Monday, January 14, 2008

Lovin' the Border

I spent some time down on the border this weekend – always an educational experience. The land itself is thick with thorn brush, two raindrops shy of a desert and suitable for nothing more than deer hunting and hardscrabble ranching. With earth this unkind, it’s no surprise some of the nation’s poorest counties are down here.

If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re at a disadvantage. There is not even the pretense that English is the first language of the U.S. Many signs are only in Spanish. At least half the residents speak little or no English. White people are practically nonexistent. This is the nightmare of Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs.

As for me, I love it. The problems and challenges of illegal immigration aside, I love the cultural intermingling, the fusion of language and foods and religion and ideas. I like that I can get chicken-fried steak and a bowl of menudo from the same restaurant. I enjoy sliding between two languages to express ideas that either alone can’t contain. There is something so authentically Texan in the Rio Grande Valley. And it’s a shame so many can look at these cities and see nothing but Mexican infiltration of our culture.

It’s not infiltration. It’s fusion, a kind of assimilation that is creating its own vibrant culture. I always come back from the Valley feeling enlivened. I think we talk too much about the problems of the border and spend too little time recognizing its vitality.

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