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Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Living on the border with Mexico is a study in contrasts. As you cross into Matamoros, the nearest Mexican town to Brownsville, Texas, your senses are hit with a huge variety of sights, smells and sounds unlike anything you have experienced before. It is a combination of  joie de vivre and sadness. The Mexican spirit is not easily broken, not even by the monstrous cartels who destroy innocent lives with complete indifference. People fill the hot streets with their bustling business, whether it is peddling goods to the evermore scarce tourists or fighting traffic on very narrow avenues. Mexicans want to enjoy life to the fullest while they can; who knows what mañana will bring.

On the U.S. side, a relative order prevails; traffic is much easier to navigate (unless the town elders decide to initiate urban renovations in several key locations at once), and people even let you slide in the line of cars with a graceful gesture. The pace of living in the resaca (lakes) town is rather boring; very few people go out at night (except for teens sneaking out without parental consent) and businesses tend to close early. We go to the mall on week-ends or to the nearby beach on Padre Island. Saturday night is usually reserved for the carne asada (barbecue) with family during the long summer. There are of course some unpleasant indications that we are a border town: Drug trafficking is common as witnessed by the numerous arrests for possession and intent to sell. Occasionally, shots are fired by intoxicated individuals who have a score to settle. But otherwise, one can say that we trade the excitement found in a Mexican border town for a quieter and more peaceful style of living.

The two municipalities, Brownsville and Matamoros, are inextricably joined at the hip (if I may use this metaphor), as sister cities. Many families have members on both sides; several Mexican businesses, especially restaurants, have fled the violence to settle on the U.S. side. Spanish of course is spoken in both locations and most service businesses require bilingual employees. Going or coming to either city is an annoying but necessary process. It can easily take two hours to cross the bridges and be thoroughly checked by ICE personnel. American custom agents have the difficult task of detecting drug traffickers who usually are "mules", that is ordinary people who are paid a few dollars to carry the dope to the U.S. side. Dogs have proven to be invaluable in this process.

Fotos de Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México: bamderamexicana

Winter Texans, as the "refugees" from the cold are called, return every year not only for the weather, but also for the opportunity to cross into Mexico and get much, much cheaper medical drugs. Mexican dentists and doctors are also favored by the older generation as they have found them to be excellent professionals with very reasonable fees. It is actually quite safe to cross into Matamoros (most of the time anyway) as the Mexican military are a constant presence. There is of course the risk of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but that could happen in any U.S. city as well.

Our daily lives on the border enjoy many attributes of the Mexican culture with few negative factors. If one decides to retire in this area, the Rio Grand Valley or RGV, as many older citizens have done, a very pleasant life may be ensue, far away from the frenetic hustle of large urban areas. Just make sure you bring your anti-solar lotion and start dancing with the Mariachi band.

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