Explore Chamizal History
For hundreds of miles the Rio Grande separates the United States and Mexico, forming the international border. And for a century, the changing course of that river was the cause of international disagreements. In the mid-nineteenth century, a dispute arose concerning a section of privately-owned farmland between the settlements that grew into El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Beginning in 1895, Mexico laid formal claim to the tract of land that became known as the Chamizal. The Mexican claim led to counter-claims by the United States, and over the years, the dispute became a major impasse. This led to prolonged negotiation, arbitration, and further disagreement in the first half of the twentieth century. By this time, Chamizal had grown into an international issue that strained diplomatic relations. Compounding the already complex issue was the tract of land known as Cordova Island, a detached part of Mexico on the north side of the Rio Grande, which adjoined the Chamizal tract. With the title to Chamizal disputed and Mexico’s Cordova Island protruding into El Paso, the situation demanded resolution. In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy and Mexico’s President Adolfo López Mateos moved to break the deadlock. A plan was developed to construct a new concrete-lined channel for the Rio Grande that would bisect Chamizal and Cordova. All the land south of the channel would go to Mexico, and the land to the north would go to the United States. After Kennedy’s death in 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson completed negotiations which resulted in the Chamizal Treaty of 1963. The final agreement was signed in 1967 and water was diverted into the new channel the following year. It was not just parcels of land that were affected by the treaty. About five thousand residents of El Paso who had occupied the disputed territory were forced to relocate, along with businesses and industries. The US Congress set aside a portion of the land acquired from Mexico as Chamizal National Memorial. Here the National Park Service presents activities that celebrate the cultural traditions of the people who share the borderlands, and we commemorate the peaceful settlement of a long-standing border dispute. One of our purposes is to promote respect and understanding among people of different cultures by sharing art forms. Ever since the Memorial opened to the public, we have helped local performing groups, groups from across the country, and from other countries as well present music, plays, dance, and other kinds of performances. The staff of the Memorial truly believes that by sharing our art and culture, we learn more about each other and become better friends. Welcome to Chamizal National Memorial.
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Get to know your national park! Learn about the history and purpose of Chamizal National Memorial.
Experience Borderland Culture
Chamizal National Memorial is uncommon among more than 400 other national parks, both as an urban park and because of its full performance theater, which seats almost 500 people. This indoor theater and an outdoor amphitheater are stages for sharing the park’s history and borderland culture during various major events and other programs throughout the year.
Visual Arts and Exhibits
One of the first things you will see when you come to the park is the Nuestra Herencia mural depicting elements of this area's history and culture and Chamizal history. More works of art representing the US-Mexico border are on display inside the Cultural Center, and the park store offers some traditional Mexican handicrafts for sale. The Franklin G. Smith Gallery is located next door in the Administration building and periodically houses temporary art exhibit.
Last updated: August 2, 2021