I grew up knowing what it’s like to have the Rio Grande in front of me and behind me at the same time.
Los Ebanos, Texas, the land my family continues to call home, is positioned on a loop of the river that dips deep into Mexico, and the streets and neighborhoods are stretched out between where the river curves south and where it curves back northward.
My family members, along with most of the other 360 people in the community, have lived their entire lives here. They say, no cruzamos la frontera; la frontera nos cruzó, we didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us. Many of us are descendants of the original families who were issued land grants by the Spanish crown in the 1700s. The Los Ebanos Ferry, also known as El Chalan, the only hand-drawn ferry across the Rio Grande, strengthens the relationships people have with the Rio Grande, and fortifies our ties with Mexico.
It’s our unique location that has put my community at risk of losing it all. Customs and Border Protection plans to build a border wall across Los Ebanos from one river bend to the other, cutting off this loop, and some of the town, from the rest of the United States.
The 20- to 30-foot-high wall with its 150-foot cleared enforcement zone would threaten life here in every sense. It would strip people of their property or limit their access to it. It would destroy beautiful brushlands and harm the wildlife that depends on it. Since border walls are known to fill with debris and channel floodwaters, a wall here would increase the flood risk that we already face.
But even more heart-rending than these physical impacts, this wall would threaten many significant relationships people in Los Ebanos have developed with the land and with the river over hundreds of years.
We have already suffered under the impacts of border militarization, with two active Border Patrol stations and ever-present Border Patrol vehicles. As my father says, en Los Ebanos hay más helicópteros que pájaros, there are more helicopters than there are birds in Los Ebanos. Being under constant surveillance is dehumanizing. Long-time residents can’t go near the river without Border Patrol agents assuming they are undocumented or trafficking drugs. It is arguable that the agents are “just doing their job.” However, visiting our own stretch of the river should not be associated with crime, and we should not be targeted for doing so.
The border wall would intensify this oppression. Enjaulados is the word that people use to describe our lives if the wall is built. “They might as well put us in a cage because that is how it would feel,” a community member expressed. People are being dispossessed from their homes even without losing them physically.
But the stories people hold deeply in their hearts bring life and hope to the community despite the threats of the border wall. Every tree branch and every drop of water in the river yearns to tell a story, and my fellow Los Ebanos residents are no different.
Noe Garza a lifelong resident, tells me how he left a part of him in the brush. And by that he means it literally! He tells the story of how he lost his eye one day as he was exploring the monte, the forest. Does he regret it? No, to this very day, he continues to fish, hunt and even celebrate family birthdays by the river.
Aleida Flores Garcia, owner of Rancho La Paloma, describes with joy the memories of celebrating Easter by the river. Now, she opens the ranch on Easter Day for the entire community to enjoy. The adults hide the Easter eggs in the shrubs and the children wait in absolute excitement by the picnic area. The sound of the river, the melody of laughter and the light of the sunset painted on the faces of our community: that is the purest definition of beauty.
Because people have strong historical and cultural ties with the land, because families have worked in Los Ebanos for centuries and have cultivated and preserved the land, it is only natural for them to identify as the land itself. Soy Los Ebanos, community members proudly say.
This wall would not simply divide a piece of land, but it would divide “home,” it would divide people, it would divide us from nature. Harming the land with the border wall, cutting off our access to the river, and making us visit parts of our own home through a cage damages us as people just as it damages the land. This wall would be a wound in the collective heart of Los Ebanos, a stab in the back, an amputation of a limb.
Los Ebanos does not need a wall, but it does need attention. We need to speak up and bring life to the many stories border communities and the Borderlands have to offer. Maybe then politicians will see the land and the river for what it truly is and not as another tool to win a foolish political game. Our own U.S. Representative, Henry Cuellar, voted for the wall that will tear through our community. But we are not afraid of our neighbors in Mexico and further to the south; we are afraid of politicians who fail to listen to us.
There is something much bigger than this wall, and that is our relationship with our river, and our will to continue to fight for the land we call home. They are trying to silence us under helicopter noises, Border Patrol sirens, and the false narrative of a dangerous border. Not anymore. My land and my community speak much more than words, and it is our duty to give voice to the story of Los Ebanos.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows the Rio Grande looking southeast into Mexico from Los Ebanos, Texas. The photo has been provided by the author of the op-ed, Fátima Garza.