100 Year Old Tortugas Traditions Threatened By Retail Development

May 6, 2014

Tortugas watch the mornings ceremonies and dances in the court yard of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church beneath Tortugas Mountain
Credit Simon Thompson

Men with faces hidden beneath elaborate, bejeweled headdresses, trailing lengths of colored ribbons and bandanas adorned with images of the Virgin Ma­­ry dance in two lines before the entrance of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Tortugas in part of traditional ceremony.

Ed Fierro has been a part of the church since he was a child- Now the Capitán de la Guerra - or War captain, he leads the annual pilgrimage up Tortugas Mountain

“As a part of our tradition was we would light fires in front of the church to indicate to us; the Capitán de la Guerra- which in my position that I’ve served this year- would send a message via fire to return back say ok its time for everybody to come back”

He says progress and development around the mountain put an end to that tradition.

‘Well, now days with all the lights and street lights and everything, you really can’t make out the fires- so… that’s been one big impact on us– we’ve had to change the way we continue with our traditions so” he says.

Fierro is concerned as development comes closer to the mountain, that more of their century old tradition will die or have to adapt to the approaching surroundings.

Dona County Director of Community Development Daniel Hortert evaluates potential development outside the city, including the area around the mountain. He says development surrounds the shrine and site where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in Mexico City. In his view, people adapt to development.

“Mexico city one of the densest city in the world, they  pilgrimage through there every year as well. Nothing in anything I found said people didn’t like development around the church" he says.

Guadalupe’s miraculous apparition to Native American Juan Diego initiated his conversion to Christianity and cleared the way for many existing indigenous traditions and rituals to become entwined with their assumed Catholicism.

Bianca Paz belongs to native tribes Tigua and the Piro.  She, her mother and grandmother dance with the Tortugas to keep their traditional dances and ritual alive.

For Paz and her family climbing Tortugas mountain and keeping development out is not about religious beliefs but preserving the legacy of their native ancestors.

“The route from here to there is sacred- and the mountain its self is sacred, but to commercialize it and to have like any kind of a strip mall or anything around there- I think would be very disrespectful and just desecrate everything, all the culture and all the tradition my family has kept going all these years” she says.

Still neither the Tortugas nor the Native Tiguas or Piro have formalized their hopes to keep development away from Tortugas mountain and surrounding area.

“Technically if they wanted to they could have said they wanted to encourage preservation of the all the land around here and approached the land owners at that time, it would have been the BLM –and say we want to preserve” Hortert says.

Hortert says the Metropolitan Planning Organization already has plans in motion to build roads to cater to the development expected in the surrounding area.

Fierro says he accepts that some development of the area is inevitable- but he is concerned that eventually the importance of area will be overlooked completely

That’s what we are ultimately concerned with -  we will be landlocked and won’t be able to get there  - we need a straight access to the property”  he says.