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Home | Tag Archives: bracero program

Tag Archives: bracero program

Gallery+Story: El Paso County’s long historical roots run through Rio Vista Farm

Driving home from Church last Sunday, my wife Chantilly and I saw a historic marker sign on North Loop. We’ve been seeing the sign for months and wondered what it led to.

That day, we were determined to stop and see just what it was.

The historical marker reads:

El Paso County’s second poor farm, known as the El Paso Poor Farm, was established here in 1915. John O’Shea, a wealthy farmer and businessman whose farm was nearby, assumed operation of the farm. His wife, Agnes O’Shea, was in charge of the residents. John O’Shea died in 1929, and the couple’s daughter, Helen O’Shea Keleher, came from her home in San Antonio to operate the farm with her mother.

The farm was scheduled to be closed in 1929, but, with the troubled times of the Depression era, its population grew. Renamed ‘Rio Vista Farm,’ the poor farm hosted a variety of public welfare programs beginning in the 1930s.

It operated under the Texas Transient Bureau and later the Federal Works Progress Administration. A temporary base for a Civilian Conservation Corps unit in 1936, the farm continued to shelter hundreds of homeless and destitute adults and children.

From 1951 to 1964, the farm was used as a reception and processing center for the Bracero Program, which brought Mexican laborers to work in the lower valley of El Paso and other agricultural areas in the U.S. New federal welfare programs and state law reduced the population of the poor farm to four, and it was closed in 1964.

Unlike other Texas county poor farms, Rio Vista followed a familial, rather than institutional model, accepting neglected and abandoned children in addition to the adult indigent population.

In later life, Helen O’Shea Keleher cited the fifty years she spent with the more than four thousand orphans and neglected children of the Rio Vista Poor Farm as her proudest accomplishment. (2000)

When visiting the Farm, you will find a collection of old adobe buildings surrounding a large square in the center. These buildings have housed poor children who could not be supported by their families to Braceros (Mexican laborers admitted to the US for seasonal agricultural work) who left their homes in Mexico and came to the United States.

The Farm was started by the O’Shea family. During the Great Depression, many individuals and private companies started to lead a hand to those in need. In Texas, it was hard for anyone to admit they needed help. Pride often got in the way. Yet, something needed to be done, and the O’Shea family decided to give a place to anyone who needed somewhere to stay.

Throughout the Great Depression, the Farm’s population continued to grow. This growth led to the Farm hosting different welfare programs. As time when on, the Works Progress Administration, part of FDR’s New Deal, set up shop at the farm to help create jobs for those who lost everything during the depression.

When the United States entered World War II, Americans heeded the call to serve their country in the Military, or in working to support the Military. This, of course, led to a shortage of labor.

In 1942 Congress enacted the Emergency Labor Program. This program allowed people from Mexico to come to the United States and fill vacant jobs – again, mostly within the agriculture field; Rio Vista Farm became their temporary home.

Today, the buildings of the Rio Vista Farm stand in silent testament to all those who walked through their doors. For many, it was a place of hope, a place where they could get back on their feet.

For the Braceros, it was a double-edged sword – for some, it was a way to feed their families. For others, it was a degrading experience that saw them being mistreated, fumigated with DDT, and worse.

If you have a chance, take a moment to drive by. Walk along the buildings, stand inside of one and just imagine, if you can, the hope and disappointment of those who walked through those doors so many years ago.

The El Paso Poor Farm, also knows as Rio Vista Farm, is located at 800 Rio Vista Road in Socorro, just a few miles east of the El Paso city limits on North Loop.

Do you know of something in El Paso County that is interesting? If so, I would love to hear about it. Give me a call at 915-201-0653 or send me an email:

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(Editor’s note: Color photos by author. Black and white photos, creative commons)

Socorro’s Rio Vista Farm named National Treasure

After being named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on Saturday, the Rio Vista Farm in Socorro now has a new lease on life.

Thanks to support from Socorro residents, politicians and others from around El Paso County, the century-old facility is in line for restoration and preservation. A new page on the National Trust’s website: Saving Places not only gives the site’s history, but allows for visitors to donate to the cause.

“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.”

The honor was announced on Friday, September 16th, as people across the United States begin a month-long celebration of Hispanic heritage.

According to a news release, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rio Vista Farm a National Treasure 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.

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 joins a growing portfolio of irreplaceable, diverse places—from ancient sites to modern monuments—that have been designated National Treasures.

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