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Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar of Weslaco (holding plaque) and Tampico physician Michelle Rubalcava (left) were jointly named Mr. Turista 2016 at the 40th Annual Tourist Day celebrations, held March 21, 2016, on the Progreso International Bridge.

PROGRESO, RGV – Texas historian, author, and Rio Grande Guardian columnist José ‘Joe’ Antonio López has suggested a huge celebration between U.S. -Mexico border communities in opposition to Donald Trump’s proposal that the border be closed.

Speaking on the Fox & Friends show on the Fox News Channel, the Republican front-runner for president suggested the U.S.-Mexico border be closed in response to the terror attacks in Brussels. Trump walked back the proposal when he appeared soon afterwards on CBS’s This Morning show.

José Antonio López
José Antonio López

The Texas Border Coalition, made up of cities, counties and economic development corporations from El Paso to Brownsville, quickly denounced Trump’s proposal. Its chairman, J.D. Salinas, a former Hidalgo County Judge, called it “ridiculous.”

Historian, author and columnist López praised the TBC for standing up to Trump and, in an email to Salinas, made a suggestion to the group.

“I recommend a distinctive experience event from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California, where local city councils, county commissioners, and business leaders simultaneously, at a set day and time, designate a Border Life Appreciation Day, with ceremonies and celebrations left to local officials,” López said.

“In doing so, border officials will vigorously voice their opposition to any plan to destroy the symbiotic relationship that has taken years to develop between so many bi-national communities all along the border. Said another way, the unique, close friendship must be celebrated, not destroyed by those who know little about the truly international and organic nature of our border.”

López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of four books, the latest being “Preserving Early Texas History.” He is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a website dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are largely overlooked in mainstream history books.

“I commend the Texas Border Coalition for its efforts to preserve the unique cultural and commercial aspects of the U.S.-Mexico border. I commend Chairman Salinas and the members of his organization,” López told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“It seems that with the current negative rhetoric displayed almost daily in the political arena – and sadly gaining negative momentum in the press – we must double our efforts. This is why I am suggesting a Border Life Appreciation Day.”

On behalf of the TBC, Salinas made this comment in response to Trump’s proposal:

“Closing our land border with Mexico would be a ridiculous staging of security theater: the practice of false efforts intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually achieve it.

“Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has made unprecedented investments in protecting the Southwest Border from the illegal entry of people, weapons, drugs and contraband. Those investments include personnel, technology and infrastructure. The story of the men and women protecting the Southwest border is a success story: seizing more currency, drugs, and weapons than ever. The Southwest border security team needs more resources, not false efforts that harm morale and the economy.”

Two candidates running for the open Congressional District 15 seat also weighed in on the Trump proposal. Both Republican Tim Westley and Democrat Vicente Gonzalez said Trump’s idea was absurd.

“Closing our borders is not realistic,” Westley said. “Safety is important but look at the amount of trade we do with Mexico. We are doing about a billion dollars of trade a day, legal trade, between the United States and Mexico. Shutting down the border would not only hurt border communities, it would hurt places like Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota. It is not just the border communities that would be hurt. It would also disrupt travel and relations with our neighbors. We would be hurting ourselves because Mexico is one of our top export nations.”

Gonzalez echoed these remarks. “We should absolutely not close our borders. Our Customs and Border Patrol agents have security measures in place to keep our borders safe. This clearly shows how Trump is out of touch when it comes to our border communities and our economy. Donald Trump’s statement goes hand-in-hand with his other hostile and racist remarks towards countries and women. They are statements designed to create fear or anger in people,” Gonzalez said.

J.D. Salinas
J.D. Salinas

An example of the strong cultural ties that bind south Texas and northern Mexico was on show this past week at the 40th Annual Tourist Day celebrations. At the event, hosted by the cities of Progreso, Texas, and Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, thousands of Winter Texans were honored with a luncheon in Nuevo Progreso, Tamaulipas. Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar of Weslaco and Tampico physician Michelle Rubalcava were jointly named Mr. Turista 2016.

“We must reject this anti-Mexican, anti-Hispanic rhetoric,” Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian, just before he was presented with his award on the middle of the Progreso International Bridge. “We need to be friendly neighbors. We get a lot of tourists from Mexico and Mexico gets a lot of tourists – today it is Winter Texans – from the United States. We both benefit and it is very important, culturally and economically. There are good people are on both sides of this bridge. Our two economies are intertwined. We especially welcome our neighbors from Mexico this week, Semana Santa, as they visit their family over here.”

Julie Ramirez has been bridge director of the Progreso International Bridge for the past 15 years. She said crossings have gone up over the past year.

“We have rebounded well; I am happy to say. We have seen more traffic this past year,” Ramirez said. “Today is very special. It is the 40th Anniversary of Tourist Day. We have 10,000 to 12,000 pedestrians, mostly Winter Texans, crossing the bridge for a big shebang before they go home. It is a great day and the Winter Texans are fun to entertain. They have so much energy.

“We look forward to this day all year long. We are happy the two countries unite on this day. We have a really good working relationship with the people of Nuevo Progreso, and their committee that helps put this on. We try to meet every chance we get. It is a great relationship.”