Gila gives life to the Mimbres Valley

By Daniel G. Salaiz
Silver City Daily Press | June 18, 2019

As Father’s Day passes, I find myself reflecting on my upbringing and the legacy I am going to leave for the generations that come after me. I grew up in a time where there were no cars and life was simple. My family spoke primarily Spanish, like most families in the Valley at that time. Homesteading in 1869, my father was a second-generation American and, most importantly, second-generation New Mexican.

Now, I am a third-generation New Mexican and I want to pass the traditions of the Mimbres Valley on to my children and grandchildren. That is why I support the proposed Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation to permanently protect the Gila River, San Francisco River and their main tributaries in the Gila National Forest.

Designating certain sections of these rivers as Wild and Scenic will allow our waters to continue flowing freely as they always have. Given how much change this Valley has seen, it is important for us now to keep some things how they have always been. Keeping the rivers healthy is a great forethought for our grandchildren and their children, so that they may catch a glimpse of what our lives were and are like.

After living away for many years, I decided to return home. San Juan is where my parents are buried — it is here where my roots are. I reminisce about how the Mimbres Valley used to be and how it has changed over time. I remember the Valley smelling of apples and cherries, back when residents could use the water from the Mimbres River to irrigate. I remember knowing all the families that lived here, some of which are no longer with us, like so many rural towns in the country.

But there are so many opportunities for us yet to come in the Valley. Wild and Scenic designation will protect our water: our lifeblood. It will draw more people to visit and spend their dollars at our stores, and pull more people to move back home.

San Juan to me is a way of life. With its river, forest, and abundant wildlife, it reminds me of my wonderful childhood — a childhood that many would consider scarce of luxuries, but that I would never trade. Subsisting from the land was a privilege that came with the responsibility of not exploiting the natural resources in order to maintain a balanced system. A responsibility that I will forever adhere to, because being Mimbreño means advocating for all aspects of our Valley.

The Gila River and its tributaries give life to our communities. Those of us who have lived here for generations recognize its importance, and we pass our love for the river on to our children. It’s time we give back to the river by permanently protecting it through Wild and Scenic legislation.

I, personally, as a Mimbreño, would like to thank Sen. Udall and Sen. Heinrich for what they are doing for our communities. But I encourage them to continue that work by introducing Wild and Scenic legislation for the Gila and San Francisco rivers.

Daniel G. Salaiz is a Mimbres Valley resident.

This article originally appeared in the Silver City Daily Press.