Rio Grande Valley

The Rio Grande Valley is a transborder socio-cultural region located in a floodplain draining into the Rio Grande River near its mouth.[1] The region includes the southernmost tip of South Texas and a portion of northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. It consists of the Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco, Pharr, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, San Juan, and Rio Grande City metropolitan areas in the United States and the Matamoros, Río Bravo, and Reynosa metropolitan areas in Mexico.[2][3] These cities are surrounded by many small neighborhoods or colonias.[4] The area is generally bilingual in English and Spanish with a fair amount of Spanglish[5] due to the diverse history of the region.[6] There is a large seasonal influx of winter Texans or Texans who come down from the north for the winter and then go back up north before summer hits.[7]

Rio Grande Valley
Map of the Rio Grande Valley
Floor elevation285 ft (87 m)
Area4,872 sq mi (12,620 km2)
LocationUnited States, Texas
Coordinates26.22°N 98.12°W / 26.22; -98.12


Pre-Spanish Colonization

Native peoples lived in small tribes in the area before the Spanish conquisition.[8] The native tribes in South Texas were known to be hunter-gatherer peoples.[9] The area was known for its smaller nomadic tribes collectively called Coahuiltecan.[9] Native archeological excavations near Brownsville have shown evidence of prehistoric shell trading.[10]

Spanish Colonization

Initially the Spanish had a hard time conquering the area due to the differences in native languages so they mainly focused on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico also known as the Seno Mexicano.[11] There was also a major conflict on who would be the one to conquer the region. Antonio Ladrón de Guevara wanted to colonize the region but the Viceroy of New Spain José Tienda de Cuervo doubted Ladrón de Guevara's character eventually leading to a royal Spanish declaration preventing Ladrón de Guevara from participating in colonization efforts.[12][13]

The first Villas in the region were settled in Laredo and Reynosa in 1767.[11] In 1805 the Spanish government solidified the autonomy of the region by defining the territory of Nuevo Santander as south of the colony of Tejas from the Nueces River south to Tampico, Charcas, and Valles.[11][13] The local government of the region had a rough start with various indigenous wars up until 1812.[14] In 1821 after the Mexican War of Independence the state was renamed Tamaulipas.

The Republic of Texas

The Texas Revolution of 1835-1836 put the majority of what is now called the Rio Grande Valley under contested Texan sovereignty.[15] The area also became a thoroughfare for runaway slaves fleeing to Mexico.[16]

1846-1900s Becoming Part of the United States of America

In 1844 James K. Polk annexed the Republic of Texas into the United States against British and Mexican sentiments.[17] According to several scholars the Mexican–American War broke out because of the annexation.[17] The area along the Rio Grande was the source of several major battles including the Battle of Resaca de la Palma near Brownsville.[18] The war ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which defined the United States' southern border as the Rio Grande River. The change in government led to a mass migration from Tamaulipas to the United States side of the river.[19]

From the end of the Mexican-American War the population of the valley began to grow and farmers began to raise cattle in the area.[19] Despite the end of the formal war in 1848, there continued to be inter-racial strife between native peoples and the white settlers over land through the 1920s.[20][21]

Early 1900s and the Mexican Revolution

At the turn of the 20th century trade and immigration between Mexico and the United States was a normal part of society.[22] The development of the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railway in 1903 and the irrigation of the Rio Grande allowed the Rio Grande Valley to develop into profitable farmland.[23] Droughts in the 1890s and early 1900s caused smaller farmers and cattle ranchers to lose their lands. Rich white settlers brought by the railroad bought the land and displaced the Tejano ranchers.[24]

Meanwhile, across the river Mexico was dealing with the Mexican Revolution.[23] The revolution spilled over the border through cross-border supply raids, and in response President Taft sent the United States Army into the region beginning in 1911 and continuing until 1916 when the majority of the United States armed forces were stationed in the region. Texas governor Oscar Colquitt also sent the Texas Rangers into the area to keep the peace between Mexicans and Americans.[22]

The region played host to several well known conflicts including the backlash from the Plan of San Diego, and the racially fueled violence of Texas Ranger Harry Ransom.[22] In 1921 the United States Border Patrol came to the region with less than 10 officers.[25]

Initially the agency was focused on import/export business, especially alcohol during Prohibition in the United States, but later moved to detaining illegal aliens.[26]

The region had a significant increase of Border Patrol agents during World War I in conjunction with the Zimmermann Telegram.[27] The Texas Rangers also increased their presence as law enforcement in the region with a new class of Ranger that focused on determining Tejano loyalty.[28] They were often violent, carrying out retaliatory murders.[27] They were never held accountable to the law even though charges were brought in the Texas senate. [29]

There were two major military training facilities in the valley in Brownsville and Harlingen during World War II.[30]

Post World War II to Present

The North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA, was established in 1994 as a trade agreement between the three North American countries, The United States, Mexico, and Canada. NAFTA was supposed to increase trade with Mexico as they lowered or eliminated tariffs on Mexican goods.[31] Exports and imports tripled in the region and accounted for a trade surplus of $75 billion.[31] The Rio Grande Valley benefited from NAFTA in retail, manufacturing,and transportation. Due to the influx of jobs and exportation, many people migrated to the RGV, both documented and undocumented.[32] According to Akinloye Akindayomi in Drug violence in Mexico and its impact on the fiscal realities of border cities in Texas: evidence from Rio Grande Valley counties, NAFTA also indirectly aids the rise in immigration and drug smuggling practices between cartels in the region, with cartels profiting with over $80 billion. [32] The Trump Administration decided to make new accords with Mexico and Canada and replaced NAFTA with the new trade agreement, United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) in 2018.[33]

After the September 11 attacks, the Customs Border Security Act of 2001 established United States Border Patrol interior checkpoints with some situated at the north end of the Rio Grande Valley. This allows for a second line of defense in the ever increasing subtlety of smuggling.

More recently the organization We Build The Wall has begun construction on a section of the border wall in the valley. Local residents have express concerns about the project including the site's proximity to the National Butterfly Center and the Rio Grande River with its potential for seasonal flooding.[34] The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has ordered We Build The Wall to stop until they can review whether or not the construction violates a Treaty to resolve pending boundary differences and maintain the Rio Grande and Colorado River as the international boundary between the United States and Mexico signed in 1970.[35]

Geography and demographics

The Rio Grande Valley is not a true valley, but a floodplain, containing many oxbow lakes or resacas formed from pinched-off meanders in earlier courses of the Rio Grande.[1] Early 20th-century land developers, attempting to capitalize on unclaimed land, utilized the name "Magic Valley" to attract settlers and appeal to investors. The Rio Grande Valley is also called El Valle, the Spanish translation of "the valley", by those who live there.[36] The residents of the Rio Grande Valley no longer refer to the area as "El Mágico Valle del Río Grande" ("The Magical Valley of the Rio Grande"), but as "the valley". The main region is within four Texan counties: Starr County, Hidalgo County, Willacy County, and Cameron County. As of January 1, 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the population of the Rio Grande Valley at 1,305,782.[37] According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008, 86 percent of Cameron County, 90 percent of Hidalgo County, 97 percent of Starr County, and 86 percent of Willacy County are Hispanic.[38]

Major Metropolitan Areas

The largest city is Brownsville (Cameron County), followed by McAllen (Hidalgo County). Other major cities include Harlingen, Edinburg, Mission, Rio Grande City, Raymondville, Weslaco, Hidalgo and Pharr.[39] On the Mexican side of the border Matamoros, Río Bravo, and Reynosa are major cities.[2][3]


The major metropolitan areas in the Rio Grande River Valley are surrounded by smaller rural communities called Colonias.[40] These communities are primarily poor and hispanic. A case study of Corazón, a colonia in the region was studied and found to contain a majority of hispanic working class people who spoke Spanish as their primary language.[41] The areas often lack basic services like sanitation and sewage.[42] Flooding and lack of trash collection are among the major sanitation issues in colonias.[40] According to several sources including the book Justice and Space Matter in a Strong, United Latino Community, zoning laws and building codes are not enforced.[41] Many of these colonias are mixes of mobile homes and self-constructed houses owned by the residents.[43] The Bracero program enacted in the 1940s allowed Mexicans to cross the border and work in the agricultural fields. Most worked in the Rio Grande Valley, and due to a shortage of affordable houses, developers started selling them land in unincorporated areas; these clusters of homes over time became what are now known as Colonias.[40] According to the Housing Assistance Council, a nonprofit organization that tracks rural housing, approximately 1.6 million people live in 1,500 recognized colonias alongside the Mexico–United States border.[40]

Language Use

The residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley are generally bilingual in English and Spanish often mixing into Spanglish depending on demographics and context.[44][45] Government statistics for the region are often underreported due to underlying immigration issues.[46]


Spanish language plays an important role in all aspects of life. In 1982 a statistically significant majority of people in the Rio Grande Valley spoke Spanish.[47] People speak Spanish to communicate in all aspects of life including business, government, and at home.[45]

2017 United States Census American Community Survey Estimates[48]








Population 5 years and older 384,007 759,143 56,972 20,442
Speaks English only 102,074 119,489 2,072 8,252
Language other than English 281,933 639,654 54,900 12,190
Spanish 278,451 631,638 54,838 12,005
Other Indo-European Languages 1,302 2,126 3 155
Asian and Pacific Islander Languages 1,511 5,460 53 22
Other Languages 669 430 6 8

People often prefer Spanish to English in when interfacing with government officials as seen in the response to the region's 2018 flooding.[49]

Residents of the area often switch from English to Spanish and inter-mix both languages, this is called Spanglish. Spanglish is more than switching or knowing both languages, but it is a form of identifying with a community and living the environment.[5]


According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations and Membership Study the Rio Grande Valley is majority Unclaimed religious preference with Catholicism, Protestantism and other faith traditions playing statistically significant roles.[50] This trend has stayed the same with the organization's 2000, 1990, and 1980 censuses.[50]


The Catholic church has been present in the Rio Grande Valley since the Spanish colonization of the region.[51]

Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle

In San Juan, Texas the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle is a major Catholic shrine. Legend has it that after an accident with an acrobatic troupe an Native woman placed a statue of the virgin on a dead child and the child miraculously came back to life.[52] In 1920 the statue was enshrined in a chapel.[53] In 1970 a plane crashed into the Basilica causing serious damage but the statue of Our Lady of San Juan was unharmed.[54]

Protestantism (Christian)

As of 2010 there were several organized protestant churches in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.[50] In the 1850s Ramon Motsalvage and his wife were Presbyterian missionaries to Brownsville, Texas.[55] They were publicly opposed by the local Catholic Curate but well received by the local press.[56]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As of the 2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations and Membership Study, there are 26 congregations with about 17,000 members.[50] The church began with a small Branch serving the area in the early 1900s and by 1952 there were two Stakes.[57] Also in 1952, the El Paso 3rd Ward; the first Spanish speaking Ward in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was created.[58]

In January 1996 Gordon B. Hinckley then the church's president with Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (LDS Church) visited the congregations of the region.[59]

Most recently the church is preparing to construct the McAllen Texas Temple.[60] A Temple is different from a regular meetinghouse and is a sacred space where members go to make promises with God.[61]

Other religious groups


The Al Khair Islamic Society of Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas provides education and worship services for Muslims in the valley.[62] It's Arridwan Mosque holds a yearly Islamic Festival.[63]

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith has several congregations around the Rio Grande Valley.[64] The faith has had a presence in the region since at least 1975 where they hosted an event showing the film Paso a Paso.[65]


The Rio Grande Valley experiences a warm and fair climate that brings visitors from many surrounding areas.[7] Temperature extremes range from triple digits during the summer months to freezing during the winter.[66] While the valley has seen severe cold events before, such as the 2004 Christmas snow storm, the region only occasionally experiences temperatures at or below freezing.[66]

The Rio Grande Valley's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico makes it a target for hurricanes. Though not impacted as frequently as other areas of the Gulf Coast of the United States, the valley has experienced major hurricanes in the past. Hurricanes that have made landfall in or near the area include: Hurricane Beulah (1967), Hurricane Allen (1980), Hurricane Gilbert, Hurricane Bret, Hurricane Dolly (2008), Hurricane Alex (2010), and Hurricane Harvey. Having an especially flat terrain, the valley usually experiences the catastrophic effects of tropical cyclones in the form of flooding.[49]


The Lower Rio Grande Valley encompasses landmarks that attract tourists, and popular destinations include: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park; and on the coast: South Padre Island, Brazos Island, and the Port Isabel Lighthouse.

The valley is a popular waypoint for tourists visiting northeast Mexico.[67] Popular destinations across the border and Rio Grande include: Matamoros, Nuevo Progreso, Río Bravo, and Reynosa, all located in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

The valley also attracts tourists from the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Mexico, D.F. (México City).

Places of historical interest


The valley is historically reliant on agribusiness and tourism. Cotton, grapefruit, sorghum, maize, and sugarcane are its leading crops, and the region is the center of citrus production and the most important area of vegetable production in the State of Texas. Over the last several decades, the emergence of maquiladoras (factories or fabrication plants) has caused a surge of industrial development along the border, while international bridges have allowed Mexican nationals to shop, sell, and do business in the border cities along the Rio Grande. The geographic inclusion of South Padre Island also drives tourism, particularly during the Spring Break season, as its subtropical climate keeps temperatures warm year-round.[69] During the winter months, many retirees (commonly referred to as "Winter Texans") arrive to enjoy the warm weather,[7] access to pharmaceuticals and healthcare in Mexican border crossings such as Nuevo Progreso.[70] There is a substantial health-care industry with major hospitals and many clinics and private practices in Brownsville, Harlingen, and McAllen.

Texas is the third largest producer of citrus fruit in United States, the majority of which is grown in the Rio Grande Valley. Grapefruit make up over 70% of the valley citrus crop, which also includes orange, tangerine, tangelo and Meyer lemon production each Winter.[71]

There are two minor professional sports teams that play in the Rio Grande Valley: The Rio Grande Valley Vipers (basketball), and Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (soccer). Defunct teams that previously played in the region include: the Edinburg Roadrunners (baseball), La Fiera FC (indoor soccer), Rio Grande Valley Ocelots FC,(soccer), Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings (baseball), Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (ice hockey), and the Rio Grande Valley Sol (indoor football).

One of the valley's major tourist attractions is the semi-tropical wildlife. Birds and butterflies attract a large number of visitors every year all throughout the entire valley. Ecotourism is a major economic force in the Rio Grande Valley.[72][73]


Rio Grande Valley Vote
by Party in Presidential Elections
Year GOP DEM Others
2016 29.0% 81,885 67.6% 190,922 3.40% 9,544
2012 29.6% 68,927 69.3% 161,804 1.00% 4,433
2008 31.2% 69,287 67.8% 150,424 1.00% 2,033
2004 45.8% 90,493 53.8% 106,300 0.40% 789
2000 39.5% 69,801 59.1% 104,327 1.40% 2,505
1996 29.2% 44,959 65.8% 101,327 5.00% 7,605
1992 30.7% 49,798 56.6% 91,667 12.7% 20,523
1988 37.0% 56,479 62.5% 95,425 0.50% 671
1984 46.5% 68,602 53.2% 78,625 0.30% 435
1980 42.9% 51,233 54.9% 65,571 2.14% 2,559
1976 35.3% 37,853 64.0% 68,661 0.70% 772
1972 56.8% 48,442 42.7% 36,410 0.05% 390
1968 38.1% 28,831 55.1% 41,665 6.80% 5,147
1964 34.1% 23,002 65.7% 44,374 0.20% 169
1960 40.4% 25,465 59.0% 37,239 0.60% 360
1956 54.2% 27,425 44.7% 22,621 1.04% 525
1952 60.2% 32,185 39.6% 21,189 0.15% 79
1948 36.8% 11,764 60.8% 19,439 2.5% 786
1944 37.5% 10,211 56.6% 15,406 5.86% 1,595
1940 36.4% 9,065 63.4% 15,789 0.25% 63
1936 26.1% 5,818 71.7% 15,960 2.24% 498
1932 20.9% 5,045 78.0% 18,837 1.14% 275
1928 49.7% 8,368 50.1% 8,897 0.16% 27
1924 24.6% 2,395 71.3% 6,950 4.17% 407
1920 38.0% 2,115 60.9% 3,382 1.06% 59
1916 19.5% 805 78.8% 3,250 1.67% 69
1912 9.17% 445 85.0% 4,125 5.83% 283

According to the Secretary of State of Texas, the region has a better voter turnout in presidential elections.[74] The region is represented by Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in the United States Senate and in the United States House of Representatives by Filemon Vela Jr. and Vicente Gonzalez.[75]

Politiqueras, women hired to help elderly people vote, are crucial in South Texas elections. There was an incident in 2013 where Politiqueras were arrested accused of bribing voters.[76] Cecilia Ballí of Texas Monthly wrote that voters expect to get favors from politicians they vote for, and if they do not get these favors they become resentful of politicians as a whole.[77]

The 2018 US Senate Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke received 164,232 votes from the region in his failed bid to oust incumbent Republican US Senator from Texas Ted Cruz.[78]

In 2019 the mayor of Edinburg, Texas, Richard Molina, was arrested for voter fraud.[76] At a state level, there was an investigation into whether or not several thousand non-citizens had registered to vote including 1,600 people in Cameron County.[79]


Historically education has posed significant challenges to schools in the region. Schools in the early 1920s through the 1940s were racially segregated in the Rio Grande Valley. In 1940 a study showed the need for improvement in cultural differentiation of instruction.[80]The Texas Supreme court in Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra reinforced the racial segregation.[81] In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Bilingual Education Act, helping students whose second language was English. The Act gave financial assistance to local schools to create bilingual programs, enabling Mexican students to integrate white schools.[81] The area like many others had a hard time integrating.[82] Texas still has the bilingual program, while states like: California, Arizona, and Massachusetts, have removed the bill and passed similar propositions stating that students would only be taught in English.[81] The bilingual program in the Rio Grande Valley is still in effect especially with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students in the area.[81]

Colleges and universities located in the Rio Grande Valley include:


Club Sport League Venue Capacity
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros Soccer USLC H-E-B Park 9,735
Rio Grande Valley Vipers Basketball NBA G League Bert Ogden Arena 9,000
RGV Barracudas FC Indoor Soccer MASL Payne Arena 6,800
UTRGV Basketball Men NCAA Division I Basketball WAC UTRGV Fieldhouse 2,500


Club Sport League
Rio Grande Valley Dorados Arena football af2 (2004–09)
Rio Grande Valley Bravos FC Soccer PDL (2008–010)
Rio Grande Valley Magic Arena football SIFL (2011)
LSFL (2012)
Rio Grande Valley Sol Arena football LSFL (2014)
XLIF (2015)
Hidalgo La Fiera Arena soccer MASL (2012–14)
Edinburg Roadrunners Baseball Texas–Louisiana League (2001)
Central Baseball League (2002–05)
United League Baseball (2006–10)
North American League (2011–12)
Rio Grande Valley Giants Baseball Texas League (1960–61)
Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings Baseball Texas–Louisiana League (1994–2001)
Central Baseball League (2002–03)
United League Baseball (2006–10)
North American League (2011–12)
Texas Thunder Baseball United League Baseball (2009–10)
North American League (2011–12)
United League Baseball (2013)
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees Ice hockey CHL (2003–12)
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees Ice hockey NAHL (2013–15)
Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees Ice hockey USA Central Hockey League (2018)


  • Cornerstone Regional Hospital, Edinburg, Texas
  • Edinburg Children's Hospital, Edinburg, Texas
  • Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg, Texas
  • Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Edinburg, Texas
  • Harlingen Medical Center, Harlingen, Texas
  • McAllen Heart Hospital, McAllen, Texas
  • McAllen Medical Center, McAllen, Texas
  • Rio Grande Regional Hospital, McAllen, Texas
  • Rio Grande State Hospital, Harlingen, Texas
  • Solara Hospital, Harlingen, Texas
  • VA Health Care Center at Harlingen. Harlingen, Texas
  • Valley Baptist Medical Center, Harlingen, Texas
  • Valley Baptist Medical Center, Brownsville, Texas
  • Valley Regional Medical Center, Brownsville, Texas
  • Knapp Medical Center, Weslaco, Texas
  • Mission Regional Medical Center, Mission, Texas



  • The Go Guide (published by Above Group Advertising Agency)
  • Rio Grande Magazine
  • Viva el Valle
  • RGV Drives Magazine (published by MAT Media Solutions)
  • RGVision Magazine (published by RGVision Media)


  • Valley Town Crier - owned by Gatehouse Media
  • The Edinburg Review - owned by Gatehouse Media
  • Valley Bargain Book - owned by Gatehouse Media
  • El Periódico USA
  • El Nuevo Heraldo - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • Mega Doctor News
  • Texas Border Business
  • The Brownsville Herald - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • The Island Breeze - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • The Monitor - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • Valley Morning Star - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • Valleywood Magazine



  • BLST Blistering Listens and Strange Sounds, Thank You (Rock, Punk, Hip-Hop, Electronic, Experimental, Ambient, & more)
  • KBFM Wild 104 (Hip Hop/Top 40 - IHeart Media)
  • XEEW-FM Los 40 Principales 97.7 (Top 40 Spanish/English)
  • KBTQ 96.1 Exitos (Spanish Oldies)Univision
  • KCAS 91.5 FM (Christian, Teaching/Preaching/Music)
  • KESO Digital 92.7 (Internacional, Spanish Top 40)
  • KFRQ Q94.5 The Rock Station (Classic/Modern/Hard Rock)
  • KGBT 1530 La Tremenda (Univision)
  • KGBT-FM 98.5 FM (Regional Mexican) Univision
  • KHKZ Kiss FM 105.5 & 106.3 (Hot Adult Contemporary)
  • KIRT 1580 AM Radio Imagen (Variety, Spanish contemporary)
  • KIWW (Spanish)
  • KJAV 104.9 Jack FM
  • KKPS La Nueva 99.5 (Regional Mexican)
  • KJJF/KHID 88.9/88.1 NPR (Classical/Public Radio)
  • KNVO-FM Super Estrella (Super Star) 101.1
  • KQXX Kiss FM 105.5 & 106.3 (Hot Adult Contemporary, simulcast of KHKZ - IHeart Media)
  • KTEX 100.3 (Mainstream Country - IHeart Media)
  • KURV 710 AM Heritage Talk Radio (part of the BMP family of stations)
  • KVLY 107.9 Mix FM (Top 40)
  • KVMV 96.9 FM (Christian, Contemporary Music) World Radio Network
  • KVNS 1700AM (Fox Sports Radio - IHeart Media)
  • XHRYA-FM 90.9 Mas Music (Spanish/English Mix)
  • KBUC Super Tejano102.1 (Tejano)

Notable people

A list of notable people who were born, lived, or died in the Rio Grande Valley includes:

See also

  • Flora of the U.S. Rio Grande Valleys


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