Gabriela Zepeda, the Archeologist behind Cañada de La Virgen
Personality of the month
By Sandra Ríos
Gabriela Zepeda, an archaeologist with a master’s degree in anthropology, a researcher, teacher, mother, daughter, and a person committed to her environment and society, has been key to much of the archaeological research in the Bajío area. She has been living in San Miguel, and she tells us a bit of her experience in the archaeological field.
Sandra Ríos: Where were you born, and where are your parents from?
Gabriela Zepeda: I was born in Mexico City; my dad was born in Xochimilco, and my mom, in Hollywood because my grandfather, Gabriel García Moreno and González, worked in the movies. He later worked with the Indio Fernández (director, actor, and producer of the golden age of Mexican cinema) in the Estudios Azteca, one of the first studios in Mexico. My grandfather was in Hollywood in the early ’30s. My grandmother was also there, and my mother was born there while my grandfather was working for the studios.
SR: Do you have siblings and children? Have you been married?
GZ: We are eight children, five women and three men. I have been married twice, and I have two sons one 32, who is a systems engineer, and the other, 24, who is currently studying Engineering Management in Querétaro.
SR: How long have you lived in San Miguel, and why did you choose to live here?
GZ: I’ve been living here for 13 years. My first contracts were in Guanajuato through the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History) and PEMEX (Petróleos Mexicanos) to do archaeological work in where area the gas pipeline was being laid. In fact, that was my thesis. I later landed a position in the INAH, and I went to Michoacán and then to Nayarit, where I worked for 13 years coordinating projects for which we recorded nearly 900 archaeological sites in the 20 municipalities, and we published several books. At the end I decided to move to Guanajuato with my project “Symbol and Power,” the theme for my PhD in social anthropology, working on the festivities of San Miguel de Allende. During that period of time, the National Coordination Center of INAH and the Technical Secretariat supported me and appointed me to be coordinator of the Cañada de la Virgen archaeological site. This was from 2002 until July 30, 2014.
SR: What do you like most about San Miguel?
GZ: I like its festivities, the conservation of its architecture, and its archaeological wealth. Since I was a kid I knew that the Cuenca Central del Río Laja was a hugely important archaeological substrate and that someday I would be working there. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do it with Cañada de la Virgen.
SR: Why did you decide to study anthropology?
GZ: Since I was 6 years old, I had some inclinations. My mom and dad said I always wanted to go to the pyramids, and I always got lost in them. When I was 10, while we were on a family trip to El Tajin in Veracruz, I told my mom: “I want to study the people who built this,” and she told me that study was called archaeology. I always had the support of my parents. They encouraged my vocation, so I went to ENAH (National School of Anthropology and History) in Mexico City in 1978.
SR: Have you devoted yourself to teaching?
GZ: Yes, almost since I began my career. I was teaching anthropology in the school of Psychology at the University of Guanajuato in 1983. And since 1985 to date, I have taught classes at the Universidad Iberoamericana in León. I love teaching. The last six years I have taught at a master’s level. Next year I hope to get my PhD, and in the future, I will also be able to teach at the postgraduate level.
SR: What is your PhD going to be about?
GZ: It will be about social sciences or philosophy; I hope I can start it by August of next year.
SR: A few weeks ago I attended a conference about Cañada de la Virgen at La Biblioteca. Can you share with our readers a little bit about the lecture?
GZ: The idea is to promote research in Cañada de la Virgen. The presence of the two funerary mounds found in the area is a subject of several investigations. Part of the theme of my PhD research is these funerary mounds, and I am proposing that the girl we discovered is a cihuateteo (girl who died in childbirth), and she may have been physically linked to the chief of the place, who is in the other mound. The question is what was their relationship? Father-daughter?
SR: How many archaeological sites have been discovered recently in the state of Guanajuato?
GZ: Among the 1,200 sites registered in the mid-’90s and 1,300 current sites, we have added 100 sites in Guanajuato.
SR: Have you published books?
GZ: I have four books: two are about Nayarit and two about Guanajuato. Cañada de la Virgen, a Refuge for the Dead and the Ancestors is one of my books. I have also published in newspapers and magazines.
SR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
GZ: I have been very privileged, very grateful to life, for the support that my parents gave me. It really is a privilege to have people who love you and support you, and I don’t say only in the family but also in the field from my colleagues and friends. I would also say that San Miguel de Allende deserves the best, because of its historical, archaeological, landscape and social heritage.