This is only my second time visiting the Rio Grande Valley, but both times have been experiences that I have walked away from completely inspired; the folx who live on the border here in Texas are absolutely some of the most persistent and passionate I’ve had the opportunity to come across. My first time was a few weeks ago, when me and a friend volunteered to work at the bus station with Angry Tias and Abuelas of RGV (this group of fierce RGV women recently received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award for their work with immigrant families). This relatively small group of women is working hard at the bus stations and bridges every day to provide support and comfort to immigrants as they try to make their way to their final sponsor destination. They do this not just because they’re angry about the current administration’s policies, but because they deeply believe that it’s the right thing to do. Similar to when I was in El Paso, there is a feeling in the RGV that it’s not simply an extracurricular duty to volunteer to help these people so much as a moral imperative for which there really is no question. These people come from the other side of the bridge – we can see them, they’re right over there! – and they are people like us who are deserving of respect. The invisible line that constitutes the border is even less of an issue here in these border towns where people frequently cross back and forth, blurring the lines between “immigrant” and “American” and simply making people “friends” or “neighbors.” Hence when their friends or neighbors need help, they don’t think too hard about it. They just do it.
Chief among many border residents’ concerns about the border wall is the access to the Rio Grande that many would lose. The fight of farmers who stand to lose access to the river they rely on to feed their crops has gained a lot of traction in the news, but this is just one piece of the bigger picture. Residents of border towns on or near the river will lose their ability to take a day to fish, to jump into the river’s cooling waters on a hot Texas day. This essential part of every day life for many people will simply cease to be accessible.
Losing access to the river in this way is not something many people think about, I think. Within activist circles, it has been discussed at length the absolutely devastating effect the wall would have on the Butterfly Sanctuary in the RGV; and though this is not to be minimized, the small experiences of simply being able to experience the waters of the life-giving Rio Grande are not something I hear a lot about. The loss of these experiences are devastating in a different way, but they are a part of the larger picture of ruin that the construction of a border wall would wreak upon the RGV.
I was incredibly fortunate to be able to travel down to the National Butterfly Center (where part of the proposed wall will be built) for a gathering of several groups in the area to protest the border wall and pay tribute to the beauty and power of the Rio Grande. McAllen Poet Laureate Edward Vidaurre and other poets read poetry, songs were sung, food was shared. It was abundantly clear to me that the community fighting against the border wall in the RGV is a strong and passionate one, and it gives me so much hope for the future to know that this was only one small group among many others who are fighting for what they love out there.