Texas Site Near U.S.–Mexico Border Named National Treasure As Immigrant History Remains In America’s Spotlight
Nation’s leading preservation organization kicks off campaign to support the City of Socorro in efforts to revitalize Rio Vista Farm’s significant history and structures
Today, as people across the United States begin a month-long celebration of Hispanic heritage, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rio Vista Farm a National Treasure. This designation is in recognition of the 101-year-old site’s significant role in shaping the region and serving as founding link for modern Mexican-American communities.
“As the nation’s conversation on its growing diversity continues to evolve, it’s essential to understand all sides of the American story—especially those that are controversial and challenge longstanding assumptions of our immigrant history,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “In designating Rio Vista Farm a National Treasure, we hope to capture the site’s central connection to the largest guest-worker program in our country’s history so that future generations benefit from the lessons farmworkers known as braceros can teach.”
The National Trust will work with city officials, community members, and other local partners and stakeholders to raise awareness of Rio Vista Farm’s role during the nationally significant, yet overlooked, Bracero Program and provide expertise in rehabilitation and reuse strategies to ensure its historic structures develop into assets that meet the future needs of the community.
“This designation is great news for people everywhere who stand to gain from a better understanding and appreciation of Rio Vista Farm’s unique history—and for residents of Socorro who want to see these buildings continue to play an important part in our civic life,” said Socorro Mayor Jesus Ruiz. “I’m looking forward to exploring innovative solutions that advance the site’s renewal.”
Rio Vista Farm’s National Treasure campaign helps bring to light the stories of the skilled Mexican guest-workers brought in by the U.S. government to address farm labor shortages all across America during and after World War II. Despite the rise of traditionally marginalized Latino American communities, this long-lasting impact of the Bracero Program on the history and patterns of migration, settlement and agricultural economy in the United States and beyond remains relatively unknown to most Americans.
“Old buildings aren’t special because they are old, or beautiful, or well-built—though they can be all of those things—but, rather, because of the people who used them and whose memories and stories are tied to them,” said Evan R. Thompson, executive director of Preservation Texas. “Rio Vista Farm needs its buildings repaired, landscape revived and stories told—and in doing so we can reveal truths about ourselves as a society that constantly struggles to reconcile the reality of our inequalities.”
Preservation is about people and at Rio Vista Farm, a site also revered for its family-operated beginning as a poor farm and its sheltering of neglected children during the Great Depression, it is about managing positive change through direct community engagement that positions the needs and concerns of the people of Socorro and the surrounding El Paso area at the center of the work.
“Rio Vista Farm’s designation as a National Treasure will go a long way in ensuring that a rehabilitation and revitalization plan is developed to engage public and private partnerships and realize the dream of a fully restored community,” said Gary Williams, senior program officer of El Paso Community Foundation.
Additionally, Rio Vista Farm’s adobe structures can benefit from hands-on training in adobe construction and restoration. Relatively simple in construction, the various buildings are ideal for use as a living classroom to train Texans young and old in the skills required to work with adobe. The lessons learned at Rio Vista Farm can then be applied to historic sites throughout the southwest, where adobe structures await preservation.
Rio Vista Farm and the Bracero Program
From 1951 to 1964, Rio Vista Farm served as one of five reception and processing centers for the Bracero Program—also known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program. The site made use of its adobe barracks buildings to process the skilled guest-workers after they crossed the border. Those that passed through Rio Vista—more than 80,000 braceros annually—were met with humiliating medical and psychological examinations and fumigation and bused across the country to be hired as farmworkers in any one of the 30 participating states. Over the entire Bracero Program’s 22 years, labor efforts sponsored some 4.6 million border crossings of guest-workers from Mexico. Though many braceros were repatriated after their contracts ended, millions of Mexican-Americans can trace their roots to their fathers' or grandfathers' entry into the United States as braceros.