We're not here to praise Governor Doug Ducey's business leadership group, "Arizona Zanjeros," who, we suppose, are hoping to increase the flow of business opportunities into our state. No, we're talking about actual zanjeros: ditch riders, men and women, who control the flow of water through our city's system of canals by opening and closing the gates on canals and irrigation ditches across the Valley. These zanjeros helped make our desert way of life possible — and in some ways, continue to do so.
In spite of Ducey's group's recent cultural appropriation of the zanjero title, let's not forget: Historically, it was the labor and expertise of Latinos living in Phoenix who proved instrumental to the early irrigation operations. They helped with the physical construction of the canal system, and often served as zanjeros, covering hundreds of miles a day. Nine canals make up the Valley's complex canal system, largely constructed between 1870 and 1913. They were built upon the prehistoric irrigation canals of the Hohokam, which were feats of engineering genius in and of themselves. The Hohokam were present in Central Arizona for 1,500 years, producing one of the largest canal systems in the New World. That's a legacy to be proud of.
Today, being a zanjero is a trade that is disappearing, as farmland gives way to development.