercedes Velis Aguiar
Pancha lives on Rancho San Isabel, originally from Rancho Los Dolores, Pancha has been re-learning from her parents the art of making wine from misión period grape vines. Santa Isabel is one of the northern most ranches in the San Javier area, just off the rugged dirt road to Comandu. Besides recently bringing back the tradition of wine making to the area, Pancha also is a seamstress, makes goat cheese and delicious empanadas and will try out just about anything to just to see if it might work. Pancha’s oldest son Ruben has left the ranch to study architecture in La Paz and is helping Living Roots and the community with the design of the new Cultural Center in San Javier, which will consist almost entirely of regional materials and will use a traditional design. Her younger son at 15 decided to stay on the ranch and become a cowboy, now the two work together to help their family.