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Park brochure cover with thick black title bar at top and blended image including old photo of men about to shake hands in front of monument and park grounds against mountain backdrop
The park brochure cover shows Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Adolfo López Mateos in 1964 (left) and a portion of Chamizal National Memorial.

Side 1: Chamizal

Chamizal National Memorial celebrates the peaceful settlement of a dispute over the international boundary at El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. On August 29, 1963, after decades of arguing about who owned a piece of land shaped and reshaped by the meandering Rio Grande river, the question was finally settled by diplomacy and technology. The river was constrained within a concrete channel for 4.3 miles, forming a permanent boundary between the two nations.

The United States set aside a portion of the former Mexican land received through the Chamizal Convention, or treaty, for recreational and cultural use. At Chamizal National Memorial, established in 1974, music, visual arts, dance, drama, and shared history form cultural bridges as strong as the steel that spans over the Rio Grande.

 
Diagrams of local section of the Rio Grande in 1899, 1963, and Today (top to bottom) show natural and manipulated changes in the river's course with location of the park for context.

Rio Grande

In the 1860s a dispute arose over a section of Mexican farmland known as El Chamizal. Its original northern border was the Rio Grande, the international boundary. The trouble was that the river’s course was shifting southward (top map), so did it still belong to Mexico? Years later, a flood control project cut off a loop of the river, creating Cordova Island—a detached part of Mexico now north of the Rio Grande (center map).

With the sovereignty of El Chamizal unclear and Mexico’s Cordova Island projecting incongruously into El Paso, tensions rose. In the 1960s, technology came to the rescue: a new concrete-lined channel for the Rio Grande was built, bisecting both El Chamizal and Cordova Island (center and bottom maps). The two nations exchanged land, and people and businesses were relocated. Chamizal National Memorial occupies part of old Cordova Island.


 

The Flow of History

 
Outline of United States and Mexico showing Gadsden Purchase and land Mexico ceded to U.S. in 1848

1848

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the US­-Mexican War; US gains much of its present­day West. Mexico agrees to recognize the Rio Grande as the Texas­-Mexico boundary.

1864

Massive flooding alters the course of the Rio Grande, initiating a hundred­-year-­long dispute about exact position of the international boundary.

 
Black lettering on a weathered plaque: Boundary of the United States, Treaty of 1848, Re-established by treaties of 1884-1889
Detail from boundary monument.

1884

International boundary is established at the center of the river’s deepest channel. If river course changes abruptly, the old boundary remains in place.

1895

Mexico makes a claim on behalf of Pedro I. Garcia, a landowner in El Chamizal.

 
Black and white photo from high vantage point of urban bridge over river
El Paso and Rio Grande, 1910.

1899

River channel is straightened to prevent flooding. This creates Cordova Island, a piece of Mexican agricultural land jutting into US territory.

1911

Arbitration of the boundary dispute takes place in downtown El Paso, while blocks away, the Mexican Revolution is underway.

 
Shiny obelisk-shaped monument stands between two cement fence posts, adobe buildings in a field on opposite side of fence
Posts and a fence separate El Paso (foreground) from Cordova Island, 1960s.

1920-40

Cordova Island becomes a drinking and smuggling haven. Efforts, including construction of a fence by Mexico, are made to address the issues.

 
Jacqueline Kennedy stands behind a microphone, flanked by JFK and President Lopez Mateos
President Adolfo López Mateos, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy, 1962.

JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

1962

With the Cold War escalating, President John F. Kennedy seeks to secure relations with Mexico and travels to Mexico City to meet with President Adolfo López Mateos. The two heads of state resolve to settle the Chamizal dispute.

1963

Chamizal Convention signed. Specifies construction of concrete channel to serve as permanent international boundary. Also divides Cordova Island between the United States and Mexico.

 
black box with a plaque, small light, key switch, and two large red buttons
Ceremonial “switch” used to signal water flow into new channel.

1968

President Lyndon Johnson and President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz meet on the Paso del Norte (Santa Fe Street) Bridge to open new river channel.

 

Side 2: Chamizal Yesterday and Today

 
strip of 3 old photos showing (left to right) cement river channel with bridges crossing it, two boys standing outside wood-sided house, adobe home
From left to right: new concrete channel between Juárez (left) and El Paso (right), US residents before relocation, house in the Chamizal tract before demolition.
 
Three photos (from left to right): two mural panels showing faces of different races, eagles, snake, and a jaguar; people looking at a boundary monument; park ranger from back, looking out over a crowd seated on lawn
From left to right: murals at Chamizal depict Mexican and US culture, restored boundary monument, outdoor performance.
 
Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Gustavo Díaz Ordaz shake hands next to a chrome monument.
President Johnson and President Díaz Ordaz with monument, 1967.

After the Chamizal Convention

The Chamizal Convention was not just a land swap; thousands of US citizens who lived in the disputed area were forced to relocate, along with businesses, places of worship, schools, and social centers. According to the treaty, the US federal government reimbursed residents for their property, moving, and other expenses. Most structures were demolished.

Many Chamizal residents moved to other area neighborhoods while some left for other cities and states. Reaction to the forced relocation was mixed. While people recognized the opportunity to improve their economic conditions or start new lives, they felt injustice and loss when their families and communities were uprooted. These feelings still echo in the hearts and minds of many former Chamizal residents.

Both nations have used the exchanged land for improved roads, schools, public buildings, and parks. The US Congress set aside a portion of the old Cordova Island as Chamizal National Memorial. In this setting the National Park Service and other organizations present activities and exhibits celebrating the people who share the borderlands.

 
From across a paved plaza you can see a mural painted on three walls of a building. It shows vibrant, active figures depicting peoples and culture of the US-Mexico border.
Visitors are greeted by Carlos Flores' bold, bright depictions of Mexican and US culture and history.

Welcome

Stop first at the cultural center. Park staff will answer questions and provide information about the day’s activities and upcoming events. A video presentation introduces the park and its related history and culture. For information about hours and days of operations, visit the park website. Service animals are welcome at the national memorial.

The cultural center has museum exhibits, an information desk, park store, 500-seat theater, gallery space, and courtyard with a garden and fountain. The grounds have walking paths. The outdoor stage is just southwest of the cultural center. The park also has picnic areas with tables and grills.

 
A row of white, cement, obelisk-shaped posts stretches into the distance along a walking path.
Historic boundary.
 
Crossed flag poles with Mexican flag (red, white, and green vertical bars and eagle emblem) and US flag (red and white stripes with field of blue bearing four straight rows of stars)
Mexican and US flags, 1840s.

NPS / ROBERT TOPE

For a Safe Visit

Watch for traffic while crossing roads and parking areas. Be especially cautious on theater stairs; please use handrails. Find firearms information on the park website.

More Information

Chamizal National Memorial is one of over 400 parks in the National Park System. Learn more about the National Park Service. To learn more about this park, contact Chamizal National Memorial.

 
 
A crowd of people sit on a lawn in front of a distant row of trees, a mountain in the background.
Large crowds gather at one of the park’s outdoor events.

Theater

Throughout the year, Chamizal’s 500-seat indoor theater comes alive with performances including plays, musicals, modern dance, opera, and ballet folklórico. Park staff and community members also present motion pictures, lectures, and discussions.

Outdoor Events

Festivals and programs celebrating the heritage of the borderlands and other special events take place on the park grounds and on the park’s outdoor stage.

Franklin G. Smith Gallery

Exhibits of paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, and other visual arts fill the Franklin G. Smith Gallery on a periodic basis. Such sharing of the visual arts is intended to promote the spirit of cultural and international cooperation.

Last updated: January 6, 2022

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800 South San Marcial Street
El Paso , TX 79905

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915-532-7273

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