Saturday, November 16, 2013

Internal Borders

As many readers of this space know, my favorite librarian and I spent three years in the mid-1990s living in Pharr, Texas, about as close as one can live to the U.S. border with Mexico. The town is in the center of the Rio Grande Valley, a term that could refer to much of Texas, New Mexico, and Old Mexico, but which really refers to the delta area of the river that forms much of the boundary between our two countries. The Valley itself is a bit of both lands, and living there was really a privilege and an important part of my education as a geographer.

A couple of hours ago I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Valley town of Raymondville mentioned by someone recounting a personal story on This American Life. It is rare to hear a story from the Valley on National Public Radio, and even more rare to hear it in the first person. Compounding my surprise was the proper use of the term Whataburger -- a Valley institution frequently used in giving directions (as DD is here in the Bay State).

As fans of the program know -- and we are definitely fans in Casa Hayes-Boh -- each week the producers select a theme, and bring listeners stories related to that them. The theme of today's show (originally aired in October 2012) was "Getting Away With It." In this case, it is a story about the running of illicit drugs, but it is told from a point of view that is not sensational, and mostly about family dynamics that could play out anywhere.

The yellow balloons on the map below indicate places mentioned in the story -- the Raymondville balloon will guide readers directly to the Whataburger -- including one mentioned erroneously. The border patrol station on Route 281 is not in Hebronville (shown with a dotted balloon), but rather in Falfurrias.

That station is quite familiar to me, as I frequently stopped there on my weekly travels from our home in Pharr to Alice High School (both shown with blue balloons). I taught an evening course there for several semesters, in return for a small stipend and gas money (which was almost as much as the stipend), and mainly for the opportunity to continue gaining teaching experience. I taught at Alice High School, but it was actually an extension program of Texas A&M University-Kingsville. When driving to campus, I always had to stop, just as if I were entering the United States from abroad. I was annoyed, but tried not to show it. I eventually learned that a necktie and a Texas A&M parking permit on the front of the car would get me through much more quickly.

For the narrator in the story above, it is clear that although the contraband to be trafficked was already in the United States, it could not get to market without going through one of the interior "crossings" in Falfurrias or Sarita.

View Take Your Kid to Work Day in a larger map

In preparing this post, I got an interesting lesson in social media. When I asked a friend in the Valley to help me confirm the location of the Falfurrias station (which I had on the wrong stretch of road), she looked it up on the Migra's Facebook page! I would never have thought of that.

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