By Barbara Zaragoza / South Bay Compass
Vestiges still exist of Los Rusos or the Russian immigrants who came to the Guadalupe Valley in 1905. You’ll find a small house, a restaurant and a winery at Familia Samarin about 15 miles north-east of Ensenada.
This vanished ethnic enclave once brimmed with a wide street where inhabitants spoke Russian and wheat fields stretched through the valley. This fascinating community disappeared within a generation, but several websites exist that document their life in Northern Baja.
A Brief History of Russians in Guadalupe de Valle
The Molokans (milk drinkers) came from Kars, Russia (now Turkey) and they were not Orthodox Christians like most Russians. They followed a strict diet of abstaining from pork, tobacco and alcohol. They also interpreted the term “spiritual milk” noted in the Bible to mean they should receive much of their nourishment from milk and dairy products.
They were pacifists who refused to be conscripted into the military under Tsar Nicholas II., so they searched for a better environment where they could practice their religious views. They first moved to Los Angeles, but the urban setting didn’t suit them. Land prices also were expensive.
In 1905 Mexican President Porfirio Diaz sold the group 13,000 acres of land in Guadalupe Valley. The 105 Russian families laid out a town the way they had at home with equal partitioned lots along a broad street. Their whitewashed adobe and wood homes had steep-pitched wooden (some thatched) roofs.
They planted grains and vegetables, olives and grapes and raised geese and bees for honey. They baked Russian bread and drank tea or “chai” made in the samovar.
The Molokans dressed simply with women covering their heads with homemade “kosinkas” or shawls, and the bearded men wore high-collared shirts called “rubajas,” which had drawstrings around the waist.
In 1938 Mexican President Cardenas designated lands for the peasants and 3,000 Mexicans surrounded Guadalupe. The town was renamed Francisco Zarco and many Russians left at that time. Others stayed and have assimilated into the culture.
By 2004 writer Greg Nieman reported that there were only about 20 pure Russians left in the Guadalupe Valley. There were another 240 who were half-Russian and half-Mexican.
Visit today and you won’t see much more than this property with a Russian restaurant that touts pizza. Their homemade cheeses are delicious. They sell red wines, which are excellent if you are an enthusiast.
You can also receive a tour of the museum, which was built in the adobe Mexican style, but included a shingled inclined roof. The museum has objects from the kitchen that shows how they used to cook, pictures and other memorabilia.
There’s also a Russian cemetery a little up the ways.
If you’re an armchair traveler, you can spend hours at the Molokane website learning all about theRussians in Mexico. There’s also a book you can read for free on-line by George Mohoff called The Russian Colony of Guadalupe Molokans in Mexico.