"Benedición del agua"
a Moving Rural Verse Poem-Film

Bendición del agua is a glance into New Mexico's acequia landscape as seen through the eyes of a young woman.  The film brings attention to acequieros who’ve carried on acequia traditions despite challenges of development, rural gentrification and cultural erosion. It is also a call to younger generations to honor ancestral traditions and contribute to a sustainable future through acts of charity, respect, resiliency and a regard for water, land and cultural preservation. Poem by Olivia Romo. Film by Daniel Sonis, with artistic direction from Levi Romero. Read the poem (with translation).

About the acequia:

An acequia is a community watercourse bringing spring runoff or river water by ditch to agricultural farms distant from water sources. Brought to the New World by Spain, acequias remain in use to this day in the American Southwest.

An acequia in northern New Mexico.

An acequia in northern New Mexico.

About the Artists:

From left: Daniel Sonis, filmmaker; Olivia Romo, poet; Levi Romero, artistic director.

From left: Daniel Sonis, filmmaker; Olivia Romo, poet; Levi Romero, artistic director.

Daniel Sonis is a filmmaker, musician and music producer. As a filmmaker he has produced over 50 documentary videos for the Albuquerque nonprofit community. Current work focuses on documentary filmmaking to support social justice and positive change.

Olivia Romo is from the village of Taos, in northern New Mexico. She is Communications and Outreach Director at the New Mexico Acequia Association. Olivia is a spoken-word artist and was named the New Mexico State Champion of Slam Poetry in 2011.

Levi Romero is from the Embudo Valley of northern New Mexico. He is Assistant Professor in the Chicana and Chicano Studies department at the University of New Mexico and Director of the New Mexico Cultural Landscapes Certificate Program. Levi was awarded the post of New Mexico Centennial Poet in 2012.

Levi Romero and Olivia Romo on writing the poem and filmmaking:

The backstory of “Bendición del agua:”

“In 2011 I had been working on a documentation of the various acequia systems in the Taos valley through the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning program and UNM’s Taos branch Instituto de Agua y Cultura (Water Institute). I asked Olivia Romo, who had just recently graduated from high school, to write an acequia-themed poem for inclusion in my research work. Olivia promptly responded with a poem that captured the historical, spiritual, and cultural nuances of a northern New Mexico acequia community with startling enunciation. The poem was inspired by the Acequia del Finado Francisco Martinez, a centuries-old irrigation ditch in the community of Llano Quemado. I invited filmmaker Daniel Sonis to work with me on a short film based on Olivia’s poem. The film captured Olivia reciting her poem along the ditch banks of the Martinez ditch. As we filmed, the smokey haze and acrid smell of the Las Conchas fire in the sky magnified the recent drought and issues concerning water in the southwest. When Olivia invited Daniel and I to produce another film based on her poem for the Western Folklife Center’s series on water in the southwest, a theme we were all familiar with, we were more than happy to oblige” –Levi Romero

Working on the film:

“Working with Daniel and Levi in “Bendición del agua” was a beautiful reunion of an acequia project that started in 2011. After creating a first video of the poem we received a wonderful opportunity to reimagine and dig in deep into what the poem had to offer. Our days were spent on the banks of some of the most beautiful acequias in Northern New Mexico. You could catch Daniel running through alfalfa fields in Chamisal with all of this equipment or myself cruising the valley of Atrisco in a 1962’ Chevy Impala. Although we filmed during the fall we captured beautiful chile fields, families cutting hay, and cultural icons like grandmothers, low riders, and traditional food. We got to visit with elders, farmers, and capture the resilient acequia system. Working with Levi and Daniel is like working with family and was filled with laughter, tears, and vision!” –Olivia Romo

The takeaway:

“The film is a demonstration of a deep love for the acequias and cultural traditions of Northern New Mexico. In one of the driest years in a 30-year trajectory we struggled to capture farms, crops, and irrigation but other opportunities revealed themselves to us in making an exciting film. Bendición del agua could not have happened without the support from the community who allowed us on their farm, acequia and even around their kitchen table. As a young advocate for the acequias, I see a lot of the struggle and despair in our rural communities. This project reminded me about the strength, hope, and passion that I envisioned as a young woman, for agricultural communities in the Southwest to return to the land, their cultural heritage and to defend our ancestral ways of life. If I could, I would do another project like this to breathe powerful cinematography, sound, and poetry into the world while continuing to educate and celebrate the cultural livelihoods of the Indio-Hispano people of New Mexico”. –Olivia Romo

Additional resources:

Learn more about New Mexico acequias: read Communal Water Sovereignty: Acequias in New Mexico, a presentation by Olivia Romo.

Watch a video presentation by Olivia Romo, given at the Water is Life Water is Community Project in Taos, New Mexico, in the Spring of 2018.

https://lasacequias.org/ - The New Mexico Acequia Association - map and data.


Moving Rural Verse was also funded by Jeff Tant and Briana Tiberti.