Life in the Valley

BY Bill Reagan

The Rio Grande Valley is such an interesting place to live. Drive any of our highways and you will see license plates from Manitoba to Missouri to Michoacán. Cultures and people mix and overlap here as in few places in the world.

Many who live in other parts of the country assume that the border is some kind of war zone. They see news reports about violence in Mexico and hear presidential campaign rhetoric, then assume this must be an awful place to live.

Those of us who live here know what a great thing it is to live in this overlap. Our cities have low crime rates. Medical care in Mexico provides an affordable alternative for many who struggle with healthcare costs. We enjoy wonderful celebrations of our mixed cultural heritage such as Harlingen’s Cinco de Mayo and Grito celebrations.

The Valley has the lowest cost of living in the United States. That’s good for some, but for many more the cost is exaggerated poverty and unemployment levels, not to mention the stresses on the local economy from the ups and downs of the dollar and the peso.

Many families live on both sides of the border and rightly feel pride in their bi-national heritage.

An important theme in Mexican culture is “mestizaje.” Mexicans and Mexican-Americans sometimes use the term “raza” (race). Most people of Mexican heritage are descendants both of European settlers and Native American peoples. Many view themselves as a new race. It is a source of great pride.

Some Chicano scholars speak of a second mestizaje, a new blending of race and culture in the United States. There’s some cultural tension in this concept. The second mestizaje is not quite the same idea as the melting pot. It is human nature both to want to be unique and to fit in.

The Rio Grande Valley, where mestizaje meets melting pot.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.