The National Historic Landmark nomination for the Rio Vista Bracero Reception Center in Socorro, Texas was approved by the National Historic Landmarks Committee in late October. This significant Latinx site, the National Trust’s first Latinx National Treasure campaign, is the most intact extant bracero reception center remaining the U.S. Braceros were Mexican workers who secured labor contracts for agricultural work in the US under a bi-national program in the mid 20th century. Several National Trust staff testified in support of the nomination. The next step in the designation process will be review by the National Park Service Advisory Board in early 2022.
Rio Vista was one of only seven locations in the US that served as bracero reception centers during the Mexican Farm Labor Program (1951-1964). This program was a bi-national effort between the U.S. and Mexican governments to bring skilled Mexican guest workers to the US, and it was the single largest temporary alien worker program ever undertaken in this country. The program was part of an effort to address critical farm labor shortages across America during and after World War II.
The program had significant impacts on labor history with braceros comprising almost a quarter of agricultural workers in America by 1959. The bracero program stimulated migration between Mexico and America by introducing Mexican citizens to life in America. While the program provided a reliable source of highly skilled farmworkers who worked for relatively low wages, the program drew criticism because of the impacts on domestic farmworkers and because of exploitation of many braceros.
The National Trust has been closely involved with the Rio Vista since 2015 when we conducted a national search for significant Latinx sites. A key objective of the Trust’s advocacy was to secure a National Historic Landmark designation for Rio Vista, and the National Trust played a key role in securing funds and assisting the City of Socorro to select and work with its contractor to complete the nomination. After five years of hard work and intensive research led by Front Range Research Associates, a highly respected preservation consulting firm, and guidance from a University of Texas at El Paso Latina scholar, Dr. Yolanda Leyva, the National Historic Landmark nomination has been completed and is moving through the National Park Service’s review and approval process.
The addition of Rio Vista to the list of National Historic Landmarks will help the National Register of Historic Places in telling the full American story, providing long overdue recognition of a nationally significant site that has been too long overlooked and underappreciated. The City of Socorro, the owner and steward of this property, has made a tremendous investment in stabilizing and rehabilitating this important landmark for future generations. If approved as a National Historic Landmark, this recognition will be extremely beneficial as revitalization and interpretation efforts continue in the years to come.