Grateful for the RGV

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We are the Rio Grande Valley. We are four counties intertwined, flowing along the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico. Author and Valley native Gloria E. Anzaldúa called this place a third country — both distinct from and enriched by the mingling lifeblood of the United States and Mexico. If you know the Valley, you know its magic. We are the RGV.

We are jacaranda fluttering against a cerulean sky. Yellow and fuchsia bursting above fence lines on your commute home.

We are a place unlike any other.

We have challenges that shouldn’t be ignored, and yet: We still have so much to be thankful for.

We may swelter in the summers, but the heat makes swimming pools and a sea breeze on South Padre Island that much sweeter. We are connoisseurs of cold fronts, rolling car windows down at the hint of coolness. Patio diners beneath shade trees and backyard barbecuers after dark. Wary of downpours, delighted by raindrops. Dazzled by rare freezes, tiny snowdrifts stacked on hibiscus blossoms, sleet sluicing through mesquite.

We even welcome overcast days, variations on the wonderful weather that brings so many down to spend the winters with us.

We’re thankful for those Winter Texans. They remind us not to take for granted the things we have access to year round — parks, eateries, shopping options, Mexico. And they contribute to this region in tangible ways.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship Business and Tourism Research Center compiled data from surveys distributed to Winter Texans in a 2017-18 comprehensive report. The report’s executive statement reveals that most Winter Texans come here for the good weather, the low cost of living, the friendly people, and the things to do. While they’re here, the report states, they’re visiting pulgas and historical sites, attending festivals and musical performances, and trekking to the beach and nature centers. All of those activities tally up to a $528 million contribution to the Rio Grande Valley economy, the UTRGV research center found.

The cities that jewel the crown of the Rio Grande Valley offer multiple draws to potential residents, and national organizations are taking note. An August article by Indeed Hiring Lab ranked Brownsville among the best cities to live in based on salary and cost of living. By other analyses and measurements, such as an October compilation by Niche, Brownsville ranked ninth in the country for cities with the lowest cost of living. McAllen took 22nd.

This remarkable place we live has nearly a thousand officially identified points of interest across its four counties through Explore RGV, a Valleywide website and smartphone app organized by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. There is truly something for everyone here. From shopping options to museums and parks, movie and performing arts theaters to parks and hiking, Explore RGV placed this region in the palm of both residents and visitors alike. Whether you’re looking for your local library or scouring the skies for a bird on your life list, there’s an app for that — and a place.

We’re thankful for our safety, and for our security. When reports and assumptions from outside the region don’t reflect the place we call home, we come together. And when there is a crisis, we rise to the occasion. We buy inflatable boats and wade into floodwaters, knocking on doors — as Good Samaritans were documented doing in recent inundations.

We organize donations, load them in our truck beds, and drive to get them into the hands of the people who need them the most. We don’t wait for politics. We mobilize. We open our doors. We do what it takes.

Eight such women banded together to take action when they witnessed a situation that needed a remedy. This year, the Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley received recognition from the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization in Washington, D.C., for the group’s efforts to provide information, assistance, and relief for stranded asylum seekers.

We are a frontier of opportunities. We’re in the business of opening doors, of forging pathways.

Take IDEA Public Schools. This district dedicates itself to getting every single of its students to college — some 100,000 estimated by 2022, according to IDEA’s website. And in its years of existence, it has delivered on that promise. IDEA students apply to colleges, and the overwhelming majority matriculate each year.

But things happen. Life can have a way of upsetting even the best made plans. And when IDEA saw that some of their alumni — and other students — weren’t completing their degrees, they didn’t lose faith in the process. They innovated, and from college experiences gone awry sprung accessible and flexible plans that helped not only IDEA alumni, but other nontraditional college students, as well.

There are so many roads to take when your destination is success. And so many definitions of success. We roll out the red carpet at the very beginning. A growing number of school districts offer pre-K programs for children as young as 3. Each school year, there are more campuses dedicated to the pursuit of fine arts, the study of STEM — or full STEAM ahead.

More and more high schoolers amass knowledge and experience that hasn’t always been available at that level. Dual enrollment partnerships between districts and higher learning institutions allow students to thrive, many of them earning associate degrees, certifications, and college experience alongside their high school diplomas. Expansions of Career and Technical Education programs grant educational access to courses like cybersecurity, drone operation, cosmetology, welding, culinary arts, and much more.

A leg up to run. Wings to fly. A future as bright as the stars. As bright as Mars.

SpaceX, our starry-eyed tenant, promises astronomical growth for both Brownsville and the Valley as a whole. Entrepreneurs have the chance to test the limits of a trillion-dollar space industry as they locate their niche to support the spaceport. And in constellations of growth around and adjacent, more housing, more businesses, more jobs, more workers, better skills, better jobs, better roads, busy ports, booming commerce, a Valley in full bloom.

We can be — and are — so many things.

A silver mist furrowing the plowed field. Ocelots pacing the tangled thorn. Palm fronds shimmering in the breeze.

We are the Rio Grande Valley.