Up to $600,000 in local funds have been secured for the creation of a first-ever library in Socorro, Texas.
And that library will considerably enhance a campaign to restore where it will be located: the Rio Vista Farm, one-time processing center for the Bracero Program.
Existing Rio Vista Farm buildings, courtesy Rio Vista archives
“We’re doing a historical landmark rehabilitation of the property, which will see it not only as a community center, but also as the home to the new library,” says Victor Reta.
“That means that this project will accomplish several things at the same time,” continues Reta, who is both the director of public relations and recreation for the City of Socorro as well as the city’s historical preservation officer.
The site traces its roots back to 1915 and served as a temporary base for laborers with the Civilian Conservation Corps, the New Deal program that offered jobs in natural resources and conservation to unskilled workers in the 1930s.
But it was in the early 1950s that the property, with its series of different-size adobe buildings, gained it most historic importance serving as a processing center for the Bracero Program, which in the next decade and a half would see tens of thousands of laborers from Mexico working in U.S. farms.
“A lot of these folks came through here, went into the rest of Texas, as well as New Mexico and Colorado, and worked,” says Bernie Sargent, the chairman of the El Paso County Historical Commission, “then they made their way back to Mexico, also by way of Rio Vista Farms.”
“They took the money from their wages and the things they bought - everything that they had accrued in the U.S. - into Mexico and oftentimes decided to come back. When they did, they were processed again through Rio Vista Farms and then went on to the immigration and naturalization service,” continues Sargent.
Because of the site’s signal importance in the lives of so many people on both sides of the border, it has come to be recognized for its unique historic worth.
In 1996 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Last year the site was additionally put on the endangered places list by the non-profit Preservation Texas, which works to preserve historic buildings and properties through advocacy and education.
But while always aware of the role that Rio Vista Farms has played in the development of Socorro, city leaders have increasingly looked at the site, now called the Rio Vista Community Center, for its modern-day potential, creating in recent years a recreation center geared primarily for seniors and used by up to 2,000 people a month.
That’s where the library comes in.
For years, book-lovers in Socorro have had to make the more than 12-mile trip to El Paso if they expected to borrow a book or do the kind of research that any public library can typically provide.
But last summer Socorro Mayor Jesus Ruiz announced that an effort was underway to remodel two buildings at Rio Vista for use as Socorro’s first-ever library.
Existing Rio Vista Farm site, courtesy Rio Vista archives
“We’ve been able to secure $600,000 from the city’s capital projects for this,” says Reta, “with the idea of going after other private funding, grants, public/private partnerships, and different collaborations.”
Once the new library space at Rio Vista is remodeled, Socorro will tap into the Library of Congress’ surplus books program which donates books to museums, schools, public libraries and other non-profits.
“They are very good for helping out libraries in under-privileged parts of the country,” Reta says of the program.
“When the time comes, we’ll be able to go and visit the Library of Congress and pick out the non-fiction, fiction, and reference books that we’ll need for our library here,” he adds.
Socorro city officials are currently working on putting together a contract for an architect and engineer to create a historical structural report on the would-be library site.
After that, actual work on the new library could begin, perhaps by late next year.
For Bernie Sargent, the library project is all part of an ongoing effort to preserve and renovate the larger historic site.
“We want to rehabilitate the buildings there, the old cafeteria, some of the offices, and make them functional, so that people can walk through and really get a feel for why this is such an important place,” he says.
By Garry Boulard
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