Annually, from September 15 to October 15, the United States recognizes National Hispanic Heritage Month and celebrates the influences that Latinos have had on the nation. Indeed, the oldest permanently established settlement in the country by Europeans is St. Augustine, Florida. It was founded by the Spanish in 1565. In the Southwest the first settlement by the Spanish was founded in 1598 as San Juan de los Caballeros under the leadership of Juan de Oñate, who constructed a major irrigation canal, called an acequia, as part of his planned capital city in La Provincia del Nuevo México. This occurred nearly nine years before the founding of Jamestown, the first English settlement in the Americas.
Key features of the Hispano acequias in northern New Mexico are their Islamic roots and related local control principles. The Moors left an indelible mark on Spain’s irrigation systems. Of importance, according to José Rivera, an acequia scholar, are the principles of sharing and local control. Unlike the American system of prior-appropriation water rights, Hispanos share water even in periods of drought, and they do so through a system of local control involving a mayordomo, who oversees the allocation of water by the community of irrigators, as well as the maintenance of the irrigation canals. The mayordomo position is rotated among the members of the community of irrigators and the person in the position is elected by the irrigators. The mayordomo resolves disputes and can levy fines on those who commit infractions, such as using water without permission. The sharing principles and local democratic practices preceded the establishment of the United States.