Part 1: My Home
Every now and then, late at night, you can hear thumping in the air, a little to the west. I will look up, to see if I can catch sight of the blinking red and white points as they track across the darkness. When the night is clear with a full moon, the tail lights of the helicopter mixes with the stars, and I can’t tell them apart. The huffing rhythm fades into the distance, but I know they might circle over our house again later in the night.
That’s the time when I am usually washing an epic pile of dishes, after a long day of cooking, tasting, styling, photographing and editing. I’ve always written about food, but in the last year, I’ve decided to delve more into food blogging. I’ve become a better photographer, and I am learning the subtle art of crafting pithy phrases that match my seductive food shots. I try.
South Texas has always been my home. I was born here. I spend a great deal of time thinking and writing about our history, but through food. Even though I have lived elsewhere, this is the place that most inspires me, and my husband. The plentiful wildlife, the rugged environment, and our wide-open skies are stunning, but more than anything, it’s the people. Our community culture is one of boundless pride in our land, and our children. Most of our parents were raised in this community, as were our grandparents, great-grandparents, and even further back. We choose to be here, and in our individual ways, we work together to make our part of the planet a better place.
And together, we struggle with the reality of being a notably active portal for human smuggling and drug trafficking.
It occurred to me that I might be the only food blogger in the U.S. whose work kitchen is in an undocumented migrant portal. As the crow flies, the cattle ranch where my husband and I live is about 35 miles north of the Rio Grande. Daily, there are groups of men, women and children trekking through our area, burdened with back packs or bundles, guided by coyotes, or smuggling guides. Almost every week there is a dramatic car chase, a torn-up fence, a rammed front gate, or a flaming flipped pick-up on our two-lane farm-to-market road. And there I am, in my kitchen, styling a food photo of a dulce de leche glazed donut, or a chicken enchilada.
As I create an artfully lit virtual destination for my blog and Instagram feed, dehydrated and disoriented immigrants stumble through our property on their very real journey northwards. The dark irony of what I do and where I am is not lost on me.
We didn’t recently move to this area: my family has ranched here since the 1740’s, when they received a land grant from the Spanish crown. I married the boy next door, and his family has been in the area for just as long. Both of our families, as the other families in our community, have spent generations observing migrant patterns. It’s been part of our everyday conversations for as long as I can remember.
When I was about five or six years old, I remember a man scratching on my bedroom window screen one night. He wanted food, and directions north. Although my parents quickly shuffled me back into bed, I think the man got what he requested, and he continued his journey. These days, illegal immigration is highly organized, and much more sophisticated, with GPS, drones, cell phones, and semi-automatic weapons. The man at my window only had what he was wearing.
When I tell people that I live and work on a ranch located 3 ½ hours south of San Antonio, they are shocked. “I didn’t think anything was there” is the usual quip. Yep, we are here. About 1.2 million of us live along the southern tip of Texas. Our demographics are distinctive: 85% of us speak Spanish, and most counties in our area are over 90% Hispanic. And in 2016, our community saw about 186k undocumented immigrants attempt to enter the U.S. That’s equivalent to roughly 15% of our area population.
But with those exceptions, our community is just like any other small town in the United States. My neighbors are intelligent and hard-working, and I see them in church on Sundays, in their usual pews. We linger at the post office, chatting about family, weather, the latest mangled fence, recent high-speed car chase or perhaps the human remains found when out checking the cattle. We are the same as you, just different.
Part 2: The Game
There was an uneasiness among my family members when I mentioned that I was going to write about where I live. I talked to friends who work in local law enforcement, politics, education, and spoke to my priest about my blog post on living in a migrant portal. As usual, the subject of immigration elicits a response of glum fatigue that necessitates a shift to more productive conversation.
Away from here, the same conversation is much more energized. Talking about immigration is a popular political Hot Potato Game in Washington. Agree, disagree, the debate goes back and forth. Picking the popular side of the debate results in more followers, and more votes. Disputes and polarizing arguments energize voter turnout.
Politicians opinions on immigration many times are simply laughable, because very few from the Beltway have spent more than a photo op afternoon on the border. Out of the 535 congress people and representatives in Washington, only about 10 reside on the Mexican border, less than 2%.
As a community, we do not debate immigration. We do not have the luxury or time for theoretical rhetoric. Immigration theory is for Washington. I live in the epicenter of an active immigration crisis. We live the reality, and reality comes with obligations.
We are obliged to stop at immigration checkpoints on our commutes, watch the road shoulders at dusk for bedraggled pedestrians, live under aerostat balloon cameras and night vision helicopters, and prepare ourselves for a Berlin style wall that will separate us from our family that live just on the other side of our local river. Washington mandates. We oblige. No debate, and little protest.
The chaos, danger and expense of border security is woven into our daily lives, and few outsiders can process what it is like to live here. The current immigration crisis is our personal crisis. Our community bears the full responsibility of upholding and enforcing immigration law, although our firsthand knowledge and opinions are rarely taken into consideration when creating these laws.
When I started this blog post, I cited immigration law, carefully crafted my watertight arguments, exercised my right to free speech, etc. I stayed up late and wrote for hours. And the debate kept surfacing. The Hot Potato Game was presenting itself in what I wrote, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid. My daily reality is not a debate.
I transferred my writing focus from opinion to description. Maybe my personal interpretation of current immigration law could be disputed, but not my day-in-the-life experience.
This post is simply to give you the facts of what it is like to live here; to set a back drop for border life. No debate. No Hot Potato Game. This is how we live on the U.S./Mexico Border. We live the reality of what Washington decides.
Part 3: Fences
“There’s a rollover and bailout…we are searching the ranch to see where they went.” We usually get this type of phone call around 6:00am.
The farm to market highway that runs through our ranchland community appeals to drug transporters and human smugglers, as it is a direct, but forsaken East-West route between the Gulf Coast and Laredo. The fences along this route are torn down on a weekly, if not daily basis. When we get the calls at 6:00am, the men of the family will head to the scene of the crash to talk to the sheriff, assess the damage, and count the animals or humans that were lost. I usually stay home, sipping coffee, watching for strangers that might appear in our yard. I always lock the doors, and listen for the dog, if he barks.
Fence line crashes happen when an overloaded vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed loses control. The vehicles transport human cargo, substance cargo, many times both. Upon crashing, the driver will abandon the vehicle, to distance themselves from the undocumented passengers, or the illegal substances. This is known as a “bailout.” The men, women and children passengers scatter into the heavy brush, most times with no water or provisions.
The Rio Grande Valley has been described as a quasi-desert like rangeland, with an average summer temperature of 98°F (37°C.) In our area, there is only one remarkable river, no natural lakes, with only the occasional artesian well converted to an animal water trough, marked by a windmill. We have a robust venomous snake population, in addition to poisonous spiders, scorpions, acid bugs, ticks, and killer bees. Our environment is alarmingly inhospitable for the unfamiliar.
So, after suffering the shock of a high-speed automobile crash (providing they are not too injured to carry on) an ejected passenger from a bailout would need to locate water, shade and orient themselves northward. Many of these stunned, ejected passengers try to outrun law enforcement, and are never seen again. None are briefed by their traffickers on environmental conditions. None have the necessary survival training nor equipment. And carrying enough water for their 350-mile trek to Houston isn’t possible. Crashing through a fence and bailing out into the brush is certain death.
Most migrants come to the United States looking for work. And from what I hear in the news, many in the US feel that because migrants choose to travel this elective, but harrowing journey, they are not deserving of our consideration, nor our tax dollars. But what consideration are the local landowners afforded? Even though we are US citizens and pay taxes, we are ignored as well.
If their ranch is located in an active portal, a landowner could spend between $20k-$50k annually on fence repair. We need fences, to keep our animals in, and (ironically) keep trespassers out. No insurance, government program, nor county agency covers the expense for repairing crashed fences. We may have large acreage, but the numbers on our ranch profit and loss statements indicate we are small businesses. For area ranchers, fence rebuilding is now part of their annual “cost of doing business” budget. The cost of rebuilding a fence is more than most ranchers pay themselves.
It goes without saying that human life is more valuable than a fence. Building heftier fences to keep migrants from attempting a life-threatening cross-country trek is not an option, as the result would be intensified impact upon bailout, with higher human casualties. Breakaway fences are great for crash survival, but are quickly flattened by 2,000lb bulls that simply want a bite of distant, greener grass. Landowners are responsible for keeping their livestock off the road, as they would be held responsible for any cow/car collisions. Landowners could be held responsible for human life on their property, regardless if they are trespassing or not. The array of landowners in migrant portals never changes, and as long as they own the property, they are responsible for rebuilding the fence.
By comparison, a human trafficking coyote, if caught, could be held responsible for the lives they are risking on their treks northward…But to what end? Prosecuting an individual coyote will not deter other coyotes. Tomorrow, a new group of coyotes will be leading the sheriff’s department on another early morning high speed chase in an overloaded vehicle. Most likely, they will crash into another fence (or perhaps the same fence as was crashed into yesterday.) The landowner has no option but to rebuild the exact same fence, again. And again.
Although fences are designed to separate, the paradox is that our fences have become the 6:00am muster point for the two individuals that pay in the immigration debate: those that bear the financial burden, and those that pay the human cost.
Part 4 – Photos
On July 2, 2017, I got a text from my brother, sharing pictures from the latest bailout. Three men had crashed their pick-up through our fence after a high-speed chase with law enforcement. I didn’t get too many details. Did they have bales of marijuana, or cocaine? Were they human smugglers, with passengers that fled the scene? I was curious, but not enraged. This has happened before, and it will happen again. Here are some pictures of the scene:
After briefly studying the text, I went back to my work. I created this yummy, easy Concha Fruit Cup, a red, white and blue recipe for #4thofjuly. Here is my carefully crafted food pic:
Of these photos, which do you like the best?
Just yesterday, July 21, there was incredible drama here at the ranch. Three ejected passengers from Honduras used their cell phone to call 911, only 200 yards from our home, my test kitchen. They were young men, in their early 20’s, headed to Houston to look for work, escorted by a coyote. Their vehicle crashed into the fence on another ranch, about 8 miles northwest of our house. Their coyote abandoned them in the brush, distancing himself from their illegalness. The men walked for 2 days. Disoriented, they were walking south.
There is a large pipeline gathering plant on our ranch, with a tremendously loud compressor. I’m sure they followed their ears, in hopes of finding a human. Although they were carrying water, they were in dire physical distress, with our typical summer temperature of 104°F (40°C). The sheriff’s department located the men at the pipeline gathering plant on our property via their 911 call for help. They were rescued, and taken away by ambulance.
I am not afraid of migrants. The vast majority are simply looking for a paying job, and take clandestine routes to ensure they will achieve their goal. Once they emerge from the cover of brush, they are in need of medical attention. There is a low probability of a human smuggler or migrant being armed. However, drug traffickers use migrants to walk their payload to a designated delivery point, in order to avoid law enforcement that patrols the highways, and canine units that are used in drug detection at border checkpoints. If substances are part of a trek, a drug trafficking coyote will most definitely be armed, not only to keep the valuable payload intact and moving forward, but to defend the drug payload against usurping rival gangs. I am afraid of drug traffickers.
Our biggest problem is that we cannot determine if a person emerging from the brush is a migrant, or a drug trafficker. Or, a migrant under the control of a drug trafficker. Each trekker has a story, and a mission. You may be able to offer help, but you may also be an obstacle. Not knowing the intentions of a trekker is the uncontrolled variable that could change a regular day at home into a volatile situation.
In the 19-day span of time from my brother’s text until the Honduran men called 911, there were 6 bailouts on our farm road, with 2 on our property. During this last incident near my house, my husband was serving lunch to some invited guests, and missed the call. He was unaware of the commotion on the ranch, until he saw the ambulance pull away from our front gate.
We didn’t get any pictures.
Part 5: Reality
Why am I writing about living in a migrant portal when I’m a food blogger? Because if I didn’t speak up, you would never know.
Unlike Paris, London, or other media relevant urban locations that food bloggers call home, I live in a remote rural area that few people have heard of. If it weren’t for our current turmoil with international immigration, few would be interested in our community at all.
Also, talking about the lives of immigrants deserves attention. If I didn’t describe bailouts, perhaps you would still be uninformed. The national news has reported on the plight of immigrants in the past, but it’s an occasional feature, unlike the daily presence that I experience. Similar to scrolling through a social media feed, the immigration crisis pops into our national line of sight, and then out.
As I started taking blogging more seriously, I felt that there was a cool deceptiveness that was expected when posting. Perfect food, perfect styling, dazzling light of an almost religious quality, synthetic colors courtesy of Photoshop…What actually happens in my daily life at the ranch should be put into a kitchen cupboard, and the door quietly shut. It seemed distasteful to include fragments from my “real” reality. In contrast to politicians, food bloggers would lose followers if their theme abruptly turned to social justice.
But, If I didn’t tell you that 3 migrating men from Honduras were succumbing to heat exhaustion only a short walk where I was styling my Concha Fruit Cup post, you would never know.
I began to understand that all bloggers live in an alternate reality of their choosing. There certainly have been terrorist attacks in both Paris and London, and yet their citizens carry on. There are food bloggers in the Middle East that I follow, who are amazing artists. All food bloggers are submerged in their own grim realities, but float above them, creating in a space of hope.
By extension, I suppose all humans do the same. Just like our natural instinct to seek food, water, shelter, and companionship, humans are compelled to improve their circumstances. Maybe anthropologists are questioning how humans arrived in the Americas, but there is never a question that one of our strongest primal human instincts is to look for a better place to be. People immigrate. Bloggers create virtual realities. We all believe that we could make our lives better by being someplace else.
It’s hard enough for a food blogger to establish their voice without veering off course into other subjects such as immigration. I don’t believe I will write about living in a migrant portal again. However, I will share the occasional update. The virtual reality of food blogging is where I choose to stay.
Our life at the ranch will roll on, as usual. Migrants will continue to journey northwards through our property. Washington will mandate. We will oblige. And all of us, our local humanity, will continue to pay. Humans will continue to search for that better place, the place of their choosing, to deliver their body, or their mind – the place that brings the assurances of peace and prosperity.
And as for me, I will continue to float in hope.
Well done, Melissa. Your thoughtful words give insight to a subject that many are quick to debate but not willing to understand.
Food is sustenance and art. So is your writing.
Thanks Gina! More soon xo
You might add families worry in the middle of their little ones parties while helicopters fly over their roofs! Smh.
Loved you blog!
Found you shared on Facebook. My lucky day!
April M. Vallejo
I’ve always loved your writing MG. Loved this blog ????
Thank you for sharing your reality with the rest of us who can’t know what it’s like. It adds another dimension to the picture, and gives me much food for thought. (No pun intended)
This is an exraordinary account. I hope that my email address (attached) means that I will receive your notifications.
Thank you, Melissa.
A Wonderful life experience. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing your story. It is important that we understand the true reality of this issue – which most of us really do not understand.
Thanks so much for bogging this. I can’t fathom how life down here would be any other way and your testimony confirms that.
Sylvia Rodriguez Longoria
Don’t know quite what to say about your “blog”. I did find it very interesting and informative, but I also found it enjoyable. Everything was so descriptive, I wanted “more”. Thank you for sharing.
Laura GuerrÀ Ramirez
Very eloquent synopsis of what our ranch life is Linn San Manuel is all about. Thank you for taking the time to explain our reality so perfectly! I will definitely share and confine as you do to “float in hope” for better common sense solutions for our government to our most pressing issues ………
Thanks Laura, gonna write a little series about this, but also will keep writing about food. More soon! xo
A beautifully-captured snapshot of life; no filter, no furor, just life.
Such a clear depiction of the sad reality written with compassion yet harsh truths describing those who choose to or do not know out of ignorance. Thank you and beautiful photo of your fruit conch!!!
Wow Melissa. So well done. Thank you for writing this. It should be published for all to read.
I’m so proud that you wrote this my friend.
Thanks Rollie! Hoping to write more, stay tuned…xo
Celina Perez Tamez
Graces flow for those who find freedom from submission, not power or control, but through surrender to the will of the Lord! I will pray for your families safety and continued peace!
Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for sharing your story.
Very well written. We do not know or understand in Ohio what really happens in and around the border areas. Thank you for sharing. My prayers are for everyone involved. ALL sides are in desperate need. Prayers for you and your community.
Thank you! Ohio folks only see migrants at the end of their journey. We see them mid-point, where they are almost dead. It is not good. They have been sold a bill of goods by unscrupulous smugglers who have no intention of delivering them to the Promised Land. Its just so sad. Thank you for your support.
Very nicely done. Yes, it’s the “coyotes” who are the predators of these people. As you said, we have had & will continue to have migrants. It’s the change in “coyotes” that’s changed the game. Be safe my friend!
Thank you Cookie! xo mg
I have always said, if I lived in the horrible conditions and dangers they do, I would want out to by hook or by crook. My heart goes out to these people. There has to be an answer to this massive problem.
Only people that have traveled outside the US understand where migrants come from. We are not obligated to help, but we we have a responsibility to help. We have so much. Thank you for your note!
The best discribition of our situation down here. I congratulate you. You are a true writer! Our life at the ranchos has changed so much. We always had illigals who were called mohados but we weren’t scared of them. My grandmother fed them my dad went to the little store to get them supplies. That was life back then. What changed were the gangs and drugs! I have a ranch near RACHAL, Texas. We used to go spend time there but not anymore. We don’t know who is in the sheds or even at the house. What do I do? The ranch house is not my homestead do my taxes are triple what Dad used to pay and he had cattle! I don’t get any money from the ranch to pay taxes so you dig into your savings! I can’t afford to fix or paint the outside because ahain the taxes will go up! What is my choice? I am a widow do is it alright to spend money on my parents home when my children don’t go very often. Do I leave it alone? Do I fix it? Its very hard because my dad built that house for my mom when they married in 1940. I was born in that house! What do I do??? Hard questions! You are right about D.C. They don’t know how we were here in the mid 1700’s. We have always been here! To them South Texas is San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. I am glad because they will ruin our lifestyle! Years ago I attended a county suditors conference with my husband who was the auditor for Hidalgo County. Everybody working at that fancy downtown hotel was an immigrant! Keep bloging you are great Melissa Guerra.
Thank you Irma, my plan is to inform much, and complain little. We need to keep speaking about what is happening and put our stories together. We are not a photo opportunity. best, MG
Delma Saenz (San Isidro)
Thank you, Melissa, for writing so eloquently. We continuously hear from people with very strong opinions on all sides of the immigration issue. All too often, they have no experience, or even sense, of the reality of the situation. Bringing to light the human condition of the immigrants and citizens that live it daily is so uncommon. Thank you for sharing and for giving people like me, who read this, a better way to convey what happens here. Now I can reference your blog and use your words instead of getting frustrated and ending my conversation with, “You just don’t understand.” I am so glad to read that you plan to continue on the topic! Best wishes and God bless you and your family.
Thank you Delma! Feel free to share migrant stories from your neck of the woods. I am writing a piece on anonymous stories. my email is firstname.lastname@example.org , and I promise I am using no names or places. Very interested in other peoples experiences. Best, MG
Melissa, what a beautifully written piece! Thank you for artfully discussing an issue in a mannner that will reach the world! I love your mind and heart!
Nora, I know you know where I’m coming from! I will be writing a bit more in the future so stay tuned. Many hugs and much love…xo mg
Hello from India. That’s a heartfelt story and one that needed to be shared.
It’s ok for us to veer from our alt-reality once in a while and write about what needs to be written. Having read your piece, I’m a fan!
Hello to India! Interestingly enough, not all of the migrants that come through are Hispanic. Many from Asia and the Middle East. I will write more on them soon. Thank you for taking the time to message me. Very kind. Thank you for the support!
I love to read and I love to eat! That was some great reading! This is exactly what life on a South Texas ranch is like! Beautifully written! God bless.
Maria Elia Ramos
We live in a wooded area close to Rio Grande City and the River. We experience the helicopter often although to be honest, I have not heard it for a couple of weeks. We have had bailouts, migrants from Nicaragua in our backyard. We live in a police state with the Border Patrol, increased DPS and local police. At sundown, we lock up and hope all goes well. You are right, our legislators do not live it and don’t want to hear us. Thanks for another view.
Thanks. Enjoyed it
Very interesting, I remember when I lived in the valley and seeing immigrants and the border patrol vehicles was just an ordinary and daily thing. Thank you for your sharing your life experience at the ranch.
Linda- Lee Doubrava
Melissa, I’m a Valley girl myself. My Grandfather farmed in Progeso for 50 years. His fields were raided often as he had workers from across he employed. He would pick them up and bring them back. They were good men with families to support. Some of these men he helped get thier papers so the burden of dealing with Border Patrol and the stress of the situation was illiminated. He loved Mexico and he loved thier people. He had a heart, and knew the law, like you I never realized the struggle was so real, and probably daily, as for your family. He passed away in the early 80’s. I wonder sometime how he would think this situation. I think as with all things there are those who loose their good judgement and become clouded when profit off of others becomes a priority. I connected with what you said about people moving and trying to better themselves. This is what we all should be aspiring to do, and help others while we do it. Compassion for human dignity and life are becoming lost in our society. There is however a dangerous element in this whole discussion. The smuggling of drugs, and humans, and the people who are doing it. I feel that should be the conversation in Washington. How to stop those that have chosen to ignore the law, and the lives of other humans. I’m glad you have a following, and a voice that can be heard. Someone somewhere needs to understand living on the Border is not like living any where else, our struggles are different, our borders are connected with family, friends and travel. Aside from living in the Valley, I also lived in Laredo for 22 years. This is a touchy subject that some want to make racial. I don’t see it that way. I pray a solution can came without violence or distruction of more property. And I pray for a conversation that can be had in Washington with a solution that can include the reality of this situation, that is, we are compassionate law abiding citizens of the greatest country in the world, who love our the country on the one on the other side of our border.
Thank you! I’m going to do my best to tell people what it is like to live here, without political spin. Past messages we have sent Washington have been ignored. Lets see what happens. best, MG
It is a tough subject, but we have to speak up and just let people know what it’s like to live here. I love it, but it comes with a lot of stress. Thanks for your support! mg
Great read! Thank you for this.
this is incredible. thank you for this.
Beautifully written…when we were growing up I don’t remember much of this but I think Daddy and Jimmy shielded us from it when we were kids. My memories of your ranch are of our moms cooking, our dads laughing, and us playing together never knowing that just outside might be someone looking for a better life. Take care and keep writing both the food and real life stuff…you have a gift..,xoxo, Anice
Anice, I think about those times spent with your family with pride and much affection. We owe it to our kids to give them some good memories from a place that makes us who we are today, good memories like we have. Give my love to you sisters and brothers. And thank you for the encouragement. xo
Thank you for taking the time & effort to spread & share the truth. Grace and peace to you and your family.
Thank you! Blessings to you to, and for those that need them more than me…MG
Excellent! My dad’s ancestors came to Texas the same way (Canary Islands) We are Guerra’s as well. You are a terrific writer!
Thank you! There will be more writing! Best, MG
…powerful…. thanks for Sharing!
My pleasure! More to come!
Excellent writing Melissa! I could picture everything you were saying. I read it entirely. Good job! Keep it going!
Thanks, going to do my best. I can only write so much about it, as our government has to finish the story. Onward!! thanks so much
What a great read! I have tried, unsuccessfully, for years to explain what it was like growing up on that same farm road. How my parents never denied someone food or water and how now, years later, my mom will call me to tell me so and so stopped by to say hello and thank her for her kindness. Some of her closest friends are undocumented immigrants who stopped for shelter on their way north. They are now American Citizens who pay taxes just like we do.
Thank you for writing this. It’s a small window into your daily reality.
Thanks, I’m going to write a bit more on the subject, hopefully it will be a good representation of what we see and do on the border.
Ma’am, you have written a perfect description of South Texas ranch life. I was a Border Patrol Agent for 28 years, the last 22 of those years in Laredo. After retirement at age 51, I worked for 17 years on the Callaghan Ranch here in Webb County. Your account is very factual and I can attest to that from the Border Patrol perspective as well as from the eyes of a brush country ranch foreman.
Thank you! I am going to write a short series on border life, I’m collecting anonymous stories if you are interested in sending any. email@example.com Feel free, and I promise I am not mentioning names, nor places. Thanks for the feedback.
Thank you for explaining the reality of ranch life on the border. There are no easy answers, but we are tired of the expenses incurred by us from bailouts, having our vehicles stolen and the piles of trash left behind. The politicians absolutely do not understand or really care about coming up with a positive solution to this crisis.
I agree, its heartbreaking, and wallet clobbering. And most of all, pointless. We need to keep talking. Thanks for the support! best mg
Thank you for letting others know what is really going on in the ranch country of South Texas. I am a transplant but have lived here long enough to know from friends that you tell a true story & the rest of the country, especially Washington D.C. needs to realize this.
Thank you so much!!
Micheline Mongrain Dontigny
Thanks now we the real portrait of what you are living at the border. You are courageous and keep up with life inspiring!
Thank you so much! More soon!
Your well-written account of ranch life along a migrant route provides much enlightenment to people who have no idea. As you illustrate the goings-on about your property, however, it illuminates how everyone’s spin on immigration can be right. You can have empathy for the immigrants’ plight, while at the same time loathe the ruthless cartel drug smugglers and coyotes, who spread drugs across our country and could care less about human life as they rape women and young girls, leave stragglers behind to perish in the brush or huddle masses in a deadly, hot tractor trailer, as in San Antonio, recently. Residents and farmers along the river live in a similar twilight zone. Financial burdens to farmers, ranchers and residents are unfair. Immigrants who choose to stay in our area increase costs of medical care and education for our taxpayers. Most, however, trek northward through perilous conditions. One of the most gruesome accounts and photo provided by a Falfurrias rancher was the “rape” tree he found on his property, with several women’s panties flapping in the wind on its branches. D.C., now, is more serious about border enforcement and 15,000 temporary work visas are now available for farmers and shrimpers needing help. Tens of thousands more are needed, I suspect. “Que Díos nos bendiga.” (May God bless us.)
Hi Margie, yes, I think what grieves me the most are people exploiting migrants on US soil. Such a tragedy. Let’s keep talking about our real life here in South Texas. Hopefully we will catch someone’s attention. xo mg
Your account illuminates how everyone’s spin on immigration can be right. You can have empathy for the immigrants’ plight, while also loathe the cartel drug and human smugglers, who spread drugs across our country and could care less as they rape women and girls, leave stragglers to perish in the brush or huddle masses in a deadly, hot tractor trailer. Financial burdens to property owners are unfair. Immigrants who stay in our area increase costs of medical care and education for taxpayers. Most, however, trek north, at their peril. A gruesome account was provided by a Falfurrias rancher who found a “rape” tree, with women’s panties on its branches.
Margie, the trees are very common. I will write about those soon. So sad.
Thank you for sharing. This was a fascinating post. It is true that people elsewhere do not know what it is like to live in your area. It’s a sort of missing piece in the story.
Thank you Merril!
Melissa, thanks for your insight. We live in Gonzales and I have worked as a Probation Officer. I have seen first hand the struggles on both sides. I enjoy your store and your writings!
Thank you Janna! Hugs
Melissa, congratulations for a powerful piece describing a tragic event in our world. You are so correct in your depiction of the border country. My heart aches for the migrants whose desperation places them at the mercy of such merciless, so-called, Coyotes. At the same time I am furious that U.S. Citizens on the Border are forced to live with so much anxiety and, at times, very real fear, not to mention burdensome expense. My earnest wish and frequent prayer is that soon a consensus of rational minds will emerge in DC and they will come up with a workable solution, one that admits hard-working people who desire a better life here and who will become worthwhile citizens as so many have in the past, while at the same time barring the criminal element from admittance. Tricky business, to be sure, but there has to be a way to establish sensible border control. Blogs like yours provide valuable inspiration and absolute truth. Thank you.
Thanks Jeanette! I’m collecting a few tales from the border. Let me know if you have any good stories to tell regarding notable ranch encounters with migrants. We have very interesting local conversations at parties that no one would ever understand. I want to share those, but from anonymous sources. So many crazy stories through the decades. Love to your crew, and hugs to you xo mg
Socorro Alonzo Hughes
Well written and very informative. And so real! I too grew up in Southwest Texas on a cattle ranch with the Nuecess river running through. The border about 60 miles away. The migration of men from Mexico at that time was very different. There were no bailouts or an drug cartels that we ever witnessed . Only men passing through looking for work. My dad would invite them to rest under a tree or in the barn. And my mother would start cooking no matter what time of day it was. My siblings and I would deliver the tacos and cold drinks to these men. They were grateful. They would eat, rest and then move on. We were not afraid of them as we knew they were seeking work. By the late 70s and 80s, we were begging to see women with children walking through. The south Texas heat and the land covered by mesquite is not easy to navigate. When they left our ranch , I like to think that they eventually found a job and a home. That was what I envisioned growing up in Soutwest Texas in the 60s and 70s.
So beautiful and sad. Now it is scary and chaotic. I hope we can make it better. Thank you for writing! MG
Melissa – so well written and very appropriate and at times poignant – Gracias for putting to words the reality of humanity.
Thank you Kathleen!
Beautifully written! Perfectly stated! We are living on the front lines, and we don’t know what’s ahead. Thanks for writing this!
Thanks Shan! many hugs MG
Thank you for describing the reality experienced by so many South Texans. I spent my first 18 years on a ranch near Uvalde. Our home was on a unpaved back road that ran through the most unforgiving desert for 50 miles terminating in Eagle Pass. It was a favorite passage for unfortunates who risked their lives on their trip north. My mama always kept extra food to give out to those who came to our door. We never feared them but that was 50 years ago. The only dangerous incident I remember was a small plane landing on the road by our pasture and Daddy thinking they were having engine trouble rode horseback to where they were and saw they were unloading shoebox sized packages. He was lucky they did not harm him as he quickly rode away. I live in Pennsylvania now and it’s true – people here have no idea the impact of immigration on the daily lives of the good people of South Texas. Thanks for a great read!
Wow, that is a great story. He was lucky that he got out of there. Thanks for writing, love hearing from border folks. xo MG
Hello Melissa, you just poked a sleeping giant, the consciousness of the Border people, and you have done it with magnificent prose and heartfelt sentiment. Here in town we hear stories often but see the ranchers and people who live in the rural areas only in social occasions, seldom do we hear the description of the reality of the immigrants or the unwilling hosts. As you have mention it it is a complicated and ancient story, from the Jewish people escaping from Egypt to the mass immigration from the Middle East, people always looking for a better life or escaping tyranny, but you just pointed to my backyard and therefore make me think “what can I do?”
Thank Ana, just keep talking. We need to let people know we live here. It’s our RGV. It doesn’t belong to the media, and it doesn’t belong to the traffickers. This is our turf. xo xoxox
Hello Ms. Guerra,
You have a gift for describing your situation there where i can see it, and feel it! You’re between a rock and a hard place, unfortunately. Politicians don’t fix anything. They just talk. Good luck there and God be with you and your family!!
Thank you for your kind comments Dan! Hopefully there are solutions on the horizon…MG
Thank you for explaining to the country what we in south Texas live through. I live in Mission, TX only 8 miles from the border. I am originally from Mexico & understand that the majority of these people are coming over here in look of a better job to be able to provide for the family. Several years back we had the luxury of being able to cross the border daily, going to dinner but due to the situation in Mexico that has changed. Please continue with your food/political blog.
I miss going to Mexico too. It was beautiful, and I am sorry my children can’t have the same memories of traveling as I do. But we need to keep talking. Things can change. Many hugs, and thanks for writing! MG
Mary Helen Leonard
Thanks for sharing this. It can be so hard to balance our virtual life with our everyday reality. As a food and DIY blogger I sometimes worry that what I do is silly or insignificant with so many more important things going on in the world. I found myself relating to your urge to share a slice of life beyond the beautiful food photos – to tell your story. You did so beautifully.
Thank you so much!
Great story! Can you imagine our politicians actually living this life. I also have many memories of sharing food and shelter with them. Thanks for sharing
Thank you so much!
Thank you Viola!
Thank you for sharing the human side of the story.
Thank you so much!
melissa, this was a poignant, enraging and realistic piece of writing. i agree with you that reality is far less interesting than the worlds that we create. i think that is the case because it is exhausting too. and the older i grow, the more i find the process of being an adult tedious. i live far from my family and feel every loss palpably. i am child whose grand parents on both sides have histories of displacement; south asian and european. the story of human movement is the constant of generations. what breaks my heart is that we continue to close our doors rather than open them. i think you capture ‘description’ well without taking sides. i hope you will continue to write about these things along with food. warm wishes from london.
Thank you for your kind note. I would like to believe we could work towards global peace, but all governments are bogged down by those who want to exploit the loopholes. If we can talk through food, it would definitely be a kinder, gentler, and possibly chubbier planet. That would be nice. Un abrazo muy fuerte (a very strong hug) from South Texas MG
I think it’s in connecting parts of our lives we are supposed to keep separate that we get our power. Thank you for this thoughtful post.
Thank you so much!
Thank you Melissa for sharing your real experiences. I appreciate food stories and lives that are beyond the confines of being perfect. As a food blogger too, I understand the dilemma of making posts that aren’t just about unicorn avocado toasts. It’s just good to hear how people live and witness their humanity.
Ha! Unicorn avocado toast. Sounds YUMMY! Sign me up! I will follow you on IG, cuz now I want the recipe! xo
Many thanks for this, Melissa, and greetings from Brisbane Australia. It’s most lucid and heartfelt, and I can now imagine some of the nightmare situations and trauma. Plus the desperation of migrants to face such hazardous conditions. I’ve just posted it to my Facebook page.
I have a feeling that there will never be a perfect answer to your situation, or complete agreement even among locals, but what do you and some of your neighbours favour as a policy and action?
Love your food and photography skills
All best wishes
Hi Peter! Visiting worker visas would be a start, but the problem is the violence and poverty in Latin America. If a visiting worker earned money and took it or sent it home, then they and their family would be kidnapping targets. Plus, national sovereignty is paramount of importance to everyone involved. Latin America needs our money, but may not want our armies. And then there’s the drug trade. More people are beginning to believe they should be legalized and taxed. That might be the solution, but the cultural issues within Latin America can only be fixed by Latin Americans. Most are too poor to afford ideals. I am not saying they are immoral, or unethical. Very much quite the contrary. They are survivors, and have spent generations overcoming astounding corruption from within. I could go on. No one leaves Latin America for lack of love, patriotism, or nostalgia. They leave because they need to break the cycle for the next generation. Life is short, and the problems seem permanent. I will stop there. Thank you, and keep an eye out. I will be posting a short series outside my food blog on border life.
You are a very good writer. And, I suspect, an excellent foodie of south Texas cuisine. I look forward to your blog. And I truly appreciate your description of life in the portal.
Beautifully written piece Melissa! I’ve read it, and re-read it! I finally shared it on Facebook. I’ve had this conversation with Mark so many times… People that don’t live life on the border have NO CLUE. Las Cruces was similar, and after sharing your post on Facebook, my Las Cruces friend shared it on hers as well. She’s an educator, and deals with the effects of border life regularly. Currently, children are not coming to school for fear of being rounded up. So, thank you!
Also, I wanted to mention my delight at discovering that you write a food blog! I am quite involved in food bloggers support groups and a chat group, and the closest food blogger I know of lives in Austin area. We need to get together! I love the way you incorporated food into this post. And, I can’t wait to try your Concha Fruit Cup! We can also compare notes on Peru and Peruvian food!
Thanks again for sharing this very relevant post!
LOL! too funny you are going to try the Concha Fruit Cup. I have to say, it is good. I’m writing a little more on the subject of migrants, wish me luck as it is weird to hear my political voice come out. But you gotta get stuff out there. I will follow your blog! So excited to meet you!
Best of luck! We need more civil discourse on border issues… I subscribed to your blog, and will be happy to “pipe in.”
Que tal Melissa. Soy Miguel A Fuentes, vivo en Monterrey, NL, Mexico. Soy fotografo, hago algo de estilismo culinario, me gusta el rancho, la arquitectura y la carpinteria… de todo un poco jajaj Inclusive diseñamos y decoramos restaurantes.
El proyecto de Hueso Restaurant te puede resultar interesante
Lei tu articulo sobre los migrantes, muy interesante tu punto de vista.
Yo de alguna menera he visto y escuchado situaciones similares pues frecuentemente visito el rancho de un amigo que esta de este lado de la frontera, por Muzquiz, Coah, casi frontera con el Big Bend. Tambien crian Beefmaster como ustedes.
En fin, son tantas las cosas en comun, que me anime a escribirte.
Me gustaria palticar contigo para ver de que manera podemos colaborar, estoy seguro que algo interesante podria surgir y hasta recetas te podria compartir. Arroz Muzqueño, pericos, cabrito en pulque y otras tantas recetas familiares mas. O que tal si armamos alguna receta y le ponemos Lasater Stew o que se yo jajaj
Me puedes escribir a firstname.lastname@example.org y con gusto me pongo en contacto contigo.
Hola Miguel, gracias por su comunicación, vi tu pagina web. Sus instalaciones estan impresionantes y impactantes. Sera interesante colaborar en unas obras, me gusta mucho su instalación en blanco con los huesos. Mas en otro email directo. un abrazo, mg
Well stated. I, too, hear the helicopters. No chases or bailouts that I know about but it wouldn’t surprise me to see one.
Part of the solution might be in speaking up. WE are the government. WE have to make our stories known.
I gew up in Kansas, got to the Valley as soon as I could. My dad was a railroad engineer. He once told me about opening a generator compartment on a engine to find a young man (Mexican?) crouched on top of the generator. Dad just shut the door and moved on. He said some of the railroaders reported the passengers, but he figured that if they were willing to risk that much , he wasn’t going to stop them. He said they rode the trains from El Paso to Chicago, then got work in Chicago. Thus was my intro to the situation as a güerita in Kansas. I’m so glad that my (very Scottish English) dad recognized the positive characteristics of the people he met, and had the empathy to allow them to pursue opportunities. He never disparaged working people.
Kenna, I love your story! I know, its really tough because people just want jobs. But there is also a lot of criminal exploitation and human trafficking that needs to stop too. What a mess. I really appreciate hearing from you, and I may ask for permission to include your dad’s story when I write. Just heartbreaking
Patti Van Burkleo
Interesting, thought-provoking and well-written perspective from a true south Texas rancher. I look forward to reading more. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Thanks Patti! I’m writing a bit more for a blog up in NY. Staying away from politics but talking about life here. Hopefully it will get some reads. Thanks for the shout out!
I got your blog via a Facebook posting of this morning. I was fascinated by what you wrote and how you told the story of what we face, day to day living in “The Valley.” When I came to McAllen seventeen years ago, my attitude about those who risk their lives trying to get to a better life in America was much different than it is now. Back then, I was upset that “these people” were invading my country. As I have become a Valley Boy, I have come to understand that those who cross the river are no different than our parents; they want a better life for their families and self; they want to live a peaceful life without fear of their government or exploitation by criminals that dominate their countries.
This became so apparent to me at Christmas time of 2015 where I played Santa Claus at Sacred Heart Catholic church which has been on the front lines of assisting these border crossers after being processed by the Border Patrol and the immigration system. Many of the children who were the bulk of those being processed had never seen Santa and I got to meet those adults who brought their children to America for what they hoped would be a better life. After a week of being at Sacred Heart escorting the adults and children to the bus station where they would start their journey across the nation, I finally understood the real issue of immigration along our border.
Our political leadership has no real understanding of the human tragedy of border crossers that is part of our daily lives.
Please keep telling this story.
Thank you, I will. I have a limited series that I am writing, the intro was posted today in NYC.more soon!
I lived in SW Texas for two years in the mid 80’s. As an educator I had no land to be crossed by illegals but heard many stories from neighbors and colleagues. Naturally I spent time in Mexico, for extended periods and short visits. That there was another, different country, just miles away was exciting and not to be missed. I read the novels of the border by Alanna Martin which gave a picture of a life which obviously no longer exists. Imagine just stepping across the RG as if it were a swimming pool. Please keep publishing your heartfelt stories.
Thank you so much Joe. I may try writing a little fiction, as I have heard so many stories I think my neighbors would recognize themselves! Thanks for the support! hugs mg
Gloria de Leon
Oh Melissa, thank you for articulating the humanity and character of our Valley, South Texas culture. Most of us lived life with one foot on each side of the border. We witnessed the stratification and stages of our families histories. We value and honor the work ethic. This is the type of in depth reflection we rarely read and it is deeply appreciated.
Several years ago, on a hot summer day, my husband and I were driving towards Raymondville. We picked up a middle aged man walking back to his daughters ranch. He walked five miles into town to find work earlier that day. Ernie asked, “aren’t you afraid of the Border Patrol?” His response remains with us to this day. He said, “I fear hunger more”.
We can’t dismiss the human condition when you witness it firsthand. Thank you.
That is a powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing. I am hearing more and more, and it is a little overwhelming. But I will keep writing! Thanks so much Gloria xo!
Beautifully written, Melissa. Thank you for sharing your observations and insights. I hope they reverberate far beyond the food world.
A thoughtful and touching account of ranch life near the border and of the lives of those who cross it. Thank you for writing it — I would never have known otherwise.
Beautifully written Melissa! I’ve read it several times as it brings back similar experiences and visuals from my brothers ranches. One of my brothers transformed the left behind truck into a ranch vehicle that bears the name “coyote”.
I knew a coyote or two about 20 years ago when I worked at a chicken plant in Oklahoma City. There I met, hired and worked with many of these immigrants you speak of. They were like family and dear to my heart! I have never met such hard working people in all my life. Many became US Citizens and I was so proud of them.
I read your blog and the memories and tears came flooding back….from a time long ago. So we hang on to hope.
Very nicely written. If food blogging doesn’t work out, you can write informatively and eruditely on the Border Lands.
An excellent article. I grew up in South Texas, and know your experience reflects that of many in the area. My dad was a highway engineer in the area, and spent much time on the ranches. I was lucky enough to go along with him a few times, once on an early morning deer hunt. Best breakfast ever.
I’ve long appreciated your Dishes from the Wild Horse Desert. You are a talented writer.
I don’t want to read just another recipe for berry pie or sheet pan suppers or any of that. Food blogging (at least quality food blogging) has changed from posts filled with exclamation points and pop-up ads and easy ways to incorporate (fill in the corporate sponsor) into dinner to something much larger. Sure, anyone with an internet connection, a cell phone, and a spatula can write about food, but the more personal, the more intimate, the more vulnerable a food blog (and by extension, a food blogger), the better. More authentic. Deeper. Actually worth reading.
I have only a vague understanding of what it must be like to live where you do, and your writing of this place and its people is wonderful and raw. Thank you for posting this.
Thank you so much Suzannah!
“In contrast to politicians, food bloggers would lose followers if their theme abruptly turned to social justice.”
Very interesting take, but it really depends. I read your whole post specifically because you were going above and beyond the food. Anyone can post a pretty food picture and recipe. I met up with another food blogger recently and we were specifically talking about this issue. We want stories, not just food and recipes. Life is so much bigger. Everyone has their own way and style of food blogging. Sometimes the food can be incidental. I write about food, but about lots of other things too. I really enjoyed your post and will be coming back for another serving!
Thanks so much for your comment! I’ve been traveling and closing down my retail store, so I hadn’t been working in my blog for awhile. But now I am writing a series about the border and you can follow along http://www.newworlder.com As in the quote you pulled from my article, I decided not to post any more through my blog about the border. But friend whose blog focuses on Latin American food and culture was more than willing to host a series by me. Grateful for the platform. Again, thanks for reading!