Founded the 14th of March 1903, its name comes from the
anagram MEXI-co and CALI-fornia, which in an inverse way also generated the name of
Calexico, access door to the state of California and frontier with Mexicali.
In pre-Columbian times, the Río Colorado delta was
inhabited by a centuries-long succession of Yumano tribes. When the Spanish first stumbled
upon the delta after traversing, with great difficulty, the Sonora Desert's Camino del
Diablo ("Devil's Road"), a sophisticated Río Colorado culture was cultivating
squash, melons, peas, and five colors of corn: yellow, blue, white, red, and blue-white.
The Indians also possessed an impressive knowledge of medicinal herbs and employed desert
plants like mesquite and agave in a wide variety of uses. Like their neighbors the
Kiliwas, the Cucapás' numbers were greatly reduced by Spanish missionization in northwest
Among the major Yumano groups in the region were the
Cucapás, who navigated the difficult Río Colorado on reed rafts. Today Cucapá
descendants inhabit a small government-protected corner of the delta near the junction of
the Hardy and Colorado rivers. For the most part, the Indians work on agricultural ejidos
or fish the rivers, although many have migrated to Mexicali. Few indigenous customs
survived both the Spanish and Mexican eras; both the Kiliwas and the Cucapás continued to
practice cremation rituals, for example, until they were banned by the Mexican government
early this century.
The Building of an Agricultural
After the Jesuits left, the Spanish and later the Mexicans
had little to do with northeastern Baja, perceiving it as an untamable, flood-prone desert
delta. Around the time of the American Civil War, a Yale geologist, while surveying a
route for the Southern Pacific Railroad, wandered into the delta and discovered what the
dwindling population of Yumanos had known for centuries: the 2.5-km-thick sediment was
prime farming soil. The sediments extended far to the west of the river itself,
accumulating in a shallow basin below the Sierra de Cucapá. All it needed was the
addition of water to become an agricultural miracle.
In 1900 the U.S.-based California Land Company received
permission from the Porfirio Díaz government to cut a canal through the delta's Arroyo
Alamo, thus linking the dry basin with the Colorado River. To attract farmers to the area,
the developers named the basin the Imperial Valley. In March 1903, the first 500 farmers
arrived; by late 1904, 100,000 valley acres were irrigated, with 10,000 people settled on
the land and harvesting cotton, fruits, and vegetables. A collection of huts and ramadas
that straddled the border was named Calexico on the U.S. side, Mexicali on the Mexican
Seeing that the equally fertile Valle de Mexicali lay
undeveloped, another American land syndicate, the Colorado River Land Company, moved in.
Led by Harry Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, the syndicate controlled
some 800,000 acres of northern Baja and in 1905 began constructing a Valle de Mexicali
irrigation system. Instead of using Mexican labor, as the Imperial Valley developers had,
Chandler imported thousands of Chinese coolies. After a major 1905 rainfall, the channel
dug from Arroyo Alamo ended up diverting the entire outflow of the Colorado River into the
Imperial Valley, taking Mexicali with it--unknowingly, the syndicate had tapped into one
of the river's original routes. The Salton Sink, a dried-up remainder of the Sea of
Cortez, became the Salton Sea virtually overnight.
Neither the U.S. nor Mexico wanted to take responsibility
for the growing "New River" created by Chandler's mistake. As both valleys
became increasingly inundated, the Southern Pacific Railroad stepped in and, to protect
its tracks, dumped a sufficient amount of rock into the river to head the Colorado back
into the Cortez, leaving a canal to the Valle de Mexicali. From then on, both valleys
became highly productive agricultural centers.
Mexicali was born the 14 of March of 1903, and it is now
the Capital city of Baja California, the 29th state of Mexico. Shortly after the first
irrigation canals were built, most of the land was bought by the Colorado River Land
Company from the USA The company developed commercial crops and became almost a monopoly
until it was decided to sell its land to Mexican farmers in 1936 and 1937.
The Mexicali Valley is the agricultural heart of the state,
with more than 200,000 irrigated hectares. This valley is responsible for some of the
biggest crops in Mexico, including wheat and cotton. With an ensured supply of water,
Mexicali has become an important exporter of sparagus, broccoli, green onion and radish
for the whole world.
Cotton became the most important crop of the Valley and it
helped to develop the dressing and textile industries. In the early 50's, the Mexicali
Valley became the biggest cotton producing zone in the whole country. Production increased
even more in the mid 60's reaching more than half a million parcels harvested in just one