The historical links between U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Mexican President Benito Juarez have been long studied by historians. The shifting of the course of the Rio Grande that began the Chamizal conflict began while these two Presidents were in office, and both were locked in battles to save their respective republics (The Civil War for Lincoln, The War against France for Juarez). Juarez was born on March 21, 1806, in the village San Pablo Guelatao in the State of Oaxaca. He was of Zapotec Indian heritage. After his parents and grandparents died he lived first with his uncle and herded sheep. Eventually he was cared for by a Franciscan lay-brother who began to educate him. Juarez studied theology and law. In 1847, he was governor of Oaxaca, and in 1858, President of Mexico. As a defender of democracy he stated: "Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace." In 1862, Napoleon Ill invaded Mexico and later made Maximilian of Austria, emperor of Mexico. French troops forced Juarez to flee from the nation's capital from one town to another. In 1864, he arrived in Chihuahua City. In August 1865, he retreated to El Paso del Norte which, for nine months (1865-66), was Mexico's capital. He declined offers of asylum and invitations from Fort Bliss Army officers and El Paso residents. He vowed never to leave Mexican soil as long as it was occupied by foreign invaders. During his time in El Paso Del Norte, President Juarez helped build a new irrigation system to replace the canals that had been destroyed by floods. Juarez also met with the Chamizal residents who requested that their lands be returned which recent river floods had been had placed on the north bank, which were subsequently claimed by Norte Americanos. That boundary dispute, which was revolved a century later, resulted in the Chamizal Convention and the creation of the two commemorative parks - Parque Chamizal and the Chamizal National Memorial. Soon after Juarez left Paso del Norte, in 1866, he successfully re-united his nation. On September 16, 1888, the people of El Paso del Norte proudly re- named their town Ciudad Juarez in honor of their special friend and guest, the Citizen President of Mexico.
The XII Travelers of the Southwest, Inc. is a non-profit group who has been involved in raising money and designing and placing monuments dedicated to significant historical figures in the El Paso border region. "Benito Juarez, from child to Man," the fourth monument in the XII Travelers series, will depict two representations of Mexico's greatest president. The first figure is President Juarez in El Paso del Norte during the cold winter of 1865, the darkest period of the French intervention. While seated on a bench within the interior patio of his headquarters near Guadalupe Mission, he is determined to liberate his country. He clasp his book which he wrote, "Notes for My Children," that extols the love for his family and nation. Seated on the other side, is young Benito, the 12-year-old Zapotec Indian boy. Although he does not read, he is inspired to learn. As he holds a book, he curiously looks towards his future in the direction of the adult Juarez. The monument's components, also in bronze, will include a large medallion of Benito Juarez and Abraham Lincoln, a bilingual story board, and a donors' acknowledgement plaque. These components will be mounted an exhibit wall near the statue.
National Park Service Management Policies state that "The primary function of some commemorative works...is to describe, explain, or otherwise attest to the significance of a park's resources...Therefore, permanent installations of this nature will not be allowed unless it can clearly be demonstrated that the work will substantially increase visitor's appreciation of the significance of park resources or values, and do so more effectively than other interpretive media." Installation of the "Benito Juarez, from Child to Man" monument is needed at the Chamizal National Memorial for the following reasons:
- The Benito Juarez monument at the Chamizal National Memorial would greatly expand visitor opportunities to link the beginning of the Chamizal story to the greater story of the positive relationship between the United States and Mexico. The placement of the Juarez monument looking toward Mexico at the entrance of the Chamizal Cultural Center would provide a visual introduction and a geographic understanding of the Chamizal story.
- The historical links between President Abraham Lincoln and President Benito Juarez and their involvement with the beginning of the Chamizal conflict, is a major theme currently being interpreted at the Chamizal National Memorial.
- Both presidents are also symbols as leaders who guided their respective countries through great wars to preserve their nations. The placing of the statue of Lincoln in Mexico and the statue of Juarez in the U.S., is seen by both nations as a symbol of unity between the two nations.
- While Mexico erected a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in Juarez in 1964, the U.S. has yet to erect a statue of President Benito Juarez on the U.S. side of the border. Both the 1984 Development Concept Plan and the 2016 Foundation Document supports the placing of a Juarez monument at the Chamizal National Memorial.
- The XII Travelers Memorial of the Southwest, Inc. materials state: "It is appropriate that the Chamizal National Memorial will be the site for this international monument."
The XII Travelers Memorial of the Southwest (non-profit organization) and the Chamizal National Park, have established a partnership to erect a monument of Benito Juárez, México's renowned President, at the entrance of the Chamizal Cultural Center. The Chamizal is a most appropriate site for the statue. Forty-four years ago, in 1972, the people of El Paso wanted a Benito Juárez monument in the Chamizal Park, but it never became a reality.
In August 1865, during the bleakest period of the French Intervention, Juárez, his cabinet and military escorts, were forced to retreat from Chihuahua City north to El Paso del Norte (present-day Cd. Juárez). During his nine-month residency, the town was the capital of México. Twenty-two years later, to honor their guest, The Citizen President, they proudly renamed their town, Ciudad Juárez. In 1866, Juárez met with Chamizal residents about the lands they had lost as result of the horrific floods of 1862 and 1864, which repositioned the Río Grande channel (the international boundary) within U.S. territory.
Nearly a century later, in 1963, the two nations agreed to settle the Chamizal Boundary Dispute and to create Chamizal Parks on both sides of river in celebration of mutual friendship. On October 28, 1967, in Cd. Juárez, Presidents L.B. Johnson and Gustavo Díaz Ordaz signed the Chamizal Boundary Agreement and dedicated the Abraham Lincoln Monument, a gift from the United States. In 1969, a statue of President Juárez was erected in Washington D.C., a gift from México. As a result, that site became a National Park.
The statue by the co-sculptors, John Houser and Ethan Houser, will feature President Juárez and the younger Benito Juárez. The president is seated on a bench within the patio of his El Paso del Norte headquarters. Little Benito, the 12-year old sheep herder from a remote Zapotec Indian village in Oaxaca, is seated at the other end of the bench and gazes towards his future – in the direction of the president. He holds a book that inspires him to read and write.A major component of the Juárez monument will be a bronze medallion of the two contemporary presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juárez, who mutually supported each other when their nations were beset by civil war. The medallion will be mounted, near the monument, on a wall panel with a bi-lingual storyboard and a donor acknowledgement plaque.
The statue and medallion reinforce the symbolic relationship of the two neighboring Chamizal Parks – the friendship between México and the United States. Sales of limited editions of the medallion and other project related art, will subsidize the monument's production. Although there are many schools, clinics and other institutions in both countries with the combined names of both presidents, such a medallion has yet to be produced. Two historic photographs are principal references for the medallion. One is the photo of President Juárez in El Paso del Norte by George A. Gaige. The other is a portrait of President Lincoln by H.W. Fay, which was a reference in the creation of Mt. Rushmore.