Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 39
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Where history, people, and places come together
BY OLIVER FRANKLIN
1999, the City of Reynosa celebrated
s 250th anniversary. Among the
thous s who celebrated were the descendants
many of the original families-the
Gue], De La Garzas, Marroquins, and
ot appy to celebrate their good fortune
and prosperity ten, even twelve generations
later. Legend has it that many of
the earliest families were Coptic Jews struggling
to practice their faith on the frontier,
almost out of reach of the long-armed
and brutal Inquisition. They came quickly,
following the Galician Jose de Escandon,
who would also found, within ten years,
the cities of Camargo, Mier, Guerrero,
Dolores, and Laredo, all dependent on the
great Rio Grande.
Later, Matamoros, closest to the mouth
of the river, would become an international
trade center, with goods shipped up and
downstream to far-flung communities.
French, Spanish, Lebanese, German, Japanese,
and English could be heard in the
city's streets, graced by an architecture that
closely resembled that of New Orleans'
French Quarter. Steamboats shipped
freight and intrigue up and down the undammed
Rio Grande from its mouth all the
way to Roma, where a remarkable architect
by the name of Heinrich Portscheller
was starting a revolution in ornamental
brick construction. Further up-river, grand
pianos would share mule trains with
swatches of Europe's finest millinery, bound
for remote ranch headquarters and their
deprived but gentile padrones.
Shortly after the turn of the century, the
Rio Grande Delta was re-christened the
more romantic, though less poetic, "Magic
Valley" by land speculators hoping to draw
farmers from the American Midwest to the
region's fertile floodplain. Pumphouses
were constructed, and laborers with shovels
created the irrigation system that operates
today. The less-scrupulous developers
would illustrate the preternatural fertility
by showing prospects fields that were
plowed one day and lush with seedlings the
next. The magic was performed the night
before-when laborers would insert the
tiny week-old crops one-by-one.
Citrus, cane, truck crops, and cattle
proved to be the agricultural engines that
carried the Magic Valley into the 21st century.
Today, however, the heady fruit of the
maquila plant and the needs of the transportation
industry fuel El Valle's sparkling
economy. The construction business is experiencing
an almost sonic boom. Glittering
new homes in gated communities pop
up before the for-sale signs can be removed
from once-rich, fertile citrus orchards.
Flashy TV productions in Spanish and
English focus on the region's fine shopping,
prosperity, and entertainment. They tend
to overlook the colonias, with their endless
tackboard shacks, open sewers, and
abject poverty that festers unchecked.
Magic does happen in the Valley, but it
can be both black and white. In this land
where Jesus appears in the wounds of a recently-pruned
oak tree or in the left-rear
fender of a fieldworker's Camaro, the Divine
role of the river-the life-giving and
-taking artery for the land and its unique
human, floral and faunal dependents-is
magically eclipsed by other, more worldly
roles, especially those that exist on paper.
Take, for instance, the maps that indicate
the amount of man- and fire-power dedicated
to the river's shores, or the points at
which those seeking to avoid the man- and
fire-power alight. There are also the maps
revealing the intricate highway and rail
network that leads to other, legal points of
crossing-those for furniture, computer
parts, car air conditioners, and fruit. Or the
maps that show the tentacular water lines
that were promised low-income
homebuyers but never built. In nearly all,
the great Rio Bravo's green water is represented
in cold, bloody red ink.
There are many kinds of magic in the
Valley. The people believe in it, and they
keep their eyes open, watching, working,
Franklin is THF executive director.
HERITAGE * 39 * SPRING 2000
15Y 3rY Ir'H
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000, periodical, Spring 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45390/m1/39/: accessed October 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.