Pacifist Community Perserves

By Mary Forgione, Los Angeles Daily News
The Arizona Republic, March 19, 1995, Travel Section, Page T6

GUADALUPE, Mexico Gabriel Kachirisky's clear blue eyes twinkle beneath a straw cowboy hat when he talks about growing up in this tiny Mexican community [Molokan community in Mexico] about 25 miles northeast of Ensenada. 

''My grandfather came here in the first group,'' Kachirisky says of the 300 or so immigrants who fled czarist Russia at the turn of the century to start a farming community here.

Kachirisky is part of the fading history of the Guadalupe Valley, where fundamentalist Christian pacifists called Molokans once worked to establish a 19th-century Russian village.

Evidence of Guadalupe's roots and even the little museum are difficult to find nowadays among the 2,000 residents. Only Kachirisky and a few others, including 107-year-old Julia Babichoff, still speak Russian and keep some of the old customs.

The drive to this town from the coast along Highway 3 winds past ranches, rolling hills, a few orange groves, grazing sheep, vineyards and olive groves set against a backdrop of hills topped with precariously balanced rocks.

But it's this little museum on a dusty road off the main highway that chronicles the story of Colonia Rusa, started in 1904. The Molokans, who refused to allow their sons to join the czar's Russian army, [most] left the city [region] of Kars, in a region of Armenia that is now Turkey, for the United States. [Some of] The immigrants arrived in New York, traveled to Los Angeles and then sailed to Ensenada and a new frontier.

''They prayed and they stopped here,'' Kachirisky says, noting that each family paid the government about $500 for land in the valley.

The group farmed wheat and barley while keeping its native culture and religion intact.

The colony faltered in the 1950s after land was redistributed to Mexican residents. Some members and descendants left for jobs in Ensenada and other towns in Baja California Norte, as well as in California.

Kachirisky left Guadalupe to work in a Los Angeles mattress factory for more than two decades but returned to his hometown when he retired.

The museum was set up three years ago to preserve what few artifacts remain of the colony's way of life. Bits of farm tools, a farm horse's yoke, a samovar used for making tea, sickles, a wheel, bottles and clothes from the era are displayed. In one corner is an old wine press, in another is an orange Russian spoon with elaborate gold decorations almost a century old.

These antiques, along with copies of black-and-white photos and passports, are all that remain to tell the story of the Molokans' extraordinary journey to the Guadalupe Valley.

Molokan Memories (Graphic Chart) Caption: 
The Guadalupe Valley, where a colony of Russian Molokan immigrants settled in 1904, is an easy 25-mile drive from Ensenada on Highway 3. The Museo Comuntario del Valle de Guadalupe is about two miles down a partly paved, partly dirt road that intersects Highway 3. A road sign for the museum is easy to miss, but the turnoff is virtually the only one in the middle of Guadalupe. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Two wineries in the area off Highway 3 Cetto and Domecq are open for free tours and tastings. Casa Pedro Domecq winery, where row upon row of grapevines cover 2,000 lush acres, is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

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