Saving stories of the past

Photo courtesy of Rick Vigil Sra. Esperanza ‘Hope’ Lobato-Gallegos, featured in ‘Cenicero, CO – 1856’, and documentarian and filmmaker Rick Vigil of Down to Earth Media.

‘Once they’re gone, they’re gone’

ALAMOSA — On Saturday, March 30, Antonito native and documentarian Rick Vigil will be screening his latest work “Cenicero, CO – 1856” at the Alamosa Public Library.

The film, which is about 30 minutes long, is based on an interview with Esperanza “Hope” Lobato-Gallegos, an elder who was born in the San Luis Valley and has spent decades tracing her genealogy back to 1751, when the King of Spain granted to Captain Juan José Lobato, son of Bartolome Lobato, possession of land via the Las Trampas Land Grant. The governor of New Mexico approved the Land Grant for 12 families.

Over the centuries since then, Lobatos-Gallegos’ family has served in various positions of distinction, ranging from being elected to the state legislature to Juan Bautista Lobatos who established the first Pony Express route from Southwestern Colorado to Denver. The story is both a personal and historical account of southern Colorado in the early years.

Vigil, who worked as a cameraman for a television station in Colorado for more than a decade, has been filming and producing documentaries similar to “Cenicero” since 2000, all of which are set in Conejos County and parts of Costilla County.

The result is a collection of films that form a series titled “A Story to Tell”. The project, he says, was born from the Chicano Movement.

The films are about a great deal more than names and dates. It’s about the stories the people tell, he says. “I’m documenting our people and our language. The origin of traditions that were started centuries ago and are still continued today. The things that people did to survive in the hardest times when they had nothing. How they worked. What food they cooked. Their spirituality and the ways they showed respect. All those things that are part of our culture.”

More importantly, he says, the stories are being told by those people who lived it, whether directly or through the stories that have been handed down through their family’s history. That authenticity is crucial in storytelling, he says, as it’s so often lacking in other historical accounts.  

“You can learn so much more about history from people telling their stories themselves, in their own ways. It makes history so much richer,” he says. “For example, ‘Cenicero’ is about the history of Las Trampas, but it’s also about the community of Lobatos that was originally called Cenicero. When the Spaniards first arrived in that area, they looked across the land and said it looked like ashes. Learning things like that add so much.” He goes on to add, “Things are so politicized today, these are people telling stories — their stories — without any agenda.”

In addition to people owning the films, he believes they belong in libraries and classrooms. A history told in an authentic way is vital for young students today, both those whose families came from the culture represented but also those from other cultures who can learn a period of history they probably knew nothing about.

While working on the documentaries, Vigil has felt a growing sense of urgency because many of the people he’s filming are quite elderly. Lobato-Gallegos is in her 90s. Another woman he interviewed was more than 100.

“There’s a saying that elders are like books, but when they pass away, those books are gone. The valley is changing. Some people who have lived here for a long time are leaving, and so many people are moving here from other places, and they don’t know anything of the past. It’s important for us to know our stories, to hear what these people are telling us. If we lose our traditions, we lose our identity. We have to preserve that.”

The passion is clear in Vigil’s voice, but it is even more evident in his actions. Funding for such efforts is “a nightmare” and, right now, the only form of financial support he has is from the DVDs that he sells. Difficult as that clearly is, that obstacle has not stopped him in the past and there’s no sign of it stopping him now.

As a native of the area, he’s invited more easily into people’s homes “with his cameras and his lights” also thanks, in part, to the support of Father Sergio (Robles), the priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe who also gives mass at all other Catholic churches in Conejos County. Vigil’s studio is in his home. And as an experienced cameraman and producer, he produces each documentary himself. He also could not do what he does without the support of his wife and his daughter.

All those challenges would be made infinitely easier if he had people who were willing to support his projects but, even if that doesn’t happen, he will continue going on as he has done. He feels a personal commitment to where he is from and the people who tell its stories.

“You can never leave where you are from,” he says. “I’m honored to do this.”

As part of his collection “A Story to Tell”, Vigil has a number of documentaries available for purchase, including “Spirituality and Its People, El Valle de San Luis”,  “La Misión de San Miguel / St. Michael of the Mountain”, “La Placita de San Rafael”,  “A Place Of Miracles”, and “Fr. Al Muñiz Story” and “Cenicero, CO – 1856”.

Vigil will be screening “Cenicero” at the Alamosa Public Library at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 30.

For more information about each of his films, go to Opportunity to Express - Home ( Anyone wishing to reach out to Vigil, can do so via email at [email protected].