History Reclaimed

La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo

Writer Henry Barajas, Artist J. Gonzo, Letters Bernardo Brice, Editor Claire Napier

Henry Barajas in La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo has set out with great ambition to bring focus to a little-remembered part of recent American history. He has also brought to light the role of his great-grandfather – Ramon Jarigue –  and the highly effective grassroots campaigning organisation – M.A.Y.O the Mexican American Yaqui Organisation – that he helped found in that history. This role had been erased and beyond the memory of the elderly participants not much remains. This book is a work of history. It is also a work of biography.

The story involves the complex and inter-related elements of race and class in U.S. society. Ramon Jaurigue was a veteran of the Second World War who fought on the bloody beaches of the Pacific theater. The Yaqui people are an indigenous people who after centuries of conflict found themselves divided between the United States and Mexico and confined to reservations, without even official recognition of their status as a tribe.

When a plan was announced to drive a road through their land near Tuscon, Arizona Ramon became a key organiser as part of a determined effort by the Yaqui community to resist this land grab. The Yaqui people were ignored because they were indigenous, but also because they were poor. They were seen as people who didn’t vote and didn’t matter.

Ramon was no saint, and as is so often the case, when you are entirely dedicated to a cause other things suffer and other family members, usually women, have to pick up the pieces.

I went to the new Yaqui library in their new rez. I requested access to their history books. Found nothing that had anything to do with M.A.Y.O or Ramon.

Anyone who has been involved in politics or political campaigns at any level can sympathise with the airbrushing of history involving Ramon and M.A.Y.O. Huge and complex struggles involving sometimes millions of people, and organisers who sacrificed everything for the cause are forgotten or reduced to a few simplistic sentences. Watch any documentary about the 1980s and you will see the same video footage of the police charge against striking miners at Orgreave – or maybe Arthur Scargill being arrested. The tens of thousands of strikers, their families and support groups are never shown. Indeed it has been in the realm of culture with films like Pride and even Billy Elliot that some of these stories get told. Similar stories can be told of the Poll Tax, the struggles against the Criminal Justice Act, the Iraq War and many more. 

It suits politicians and the media to reduce history to a carefully managed soundbite as part of an overarching narrative about society that they want to spin from whatever careerist or ideological perspective they have. 

I know most of you have never left this land. Don’t be afraid. They’re more afraid of you. They’re afraid of your voice. They’re afraid of our strength in numbers.

The art by J.Gonzo effectively brings to life the personalities of the different individuals encountered in the story. The slick politicians, the children excited for Christmas, the mothers struggling with poverty. Particularly striking are the colours. Bold and vibrant red earth, aquamarine skies which speak of the landscape of the Mexican-American border, the ancestral home of the Yaqui.

Also included in the book are other important documents, products of the research of the author. There are interview transcripts and reproductions of M.A.Y.O. bulletins which give a very effective flavour of the type of organisation they were, and the extent of the work they did in the community.

So this is a story of the reclamation of history, like the Yaqui fought for their land and for their status as a people, so this was a fight to win something back. To restore the truth of a community that fought back. It is also a story of victory, for survival is a victory in itself.

La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo is published by Top Cow.

Henry Barajas, Claire Napier and Bernardo Brice are on Twitter.

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