The Difference 156 Miles Makes in Texas

The Texas Story Project.

Every time when I’m on my usual on-campus excursion, I can’t help but give my world close attention. Every day that I walk through the St. Mary’s campus that I, Refugio Romo, knew as an undergrad, and which I now know as a professor, I look at the students’ faces and relive that distinctive period of life that influenced my work as an author, and my purpose as their educator. However, in recent years I’ve come to realize that, my experience as an undergrad student from a border town living in San Antonio is quite different from the students who are currently in that exact position.

The greatest difference is perhaps that the usual freshmen social question required a lot more explanation out of me. That familiar inquiry that all incoming students encounter such as “Where are you from?” was significantly harder for me to answer. I knew of course that my three brothers, two sisters, and I were all born in Laredo, Texas, just like our parents and grandparents before us. But that simple answer never did justice to my roots. I came from a place where cultures clash; where true changes of language occur and new things are created; where two languages were supposed to fight a turf war in people’s brains, but instead live as neighbors. I grew up in a very old house that had been in my family for over eight generations and that was only a block away from bridge number one. The whole time I lived in Laredo, I had always thought about that bridge as just another part of the street. I remember walking across the bridge almost every day of my childhood; then later when I was older, driving across with my friends. There was almost no difference between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. It almost seemed like even the idea of a bridge was superfluous. I remember going back home after long family trips to the pyramids in Mexico City, thinking that my home was no less than any other place in the world.

I experienced a major cultural change when I went to college. I was only 156 miles away from home, yet the Tex-Mex culture I had always known was basically nonexistent in San Antonio. Most of my San Antonio Latino friends didn’t speak Spanish. Would I be able to express myself as easily as I used to in Laredo? Maybe not as easily, but I had to learn to use my words just as effectively. After all, I was studying to be a writer.

I missed being able to hopscotch from one language to another. I missed not having to scramble for words. I imagined I was only vaguely understood when I used border language like “turn the channel” or “parqueate allí.” I knew one language, but I needed to separate it into two. I didn’t realize until later in my college career that it was intended that way. That idea of assimilation didn’t exist in Laredo. Everyone spoke Spanish; everyone spoke English. San Antonio was a wh other world.

Yet, no matter how much I struggled to adapt to my new home, I realize now that I was very fortunate to live in true border culture. That border created words that I grew up around and they became the basis of my writing career. If history is just stories, stories are art, and those words are the brushes I use to paint the picture of true border culture in the minds of my readers, especially the ones who grew up on the border but couldn’t experience it the way I used to.

The situation in Mexico has become so unfortunate that most of the new border locals won’t ever experience crossing the border with the same ease I did. Many of the students don’t know their culture well enough to marvel at how sophisticated it actually is. This is, of course, done through no fault of their own. Their home town used to be one big community that has now been split in two. Their home town is half the size mine was. There is just no real exchange anymore and many are under the impression that people from the border are these lost people who are neither Mexican because they don’t speak Spanish well, nor American because they don’t speak English well. Yet that is in many ways part of the story. Border people are fortunate enough to have histories tied to millennia of Native American culture and then Spanish culture that conquered both of them, except that they don’t get to experience the wholeness of it, because of the potential dangers in Mexico. I as well don’t get to cross the border anymore. I go to places like Mexico City but only the border provides that rich and exciting culture I once knew as a kid.

What I want to do more than anything, through my writing and through my lectures, is to remind border people that they aren’t these people of the dust. It’s a long culture that is glorious in many ways, and until they know that they are going to keep thinking that they have no roots, that they’re just floating around, neither American nor Mexican. My main goal is to try to correct some of those omissions in history, for my students.

Eric Delgado is a freshman at St. Mary’s University. He’s double majoring in psychology and philosophy with the ambition of becoming a psychotherapist/psychoanalyst. Eric is from Brownsville Tx so he was naturally inclined towards writing about the border, and border life.

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