This piece of land that lies alongside the border of Texas and Mexico is a place of light—striking, stunning , and, at times, dangerous sunlight. The evenings, as the sun relents, can be a time of great beauty, when just a bit of shade allows things to seem to shine from within.
This noon, Ramona Casas of Project ARISE took me to one of the more desolate places in the Valley, a neighborhood called “Frontier Estates.” The endless line of shacks and trailer homes parked in the middle of what used to be cropland seemed to bow under the relentless heat. Trees and shade are scarce. I have on my cap and my sunglasses; I would like to add three more of each. Oppressive heat, that is exactly the right term.
And then I begin to notice things. A long extension cord extending from one home to another. “We lend them some electricity, because they have a baby and need to keep milk,” says the neighbor, a woman whose girl has aspirations to veterinary medicine. The family can barely pay their own light bill, but she just smiles at my mention of her generosity. “Sometimes they give us a little bit of money,” she says.
Down the street, parked under a small picnic tent are twenty-four children, managed by twelve teens who volunteer for the neighborhood summer program. Today the kids are happily making small bracelets, using pieces of duct tape to anchor the thread. There is no end to the fooling around, as the teens tease and joke with the little ones.
It is 105 degrees and I wonder at their patience. Pedro, a fellow who starts pre-med at Texas A&M in the fall tells me that someone did this for him when he was smaller. “It is what you do,” he says, nonchalantly, in the same tone as the neighbor who shares her neighbor’s burden of need, “Just passing the blessing along.”
At noon, we all go to the ARISE community center, where one of the mothers from the neighborhood, taking her turn, serves up a meal of chicken and noodles. We eat well, the heat still welling up around us, unable to stifle the chortling laughter of the children.
We stack the dishes; several other mothers come over to wash up. The older children prepare for the afternoon’s activities. “Reading,” one of the girls tell me. “It is very important to help the little ones learn to read.” Off she goes, hand in hand with a smaller one, whistling. It seems to be that she is glowing from within.