I don’t have many pictures from our 15 months or so in the Rio Grande Valley. It was a pivotal year for both of us, a year of various medicine rotations where we experienced clinical medicine for the first time. It was our first exposure to the OR, the first time we delivered a baby, and the year we decided to pursue Internal Medicine. We spent the year in Harlingen, Texas with a small group of people from our medical school class. We called ourselves the RAHC pack after the acronym for the medical campus. Our group grew close over that year which we were thankful for, given that we had left our friend circle back in San Antonio. We tend to get a little nostalgic about that year and find ourselves missing “the valley” more than any other place in Texas. The valley is vast amounts of farmlands, dotted with small cities and colonias along the Mexican border. Spanish is the predominant language and Hispanic culture overflows into every aspect of living. It’s a beautiful place with even more beautiful people.
I remember our sunshine yellow apartment with palm trees out front. I remember coming home after 6 weeks abroad to find our entire kitchen floor black with bugs. I remember the intense heat and the muggy humidity, which left no shirt dry.
I remember medicine rotations where it was just the attending and myself. I was first assist in surgeries, the first in line to catch the babies, and worked one-on-one with physicians from each specialty. I learned so much more than I ever would have had I stayed in the academic center in San Antonio.
I remember the South Padre Island farmer’s market with the best grapefruit juice I’ve ever tasted. I remember the white sand beaches where we took my jeep through sand dunes before our sunset picnic. I remember the countless days in the sun, melting in the heat. We would run as fast as we could to the ocean to cool off, hopping from foot to foot as the sand burned our soles. I remember sky diving for the first time over the island and thinking, “damn this place is beautiful.” I remember the watermelon stands along the country road out to the island and the juiciest tropical fruit.
I remember my first time driving through the colonias, staring in shock at the shacks with no running water or sewage. I remember meeting the most resilient women I’ve ever encountered in those colonias, learning from them how grassroots organizations develop. I remember feeling helpless as two children cried while telling me about their father who was just deported to who knows where. I remember feeling fear, despite being a Caucasian US citizen, as border patrol agents drove by. And I will always remember my anger and frustration at how poorly our country treats human beings and how passionate yet incapable I felt about immigration.
This place moved me to my core. And I will never forget that little valley for how it shaped me. It was the first place that I truly understood what it felt like to be a minority, to be lost in a conversation due to a language barrier, to be so passionate about an issue that it hurts, and to love a community. I will always be grateful.
As always, sending my love to the valley.