“New Narrative” Bridging the Cultural Gap on the Texas-Mexico Border

HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) – A group of binational leaders from Texas and Mexico are promoting “a new narrative” about arts and culture on the border to oppose political rhetoric that paints the Southwest border in a negative light.

It’s called the “Cultural Corridor Initiative,” and on Saturday a group will head south of the Rio Grande to the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, to bridge the cultural divide in the so-called Texas/Tamaulipas Cultural Corridor.

“We’re trying to start a new narrative,” Diane Milliken Garza, commissioner of the Texas Commission on the Arts, told Border Report. A native of Brownsville, Texas, she is leading this grassroots initiative.

Diane Milliken Garza is Commissioner of the Texas Commission on the Arts. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Saturday’s event is for a select group of guests to enjoy a little bit of ‘old Mexico’. She says they want to go back to a time when crossing south or north of the river was a midday event and families lived on both sides of the border and met regularly in one town or another.

“The idea behind the Cultural Corridor Initiative is to revitalize the arts and culture of the southern border. We have been labeled with a fear factor due to various political events. And we’ve lost most of our cultural tourism,” Garza said.

It is similar to the binational river project being implemented in the border cities of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, but on a smaller scale. But that requires millions of dollars worth of infrastructure and the creation of miles of border trails. According to Garza, this initiative starts in the Rio Grande Valley with culture and arts and could expand from there if successful.

Saturday’s excursion begins at the Old Hidalgo Pump House in Hidalgo, Texas, where they board a charter bus and trailer home a mile south across the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge to Reynosa.

She says Reynosa Mayor Carlos Peña Ortiz will receive her. According to the invitation, they will be “indulged in visual arts, performing arts, food and fun” throughout the evening.

However, the event is not open to the public as both sides are working to forge cultural links to create a framework for future events that can engage both binational communities, she said.

“There’s a beautiful side to life on the southern border and we’re trying to get that back,” Garza said. “It’s literally a party being made to start, restart, the conversation about cultural tourism towards our southern border.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report he plans to attend. According to Garza, an auxiliary bishop also plans to attend, along with the US consul general from Matamoros, Mexico, a sister city on the border about 50 miles east. She says other artists and leaders from Austin and other parts of Texas have also been invited.

Garza says Mexican security forces will keep northern travelers safe in Reynosa — a city where warring drug cartel factions have fueled widespread violence and led to a decline in Texans traveling south there.

“Those of us who live here have traditionally lived in a ‘one river one country’ zone. The northern border towns of Erico and the southern border towns of Texas with a river between them but not blocking them,” Garza said. “Many issues have marred the way we are viewed by the rest of the state and country. …so let’s go there and remember what it’s like.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at [email protected]