The evening news has reported drug cartel vehicles blocking traffic on international bridges coming into the Valley from Mexico. It isn’t unusual to hear of families seeking information about a family member last seen or known to be going to Mexico. A local high school sports star is in jail in Mexico, arrested in a stolen car driven by one of his friends.
One day a rider on one of our tram tours said his friend had driven into Mexico at the one town most Winter Texans feel is safe enough to visit. It is the town where many people go to shop or have dental work done. The friend was driving a pickup truck and it was stolen right after he entered that country. We understand that pickup trucks, especially those with crew cabs and darkened windows, are the preferred vehicle to steal. A sign at the Pharr police station shows a club (used to protect vehicles from being stolen) and reads, “Never park your car without using the club.” We never leave our truck without first locking our club to the steering wheel.
A couple of weeks ago, John was waiting at a local Chevy dealer while they serviced our truck. He was talking with a Hispanic man who works for a company that has branches on both sides of the border. He also has family in Mexico. He told John that when his company wants to send people to the facility in Mexico, they send 10 or so people in a van, which they park right outside the entrance to the business. If any violence erupts in the city, they all pile into the van and speed back to the US side of the border. He said he no longer visits his family in Mexico because it isn’t safe to go there.
In February, John attended a lecture at the refuge, given by a historian from Roma, TX. That man lives in Mexico and works for the Texas city. He told the audience he lives in a beautiful town and he would like to invite everyone to come see it. However, ”it makes me sad to tell you, ‘please don’t come,’ it isn’t safe.”
The evening TV news reported that local school bus drivers are being trained on how to respond if they have a bus full of children and someone tries to commandeer the bus. That doesn’t do much to make me feel safe while out on the roads of the Valley.
We understand that the number of Winter Texans has been down in the past couple of years because folks don’t feel safe coming here. Although we have never personally encountered any danger, it really is an unsettling place to be. Last summer, during our volunteer stay at Lathrop State Park in Colorado, there was a decided bear problem at night. During August, I did not feel safe going outside the trailer after dark. Down here, the feeling is somewhat the same, even though we are surrounded by fences topped with barbed wire and a locked gate.
In fact, this week after dinner I walked out to lock the gate on our compound. A Hispanic woman I had never seen before followed me to the gate. She didn’t speak any English, but indicated she wanted me to leave the gate unlocked. I agreed, but when I told John about it, he was uncomfortable enough with the situation that he went out and locked it. After he returned to our RV, she came and knocked on the door. Since she couldn’t tell us who she was, why she didn’t have her own key, or why she needed the gate unlocked, we didn’t agree to open it again. I told one of the other tram driver couples about the situation and they investigated and learned she is an intern in the re-veg division and doesn’t have a car. Someone from town comes to bring her food or take her shopping. We feel bad about what happened. But the incident shows how old northerners react when they live near the Mexican border and are housed in an RV compound surrounded by a fence with barbed wire and a locked gate
Like I said, we feel protected, but not safe.