Writer’s Block: In the Glare of the Spotlight

By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

On more than one occasion throughout 2018, the Rio Grande Valley was under the scrutiny of the national media, political and social spotlight.

For various reasons last year, our collective home became a bright pinpoint of focus on a national scale several times — whether that was the arrival of important dignitaries, the occurrence of hyper localized natural disasters, or sensational tales of criminals in our midst (anyone remember the Minnesota murder grandma who was captured on the Island last year?).

And now it appears that 2019 will be no different, what with President Donald Trump scheduled to visit McAllen and parts of Hidalgo County this week.

But, as often happens whenever juggernaut media corporations turn their news making apparatus towards far flung reaches of the country, much of the nuance of those places gets lost.

It happened during 2018. And I fear it will happen again as the networks begin their Thursday evening late-breaking coverage, then continue into the weekend with their more in-depth analyses.

So, before any of them have a chance to tell the story of the Rio Grande Valley — the thrice removed, fourth-hand version that’s been passed through several murky filters — I’d like to offer a small vignette of the Valley from my perspective. As someone who was born, grew up, and lived here her entire life.

I realize no one will read this until after the national news machine has gotten up and running, but nonetheless…

Longtime readers will know how much I love this place. Indeed, I’ve extolled its virtues many times before in this column.

It’s the Rio Grande Valley and the Magic Valley, both — a place that is distinctly Texan, uniquely Tejano, proudly American, and deeply intertwined with Mexico.

Also, an intricate and bittersweet Indigenous history flows through the fabric of this place that — for me, at least — is slowly becoming better known and appreciated.

Our language is a blend of lyrical Spanish, American English, and a whole lot of meme-worthy Spanglish. For a lot of folks here — regardless of the color of our skin — our brains operate under a seamless duality where mixed-language conversations are commonplace.

It’s not a matter of code switching as much as it is a simple reality we’re hardly even conscious exists.

And it’s beautiful.

This place is a place of family — where that definition extends to include not just blood relatives, but friends, neighbors, even coworkers.

It’s backyard barbecues when the Cowboys are on, and tamaladas at Christmastime. It’s everyone knowing exactly what their favorite breakfast taco is at Stripes.

It’s the juxtaposition of row upon row of copper fields full of sorghum next to the dense, drought-hardy thornscrub brush of our protected state parks and national wildlife refuges shimmering in June’s summer heat.

It’s the sweat of migrant farmworkers tilled into the soil of the cabbage, and onions, and cilantro and other fresh produce that fill our tables.

It’s the bass drumbeat and the triumphant trumpet of brass instruments mixing with the roar of the crowd on Friday nights in the fall.

It’s the sound of the mariachi troupe serenading your mamá or abuela with Las Mañanitas at midnight on Mother’s Day.

It’s the sound of my father praying over our Sunday meal in Spanish with a familiar tenor that brings a calm to my very soul.

It is a place like no other — a place that defies the distillation of broad-stroke descriptions. A place that can’t be quantified in a single sound byte or a manufactured moment. Or newspaper column.

It is my home.

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