Rio Grande Valley: A Breath Of Fresh Air From Hustle Culture

Words by Melissa Flores Tavizón

Edited by Abigail Vela

As a Millennial woman in my early 30s, it comes as no surprise that I once was a great believer and supporter of the whole “girl boss” narrative perpetuated by white, rich ladies who firmly reassured us that working very hard would make all our dreams come true. In this scenario, I dreamed of creating a magazine, founding a business, or leading an editorial team in a nationally recognized company. Nonetheless, after graduating and working for some years in the publishing industry in Monterrey (one of the biggest and most populated cities in Mexico), I not only reshaped how my dreams would look from that moment on, but I also had stopped idealizing the hustle culture. And in fact, I became very averse to it. The long distances, the heavy traffic, the cluttered spaces, and the mechanized systems surpassed my passion. 

I was increasingly trying to work harder and faster while sacrificing my creative nature. I was no longer connected with the environment and the things I was passionate about, so I decided to make a shift. At that moment in my life, my closest friends started moving to farther and “cooler” cities like Barcelona, Toronto, or New York. Me? I decided to move back home: Mi ranchito, Matamoros. Fast forward to graduate school at UTRGV and the struggle to complete my master’s thesis in the midst of a pandemic; I discovered that out of all the lessons that COVID-19 brought us, learning how to slow down in our way of living was one of the most important ones. Now I can say that although the Slow Movement is a notion that can be practiced everywhere, even in the most chaotic environments, there are places that promote this lifestyle, and the Rio Grande Valley might be one of them. 

DES-PA-CI-TO

For those unfamiliar with Slow Living or the Slow Movement in general, this cultural philosophy started before the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, it surely gained much more notoriety after it. This movement doesn’t mean that we have to live slower or take more time to do stuff. Neither do we have to live in a cottage in the countryside and harvest our food (as much as I’d like to impersonate those Ballerina Farm videos that I love to watch on TikTok). The Slow Movement is simply about living more consciously and being fully aware of our present, which represents an enormous effort for the majority of the people in our rapid-moving societies.

As a matter of fact, during the pandemic in 2020, I found it surprising that everyone was struggling to be at home, while I felt delighted to work in my safe space, at my own pace, and much more aware of what I was writing and thinking. Yes, there were many boring times, but as Carl Honoré, one of the biggest Slow movement advocates, says, “Boredom is a gift.” Boredom represents a trampoline to creativity, imagination, and wit. Still, we are all afraid of it because it gives us a chance to be with our thoughts and acknowledge how we are failing ourselves. Boredom paves the way to self-recognition. 

While the Slow Movement was founded in 1986 to fight the low-quality fast food promoted by a globalized “McDonald’s culture,” this philosophy has expanded to traveling, education, culture, dating, and now to the preference for small and mid-size cities over bigger ones. This phenomenon has been described as the Cittaslow (slow city) Manifesto, which gives the small cities the goal to “reestablish their own identity so that they are distinguishable from the outside and appreciated from the inside by their own citizens.”

Colorful illustration depicting two scenes where a person with teal hair expresses opposing emotions. To the left, the person is worried, surrounded by a busy, dark city. To the right, the person is smiling, surrounded by a bright, slow landscape with someone on a bike in their background.
Illustration by Shokka

Can the RGV be part of the Slow Movement?

In Are The Small Towns The Next Big Thing? Susan Partain describes how people are starting to move from bigger cities, showing an increased interest in less crowded environments. She narrates the people’s desire for a smaller but vibrant community “where people feel like they know each other well.” In the case of the RGV, when I recently moved back, I noticed a noticeable shift where professionals such as artists, academics, writers, and engineers were arriving to escape traffic, cluttered spaces, crowded places, and pollution. One of the most prominent ones who I had the pleasure to meet is the contemporary illustrator Shokka, who described their experience in the Valley as “a breath of fresh air,” which consequently inspired the name of their first solo art exhibition in Carla Hughes Studio

Although the RGV would not be considered the hippest place to be, and it doesn’t shine for its prolific art scene either, it is slowly creating its path towards a major recognition of the arts, galleries, and museums, as well as other important industries such as independent restaurants, cafés, workshops, and local shops. Additionally, I believe the RGV has an inspirational nature to reconnect you with what you love. In bigger cities, where you have so much to do and so little time to do it, we tend to hoard experiences, activities, and information. It’s barely impossible to achieve everything, and that’s when frustration appears. As Honoré describes it, “We are finally making peace with blank spaces.” We are allowing ourselves to explore the cultural wealth that our binational land offers, and once and for all, we are valuing the richness of our community, the warmth of our people, the serenity of our seas, and the diversity of our standpoints. 

What else is there to do? In essence, the cities that comprehend the Rio Grande Valley are Slow cities that facilitate a higher quality of life. Nevertheless, it faces an array of challenges toward more sustainable economic development. According to the Walton Family Foundation’s research about dynamic micropolitan areas in the US, some of the biggest priorities are to support local businesses, aim for the production of natural and local foods, refine their central value proposition, embrace local entrepreneurship in young professionals, protect our historical buildings, and constantly promote the preservation of our environment and natural landscapes. Other important tasks to sustain a functioning economic and social fabric in mid-size cities are to prioritize urban planning, develop green spaces, implement recycling technologies, guarantee accessibility for people with disabilities, and sensitize the public on social issues.

Illustration of a pink and scarlet striped smiling pot with a bright green snake plant growing out of it, enjoying the Slow Movement.
Illustration by Shokka.

There’s Always Time

In contrast to a hyper-accelerated society, micropolitan areas such as the Rio Grande Valley also teach us that there is more than one path through self-realization. My definition of success and timeframe does not necessarily need to parallel yours, so when I had my first day of graduate school at UTRGV, I still remember that one of the biggest cultural shocks was sharing a classroom with undergraduates who were much older and who also had families or were married. These situations are uncommon in Monterrey; getting into college for the first time while raising children was unthinkable. Sharing a space with classmates from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and ages made my experience more fulfilling and rewarding. It gave me the notion that you’ll always have time, relieved the pressure I was feeling, and made me question everything I had learned while living in a homogeneous society. That’s the beauty of a diverse environment; it provides a whole range of possibilities.

Slow dating, slow food, slow living— these are all relatively new terms that are making us pump the brakes in life and prioritize quality over quantity. In the Rio Grande Valley, these notions won’t feel forced or abrupt because, as I see it, we haven’t been infected with the hurry of the modern world. We have a strong sense of community and collaboration, we don’t have an incessant feeling to compete with each other, and we don’t feel the urge to constantly run to achieve stuff. I won’t romanticize or invalidate the social and political issues that we hold in our small cities. Nonetheless, I want everyone to look at the RGV and the border cities as a place to take a break from a hyper-accelerated world. Coming back to our ranchitos does not mean failure, being mediocre, or crawling back to our comfort zone, as some friends have told me. In fact, in this rapid-moving society, slowing down represents the real revolution and the bravest form of self-care.  

Take a pause today to connect with the things you love, and remember that you do not have to do everything at once to be successful (whatever that means). If you want to know a little bit more about the Slow Movement, this podcast is a great way to start:

Elogio a la lentitud con Carl Honoré.

Buena suerte. 

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