The Xochil Art and Culture Center in Mission, one of the earliest Chicano art centers in Texas, was formally established in 1976 to promote bicultural arts in the Rio Grande valley area. The center was housed in Teatro La Paz, built in 1912–13, and an adjacent bowling alley. In its early days the theater was the site of plays and musical entertainment brought to Mission by traveling artists from Spain and Mexico and lectures by distinguished politicians and scholars, such as José Vasconcelos, Nemesio García Naranjo, and José Manrique; Mexican films were screened there also. In 1945 Enrique Flores, Sr., purchased the entertainment complex and changed its name to the Rio Theater. He left the property to his son Enrique Flores, Jr., upon his death in 1971. Enrique Flores, Jr., an artist, had revived the theater's function as an arts center as early as 1967, when he and Xavier Gorena, a fellow student at Pan American College (later the University of Texas-Pan American) exhibited their work there. In 1969 Flores and Gorena established a commercial gallery and studios called Estudios Rio in the theater complex and began sponsoring performance art happenings, installations, and solo exhibitions of friends such as Amado Peña (1969, 1970, 1971) and Carmen Garza (1972). With the support of Helen Stall, a prominent artist and patron in the valley, Estudios Rio excited community interest, but failed to generate any substantial income. In 1974 Carmen Garza introduced Flores and Gorena to Leonard Mestas, founder of Juarez-Lincoln University in Austin. Mestas hired the three artists to teach art to migrant children and assisted them in a successful grant application to the American Lutheran Church. Fired by the success of the grant and the need for a formal organizational structure to pursue further funding, Flores and Gorena applied for and won nonprofit, tax exempt status in 1976. They named the new organization Xochil, meaning "to blossom" in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs.
The Xochil Art and Culture Center sponsored a number of important exhibitions, such as a solo show for Cesar Martinez in 1977, when he was an emerging talent, and "Besame Mucho" (1979), which featured the work of Chicana artists in Mujeres Artistas del Suroeste. In the early 1980s Xochil hosted an exhibition of José Guadalupe Posada's prints that was organized by the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Flores and Gorena also organized a number of group exhibitions centered around themes such as children's art and seasonal holidays, the most important of which was an annual exhibition of altars by artists and community members in celebration of Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday commemorating the dead. Films, musical concerts, and performances by local folkloric dance groups supplemented Xochil's visual arts program. Theater groups such as the Valley International Players and Curtain Call Players (later Theater McAllen) staged a number of performances in the theater, as did award-winning high school drama groups. The center further served the community by organizing theater, art therapy, and children's art workshops. In 1981 the center's 6,600-square-foot facility was renovated with grant money from the Hidalgo County Community Development program. The following year the Texas Historical Commission awarded a state historical marker to the theater. These improvements were spearheaded by Gorena, who served as executive director of Xochil from 1976 until 1985. He also expanded the board of directors from three members (himself, Flores, and their attorney, Arturo Torres) to include members of the community. The size of the board and the length of board members' terms were not specified by the organization, and the size fluctuated from five to sixteen members in the following years. The center was supported by funds from the city of Mission and grants from the American Lutheran Church, the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Membership fees and fund-raising activities also contributed to Xochil's budget, which averaged about $40,000 a year. Gorena was succeeded as director by Emma Mendiola (1985–86) and Gilda van der Graaff (1988–89). During the latter part of the 1980s dissension among board members and a conflict concerning ownership of the property hampered the further development of the center, and community support for the Xochil Art and Culture Center waned. Although Xochil closed in May 1989, its impact as a pioneering bicultural arts center continues to be felt through the activities of later such organizations, including Mexic-Arte in Austin and Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio. See also CHICANO ART NETWORKS.