Borderland Treasures: Exploring Rio Vista Farm

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) —The remnants of an old farm are humble, but the old structures tell stories of the thousands of skilled Mexican workers who made their way to the United States.

Rio Vista Farm began as a poor farm more than 100 years ago. It sheltered destitute adults and children during the Great Depression and in 1951 was the headquarters for the Bracero Program.

“During that time the United States put a call to Mexico to go ahead and get volunteers to cultivate our crops,” Victor Reta, with the City of Socorro said. “The United States was responsible for 80 percent of their wages and Mexico was responsible for 20 percent.

People from all over Mexico heard about the opportunity to make decent wages for their families, Reta said.

From 1951 to 1964, Rio Vista Farm processed hundreds of thousands of Braceros.

Vicente Estevis, 90, worked on the farm with the U.S. Public Health Service.

“The majority of (braceros) were very fine farm workers and human beings,” Estevis said.

Estevis described what braceros were subjected to upon crossing the border and arriving at the farm.

“They would be fumigated,” he said, “their clothing and all the areas where there was hair.”

Estevis said farm workers would then be processed.

“They would come in contact with the U.S Public Health Service which would examine them from head to toe,” he said. “They would be dispersed wherever they were needed in the United States.”

At the farm, Reta pointed out an old weathered building with lots of character. It was there, he says, workers were processed.

“There would be a line of receptionists typing, contracts and that’s all they would do,” Reta said.

Eighteen buildings still stand at the farm. Most are made of adobe.

Water damage has caused much of the mixture of dirt and water to crumble though the decades. Rio Vista Farm, however, has been nominated as a National Historic Landmark. It is on the journey to restoration. The City of Socorro allocated more than a million dollars to restore the farm, and in 2016 it was declared a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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