Intertwining Cultures

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To be able to maintain the essence of what South Texas really is, it is important for the Museum of South Texas History to have staff who understand the true identity of the area. The museum was established in order to remember people of traditions and lessons that are both culturally enriching and sentimental. CEO Dr. Francisco Guajardo is an ultimate example of how growing up in the Rio Grande Valley can help — especially when it comes to accurately portraying what it is like to be from the Valley.

Dr. Guajardo was raised in Elsa, Texas, a small town in Hidalgo county. Because he knows what living in the RGV is like, the way he cares about it and its portrayal shows.

“I care deeply about northeastern Mexico as well,” he said. “It’s part of the shaping of my own identity and my own, I think, worldview. I have, at a very personal level, a deep vested interest in what this place is and how this place is talked about.

“This is a place rich in history. But what that richness means, I think, needs to be kind of explored, because it’s a lot and so many stories. But I happen to think that within that kind of bed of stories, there’s so much there that really shapes and defines who we are as a people, and it looks pretty good.”

In a way, the museum serves as a vehicle to teach younger generations what it means to be from the RGV, as well as the deep-rooted history the region has. But also, to teach them who they can be and to choose their own narrative.

Co-Founder and Co-President of Village in the Valley (ViVa) Dr. Theresa Gatling, said she has felt out of place in the RGV where only a small percentage of the population is African American. Dr. Gatling made a commitment to increase representation.

“What really compelled us to do so was that there were more parents talking to us about their children saying ‘I don’t know who I am,'” Dr. Gatling said. “What we’re doing is connecting the black community — elevating and uniting the black community — while connecting the cultures of the Rio Grande Valley. We have a podcast where we talk about different cultures.”

Both she and Dr. Guajardo, discuss the importance of the interconnection with other cultures.

But without the knowledge, there is not a way to help children find their own way and feel represented.

Dr. Guajardo shared the stories of local RGV families who were part of the Underground Railroad that helped freedom seekers, or runaway slaves, cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, where slavery was illegal. According to him, it was, in a way, used to escape. Many mixed families arrived in the Valley during those times and created a culture many do not know about. Dr. Gatling agreed it is important to tell these stories because of the intertwining cultures.

She added how historical landmarks such as the Bethel Memorial Garden are unknown.

“It was one of the first African American churches here in McAllen,” she said. “The church it was dilapidated was destroyed and torn down many years ago back in the 90s.”

On June 11, ViVa held a fundraising gala to award high school seniors with scholarships. Dr. Guajardo served as a keynote speaker. Overall, the purpose of ViVa is to not only elevate the Black community in the RGV,  but also promote education and celebrate it. The museum goes in hand with the sentiment, reminding people in the Valley there is no one size fits all for identity.

Elsa Cavazos