Call for Immigrant Stories at Last-Known Bracero Processing Site
With new federal and state financial support, the nation’s largest preservation organization sets out to document immigrant experience at former Mexican Farm Labor Program site
Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is launching a new outreach campaign to collect and curate the multifaceted stories from one of the country’s most significant yet often overlooked immigration agreements—the Bracero Program.
From now through September 2017, the National Trust is calling for first- and second-hand accounts of the immigrant experience at Rio Vista Farm. Located south of El Paso, Texas, the farm served as a processing center for the Bracero Program during the 1950s and 1960s. Individuals who entered the Bracero Program, also known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program, through Rio Vista Farm or are in any way familiar with processing and contracting procedures at the site during the program are encouraged to share their stories at: www.savingplaces.org/rio-vista-stories.
“As America’s growing diversity and immigration policy remains in the national spotlight, it is important to remember to safeguard the sites and stories of our country’s historically underrepresented and marginalized communities,” said Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The challenging and relatively unheard stories of Rio Vista Farm during the Bracero Program allow us to commemorate one of the most enduring contributions of skilled guest workers in the U.S.”
Named a National Treasure in 2016, the 101-year-old Rio Vista Farm has played a significant role in shaping the region. Saving the site and its history presents new opportunities to explore the founding link shared by modern Mexican-American communities across the country. With scholars, city officials, community members, and other local partners and stakeholders, the National Trust’s call for stories will continue to raise awareness of Rio Vista Farm’s role during the long-lived Bracero Program, which was created to address farm labor shortages across America during and after World War II.
“Despite being the nation's largest experiment with guest workers, much has yet to be adequately documented and studied about the often heartbreaking bracero story,” said Francisco Uviña, Interim Director of the Historic Preservation and Regionalism Graduate Program at the University of New Mexico and son of a surviving bracero processed at Rio Vista Farm. “We must tell the whole story of how our country traversed difficult moments, including historical narratives that challenge long-standing, unfortunate assumptions about our past. The stories of the Bracero Program, just like the stories of Japanese American internment camps, need to continue to come out of the shadows if we are to honor immigrant sacrifices and contributions.”
The Rio Vista Farm-centered call for stories aims to complement and shed new light on the broader work of scholars and historical archives, such as Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Director of the Institute of Oral History and The Borderlands Public History Lab at the University of Texas at El Paso, and the Bracero History Archive, a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and the University of Texas at El Paso. The resulting stories to be collected and curated by the National Trust will be presented at the first ever Bracero History Summit to take place in the region in September 2017—during the 75th anniversary of the program’s inception.
“As the only bracero processing site known to be left standing today, we’re obliged to continue our efforts to save Rio Vista Farm as a place that meets the needs of our community,” Said Socorro Mayor Gloria Macias-Rodriguez. “The support we have received so far has been beyond inspiring—and we can’t wait to learn and share more about the site’s unique history.”
Rio Vista Farm is part of a growing portfolio of diverse places—from ancient sites to modern monuments—that have been designated National Treasures. For additional information and regular updates on the preservation work surrounding the Rio Vista Farm National Treasure please visit: www.savingplaces.org/rio-vista.
BACKGROUND ON RIO VISTA FARM AND PROJECT FUNDING
From 1951 to 1964, Rio Vista Farm served as one of five reception and processing centers along the U.S.-Mexico border for the Bracero Program—and remains the only one known to be left standing today. The site made use of its adobe buildings for dormitories, offices and auxiliary functions to process skilled guest-workers after they crossed the border. As far as documented accounts can confirm, those that passed through Rio Vista—more than 80,000 braceros annually—were met with medical and psychological examinations, stripped of their clothing, organized into lines, and fumigated with DDT before they could be evaluated by farming contractors and bused across the country to be hired as farmworkers in any one of the dozens of participating states. Despite having sponsored some 4.6 million border crossings during the Bracero Program’s 22-year lifespan and leaving a lasting impact on America’s agricultural sector and demographic patterns, much remains to be discovered about its entry and selection process. Of the remaining 18 buildings at Rio Vista Farm, only 5 have been maintained and are in use and the rest—along with the stories of aging braceros—are at risk of being lost without a proper preservation and reuse strategy.
Recently, work at Rio Vista Farm continued to gain momentum through an array of new funding support, including: $19,800 in an Underrepresented Community Grant awarded by the U.S. Department of the Interior; $24,000 awarded by the National Park Service to document the bracero history and prepare a National Historic Landmark nomination; $30,000 in a Local Certified Government Grant awarded by the Texas Historical Commission; $30,000 awarded for operational expenses at the site by the H-E-B Grocery Company; and $1.1. million set aside by the City of Socorro to rehabilitate and reuse Rio Vista Farm. Additionally, Socorro’s city council voted unanimously to move forward with the site’s Historic Structure Report (HSR), stabilization plans, conditions assessment, preservation design, and construction documents, which will ultimately help determine creative reuse options for Rio Vista’s structures—ranging anywhere from a library to a cultural center.