HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — A group of binational leaders from Texas and Mexico are promoting “a new narrative” on the arts and culture on the border to push back against 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 city of Reynosa, Mexico, to bridge the cultural divide in what they are calling the Texas/Tamaulipas Cultural Corridor.
“We’re trying to start a new narrative,” Diane Milliken Garza, a commissioner on the Texas Commission on the Arts, told Border Report. She is from Brownsville, Texas, and is heading this grassroots effort.
Saturday’s event is for a select group of invitees to enjoy a bit of “old Mexico.” She says they want to return to a time when crossing south, or north, of the river, was a lunchtime event and families lived on both sides of the border and regularly met in one city or the other.
”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 because of different political events. And we’ve lost most of our cultural tourism,” Garza said.
It is similar, yet smaller in scale to the Binational River Project that is underway in the border cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. But that involves millions of dollars worth of infrastructure and creating miles of border trails. Garza says this Rio Grande Valley initiative is starting with culture and the arts and could expand from there if it is successful.
Saturday’s excursion will start at the Old Hidalgo Pump House, in Hidalgo, Texas, where they will board a charter bus and caravan a mile south over the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge into Reynosa.
She says the mayor of Reynosa, Carlos Peña Ortiz, will host them. According to the invitation, they will be “treated to visual arts, performing arts, food and fun,” throughout the evening.
The event is not open to the public, however, as both sides are working to establish cultural ties to set up a framework for future events that can involve both binational communities, she said.
”There is a beautiful side of living on the southern border and we’re trying to get that back,” Garza said. “It’s literally a party that is being done in order to start, re-start, the conversation on cultural tourism toward our southern border.”
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report he was planning on attending. Garza says an auxiliary bishop also plans to attend, along with the U.S. Consul General from Matamoros, Mexico, a sister border city about 50 miles east. She says other artists and leaders from Austin and other parts of Texas also have been invited.
Garza says Mexican security forces will ensure the safety of the northern travelers in Reynosa — a city where warring drug cartel factions have led to widespread violence and have led to the decline in Texans who travel south there.
”Those of us who live here have traditionally lived in a ‘one river-one country’ zone. The northern border cities of Erico and the southern border cities of Texas with a river in between but not blocking,” Garza said. “Many issues have clouded the way we are seen by the rest of the state and country. … so we want to go over there and remember what it is like.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com