Randy Jiron

Location: Pueblo of Isleta, New Mexico

Topics: Native American, Farmer, Culture, Indigenous, Agriculture

Quote: “Growing with the land you just don’t go into the land and just step on her, you respect the land, mother earth. We are happy to see the sun come up and we are thankful for him to come up, to warm, to help grow the plants too. And so we have to say thank you all the time. In the morning we say thank you. In the evening we say thank you again for damaging mother earth. So it’s just the cycle of being respectful to the earth. Culturally that’s how we’ve been taught, you know, grandparents, uncles. But that’s how I grew up.”

I am Randy Jiron, from the Pueblo of Isleta and this is Lucas Jiron, my son. He’s the other part of the twins-his brother. We started this (agricultural) project about two years ago, when we heard about it. I guess it would be either through Joseph or Cristhian-one of the two-Cristhian is the first one…

Luca Jiron (LJ): Arturo and then Cristhian…

Yeah, and they (Center of Southwest Culture) made it possible through their help to get the seeds and that was two years ago, that was the first year I ever planted any vegetables or anything like that. If I did it my whole life it was maybe two or three at the most, you know, so we figured that we have the land here, and this particular field laid about twenty years dormant. It was full of Chinese Elm and we had to clear it out and we finally did and now we’ve cleared about 99 per cent I think and once in a while you see some, but that’s how we started. We started with the corn, and the corn we planted was white corn, which is more of a native corn around here, which makes a masa, I guess, and corn meal. We were hoping to make chicos and when we tasted them they were just like bland, you know bland, so we said next year we will plant sweet corn. So, this is what we are doing, sweet corn. And  just I tell these guys, I said you better learn how to plant because the country isn’t guaranteed or the world isn’t guaranteed if it’s going the way it’s going now. So I said the old people used to say you have to prepare yourself-if you have a few seeds save them, plant them, and that way you’ll survive a meal. So I’m trying to teach these guys how to do that work so in case I’m not around and it happens in their lifetime… well they teach their children maybe they can have something to eat, you know if something drastic like that happens, you know. I just want to prepare a little bit for these guys. That’s what the whole planting is. I tell them don’t get rid of the horses. Some of the horse drawn implements save them. You might need them some day. You’re not going to be able to buy gas or go to McDonald’s or WalMart or any place like that-you’re not going to find nothing. And if you have a lot of money that money is not going to be worth nothing but they ain’t going to accept it for what. So, if you have seeds then that’s money, that’s your whole survival.

Yes, born and raised here in the Pueblo of Isleta. My people have been here probably-the archaeologists they say since the 12-1300s. But we say we’ve been here longer. We know we’ve been here longer. We were probably farther south. We probably moved around a little bit before we got to where we are. We knew where we were going. Isleta means little island. So right there where the pueblo is-the Rio Grande used to go on the west side and the east side. It had water on both sides.


LJ:  How did you grow up, dad?

It was pretty tied in, growing with the land and you just don’t go into the land and just step on her you know. You just have to, uh, taught, uh to respect the land, the earth, mother earth, you know… and these…you know everything. When you are an Indian that’s what we believe, you know. We are happy to see the Sun come up and we are thankful for him to come up, to warm to help grow the plants too, you know. And so we have to say thank you all the time. In the morning we say thank you. In the evening we say thank you again for damaging mother earth. So it’s just the cycle of being just respectful to the earth. Culturally that’s how we’ve been taught, you know, grandparents, uncles. But that’s how I grew up.

Well, first of all, when we are going to school we didn’t speak English, that’s one thing.

LJ: Tell him how you grew up.

We were raised speaking Indian. And we stayed with my grandma, and even when my family- when I was five or six I’d say up to about six years old. Our house burned down when I was five but I remember in that house we used to roll the bedrolls. We didn’t have beds. So, you had bedrolls either out of wool and they’re like mattresses and you fold them up and put them against the wall. And during the day your company you can sit there and at night you then unroll or unravel them and sleep on them. Then we had kerosene lanterns and wood stove and we had a kerosene stove but the house burned down but it wasn’t the kerosene that caused it, it was the wood stove somehow. But anyway we grew up like that you know. And then there was no public plumbing or water. So there were a few places in the village where you had pumps so all the kids would go get the buckets-two and a half gallon bucket-then you would go get water everyday probably. And then in wintertime chop wood and we all help each other like cousins like that. Or a grandma, we have to go help grandma. But it was like that and growing up you know everybody was your parent. The neighbor, somebody saw you doing something they’d yell at you and they whip you and send you home and when you get home again you get another whipping probably or scolding. So you know you had parents all the way around, you know, like around. But that was good. Not too much difficulty for me.

When I first went to school I was afraid to go to school. Six years old…I wanted to go to school for a while just to ride the bus but I couldn’t ride the bus because I had to walk from the village to the school which is almost 600 yards. It was quite a ways, a little bit for a kid. But we did and then probably not the first day but then I was afraid because I said, “What am I going to do when I want to go to the bathroom?” The first thing I learned was, “May I please go to the bathroom? May I please go get some water?” That was the first-that was the only two sentences I knew! I was the only one during the day who would take breaks (laughter).

I went to school in Isleta and then when you go to junior high, ours went only from one to six so you go to middle school. I went to Albuquerque. And that was scary, too because there’s only a few Indians. Like in my class there was only about five or six and then going to a non-Indian school with mostly Anglos and Spanish/Chicanos, Chicanos. And that was scary but everybody was nice. You know, it turned out…those days.

Well you noticed that when you went downtown or into the city you know. And you knew it was different, you knew that it wasn’t your home. I knew it wasn’t my home and I knew I could come back. But all the nice stores you know-popcorn and whatever-the movies even. And I didn’t ever like to go to Albuquerque and the parents they didn’t take kids because they didn’t want to fuss with them probably. So what they would do, you were going to buy shoes for the school year, you’d get a cardboard and you’d put your foot on there and they measure it and they take it and buy whatever kind of shoes they get for me. So, I really didn’t get into Albuquerque until probably after high school or during high school. But I tried to avoid it, even now I don’t like to go into Albuquerque.

There’s a lot of influence, bad and good. That’s what we’re dealing with because like we’re losing our language and even the culture. You lose your language you’re going to lose your culture. So anyway, we have too much influence from Albuquerque and Los Lunas here, Bosque Farms. So we are trying to revive the language and it’s hard, you know, hard because everybody is tuned in with the American way of life, with all the technology and everyday language. You go to the store you know of course everything is in English. It’s kind of hard but we’re trying. That’s a bad influence you know and also you know drugs and alcohol of course you know. The pueblo-every community probably has problems with that you know. The influence from Albuquerque is more there you know-different kinds of drugs probably. Gangs, but not really. The kids are not into gangs I don’t think but who knows. I don’t know everything-what they do.


Tewa is our language. Tewa is one of the nineteen pueblos. We all recognize each other, we know. There’s an organization-it used to be called the All Indian Pueblo Council. The governors are the ones that represent the people and they have meeting every so often and discuss whatever, you know. So yeah there is a relationship, a pretty good relationship.

No, I’m out of the political…we have our own government. We are a sovereign nation. Sovereignty… no one can come in here and buy land, you know. Under the trusteeship of the US government-all this land is that we are on. So politically, I don’t involve myself with that kind of. I was involved for about eight years in 2000-2010, about eight years, yeah. So at that time we opened up a lot of enterprises. I opened up the golf course with Dick Butkus. You know Dick Butkus from the Chicago Cubs. I always wanted to meet that guy and I did. I don’t have time to watch any games and one day I was watching this football game and this guy keep sacking the quarterbacks and runners you know. I said that guy can’t stop. I spent some time watching that game and I said I’d like to meet that guy- I wonder what that guy’s like?  And I end up meeting him at the golf course. They hired him to open up. And I was the first Lieutenant Governor. The governor couldn’t make it and I had to open up with him on short notice and it went well. And the same thing happened, the governor for some reason didn’t make the opening at the casino, the one you passed, and I opened that one up with Don Rickles-the old actor that probably your parents saw. But that’s as far as political-I’m not involved now.

I’ve done farming and ranching all my life. We had some cattle, too. I went to school but I said to myself I don’t want to work for anybody else. And I may be poor, I don’t have money all the time but at least I have my freedom you know, yeah. To be able to be free. I get tired and sometimes I don’t wake up early enough but still I have the evenings you know. Yeah, you have your own time. It would be stressful for me to be driving into Albuquerque all the time with the traffic and making sure I get on time to punch the clock or whatever you know-it’s hard. I don’t like that.


The Center of Southwest Culture has been pretty helpful as far as finding the market. And the technical… like I said we never grew anything like this and Joseph has been very helpful. Shows us how to take care of the plants in the beginning. How to plant. And also, what to plant. You have to keep up a production cycle through the summer or the spring. Spring, Summer and Fall-these guys need to learn-I need to learn. But they’ve been very kind and helpful.

In a good way, it’s a …see we have aboriginal water rights, so if we can farm more land then we keep our water rights. But if they start building homes on agricultural land then the government will tell you, “You don’t have that much land anymore,” so they’ll cut your water rights. So, that’s how it works.

Everybody’s wanting to get into farming here now I think. They talk about it but some of them are talking about it. I have a neighbor about a quarter of a mile down. He does it on his own but we’re trying to get him involved with Arturo and another guy down across the river. There’s another guy but hopefully they’ll come out because we didn’t do it the first year either. You know it took a least a year before we really thought about it.

We have several feast days and what is open to the public is what we are celebrate with the church. Like San Augustin now on the 28th. You guys are welcome to come on the 28th. And then September 4th little San Augustinito. And how that was, that has to do with the harvest and thanking back the Great Spirit and God. So together there used to be two-there’s two celebrations-the big one, San Augustin and San Augustinito. The one, the big one was Isleta, the east side, and correction on the west side was Isleta the pueblo where it is located west of the river and all those farmers would throw this celebration on the 28th. And then on the 4th everybody on the east side threw another celebration on the 4th San Augustinito. So those are the two, maybe not the…they are all important but those are the two now. And again, in December there will be baby Jesus you know for four days from the 28th to the 3rd. Yeah, and several in between the Governor’s feast day again through the church he thanks, you know, prays for the rain in June. And he feeds all the people and whoever comes the public is fed you know and then we have dances. But yeah throughout like I said in the beginning you always have to thank. It’s always giving thanks, I guess. You have to…if you woke up today.

LJ:  Speaking of history, your youth was spent here as well right and as far as being at your age now do you see any kinds of differences from your youth to the youth of today?

Yeah. Too much. Now you know they are influenced by the American culture, so look at… you know they are thinking in English, thinking in American. They are tuned in, they are different. For us, when we do traditional stuff they (Can I put my cap on my head? Sure no problem, sorry about that) … They pick it up, they learn, they are hopefully going to remember and do practice. And for us it was like expected. Now we are teaching them now. And we are trying to teach them.

LJ:  And are they receptive to that?

Yes, to a point, because again, like I said, they are speaking English and probably thinking Indian, English, but for only those parts they are probably speaking Indian and hopefully they are understanding what they are saying and doing.

I grew up in the village area most of the time and actually I grew up with my mom at first but I would see him, like, every now and often. And I don’t know I would rather be outside than be in the house all day you know.

Symbolic words in Tewa. You have Mother Earth, of course, that’s very symbolic. Like all our greetings are symbolic. Like in the morning you see someone and you say, “How did the sun rise for you?” And in the evening, “How did the sun set for you?” So it’s still part of the daily life and the cycle, you can look at it like plants you know.



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