Sometimes I think I should have been a historian because I love archives. So much. Last year, as some of you may remember, I visited the Archivo General Agrario for the first time. Last year, I was kind of annoyed with this archive because they were slow, I needed to write a letter on letterhead in order to be able to take pictures, etc. etc. etc. Classic bureaucracy. Then, I went back in March and I learned I couldn’t even take pictures! What the heck! I took some notes, and thought I would never have to return.
I was quite happy about this turn of events because this archive is a bit crazy. It is actually used by normal people, and in Mexico this means people who don’t know how to use computers well (the archive search engine is computer based) and sometimes people who can barely read. This means that the few people who are actually helping the patrons have an even more difficult job than in other archives. And the documents are in the process of being digitized so sometimes it takes a while to get them, and sometimes by around 11 or 12 there are so many people that they can take up to half an hour. So then I would go home and have lunch.
Then, I began to do some more research for my project and to talk to some people about agrarian reform in Mennonite and Mormon communities. I learned that one Mennonite colony, La Batea, was particularly notorious for problems with ejidos. I had read some information about final agreements, but then I realized I would have to go back and see how and why this conflict had started. So I had to read some documents (they were cool btw. Pieces of paper and carbon copies from 50-100 years ago are my jam). While I was staying with the Mormons, they and other people I met in the region also started telling me about Mormon problems with land reform, and that one of the reasons why they had fewer colonies now than 100 years ago was because of agrarian reform… when I went to look up two conflicts… the files were enormous. There was no way I could take notes, even if I made the questionable choice of bringing my computer on the subway to go to the archive (close to a neighbourhood, Tepito, that is not considered the best).
So, I decided to ask the staff if there was any way I could take pictures – I could pay to have photocopies made, but those took at least three weeks of turnaround. They were priced reasonably, but the time made me a bit concerned. Finally, I asked the right person, and he (pictured above) told me that according to his boss, I would need a letter, and a camera. So, once I had found out which documents I wanted to have for posterity, and after griping for a while to my housemate, I went back to the archive. The only problem with this is that I left my camera in my apartment (because it was breaking) and only had my phone. The phone also has the advantage of being able to use programs like genius scan to convert images to PDF, and then I can use Acrobat Pro to make the PDF searchable… so basically it is way more convenient. I decided to put on my best new t-shirt from Los Hipersensibles and my white privilege and hoped for the best. It worked. I now have so much information about ejidos, Mormons in Chihuahua and Mennonites in Zacatecas that it’s ridiculous. The question remains: why could I do this and why do people who are trying to ascertain their own land titles have to pay money and then wait for an interminably long time?