In many ways, I am like a toddler. I am cranky without a nap; I prefer to eat with my fingers. I eat rice with a spoon. I always yell “cow” when I see one from a car. Squirrels and shiny objects will always distract me. But mostly, I thrive on patterns and routine, all of which have been hard to come by in the last year.
So I just kind of stopped.
The pandemic meant that my contract at my last school was not renewed (which turned out to be a good thing). I eventually got a new job, but found myself in a new part of the country, teaching much larger classes with a learning platform I had never used as an instructor. Everything else was put on multiple backburners. What’s important, though, is that after years of reading and writing about the U.S. border with Mexico, I finally live here, working with first and second generation Mexican American students, and Mexican students who come up from Mexico for school. A good proportion of them are first generation college students working their way through college. This is the first time that I have thought I am actually actually accomplishing something on a large scale. And it is a great feeling.
But let me tell you about the Rio Grande Valley. Its beautiful in a sparse sort of way, but the towns love parks, trees, and lawns. There are lots of bike paths and places to walk. There is an amazing birding center ( birds are kind of a thing here). There is also a staggering array of corporate stores. I have a theory about this. The Valley is incredibly cosmopolitan. There are people here from all over the country. They show up, settle in and think “people would sure like that place I like from back home.” So you get a Baskin Robbins.
Food here is delicious and varied. Not just Mexican, but barbecue, Chinese, delis, burgers, sushi, pretty much everything anyone could want. There are halal restaurants, vegan restaurants, shakes, smoothies, ice cream, bakeries (like the omigod Lara’s in Harlingen) and places I will try when I am not afraid of being murdered by the general public. Mostly, though, I am not sure I could ever function with HEB again. Their tortillas are all I could ever need in a bread product.
Driving through McAllen is like driving through any other similar sized town in America. Make no mistake. South Texas is America. Are there lots of taquerias? Yep. But New York was full of pizza places and Seattle was full of restaurants that serve deconstructed vegetable soup in hubcaps. Its the regionalisms that make towns unique.
There are also more hospitals, doctors, clinics, and a surprising amount of aesthetic medical offices. There is a children’s hospital now and two(!) more are being built. This tells me three things. First, the Valley is the center of it all more miles around. In the below map, the Rio Grande Valley serves all of the tan area. What is not shown on the map is the second thing I learned. Many Mexicans, especially the wealthy, come to the Valley for healthcare and to shop. In fact, there is a Tesla dealer in Brownsville. There is money here and that is only going to grow, as evidenced by the third thing I learned. There a LOT of young children here. Population growth overall here has been uneven in the last few years with Edinburg the clear winner (mostly due to the University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley, which obviously benefits me) and poverty is an issue, but one thing is for sure: the many, many elementary schools, three children’s hospitals, innumerable pediatricians (a pediatric endocrinologist!) means something. There is a feeling here that the entire place is about to explode. It seems that it took Covid to slow down the pace.
Of course, all of this comes with a downside. For me, it is the traffic and the sheer amount of people. There is heavy traffic all of the time, twenty four hours a day. Some people speed, others take their time, many cut across three lanes of traffic twenty feet before turning left or right. Not only that, there is constant construction and the interstate is being expanded. Its funny. When I first moved here, my car insurance went up. Also, I noticed that there are more lawyers (especially personal injury attorneys) than any place I have ever lived. ONE DAY of driving and I understood both.
Grocery stores are packed. Starbucks has lines into the street from open to close. Drive through windows take forever. And grackles. Just…grackles. I have never felt sensory overload like this. What makes it all worthwhile is that the people here are so great. They are warm, welcoming, and masked. My students are an absolute pleasure and my coworkers have been exceptionally helpful. This is a good place for me right now.
Well, that’s the Valley, my home for the foreseeable future. I will periodically report on the local goings on, but mostly I intend to get back to the history. This post, though, for what it’s worth is just to let anyone who cares know: I am as happy as could be expected under the circumstances.