Documerica was a program sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” in the United States from about 1972 to 1977. These particular photos shot in Kodachrome by Danny Lyon are all of El Paso and in particular the Second Ward which was described as a classic ‘Barrio’ on the Mexican border.
El Segundo Barrio, the second oldest neighborhood of El Paso, has been the first “port of call” for thousands of families arriving from Mexico since the 1880s. The railroad arrived in El Paso in 1881, and the population of El Paso soon grew quickly. Due to historic flooding from the Rio Grande, the curbs of the oldest streets in El Segundo Barrio are still “raised a foot or more.
Danny Lyon wrote this years later:
When I first came to the Southwest in 1971, almost all the work in the chile and alfalfa fields, and often in the hotels, resorts, and restaurants, was done by Mexicans, almost all of whom were undocumented immigrants. They were called “Mojados,” an insult meaning “the Wet Ones,” then “illegal aliens,” and finally “undocumented workers.” It was pretty clear to everyone that, without their labor, the economy of the Southwest would collapse.
The undocumented worker with whom I was building my house, north of Bernalillo, was called Eddie. Eddie had been a bracero, part of the government program that brought Mexican workers across the border when we needed them. Bracero means “one who works with his arms.” As a bracero, Eddie picked cotton. He told me in Spanish, “They took out my appendix for a quarter.” The Bracero program was ended in 1964.
More of Danny Lyon’s Documerica photographs can be seen here on Flickr.