I spent the last three years of my youth in my hometown of Laredo, Texas living literally a stone’s throw away from Rio Grande/Rio Bravo river. Like so many young people who live on a river, it became a focal point for most of my outdoor activities. I would hunt small animals with my .22 caliber rifle and wander up and down the shoreline with my four dogs in tow. I would fish a lot hoping to someday catch an elusive Alligator Gar, which probably wasn’t very edible but was the closest thing to a river monster in those parts. I would see them sometimes breach the surface of the river and it would give me chills down my spine.
Once, my friend Roly and I were walking along the shore and someone from across the river started shooting at us! We quickly jumped behind a mound of dirt and stayed in place for some time until we decided to make a dash for home. It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t likewise have our own rifles with us, otherwise it might have been an old-fashioned Mexican stand-off. Yikes!
My dogs loved the river as well. Rabbits would regularly dart across and on the trails. Three of the dogs would give chase and the other would get so excited that she just froze up, yelped and peed on the ground. It’s safe to say that she would have never survived in the wild.
It was during those years that I had a spiritual revival in my life, thanks in part to the local Episcopal Church where I attended. I found a special bluff on a ravine just off the river that was hidden from view by large trees. It was there that I would sit for hours and pray and talk to God. It was my own secret hideout. I wonder if it’s still there.
I had access to an old beat up aluminum canoe, and my friends and I would travel in it several miles upriver and all the way to the power plant where we would lay exhaustively on the shore – regaining our strength and then paddle back home downstream with little exertion. There were actually some small rapids along the way which added to the fun. When we went upstream there were places that were so shallow that we had to carry our canoe a few yards to keep moving. The Rio Grande river is not the Amazon river, that’s for sure!
We would also paddle downstream for many more miles through the middle of town and end up at the Slaughter-Glassford farm which was owned by some of my fellow church members. They were kind enough to allow us to leave a truck there on those days so we could haul the canoe and ourselves back home. Along the way we were exposed to people on the Mexico side literally living on the shore in the worst conditions imaginable. Laredo’s sister city, Nuevo Laredo was full of poverty and most Laredoens were often exposed to it when we would shop and dine there, but this was poverty at a different level. I was always shocked to know that it existed so close to where I lived.
Not far from my home was a place where I would often witness Mexicans traversing the river into the United States as illegal aliens. Our southern border was and is a porous one. It’s no wonder that there are an estimated 15 million undocumented/illegal aliens living here. I have very mixed emotions about President Trump’s plan to build a wall. From what I have heard, the shores of Laredo are ground zero for the largest most fortified barriers that are planned.
A river is a magical phenomenon in human society. It molds culture, cities and young men and women such as myself. Just read Mark Twain and you will know this to be true. To the denizens of shores, a river dominates life and culture and very much shapes who we are. My memories of living on the Rio Grande are among my fondest. I hope that many a boy or girl has had the opportunities I have had to thrive along the shore, and sometimes in the river itself.
So here is why I have mixed emotions. On one hand we do need to stop large scale illegal immigration and I suppose the wall will help. On the other hand, once it’s built then only Mexican youth and adults in the future will be able to enjoy the Rio Grande river in the way that I did. And only Mexican youth and adults will be shaped by its sublime and surreal influences on who we are, and what we become. This seems like a real shame to me.