Española Mayor John Ramon Vigil

Mayor John Ramon Vigil at La Fonda del Sol in Española, NM. 

After a year in office, twenty-eight-year-old Española Mayor, John Ramón Vigil, the youngest mayor currently serving in New Mexico, was eager to share his experience serving at the helm of this historic, working class but often disparaged and utterly unique city in both the state and nation. Because the city is among the most complex cities in the country of any of its size, and because he is trained in both history and business administration and appreciates this fact, Mayor Vigil has agreed to concede not just one interview, but several over time, that would explore matters of critical importance and compelling interest.  

Richard Connor, publisher of the Río Grande SUN, has agreed for this series to appear in both English and Spanish, given the large Spanish-speaking population residing in the city  (nearly 85%) and the official status that the language enjoys in this state. The Spanish version will appear next issue. 

Among the most pressing issues to be discussed in the series is the city’s urgent need to grow its budget to finance many of its services, and desired strategies for growing local business that provide for the basic needs of its people or for attracting businesses from elsewhere to do the same. Other issues of similar importance include the need for protecting water purity in a city landscape dotted by individual family septic systems, and finding solutions for the growing problem of old, abandoned houses, many of whose titles are mired in legal entanglements and which are currently being occupied by homeless people. This also begs the question of how the city’s hodgepodge of architectural styles and the often, random placement of its buildings can be reined in in order to create a more cohesive and aesthetically pleasing environment for both residents and visitors. The equally perplexing question of how to address the rise of homelessness, drug addiction and crime in the city is also of great concern to the mayor.  

On the positive side of things, Mayor Vigil is excited to share news about the city’s planned for, new City Hall – Cultural Center complex to be built on the Plaza de Española in the foreseeable future, plans for celebrating the city’s centennial in 2025, and the growing rapport and increased collaboration between the city and the Pueblos of Ohkay Owingeh and Santa Clara.  

When asked what he considers the major assets of the city to be, the mayor, a native of the Española Valley and a graduate of Highlands University, began by saying that, “its major asset is its geographical location, sitting as it does between two spectacular mountain ranges, the Sangre de Cristo and the Jemez and very near to the confluence of the Río Chama and the Río Grande, the latter flowing through the heart of town. All the roads in the region seem to lead to Española and from every direction. These include the highways that lead to the city from Santa Fe and Pojoaque, Los Alamos, Chama and Ojo Caliente, Taos, Dixon and Velarde as well as from the mountain villages of Las Truchas, Córdova and Chimayó. Because of this, an estimated 80,000 people make their way into Española on a daily basis to conduct some form of business or to simply pass through."

The close proximity of two, extremely long-lived, and highly respected indigenous Pueblo communities that continue to give expression to their ancestral worldview and magnificent art forms is hugely significant for the City of Española. So too is the Hispanic culture with its four-hundred-year-old customs, structures, agricultural practices and myriad artistic creations.  The Mexican and New Mexican food restaurants and their much sought after food, many of them owned and operated by Mexican people or of Mexican and New Mexican descent, is certainly another positive feature of our city.

A huge challenge that the city faces is the fact that four major entities press in on the city.  They are the two Pueblo communities at either end of the city together with Río Arriba and Santa Fe Counties that both exercise jurisdiction over substantial portions of the Española Valley. 

Although a challenging situation when needing to arrive at a consensus on important matters, when these entities together with the city succeed in achieving it, we wield the power of a fist with its five clenched fingers.  Española is the only place in the nation where such complexity exists. The interpenetration of Indian-owned lands into private-owned lands creates an unusual pattern where lands seemingly located well within the city limits actually belong to sovereign nations with their own autonomy. Right now, our communication and working relations with Governor Michael Chavarria of Santa Clara Pueblo and Governor Larry Phillips of Ohkay Owingeh is good. It has dawned on us that if we work together, we can all prosper.

Another major challenge that the city faces is the city’s yearly revenues that hover at around 11-12 million dollars per year and which have remained stagnant for the last thirteen or fourteen years.  Gross receipts tax on local purchases other than on food and pharmaceuticals is the source of this revenue which finances the maintenance of roads, the city police and the workings of two fire stations among other needed services.

What seems to account for this situation is that for the last many years, many city residents have thought nothing of trekking into Santa Fe or Albuquerque which abound in retail outlets, to make major purchases.  Consequently, not only is the city of Española cut off from this vital source of revenue, but, as we have seen over the years, many locally owned businesses such as Río Grande Sales, Bloch’s Furniture, Pike’s Jewelry, J.W. Owens, Bond and Willard and a host of others have shut down for this and other reasons. On the other hand, the city is experiencing significant commercial growth along Riverside Drive where Santa Clara Pueblo has initiated businesses such as the Santa Claran Hotel and Casino and the new Avanyu gas station.

At the moment, the City of Española finds itself at a significant crossroads between the new and the old, between tight economic restrictions and the potential for greater prosperity and between gnawing social problems and creative solutions to the same.

(4) comments




This is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to help Mr. Vigil fool people into thinking he's doing something for his constituency. The whole thing smells like a real estate deal pitch.


Is Espanola a bedroom community for Santa Fe and Los Alamos yet? What are the stats?


I'm confused about what part of the last few paragraphs of this article is a direct quote from the mayor. Can that please be clarified?

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