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The novel begins with the John Nichol’s Milagro inhabitants speculating the motives of a local native, Joe Mondragón after he began illegally propagating an arid beanfield by using an irrigation system while the rest of the town withered in the drought. The townspeople of Milagro shared their opinions and assumed Joe Mondragón’s motives, introducing several characters of The Milagro Beanfield War, demonstrating their characters and their personal histories in relation to each other and Joe Mondragón himself. The novel is set in 1970, interweaving several sociocultural, economic, environmental and individual perspectives that occurred in the region. The trivial action of Joe Mondragón was anything but trivial, revealing the strain that the event placed on the town and the pressures that were induced by the presented antagonist, Mondragón.
Bernabé Montoya, the city sheriff was first introduced after Mondragón, describing his motives to be of an immature and kid-like nature, “with a king-sized chip on his shoulder, going slightly amuck” (Nichols 3). Tranquilino Jeantete, the Frontier Bar owner provided comedic relief when describing Joe Mondragón’s intention being the need for a homemade enchilada with genuine Milagro beans, in spite of the Devine Company, the company that essentially runs the town of Milagro. Nick, the store keeper was introduced and gave reason for Joe Mondragón’s actions due to his inability to repay his debt and with a plot to send his store out of business. The Indian Creek Dam was the primary operator in the success of Milagro, with Ladd Devine III as the chief believed that Mondragón’s motives were personal, and wanted to attack the dam, him personally and the fate of Milagro. Amarante Códova, a fellow townsperson suggested that the motive was for creating up roar and “revolution without any further delay” (3).
The real Joe Mondragón was shared with readers, as John Nichols described him as a thirty-six-year-old, lacking a real job, with a wife, three children and his own house, built by himself, demonstrating his hard-working nature although he lacked the fundamental determining characteristic, a job. Since he lacked a job, he had acquired an array of skills, but stayed true to his knowledge on building houses, plumbing, “he could tear down a useless tractor and piece it together again so niftily it would plow like balls of fire for at least a week…” (24-25). Just like the nature of its owner, the Joe Mondragón household was ringed in by clutter. He was a man Nichols described as willing to fix anything, being the man that everyone would call up no matter what the weather, rummaging around town in his yellow pickup truck. He expressed his frustration with the government, he was tired of having to work so hard, to travel for work and having to pay the high expenses that were required of city. Most of all, he resented Ladd Devine III, the current owner of his grandfather’s old land, the old land that he now had to have a deer license to hunt on (26). The character of Joe Mondragón was described as chaotic, being that he had been to jail numerous times, who disregarded laws, who had broken fingers, a man who claimed he didn’t have any fear. When Joe Mondragón was just a year old, the Interstate Water Compact was passed in 1935, reallocating the Indian Creek water, the lifeline of Milagro to larger famers in the south, “leaving folks like Joe Mondragón high and much too dry” (28). Joe Mondragón decided to grow an irrigated beanfield right in front of his parent’s “decaying west side home” as described by Nichols, seemingly harmless, but was described by Nichols as “irrevocable as Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Castro’s voyage on the Granma, or the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand…” (28). This beanfield was not just a beanfield to the town of Milagro, it was an uproar, symbolism for the start of a war, a sign of attack on the Devine Company, and a wrench in the Milagro community.
Joe Mondragón’s beanfield at first seemed silly, but as the novel continues we learn the depth of the town of Milagro, the history of both the land and the community with underlying implications of water, land, access, environment and people. The debate of the townspeople on the topic of Joe Mondragón was a hot commodity, deliberated at almost any chance the townspeople had to talk about him. “This dam, this conservancy district has the farmers down there on pins and needles. Arresting Joe Mondragón for a symbolic act like this could start something nasty” (51). It was interesting to read this deliberation, as that quote was given by Ladd Devine III, introduced by the novel as an essential family enemy of Joe Mondragón. It was possible that Joe Mondragón just wanted to seek revenge, that he wanted Ladd Devine III to pay for the wrong that was administered in his life, as Mondragón’s family was a typical Hispano family, similarly to everyone else in Milagro, with a nice house and some land, whereas Mondragón watched that get stripped away, leaving him with the cluttered small house at the edge of town, raising his children in an unstable environment, learning many types of crafts to make do. Much of Milagro was the same, having similar histories, similar methods of colonization, mostly identifying as hispanos, “a native of resident of the Southwestern U.S. descended from Spaniards settled there before annexation” (“Definition of Hispano”). With the similarities of their past, most of the citizens joined in unison of selling their land on the west side to the Devine Company, all except Joe Mondragón and his parent’s home residing on the west side, keeping the rest of the town in the dark about the future dam to be built on the west side by the Devine Company. There was discussion of taxation of the people of Milagro for the funding of the dam, and news of a resort to be built was also circulating around the town. The major issue in the Devine Company’s plan was Joe Mondragón, the man who was halting the Devine Company’s plans. The way in which Joe Mondragón’s actions were described by the townspeople provided a sense of foreshadowing that was building up to the reveal of the dam, of the resort and of the betrayal the Devine Company was soon to administer.
As the war touched off with Joe Mondragón leading the charge, he soon collected followers, advocates for himself and the town of Milagro. As the war was setting off, the two sides were clearly set into place, and the book states that the two sides were not defined by immigration, race or religion, but by wealth and community influence. The city of Milagro was founded by and recognized as a place of Hispanos and Anglo-Saxons. Similarly, to the real history of the state of New Mexico, and the importance of history and culture in regards to the Hispanos and early settlers who founded the land of New Mexico, and supported the state through the process of being recognized by the United States of America in early 1912 (Neives). There are numerous attempts to dissuade Joe Mondragón’s beanfield, and many townspeople under the jurisdiction of the Devine Company’s Ladd Devine III, try to intervene. From Eusebio Lavadie, a wealthy farmer, Carl Abeyta, a notable Hispano forestry employee and even an incognito investigator Kyril Montana, all packed into Ladd Devine III’s plan of organizing under Ruby Archuleta, a business owner of Milagro, with a fiery spirit and passion. Ruby speaks with Joe Mondragón, providing a line that truly resonated with me, and encompasses the entire novel, “It’s your beanfield… but it represents all our beanfields…” (153-154). Through the exchange that Joe Mondragón and Ruby Archuleta ensure in, there are mere instances where comments are made based on the integrity of the Devine Company, only to be followed by a softball game pitting the two sides of the war directly against one another. I believe this was the true climax of the novel, as the tension rose from both sides of the field, both literally and figuratively, the softball field and the land of Milagro. What could have ultimately help end the war between the two sides, ended up igniting a dangerous flame. Mondragón ended up shooting a townsperson over a pig, and the undercover policeman, Kyril Montana stakes out Joe Mondragón, trying to follow every move, but to his dismay he is shot by a three-man team, Ruby, her son and her significant other. Later after the capture and release of Joe Mondragón, there is a discussion with the governor, who was alerted of the arising issues of Milagro thanks to the insane publicity that was demonstrated throughout the varying stunts provided by the townspeople. The governor halts Ladd Devine III and Devine Company’s plans to essentially over take the city of Milagro to its own disposal and revenue, preventing the creation of the dam with the taxpayer money of Milagro, as well as other plans including the resort town. The end of the novel reflects back onto the thoughts of Joe Mondragón himself, a man described by others as unruly, ill-kept, malicious, a man who was encircled by negative connotations. Ultimately, Joe Mondragón was not who he was made out to be, not who he was to himself either, “…he had certainly not anticipated the particular consequences that had occurred…. This officially was not just his beans anymore…” (616). Joe Mondragón was not a monster as many believe he was, he was not a shallow individual trying to profit off the land, he was a leader, a representative of Milagro, a hispano and proud to be embrace his culture, to stand up for what he believed in and to ultimately do the right thing, no matter who he was up against.
The Milagro Beanfield War truly was a journey, a journey that I myself was not necessarily prepared for. The feelings that arose in every page that I turn resonated with me, and will continue to do so whenever I am reminded of this novel. Although this novel only narrowed in on one particular state in the United States of America, I could not be help think about the underlying implications that were evident all throughout this novel. It was moving to see a city such as Milagro, and the attachment and symbolism that was shared with the culture and the environment. The dam being installed would heavily impact the water culture of the city, the culture of the community and the environment itself. The drought of Milagro was given personification, almost as if it were also a member of the Milagro community, feeling what the town felt, perceiving the townspeople and their feelings as well. The beanfield itself posed as a very real issue, connecting with nature and the environment, having a type of interplay between the two of them. Having nature represent such an array of feelings and emotions has truly resonated with myself and hopefully all readers who take the time to understand this novel. The culture presented in this book was also so interesting, with the interplay between the Anglo-Americans and the Hispano-Americans, representing varying morals, through collectivism as shown with the tie in to the morals of the Hispano culture, and it was interesting to experience the contrast with the individualistic Anglo-American culture. Overall, this novel represented so much more than the typical beanfield, it was representative of the culture in Milagro, the power of a community, and the analyzation of the collective and individualistic outlooks in regards to community and the environment. The power of this novel seems to seep off the pages, standing for more than what the title may hold, representing lives and culture, far more important than just a beanfield.
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