Starting from Scratch, New City Seeks to Govern with Heart & Soul

By Leslie Wright

San Elizario, Texas, (pop. 9,000) is on the southwestern border with Mexico. The city has a rich history that dates to 1598 when the Spanish crossed the Rio Grande and claimed the region. The city is also along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a National Historic Trail that was part of a network of Spanish royal roads built to link capitals during the Spanish colonial period.

Despite deep roots in Southwestern history, in its modern history San Elizario has only officially been a city since 2013. Prompted by a controversial annexation attempt, residents came together to create a city of their own. Essentially, San Elizario started from scratch, including electing city officials and establishing city offices and a municipal court. Government officials were voted into office in 2014.

When resident David Cantu, who traces his lineage back at least four generations, heard about Community Heart & Soul®, he thought it would be a great way to plan for the city’s future and engage more deeply with community members. Cantu, an alderman, studied the model and convinced city leaders to launch Community Heart & Soul.

Challenges that the city faces include getting everyone on board with the new form of governance and getting missing voices involved in civic life, said Mayor Maya Sanchez.

“When we were creating this city, we didn’t want to create a city, we wanted to preserve a lifestyle that has been enjoyed out here in this rural part of El Paso County for generations–a lifestyle that is being lost quite honestly,” Sanchez said. “We thought, ‘What can we do to make it viable?’ ”

The Heart & Soul Team has started to reach out to the community hosting an ice cream social in the summer and sponsoring a parade float and information table at Veterans Day festivities. This video features members of the Heart & Soul Team talking about what they love about their city:

Image: Capilla de San Elzeario, (Chapel of San Elizario), San Elizario, Texas