I love small border towns. There is a unique community of shared cultures and experiences that exists on both sides. My time as an Border Patrol agent and a border resident has centered around the small border towns of Tecate, Campo, Potrero and Pine Valley, California. The stories told by locals in McAllen about how it used to be before the militarization of the border are similar to the stories I tell about California's southern border before Operation Gatekeeper walled us off from our southern neighbors. I consider myself fortunate to have known the border before deterrence policies and the military industrial complex was introduced.
The people who call this area of Texas home are as hard working and affable as you will find anywhere in the world. The community is filled will all the recreational parks and entertainment that can be found in most American towns. It is small in population, big in land and water with amenities that do not force one to drive to the nearest large city. The schools appear to be in excellent shape; the roads are better paved than in San Diego. The University of Texas even has a local site in the Rio Grande Valley.
And yet, McAllen is a war zone.
I could feel it even before my plane landed. Though not as intense as a what an undocumented person or a person of color likely feels, I still felt it as a woman, as a lesbian, as a person who cares about people regardless of their citizenship. The feeling is not a sense of safety or comfort that our government so often promises we will feel with all these cops and surveillance but one of being watched, one of waiting for them to put a hand on your shoulder before asking you what you are doing in their area that they have deemed dangerous.
It is oppressive in McAllen.