Editor’s Note: Happy birthday to the town of San Luis, whose proud residents celebrate the Annual Santa Ana y Santiago Festival, July 23-24. In addition to this front page tribute, watch Denver7 (KMGH-TV) for a story on the Stations of the Cross and its prideful town on Wednesday, June 22nd.
The beautiful town of San Luis turned 165 years this week. Known for its majestic beauty and agriculture, it is a part of “the Valley” which encompasses an area of over 8,000 square miles covering southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The town of San Luis has also acquired fame from its world renowned Stations of the Cross and Mission Church overlooking the town. The artistic work is by local sculptor, Huberto Maestes .
The area was part of Mexico prior to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, when it was annexed as part of the United States. The elevation of the Valley is approximately 50 percent higher than that of Denver which sits a mile above sea level, making the region a high elevation desert. The Valley is situated between the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range on the east side (which includes the Great Sand Dunes), on the west side by the San Juan Mountain Range, and the South by the Taos Plateau of northern New Mexico.
Six Colorado counties are included in the San Luis Valley – Saguache, Alamosa, Rio Grande, Conejos, Costilla and Mineral. The San Luis Valley’s, Costilla and Conejos counties were among the state of Colorado’s original 17 counties founded in 1861.
While “San Luis” or “The Valley” is home to many Denver Latinos, jobs are scarce, so many Latinos have made their move to nearby cities to accomplish their dreams. Leaving home is difficult when your family still resides there, or your family roots are deeply imbedded in the San Luis Valley.
Two of the San Luis Valley’s most well known public servants, former Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar and his brother former U.S. Rep. John Salazar made their mark on Colorado history. Many others followed.
Deborah Quintana is a San Luis Valley pioneer. As the only known Latina to found and manage a money exchange facility in a major U.S. airport, she finds herself without peer.
Quintana’s great, great grandfather Teofilo Trujillo was born in northern New Mexico when the region was still part of Mexico. He settled west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1865. The original pioneer in Quintana’s lineage, Trujillo became a U.S. citizen when the borderline moved south, annexing land and the hard scrabble ranchers and farmers who occupied the land.
Trujillo excelled in the ranching market with a tight family structure and unparalleled work ethic. They were so successful with cattle and sheep ranching that they became the target of Anglo expansion efforts. Part of that success came from Trujillo’s insightful purchase of water rights and innovative use of irrigation.
Today, the Trujillo Homesteads comprise part of a National Historic Landmark that illustrates the importance of Latino contributions to the founding of the American frontier. The Trujillo Homesteads, founded by Trujillo and his family are owned by the Nature Conservancy as part of the Zapata Ranch. The entire area in located in the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area.
As the youngest of three girls in the family, Quintana grew up under the influence of older family patriarchs, learning the value of the Spanish language, family ties and work ethic. Quintana offers, my great-great grandfather didn’t accept defeat. They prepared me to work hard to survive in any situation.”
This sense of self, knowledge of history and Valley work ethic are some of the reasons Val Vigil gives for his success as well. A graduate of Adams State University, Vigil attended the University of New Mexico to study Bilingual Education, drawing upon the importance of language in his Valley upbringing. Vigil was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1999, where he served for eight years. During his tenure, he assumed the position of Chairman of the Finance and Legislative Audit Committees. As a nod to his Valley roots, Vigil brought a resolution every year to the legislature celebrating Cinco de Mayo, replete with a mariachi band. One of the most memorable photos of Vigil during his days in the legislature is one where he is dressed in a mariachi outfit, defiantly staring into the camera with Valley pride.
Vigil is currently one of nine City Council members for the City of Thornton and one of only two Latinos elected to the body. He remains proud of his San Luis Valley roots and as a member of the Board of Trustees for Adams State College, frequently finds himself near his beloved hometown.
Like Quintana, Vigil attributes his success to his upbringing in the San Luis Valley. His father was a sheepherder and Vigil worked the migrant fields with his mother and siblings. “We went to the ‘university of hard knocks’ and were pushed to realize the importance of education. In our community, you never played hooky because everybody in the community was responsible for your success. Everybody in the community was your parent, your family.”
Like many Valley residents, Vigil came to Denver because of a lack of economic development in southern Colorado. “The only work at that time was farm work or education. There was no place for someone with different aspirations.” Vigil relishes the opportunity to go back to the Valley for the annual 4th of July celebrations and family reunions. “I believe that family reunions should take place where it all started. For my family, that is the Valley. It is wonderful that the Valley will be celebrating another anniversary. I celebrate that in the Valley we were raised as one whole family – a community of tios, tias, primos and primas, even if you weren’t technically related.”
The Valley is also home to its first known surgeon, Dr. Richard Lovato. Now a surgeon at St. Anthony’s North, Lovato grew up one mile south of the Colorado border with his brother Randy Lovato, now an architect. The two brothers were raised by extended family after their parents died as a result of a motorcycle accident.
Practicing in Albuquerque a few years ago, Lovato was awarded Surgeon of the Year by Albuquerque Magazine.
La Voz publisher, Pauline Rivera is also a product of the San Luis Valley. Holding true to her culture and language, Rivera says, “I am an American who can also be true to my culture on both sides and my two languages. Our bilingual publication, La Voz, delivers on that vision.”