by Victoria Ochoa
My family first came to this country 100 years ago when my great-grandfather crossed the Rio Grande to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution. He went on to found a company later recognized by President Ronald Reagan as the country’s top minority-owned business. His daughter, my grandmother, opened an electronics and radio store in downtown McAllen with my grandfather. And her son, my father, eventually earned a Ph.D. My father taught me to never forget where we come from. Now, as a law student at the University of Pennsylvania, I carry with me the courage of a young man who escaped violence south of the Rio Grande so the generations after him could pursue opportunity north of it.
My family’s trajectory is in many ways the story of South Texas. Non-citizens becoming citizens and forming families that bear generation after generation of Americans.
This is the magic of the Rio Grande. Lately, people want to build walls on this river where I grew up. They want to send hundreds of troops to my hometown in the Valley. And they want to deny Central American immigrants the same opportunity my great-grandfather had to pursue a new life, when he, too, escaped violence.
This is inherently un-Texan and it is irresponsible of our elected officials to suggest otherwise.
During the recent midterm election, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, as part of his campaign to show that he was “tough as Texas,” welcomed the troops who will be placed along the Rio Grande and joked that Beto O’Rourke was willing to fly to Mexico to welcome the immigrants with welcome baskets and foot massages. Perhaps he has forgotten that the Texas we know today emerged when Mexico welcomed 20,000 American immigrants with tracts of land in what was then Coahuila y Tejas.
During Donald Trump’s rallies, the president signaled that he wanted to send more troops to the border and suggested soldiers might shoot people who throw rocks at them. Perhaps he has forgotten that American settlers in Texas rejected the heavy and unnecessary presence of the Mexican army and joined forces with Tejanos — Texas Mexicans — to launch the Texas Revolution.
In recent times, Texans north of the Falfurrias checkpoint have not taken kindly to military presence in their backyards. When the U.S. military executed Operation Jade Helm, a harmless two-month drill in Bastrop during the Obama Administration, Gov. Greg Abbott sent the Texas State Guard to monitor them. Ted Cruz also acknowledged that “when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.”
The federal government’s presence in Texas border communities is not a drill. To many border Texans, this military presence is yet another way this administration has demonstrated itself to be untrustworthy. Our elected officials’ response to this president’s military presence is yet another inconsistent reaction to a crisis that does not exist.
Perhaps this is the real border crisis — that the people elected to protect our interests are working to cut off the magic of the Rio Grande. Midterm stump speeches are one thing, but the action that follows is another. Denying safety and opportunity to the people who now seek refuge along the Rio Grande ignores the cultural and economic contributions Latino families like mine have made over the last 100 years and more. Denying them denies their potential to contribute to Texas over the next 100 years. To deny them is to deny the thousands of Mexicans, like my great-grandfather, who came to Texas to escape the Mexican Revolution. To deny them is to deny us, the generations that came after.
My great-grandfather’s story demonstrates what is possible when we welcome those who are escaping violence. He, like so many others, illustrate that the magic of the Rio Grande is an unlimited resource worth sharing. The midterms may be over, but we must remind our elected officials of the Texas that has always existed, and still exists today — not the one they’ve created to win elections.