Heritage, Volume 14, Number 1, Winter 1996 Page: 18
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AT THE Pass: HISTORCAL PRESERVATION IN THE LOWER VALLY Of IL PASO
By John Peterson
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The challenge preservationists in this
remote area of Texas face in preserving
the historical landscape is
not just to restore a few crumbling adobes,
but also to enhance the sense of social
connectedness and historical self-consciousness
of the present community.
Visitors who trek to the historical missions
of the Lower Valley of El Paso are
either very discriminating travellers, erudite
devotees of local history, or relatives of
the 50,000-plus Mexican-American population
of the sprawling borderland villages
and colonias. Odds are they are among the
latter group. Despite the highway signs and
brochures and statewide publicity advertising
its Spanish Colonial history, the Lower
Valley has not caught on as a tourist venue.
All of the ingredients are here: historic
adobes and mission churches; an 18th century
plaza and presidio at San Elizario; and
taquerias and local specialties like the Licon
asadero cheese from Glorieta Road. Distinctive
culture blends with an historical
landscape that is older than the San Antonio
Camino Real and its appealing mission
parks. But in San Elizario only one gift shop
has survived the dearth of tourists, and the
placita at San Eli is surrounded by grafitticovered
buildings and more hope than
Don Juan de Ofate reputedly camped
along the Rio Bravo del Norte somewhere
near San Elizario when it would have been
on the right bank of the changeable stream.
He declared the taking of the region somewhere
nearby more than two decades before
the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving in Ply
mouth Bay Colony. Local El Paso boosters
celebrate the "First Thanksgiving" in San
Elizario each April, and sometimes travel
to Massachusetts for public relations wars
back east. Still, except for the recent use of
Los Portales on the San Eli Plaza as a
backdrop for the remake of the film "Lolita",
the plaza is rarely busy save during Sunday
morning mass at the San Eli chapel.
The small village of San Elizario is an
island of bucolic tranquility in a sea of
farmland and colonias. In the 1970s when
El Paso developers flushed out the downtown
second ward of habitations in favor of
warehouses, the displaced relocated in the
outskirts, in the rural farmland surrounding
the city, in the county where no zoning
or planning was permitted by state authority.
The colonias were the only inexpen
18 HERITAGE -WINTER 1996
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 1, Winter 1996, periodical, Winter 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45404/m1/18/: accessed February 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.