Rio Grande Valley is unlike any place I have been to before. It is just miles away from the Mexico-United States border and has a large Hispanic community. Yet the people here remind me of Detroiters I met as a community organizer. They are prideful about their home and they are invested deeply in making it better.
At the University of Texas Pan America, we met the researchers working to reduce the health disparities that plague the Valley. They spoke to us about the large uninsured population and high rate of poverty in the area. These conditions account for the high rates of diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Two of the research assistants we met had a big impact in how I understand the Valley. As young graduate students studying communication, they were invested in seeing their community prosper. Over a large platter of fried shrimp, quesadilla and nachos they spoke with a smile as they invited us to a rodeo and other social outings. It was the same kind of passion I remember in Detroit when residents met someone new to the area.
I am grateful that we are meeting people who are committed to helping vulnerable residents of the Valley and equally grateful to immerse myself in a new culture.