A group of Mexican farmers are trudging under the scorching sun upon the barren prairie that is the land “they gave to them.” Apart from their rifles and horses, another thing that is not mentioned in the text had been taken from them: arable agricultural lands. And instead of those lands they had been given “All the Big Plain,” which has “thousands and thousands of plots of land.” What the lands don’t have is a drop of water or chance of rain. In few words we are introduced to the one-sided and threatening dialogue with the government official, who presents these people with the gift they can’t turn down. Most likely someone up or in the middle of the chain defined the move as an “agricultural reform,” allegedly intended to benefit the farmers, but in reality depriving them of the little they had, and all this approximately three decades after the revolution that was supposed to remedy the social injustices in Mexico. Despite the laconic method of presentation (which matches the prevailing poverty and desperation), Rulfo manages to imbue his miserable characters with human uniqueness, to a large extent thanks to their peculiarities. “They Gave Us the Land” is a sharp protest story as much as it is a masterpiece of poetic prose that plays in the reader’s mind with simplicity and precision, without one strident note.
This story was first published in 1945 in the magazine “Pan” (“Bread”) in the city of Guadalajara and was included in the collection “The Burning Plain” (1952), one of the two books (along with the novel “Pedro Páramo,” 1955) published by Juan Rulfo (1918-1986), which have granted him a place of honor as one of the most celebrated writers in Mexican literature for generations.