San Elizario, Older than Old El Paso

I’m at Savage Goods, a cafe in Downtown El Paso with Madeline at the moment. We’ll be moving locations in about thirty minutes, so I’ll be finishing this post somewhere else.

It’s over 90F and partially cloudy out. Thankfully nearly every store and restaurant has a/c, unlike many small cafes in Seattle. I’m listening to Sufjan Stevens for the first time. I’ve had too much caffeine, and the barbacoa and menudo that I had for breakfast is no longer holding me over.

The people here are so different than in Seattle. They’re slower paced, warm, friendly. You can always overhear people speaking Spanish somewhere near you. Downtown you can find men wearing denim pants often paired with nice shoes or cowboy boots, or they’re wearing well-fitting slacks and a button up and clean hair. El Pasoans dress nicer and more formally than Seattleites. —Well, unless you find yourself the far east side side of town where I’m from; bad t-shirts abound.

San Elizario: An Old Spanish Mission, An Even Older Spanish Town

A picture of San Elizario Mission on a partially cloudy day, taken from the Plaza that stands in front of it.

Note: most of these images are SOOC straight out of camera. A few were cropped, and two were edited for contrast. I was using my RF lenses: 50mm 1.2, 85mm 1.2 DS, and 15-35mm 2.8.

San Elizario is old—for America, at least—founded in 1760 by people traveling along the Camino Real (“Royal Road”) which connected what is now northern New Mexico and Mexico City. We visited because I wanted to see the San Elizario Mission, a church-and-fort built in the late 1800’s. I’ve been to cathedrals in Spain, which felt like a genuine religious experience, but I never visited their distant offspring near my hometown.

The mission is in moderate disrepair which is half the charm. It doesn’t have the epic, heaven-reaching heights of its mothers. It is simple, austere, practical, cool (temperature-wise), built out of necessity. Inside, it has the necessary symbols that hold a community together—something too esoteric and deep to explore in this post. And I regret not getting a shot of the whole, despite the fact that people were busy setting up for a wedding later that day.

A statue of La Virgin under blue light
A cross backlight by a tall and thin, pale golden stained glass window featuring a crown and cross.

We arrived around 1pm. Madeline wanted to make a small 5×5 inch oil and acrylic painting of the mission. I figured it would take a few hours. I was wrong. We were there till 8pm, and we got eaten alive by mosquitos. But it was worthwhile. We go to see a wedding. I met some local artists. There were neighborhood children that were playing.

The Artists.

San Elizario is a historic district. And the city subsidizes a few small buildings nearby. So, it turns out there are a few local artists who have studio-galleries. And I happened to walk by when they were outside drinking Michelob Ultras on their front porch. I asked if I could take their portraits.

I asked Robert Dozal (Instagram: @paintingsrobertdozal) if I could take pictures of his gallery-studio, and he said yes. He figures that if people “steal” his work and reproduce it digitally, then more people will see his work, which is a good thing. He started painting as a young child. He studied at UTEP. And he’s a retired teacher. And he helped introduce me to everyone else.

This is the artist who has a gallery next door. I didn’t catch her name, and I didn’t get the opportunity to take pictures of her work. She does a combination of metal work and painting. She did a flaming sacred heart metal-work-and-painting that spoke to me the most out everything that I saw.

Now, I feel awful because all three of these people gave me their names and as I am writing this I don’t remember the names of the other two people. This next lady was sitting by the artists. She

was a storyteller. Not just any story teller. Apparently, she worked for the Department of Homeland Security (or something that sounds like that) as a consultant for international relations. Her background is in history—the story of San Elizario, and she’s in the process of writing a book on it. She takes deep pride in telling of the story of San Elizario: how three very different cultures can live together, harmoniously, with little prejudice or class structure—Native Americans, Spanish, and later Anglo/Anglo-Americans.

Hearing her story made me think of Horizon City. She was proud of her history and heritage; there was so much to it. There isn’t much to Horizon, and there won’t be if no one ever writes about it. But it has a soul and a story. I know it, because I see it. It’s small and humble. But it is real.

Horizon started as a community built around a golf course; retirees wanted to save money on property taxes. But soon other people moved in. And it became its own proper town. Over the past five years or so, it has lost some of its small-town-nobility. Far East El Paso has developed further and further east to the point where East El Paso and Horizon are now connected. We have become a suburb. But it wasn’t always that way. I wrote a story. Part one is here.