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JFK's Living Legacy at the US-Mexico Border: An Example to the World

A charismatic president, an untamed river and international diplomacy: all combine to tell a fascinating story. As we commemorate this week the day US President John F. Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on November 25, 1963, his historic influence continues here in El Paso, Texas, a tribute to his enduring legacy.

Mexico and the U.S. ended a three year boundary war with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. It set their boundary at the Rio Grande River. With that settled they shared relative peace. But a living river did not make a good international boundary. Flooding in 1864 and a southbound shift of the Rio Grande moved an entire section of prime urban land over to the El Paso, TexasTexas side of the river. What once was Mexico suddenly became the United States!

Mexico and the United States both claimed this land
-- several hundred acres called El Chamizal, named after the vegetation that grew in the floodplain. Although many American citizens were living in that area, Mexican citizens filed suit to reclaim it in 1895. The issue, however, dragged on over the years across history; the US was resistant to return the land. The dispute continued unsettled until John F. Kennedy entered the scene.

When young, charismatic US President John F. Kennedy visited Mexico, he took its capitol by storm; the Mexican people loved him and his wife Jacqueline. Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos frankly asked Kennedy to look into the border matter, advising him that relations between the US and Mexico would never be smooth until the problem was solved. John F. Kennedy called the dispute "the black mark." On August 29, 1963, the United States wiped that mark away by signing the Chamizal Convention returning Mexico a total of 630 acres to end the conflict. In 1964 Presidents Adolfo López Mateos and Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, met on the border personally to end the dispute officially, once and for all.

Mexico and the United States took steps to ensure that this problem would never happen again. The Rio Grande River was confined to a man-made concrete channel so it could not shift again; that concrete channel remains to this day.

On the U.S. side of the disputed land, the Chamizal National Memorial now stands to promote the arts by highlighting the two nations' blended cultures. This memorial, operated by the US Park Service, emphasizes cooperation, diplomacy and cultural values as a basic means to conflict resolution. A representation of President Kennedy dominates a mural on the exterior of the park building (photo above).

"Far more than mere acreage, Chamizal is an idea, a dynamic process, dedicated to furthering the spirit of understanding and goodwill between two nations that share one border."~from the National Park Foundation

John F. Kennedy's legacy lives on the US-Mexico border.


"[T]he solution to this controversy will serve as a notable example to the world at large and will contribute to world peace by demonstrating that all differences among nations, regardless of how complicated they may be, can be resolved through friendly negotiations." ~ John F. Kennedy, 1963
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