EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The City of Socorro Community Initiative (CSCI) announced Thursday that they have been awarded a $750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Humanities in Place Program to support the development of the first-ever Bracero Museum and Rio Vista Connections Tour at Rio Vista Farm in Socorro, Texas.
Officials says the Bracero Museum Project will encompass the rehabilitation construction of one building at Rio Vista Farm for adaptive re-use as the Bracero Museum; the research, curation, and implementation of the Bracero Museum Exhibit; and the development and implementation of the Rio Vista Farm Connections Tour.
Through a multimedia museum exhibit and immersive site tour, the Bracero Museum project will unearth the challenging and under-told stories of braceros and celebrate their hidden contributions to our shared bi-national history.
According to Socorro county officials, Rio Vista Farm is significant for its contributions to the Bracero Program which operated from 1942 until 1964. From 1951-63, it was officially known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program of 1951-64 and it was during this time that Rio Vista functioned as a bracero processing center.
The Bracero Program was the largest temporary guest-worker program in United States history. Through this program, more than 4.2 million bracero contracts were drafted for more than 2 million individual guest workers. Over 800,000 bracero contracts were processed at Rio Vista alone during its years of operations. Mexican guest workers were recruited in Mexico and then transported to US reception centers along the border where center staff screened potential workers, drafted contracts, and shipped braceros off to railroad and agricultural jobs throughout the country.
Rio Vista was one of only five long-term reception centers along the US-Mexico border and is quite possibly the last remaining bracero reception center on either side of the border.
Rio Vista Farm was recently nominated for a National Historic Landmark designation by the National Park Service for its association with the Bracero Program. On October 2021, the National Historic Landmarks Committee unanimously approved the nomination of Rio Vista Bracero Reception Center as a National Historic Landmark. The Rio Vista Farm nomination will now make its way to the National Park System Advisory Board and then to the Secretary of the Interior’s desk for final designation in 2022. The National Historic Landmark designation is the highest designation in the United States and is reserved only for buildings and sites that possess extraordinary significance to our nation’s history. Currently, there is only one National Historic Landmark site in El Paso County, Texas. Hueco Tanks was recently designated as a National Historic Landmark in January 2021 and Rio Vista Farm hopes to be the second site in the county with such a high distinction.
The CSCI was able to receive this grant award in partnership with the Paso del Norte Community Foundation as well as Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Director of the Institute of Oral History and Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The PDN Community Foundation was established in 2013 to support the philanthropic goals of individuals, corporations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations to improve health, education, social services, economic development, and quality of life in our binational, tri-state region. In recent years, Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva has been instrumental in growing the already extensive oral history collection of the UTEP Institute of Oral History (IOH), which has amassed over 700 oral history interviews with braceros and employees of the Bracero Program. Dr. Leyva also assisted the National Trust for Historic Preservation during the preparation of the nomination for Rio Vista Farm to the National Historic Landmark. Dr. Leyva will lend her expertise to the project as Lead Historian. The grant award will also support a fellowship program to support UTEP history Ph.D. students during the research and curation phase of the Bracero Museum and Rio Vista Connections Tour project.
Once completed, the Bracero Museum and Rio Vista Connections Tour will serve the local underserved community of Socorro, Texas, the national underrepresented Latino community, and the international community of the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez metroplex and visitors from Mexico. The Bracero Museum and Rio Vista Connections Tour will be accessible to international visitors from Mexico, many of whom were braceros or are the descendants of braceros. For the first time, a wide range of audiences will be able to visit the actual site where braceros arrived into the United States, were processed, and shipped to agricultural and railroad jobs throughout the country. Visitors will get to walk through the grounds and adobe rooms where hundreds of thousands of braceros slept, ate, signed contracts, waited, and dreamed of a better future for themselves and their families longing for their return in Mexico.