Growing up in the small communities in Northern Taos County, the one thing parents want for their children is to grow up and make something of their lives. All too often, kids graduate from Questa High School then leave to attend college and make a life for themselves – away from Questa.
That was true for Questa High School graduate Ayla Cisneros. Ayla graduated high school in 2006 and soon-after left for Albuquerque to attend the University of New Mexico. As for Juan, his path was different, working in various mining jobs across the country. Juan says although he would leave Questa for long periods of time, he always kept Questa as his home-base.
Ayla met Juan in 2007 and she decided to move back to Questa in 2008 when she was expecting her first-born son. Ayla finished her bachelor’s degree at UNM-Taos in 2010 and she and Juan got married later that year. They are the proud parents of four: Juan, 14, Alya, 12, Aylee, 8 and James, 6. They have planted their roots firmly in Questa and decided to make a life for their family in the same place where they grew up.
Juan’s successful career in mining allowed Ayla to be a stay-at-home mom when their children were small. Juan says there was one set-back, “I would leave for a shift, then I’d return and they were walking. It was really hard on me.”
It wasn’t until Ayla’s interest in purchasing a side-by-side that would change their whole lives. Juan said, “She wanted a side-by-side or an ATV and we realized, no-one sold them locally. There are places that rent them, but we wanted to buy one. That’s when we said why don’t we sell them?”
Ayla and Juan opened their first business, Rio Grande Motorsports in 2016. “I am the type that I don’t like taking a lot of risk, I don’t like putting myself out there for anything, and Juan, he is a little bit more willing to try things,” Ayla says of their decision to become business owners.
Soon after, in the same year, they had the opportunity to purchase a gas station in Cerro from Juan’s aunt and uncle. It is now known as Cisneros Fuel & Grocery. “That endeavor was even more terrifying because I had just had our 4th baby, James, and two weeks later we were taking over the gas station,” Ayla recalls of this rapid expansion in their business portfolio.
The station has been a crucial asset for locals to continue to purchase fuel as they head north or for residents who live in Cerro. Since then, Ayla and Juan have purchased a third business in the heart of Questa, now known as Station 522 & Cisneros Fuel.
When asked about what advice they would give to kids who might want to stay in Questa, or for people who might want to return, Juan says, “It feels like in our culture, we have always just wanted our kids to graduate, leave Questa, and make a life for themselves. But kids shouldn’t feel like they have to leave and that there is no opportunity in Questa. There are enormous amounts of opportunities, we just need to work to identify them,” Juan says. In addition to Ayla and Juan working together to manage their three business, Juan also serves as a member of the Questa Independent School Board.
With the closure of the Chevron Mine, Juan notes it has been evident that Questa is resilient and says it’s going to take a little bit of effort from everyone to keep the town moving forward, creating opportunities and ensuring the sustainability of the town.