Upon zooming down I-35 into the southern part of Texas that hinges just between Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico, lies a sub-tropical terrain called “The Valley” by natives like me, the “RGV”, short for the Rio Grande Valley for other folks who live in Texas, and lastly, this area is also nicknamed “Mexico” for folks who believe anyone who speaks Spanish has crossed the border through the river illegally. These folks border on ignorance just as the valley borders on complete warfare with the drug cartels in Mexico and immigration.
As a native, born in Rio Grande City, TX, in a hospital that looks like an abandoned asylum from 1882, I wholeheartedly miss the region as I am now a Dallas-ite, or city cat, as I prefer. The Valley’s demographic is 91% Hispanic, according to rgv.gov. Therefore, the main language spoken is Spanish with English as secondary, except in schools, well sort of. I am from the valley where poverty strikes half the population, where corruption runs rampant and fueled by greed and drugs, and where the worst schools in America are located, according to a study conducted by the Education Department in 2014.
Yet, I am proud to be part of this bulging Mecca of Hispanic and Texan merging of cultures. One does not know how different the rest of the state of Texas is or the nation when compared to this region. Not until natives, like my boyfriend and I leave, do we understand why we wanted to move away in the first place, but also we understand why others don’t leave. Natives do not want to leave such a corrupt-riddled, poverty-stricken, heat diseased region because their ties to the land are bigger and more important than themselves.
Living in the RGV is a complex and diverse mixing of different Hispanic cultures living within the realms of the southernmost tip of the RGV. Most of the residents are of Hispanic or Latin origin with many citizens hailing from the northern parts of Mexico, which is the land that connects the border cities of Texas. The RGV consists of the major cities of McAllen, Brownsville, Harlingen, and Rio Grande City, TX. Over a 300 mile stretch, a bridge port to Mexico is located in every city. The bridge ports from the United States to Mexico is the alligator’s brutal mouth ready to snap at any moment, taking everyone in to a deep, dark reality of living on the border.
For many citizens on both sides of the border, the trouble starts with the bridge that connects the same piece of land from two different worlds. For others across the nation, the fact that we have built a gateway for immigrants to blatantly cross and treat them with minimum respect is sacrilegious. For me, the issues of human placement boils down to human compassion. There is a Spanish word carino that is difficult to translate to English. It is a loaded word; a word that can carry different meanings according to the user.
For example, a Spanish speaker may use the word as such: Una mama tiene carino para su hijo o hija para la familia.
Translation in English: A mother has love, care, devotion, pride, pain, and suffering for their son or daughter and their extended family.
However, my definition of carino nudges on sympathy and basic human compassion for people no matter who they are or where they come from or how deranged, desperate, and soiled they may be: they are people.
As a nation, it is easy to dismiss people who are not native to the country. In 2013, in Rio Grande City, TX, over 300 immigrants were caught crossing the border illegally by Border Patrol agents. Under those circumstances, over half of that count were dead bodies scattered in the desert. In reality, this is just another causality, another way of life in the RGV. One can say that the blood shed from desperate souls crossing the border helps fuel the citizen’s ties to the land. Many innocent lives have been given to the land as a sacrifice to the American Dream.
According to a 2014 edition of Texas Monthly, the major cities of the RGV, McAllen and Brownsville TX, sit comfortably as America’s poorest cities. McAllen, TX ranks as number one in the nation followed by Brownsville, TX at number two in the country as the nation’s poorest cities. Texas Monthly also ranks Brownsville, TX as America’s least expensive city. This particular statistic reflects the fact that most residents live below the poverty line.
The RGV is also home to a massive exodus of children from Latin American countries. According to cbp.gov, in 2014, the RGV border was plummeted with 42, 146 undocumented, unaccompanied immigrant children. These children ran away from a land they could not call home due to the extreme warfare and violence experienced in their native countries. Amazingly, with the help of government funds to help a humanitarian crisis and private donors, the RGV found a way to house, feed, and for thousands of children, grant asylum into the U.S. The poorest region in the America may not live to a particular financial standard, but they are rich in compassion and sympathy as a basic way of living.
Despite the massive immigration issues, the extreme poverty, and the shocking state of schools, people chose to stay. Citizens believe the old nickname of the RGV as the “magic valley”. A sub-tropical paradise of culture and vitality. A place where poverty, death, and warfare are common, yet secondary to love, family, and carino. A place where the ancestors of the people were born and raised on the ancient land, before American or Mexico had any claim to it. Vaqueros, vaqueras, and conquistadors of the past fertilized the land with hope, bravery, and perseverance to keep the land rich with culture; their blood, sweat, tears, and ashes give the RGV its unique claim as a “magic valley” of wonders. Many citizens will never leave, even if their physical bodies depart from the area. If one was born in the RGV, they will always be part of the RGV. For me, my body will remain in a quaint cemetery in Zapata, TX, a peck of a city in the RGV, when my physical body remains on this earth. I am from the “magic valley” where I know, from my Indian ancestors, that my people did not jump the border, the border jumped us.
Author: Cristina Perez
I was born and raised in the RGV and now reside in Dallas, TX. My purpose in writing is to show the dichotomy between growing up in the RGV and developing an “insiders” perspective and living outside of the RGV including how people view the area who have not lived or visited the “magic valley”.
I relocated to Dallas, TX on a personal opportunity in 2012 and now reside in a quaint and diverse small town in the suburbs of the city. I teach freshman English at a local high school and recently received my Master’s in Literacy from the University of Texas at Arlington. However, this opportunity came with the price of leaving a home that cannot be replicated anywhere else.