The Chamizal Dispute

Artist: Pablo Hernandez
Address: 3826 Alameda Ave

 

The story of the Chamizal Dispute and its resolution via the Chamizal Treaty of 1964 is the age-old story of humans attempting to tame nature. In fact, the often-violent meanderings of the Rio Grande are what caused the Chamizal Dispute: a classic case of nature against colonial settler, capitalist demands for a fixed boundary.

 

Rio Grande – the Rio Grande always follows its natural course from present-day Southern Colorado towards the Gulf of Mexico, even against the will of the authorities of the Spanish Empire, Mexico, Texas, and the USA. Nature acts as resistance to these colonial structures.[1] These changes in the river’s course were the source of the Chamizal Dispute.

 

Boundaries through history – El Chamizal across settler states:

 

Spain –

1813 Spanish Census – 718 residents living in Partido Chamizal.[2]

1818 Spanish Chamizal Land Grant – today’s location of Sacred Heart Church in Segundo Barrio would have fallen under the jurisdiction of this Spanish Chamizal Land Grant.[3] Chamizal land grant much larger than current area known as “Chamizal.”

 

Mexico –

1827 – Rio Grande bed ran in what is today the heart of El Paso’s downtown office district along Overland Street. This would have been the northernmost part of Paso del Norte, known as Partido Chamizal. Across the riverbank was the Ponce de Leon Land Grant, and de Leon’s ranch house used to be on the present-day site of the Mills Building.

 

USA –

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 stipulates that the Rio Grande will be the border between Mexico and the USA. The first survey and markings of the international boundary were done in 1852.

A massive flood in 1863 greatly shifted the river southwards, spurring the Mexican government, at the behest of Chamizal citizens, to demand recognition of their claims to the land. Land speculators and real estate agents in El Paso saw this as a perfect opportunity to reap massive benefits by claiming Chamizal was now part of the USA (e.g., the Campbell Real Estate Co. renaming Partido Chamizal into Cotton, Magoffin, and Campbell Additions)[4].

 

IWBC (International Water Boundary Commission)

1885 marks the creation of IWBC, a bi-national governmental organization to settle international boundary disputes between Mexico and the USA.

In 1885, a meeting between Garcia Barrio (Mexican diplomat) and Anson Mills was the first attempt at mediating the Chamizal Dispute.[5]

Both the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 and the Treaty of 1888 stipulated that the middle and deepest channel of the river was the international boundary.[6]

 

Chamizal Treaty of 1964

Begun by John F. Kennedy during the height of the Cold War to persuade Mexican foreign affairs away from its cozy ties to Cuba. JFK was assassinated, and then Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos finally reached an agreement. The only time the USA gave land back to Mexico. 630 acres returned to Mexico. 193 acres from Mexico to the USA.[7] Officially proclaimed (once passed by Congress) on October 29th, 1967.

 

Struggles of Chamizal Barrio Today

The Treaty of 1964 displaced about 5,500 people from the Chamizal area, particularly the El Jardin/Cordova Gardens barrios were demolished. [8] The construction of the Border Highway furthers guts Chamizal barrio and increases pollution in the area.[9] Las Familias del Barrio del Chamizal, a women-led grassroots organization representing the interests of what is left of the barrio in El Chamizal area, are still fighting for environmental and educational justice.

The Chamizal Treaty - Pablo Hernandez 3826 Alameda Ave

 

 

Bibliography

 

Periodicals:

 

“The Campbell Addition.” El Paso Times. June 10, 1881

“Cotton’s Addition.” El Paso Times. June 10, 1881

“The Mexican Title and the Cotton Addition.” El Paso Times. October 24, 1907

“Gen. Anson Mills in Boundary Case.” El Paso Times. November 24, 1907.

“Judge Goggin Orders Mexican Squatters Off Cotton Addition” El Paso Herald. April 22, 1908.

“Charges City Ignores Needs of Cordova Gardens.” El Paso Herald-Post. Feb. 27, 1957

Salazar, Ruben. “Texas Due to Return 450 Acres to Mexico.” Los Angeles Times. March 13, 1963

“Chamizal’s ‘Displaced Persons’ Think Compensation Inadequate” The Amarillo Globe-Times. July 22, 1965

“Chamizal Homeowners Groups To Go To Capital.” El Paso Times. August 12, 1965

“Papers Trace El Chamizal Back to 1818.” El Paso Herald-Post. October 27, 1967

“Chamizal Census Take in 1813,” El Paso Times, October, 28, 1967

“5,500 Persons Moved by U.S. From Chamizal.” El Paso Herald-Post. October 27, 1976

 

Primary Sources:

 

Joe K. Parrish Papers, MS111, C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Dept., University of Texas at El Paso Library.

 

Secondary Sources:

 

de Hinojosa, Alana Camille. “The Río Grande as Pedagogy: The Unruly, Unresolved Terrains of the Chamizal Land Dispute,” Chicana & Chicana Studies, PhD Dissertation, UCLA, 2023: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2km061fv.

 

 

Truett, Samuel. Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.

 

 

 

 

[1] Samuel Truett, Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006). For an excellent history of El Chamizal as a “fugitive landscape,” see Alana Camille de Hinojosa, “The Río Grande as Pedagogy: The Unruly, Unresolved Terrains of the Chamizal Land Dispute,” Chicana & Chicana Studies, PhD Dissertation, UCLA, 2023: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2km061fv

[2] “Chamizal Census Take in 1813,” El Paso Times, October, 28, 1967; Joe K. Parrish Papers, MS111, box 1, folder 44, C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Dept., University of Texas at El Paso Library.

[3] “Papers Trace El Chamizal Back to 1818.” El Paso Herald-Post. October 27, 1967.

[4] “The Campbell Addition.” El Paso Times. June 10, 1881; “Cotton’s Addition.” El Paso Times. June 10, 1881; “The Mexican Title and the Cotton Addition.” El Paso Times. October 24, 1907; “Judge Goggin Orders Mexican Squatters Off Cotton Addition.” El Paso Herald. April 22, 1908.

[5] “Gen. Anson Mills in Boundary Case.” El Paso Times. November 24, 1907.

[6] Under this treaty, the “law of accretion” is the legal basis to consider the natural erosion and alluvium deposits gradually shifting the river’s course as opposed to the “law of avulsion” as a sudden change to the river’s course due to flood.

[7] Ruben Salazar, “Texas Due to Return 450 Acres to Mexico.” Los Angeles Times. March 13, 1963.

[8] “5,500 Persons Moved by U.S. From Chamizal.” El Paso Herald-Post. October 27, 1976; “Chamizal Homeowners Groups To Go To Capital.” El Paso Times. August 12, 1965. “Chamizal’s ‘Displaced Persons’ Think Compensation Inadequate.” The Amarillo Globe-Times. July 22, 1965; “Charges City Ignores Needs of Cordova Gardens.” El Paso Herald-Post. Feb. 27, 1957.

[9] “Chamizal Settlement, Freeway Bring Gigantic EP Facelifting.” El Paso Times. September 25, 1964.