The US/Mexico border has been a popular topic these days. Between episodes of “Border Wars,” in the National Geographic Channel, and the heated discussions on immigration brought about by the current presidential campaign, I wouldn’t blame people if they actually thought we lived in a war zone down here. So, to balance out all the “bad rep” you have been hearing, I decided to take some time to tell you some interesting facts about life at the southernmost tip of Texas.
The area in which we live is known as the Rio Grande Valley, or just “valley” for us. It is located on the northern banks of the Rio Grande, just across the border from Mexico, near the gulf. If you were to drive south from San Antonio, it would take you a little over 4 hours to reach us.
Although we are all proudly Texans, to us, sometimes, it feels like the valley is its own little country. That may be because we are technically located between two borders, or a border and a check point, to be more precise. That means that after you have crossed the border into the US and driven north about 75 miles, you have to go through a US Border Patrol check point where they stop every car, make you roll down your window, and respond to the question “are you a US citizen?”
It is a lot easier for us to just cross over to visit another country than to visit another US state. Maybe because it takes about 15 minutes to cross into Mexico at the bridge down the street and 15 hours for us to get out of Texas! In fact, I have a lot of friends who are international travelers but never visited another US state.
The occasional views of the border wall are a constant reminder of how “at the edge” we live. My husband and I have been to several home visits where we could just look out from people’s backyard and see the wall in the distance. More than once it has happened that we were sitting in someone’s living room and our phones started ringing with alerts giving us instructions on how to make international calls even though we hadn’t left the country.
As you probably expect, we are surrounded by awesome Mexican cuisine (and no, Taco Bell does not count)! As a Brazilian who thrives on rice and beans, I found myself right at home here.
We also enjoy a great variety of fruits and vegetables all year long. Whether we are in Weslaco, McAllen, Edinburg, or Brownsville, we are surrounded by great friends who like to shower us with the delicious fruits of their garden. From fresh papayas, to oranges, to star fruit, to giant guavas, to grapefruit, there is always something fresh and tasty to try.
The only thing I have yet to become a fan of is “nopales.” Nopales are actually the stems of a cactus (also known in English as prickly pear) that people here use to make a variety of dishes. You can buy them “de-thorned” and diced in a bag at any local supermarket and sometimes even from street vendors. To me, it has a very strong taste, but I still try it once in a while when someone brings it for church potluck.
This winter, the temperature never reached any lower than the 40’s. We usually have very mild winters and blazing hot summers. We have already reached the 90’s twice this year that I can remember and it is only the middle of March.
The People and Culture
The Valley is home to the friendliest people you will ever meet. Even though my husband and I left our families thousands of miles away when we moved here, we never once felt alone. People here welcomed us with open arms and made us part of their families.
They are a happy bunch too. Anything is a reason to get together, share some food, and have a party. Most of the time, those usually end with kids in a sugar high after eating all the candy they got from the pinata.
You will also find a lot of diversity here. The current church district we pastor has at least 5-6 different nationalities represented, the one prior had more than 20. I have learned so much about other cultures, tried so many different foods, and made so many friends from all over the world, I can’t even keep count!
A few weeks ago the local school district gave all the kids a day and a half off from school to celebrate Charro Days. This annual celebration started in 1937 as an attempt to lift people’s spirits during the depression. Many moons ago, the international bridges between the City of Brownsville, TX and Matamorros, Mexico were open during this holiday so that friends and families were free to enjoy the festivities together. During the celebrations, residents and visitors dress in their traditional Mexican costumes and participate in parades, the carnival, and various concerts. This year we were finally able to go see the school parade downtown. It was a colorful and joyous event. Here are some pictures I took at our trip to the parade and wanderings around downtown Brownsville:
I hope you could get a little glimpse of what life is like by the border with Mexico. Do you have any questions or interesting facts to add? Feel free to share with me in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!