I learned what it meant to be from the Rio Grande Valley by leaving for college. On the East Coast, I felt out of place: My cultural background alienated me from my white peers, while my white skin marked me as “not Latino enough” to fellow Latinos. Over several years, I embraced my in-between identity, fronterizo, that combined my regional pride of being from the Texas-Mexico border with my cultural roots as a Mexican-American from South Texas.
At age 21, I realized my cultural roots were shallow. Beyond indulging in Tex-Mex music, food, and traditions, I did not know what made the Valley so different from Laredo or El Paso. Like many Valley students, I had taken Texas History, World Geography, World History, and U.S. History. Names like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta were but bullet points on a long list of civil rights leaders. I wasn’t taught the formative events of the Chicano Movement, much less of our region.
My Valley history consisted of memories passed down to me by my grandparents and my mother, and nostalgia often obscured their harsh realities of experiencing racial discrimination at local establishments and remaining on the “right side” of the Business 83 railroad tracks after dark.
I did not know Valley history until I felt the need to discover my fronterizo identity. Far from home, I strove to know my home so I could know myself.
The summer before my final year in college, I decided to investigate the origins of “Rest in Power ALF” painted onto a dilapidated bench outside the Ramos Hair Styling Center in Pharr. Soon, I learned that I had lived nearly my entire life several blocks away from the site of the 1971 Pharr Riot, the murder of Alfonso Loredo Flores, and the turning point in Pharr’s civil rights.