Who is Lupe?

Lupe Valenzuela-Flores is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Nation outside of Tucson, Arizona.

1. How does the border affect the people of the Yaqui nation by effectively cutting the nation in half?

Our people are affected by this border issue because many times our Yaqui people are counted as Mexican regardless as to their bloodline or heritage. We would be able to help them better if they were able to travel back and forth; the Mexican government is very strict with our people, they take their water rights away, they take their lands away from them because they know our people are not as self sufficient as the Mexican people are, they even began to take their shrimp and fishing rights away from them. Our People are very much looked down upon by the Mexican people. It’s very hard for us to fight for our peoples rights from a distance but it can be done slowly and it is being done. It’s very difficult for our people to get a simple passport just to come over and visit their families here in the USA; passports cost money and if the people are limited with money, then they can’t afford a passport. There are some people who own lands in Sonora and they have ranches and plant wheat, corn or whatever they can plant to make a living; those are the fortunate ones who can afford passports and such simple things. Can you imagine if our people weren’t held prisoners on their own lands, we could be as large as other tribes such as the Navajo nation or the Lakota (Sioux) nation. I hope this helps answer your question.

2. How does your tribe feel about living on or near the US/Mexico border?

Our Yaqui members living on or near the US/Mexican border don’t like it at all but they are very limited as to what they can do about it. They really don’t have the money to be able to come to the US side and living near the border their entire lives is all they have ever known. Our Yaqui Pueblo’s are about 6 to 8 hours away from the border, so that’s why many males will take a chance and cross the border by foot. Can you imagine how far they need to walk just to cross the border? They do so illegally because they can’t afford to do it legally.

3. What is hard about living near the border for your tribe?

It’s hard because when our people need help financially, medically or educationally, they don’t have the means to come across and get financial aid, medical aid and so on; it’s a burden hard for them to bare, especially when they are in dire need.

4. What are the current problems along the US/Mexico border that affect your tribe?

The current problems affecting are people in Mexico are: trying to cross the US border even if they have the passports-the Mexican soldiers are very cruel to our Yaqui people and they demand more money from our people when they don’t have money to spare for extra demands made from the soldados or other officials at the border. If they don’t get what they ask for they refuse to let them cross over.

5. Do you think your tribe has been treated fairly?

Our people have never been treated fairly especially those who live in Mexico, some Mexican people treat them very cruel and think our people aren’t good enough for them. Our tribe was almost not recognized as a historical tribe in September of 1980 because the people were saying we were a “made up tribe”. We had to fight a hard battle to get recognized as a historical tribe (this happened in Washington DC) and one of our greatest leaders, Mr. Anselmo Valencia, fought very hard to prove to the white people in DC that our people had been around for many, many generations. Once our tribe was recognized, the treatment of our people became better here in the US only, but not for our people in Mexico.

6. How long has your tribe lived near the border?

Our tribe has lived near the border since the early 1800’s maybe even sooner than that.

7. How did your ancestors feel when the border was created through their land?

Our ancestors felt as if they had been cut in half because back in the days, our people were sold, traded and used as slaves to work in the sugar cane plantations run by the Mexican people. My husband’s Grandfather, Theodoro, told us he was taken from his family when he was only 11 years old to work at some Mexican’s ranch; once he was about 15 or 16 years old, he ran away and came to the USA. He was able to get across by changing his last name to Flores (in our language it’s pronounced Sewam, which means flowers). Our people also felt they had been robbed from their land because they were kicked off their land and placed in other rural areas in Mexico. To this day, many of our Yaqui families (including little children)live in remote desert areas where they hunt for their food, carry water from nearby water wells and struggle to get medical attention. It’s really very sad to see the children come out running from the bushes, some don’t have shoes to wear because they can’t afford them. But they are content with what they have because they are alive.

8. What could people do to fix the problems?

We help them from here in the USA by making frequent visits to the small pueblos and take them things such as clothing that was donated by others, pencils, paper, crayons, backpacks (school supplies), some food and sometimes they even get toys and bikes; the children enjoy getting toys and especially bikes. If you gave a child a teddy bear that was missing two eyes or something like that, they take care of it as if it was gold to them (because they can’t afford things like we are used to getting or things we take forgranted).

9. What did your tribe traditionally eat? How has this changed?

Our tribes traditional foods are: pinto beans, flour tortillas, mesquite beans which are used to make flour and medicines, soups with various seasonal vegetables, meat from deer, cows, wild game such as javalina & rabbit, and other fruits & vegetables they harvested from their gardens. These days they have pretty much the same foods but now they make fresh corn tortillas from ground corn, they make tamales drink tea or water and some yaqui people learned to cook like we do here in the USA. They also changed with the times and eat as we do.

10. How did your tribe traditionally dress? How has this changed?

The men tradionally wore white pants/shirts with a colorful scarf and handmade huaraches; the women wore handmade colorful skirts/blouses and shawls as well as huaraches. Now, most males dress western but still wear a colorful scarf around their neck and still wear huaraches and those who can afford to purchase boots do so. The women continue to wear colorful skirts/blouses, shawls and sandals.

11. What tongue did your tribe traditionally speak?

Our traditional language is still Yaqui, our people who live in Mexico speak it fluently on a daily basis. Here in the USA, we are still fortunate to have fluent speakers, however; there are times when there are no words in Yaqui, therefore; we use Spanish derivatives’ for example: for spoon we say cucharam instead of cuchara.

12. Do you still speak that language?

Yes, we continue to use our traditional language because we don’t want it to die out. So we teach our little head start children in school our language as well as our culture.

13. How did your tribe survive in the desert for so long?

I think our people survived in the desert because they were used to being in the sun for extended periods of time so it came naturally to them.

14. What are your tribe's reservations like?

Our reservation is like any other place in this world. We have our own housing dept., administrative buildings, our own clinic and very soon our very own High School. We have a brand new fire department and also coming soon is our own Judicial building, so we have very modern facilities on our reservation.