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The Chamizal: A Town Between Borders

 

Fifty years ago, the United States shrank by a single square mile. It all happened where the Rio Grande divides El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.

Ever since Texas became a state, the river has been the border between the two countries. But rivers can move — and that’s exactly what happened in 1864, when torrential rains caused it to jump its banks and go south. Suddenly the border was in a different place, and Texas had gained 700 acres of land called the Chamizal, named after a plant that grew in the area.

It was a thorn in the side of U.S.-Mexico relations for a century until Sept. 25, 1964, when the U.S. finally gave part of the land back to Mexico. But by that time, roughly 5,000 people had moved to the Chamizal and made it their home. This is their story.

Historian Paul Kramer, who led us to this story, wrote a lovely essay about The Chamizal in the New Yorker. More of Paul’s work can be found at www.paulkrameronline.com. Special thanks to Paul, The University of Texas at El Paso Institute of Oral History, The LBJ Presidential Archive, the Vanderbilt Archive and Maria Eugenia Trillo.

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