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Reclaiming the river: Rio Grande ‘sustains lifeblood’ of border region, wall opponents say

MISSION, Texas ( ⁠— On the banks of the Rio Grande, opponents of the border wall held a beach party Saturday to “Reclaim the River” and promote the “teeming life” the river brings to this region of South Texas.

“The Rio Grande River is our lifeblood in every way. It doesn’t so much divide two countries for those of us who live here and grew up here. It simply separates two communities that have always been bound together,” Marianna Trevino-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center where the beach party was held told Border Report on Saturday.

Banks of the Rio Grande owned by the National Butterfly Center were the site for the Reclaim the River community awareness event held on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, in Mission, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

“We have indigenous people. We have resources that have always been shared. We have flora and fauna that are some of the richest in the United States. We have history together, culture that is shared, language. All of these things that a wall threatens to cleave. The same way that you would kill an animal, cut the head off a chicken is what this border wall threatens to do to us,” she said.

Congress has approved funds to build 11 miles of new border wall in Hidalgo County. Construction could begin as early as next month.

The National Butterfly Center, along with Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge and nearby Bentsen State Park have, so far, been exempted from construction by Congress. But Trevino-Wright says the community must remain vigilant and outspoken to continue to protest the building of a wall ⁠— any wall ⁠— along what they say is a waterway that is sacred to this region.

Rio Grande is ‘safe and fun’

Marianna Trevino-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

“I grew up here and learned to water ski there and spent weekends in the river, but especially since 9/11 the narrative from law enforcement has been to stay away from the river, that it’s dangerous. ‘Don’t go there.’ And as a result businesses have closed and community members have been scared off,” Trevino-Wright said. “But we report to work here everyday and we go birding and kayaking and fishing on the river and we know that it’s safe and it’s fun.”

“The land and the air and the water there are teaming with life. It is what has sustained us. It sustains the growth of the Rio Grande Valley and our economy including our vast agricultural networks,” Trevino-Wright said.

Saturday’s event was organized by the No Border Wall coalition of opponents of the border wall. The grassroots organization held its first big event two years ago when thousands of people marched from a church in Mission to Lomita Chapel in August 2017 to protest a wall built in front of the historic chapel. On Aug. 11, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 12 members of Congress held a prayer service at La Lomita Chapel as they toured South Texas. (Read about Pelosi’s tour here.)

The banks of Mexico are seen across the Rio Grande from the banks of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, on Aug. 17, 2019. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

In August 2018, the first Reclaim the River event was held here and it drew 400 people. On Saturday, attendees numbered less than 100 and came in groups of 20 or so, including many families with young children.

Albert Solis, 27, who has lived in Mission his entire life, offered free boat rides on Saturday to children and families, narrating about the trees and fauna along the way. Free yoga classes were held on the riverbank, and educational stations were set up, including microscopes showing larvae and insects found in these waters, and a station with turtles and snakes.

Constant river breezes helped to negate the heat as temperatures approached 100 degrees. An Icee truck selling “raspas” also helped to quench the heat.

Amanda Taylor, 32, who moved to the Rio Grande two years ago from Miami, said Saturday she’d never been to the river. “I just came to enjoy it and to experience it first-hand. You hear so much about it and to be out here and experience it.”

Katya Kahana took her 2-year-old twins Emma and Ethan on a boat ride, along with her 7-year-old Ian, who sat in the front captain’s chair and properly identified the two different countries.

Norma Cabrera, of Mission, brought her 4-year-old daughter Aubri, who got to pet a snake. Cabrera said she’d definitely return to the Butterfly Center and the river. “This was wonderful. She learned so much. We’ll be back.” she said.

Joshua Torres, 22, took a yoga class “to prove I wouldn’t get shot here,” he said. Gunfire has been reported from the Mexican banks to Border Patrol officers, but those assembled here today said they didn’t hear or see anyone on the Mexican side.

“I’ve never seen a river this beautiful. This area is beautiful. You should come visit the beauty yourself. You feel tranquil and safe in this area. There’s no dangers here,” Torres said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

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