I recently returned from an amazing roadtrip where I spent a week visiting with friend in the Rio Grand Valley, the southeastern tip of Texas. Now, when you think of Texas you likely default to the big cities but not too many people speak about the Rio Grand Valley. Travel along the planned I-69 NAFTA route will take you from Canada to Mexico and while it is far from complete, any route that makes it easier to travel on long road trips makes any adventure more appealing.I’ve been down to the valley three times now and have seen it grow, grow in a time when much of the US economy has been hurting. Why is it growing? Well, after discussions with Texas friends I would have to say two reasons – the first of which is nothing new to this area while the latter is a twist to a common phenomenon. The first is what many call Texas snow birds, retirees who spend their winters in Texas and frequently cross over into Mexico to pick up their prescriptions at a cheaper rate. The other part of the economic boom is Mexican immigrants. However, these aren’t your typical immigrants that the Southwest US has seen and known through decades of waves of migrant workers and day laborers. No these are the elites, those who due to corruption and other problems have decided to move to the US. The are moving to the US not for economic benefit but due to safety concerns and with the move they are investing into businesses and helping the Rio Grand Valley grow.
Progress in Progreso
The first time I went to Texas in 2005 we partied all night in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico drinking, eating “Lonches” (tacos but with a roll instead of a taco shell), buying cheap booze for later, and riding the mechanical bull at a bar called Belly to Belly. Sure we had children begging for money which was hard to see but there was no threat other than a pickpocket.
The second time we went in 2008 we left an hour before dusk each time. One day we drove past Nuevo Progreso, my friend wanted to show us the small village his mother came from. We were chased down by a few trucks filled with people – luckily one of the guys recognized my friend as his cousin that he hadn’t seen in 10 years. We weren’t in danger but I wondered if things could have ended differently. You don’t chase down someone on a dirt road because you want to be friends. On our return to cross the border, the Mexican army pulled us over before we reached the border. They searched our car as other soldiers stood by in their dark green jump suits and guns that stood as tall as they did. A tank sat permanently waiting between cars coming in and out of Mexico just 25 feet from the US checkpoint.
This time, the third and most recent time I went to Texas, we didn’t go to Mexico. Now I like to think of myself as adventurous but all of my Texas friends refused to go, even though some of them only came to the US a decade ago. I’d here things like “They know if you’re from this side” and “You see white SUV’s parked at every corner, the people inside just sit and watch beeping one another on their Nextels.” I had no car or way to explore Mexico on my own, and it also didn’t help that I forgot my passport.
Was there anything of great value going to the small border town? Honestly, not really other than cheap trinkets, beer and liquor. Yet, all those stories you hear on the radio and news somehow become more real. Just how bad is the corruption in Mexico?
I saw this video recently outlining the corruption in Mexico and as a plea to the next Mexico President. The fact that they use children somehow makes it that more dramatic.
The Rio Grand Valley is growing and there is plenty to see and do. Great food, tons of shopping and outlet malls built specifically to attract wealthy Mexicans to shop on this side of the border and beaches like South Padre Island. It is amazing to see how much the Valley has grown in the past 7 years, but I wonder – what exactly is the cost?