Yandery de la Cruz, Rio Grande City Main Street Coordinator
The Rio Grande City Main Street Program is a dynamic endeavor that aims to preserve, revitalize, and celebrate the heart of this historic South Texas community. Nestled along the banks of the iconic Rio Grande River along the US-Mexico border and steeped in cultural heritage, Rio Grande City, Texas, presents many advantages for those entrusted with upholding the city’s vibrant character while propelling it into a brighter future.
Managing the Rio Grande City Main Street Program requires me to be mindful of the sensitivities surrounding immigration, trade policies, and geopolitical issues. Building bridges of understanding and fostering a sense of unity within the community helps me navigate these currents.
A Cultural Tapestry
One of the most remarkable aspects of Rio Grande City is its rich cultural heritage. The blend of Mexican and American traditions is deeply embedded in the city’s history. This results in a rich and dynamic cultural tapestry that we harness to create a unique and vibrant Main Street experience that draws visitors, supports local businesses and celebrates our community's identity. Our downtown often taps into this diversity by offering products, services, and experiences that reflect the fusion of cultures. In 2018, Rio Grande City received the Texas Downtown's President's Award for its Viva Mexico Celebration event. The event was created by the Rio Grande City Tourism Department to serve as a celebration of the region's cultural heritage.
Bilingual outreach is vital in a border community like ours. Our outreach efforts must engage both English and Spanish-speaking audiences. This includes providing information, resources, and services in both languages. My ability to fluently read, write, and speak Spanish and English allows me to effectively bridge the language gap between monolingual communities and further promote our program’s initiatives.
Our city’s proximity to Mexico also provides our Main Street businesses the opportunity to draw from a binational customer base. The international bridge crossing in Rio Grande City serves as a gateway to a robust trade economy. Our program has the unique advantage of leveraging this cross-border economic synergy to attract new businesses and tourists. Rio Grande City offers the convenience of brand shopping and dining that attracts customers from Mexico to visit and patronize our downtown businesses. By promoting our businesses on social media, we can showcase the types of businesses our customers from Mexico can find when they visit downtown Rio Grande City.
I draw support from volunteers in the Main Street Advisory Board, the City’s Historic Commission, civic groups, and economic development partners to help foster a sense of ownership and pride among our residents. We’ve learned that flexibility and adaptability are key attributes of effective cross-border collaboration. Joint events, cultural exchanges, and tourism initiatives help enhance the local economy and strengthen cultural ties.
One such successful partner collaboration project that supports historic preservation is Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise (CORE). Initiated by the Rio Grande City Economic Development Corporation, the program focuses on commercial redevelopment through demolition and clean-up of dilapidated properties throughout Rio Grande City. It is through this program, that we worked to salvage the intricately painted indoor murals depicting Mexican cultural iconography of a much-beloved historical building, locally known as Café Mexico.
To address the economic disparities in our border community, our program encourages economic diversification. We collaborate with the university’s small business development center to help bring business and entrepreneur education and training to support the development and growth of diverse businesses and industries that will encourage long-term economic stability.
By organizing festivals and events that celebrate the diversity of our community we attract visitors interested in experiencing the city’s rich history and traditions. These events not only generate revenue for local businesses but also foster a sense of pride and belonging among residents.
This year, I am proud to collaborate with the Kelsey Bass Museum and the Rio Grande City Public Library to host Grito en el Kiosko y Noche de Mercado, a Rio Grande City twist to the traditional 16 de Septiembre celebration. For this one night, we will use multi-color garlands, embroidered tapestry, and decorative lights to transform our downtown square into a rich, immersive experience evocative of quintessential central plazas in Mexican towns.
Building a Welcoming City
Border towns in general often attract a steady stream of tourists interested in experiencing the blend of two cultures. Rio Grande City is no different. By showcasing local heritage, cuisine, and arts through our programs, we are cultivating a tourism industry that sustains local businesses and enhances the town's reputation as a must-visit historic destination.
Every year from January to March, we experience a surge in tourism from our “Winter Texan” visitors who take up temporary residence in the Rio Grande Valley in order to escape the harsh winters of the north. Winter Texans are drawn by the city's historical significance, vibrant cultural events, and access to outdoor activities like birdwatching, fishing, and hiking. Year after year, they visit and bring along others to experience Bessie III, a trolley tour of local historic landmarks. They also enjoy an authentic Texas-style Mexican-American cuisine that sets us apart from the rest of the country.
Running the Rio Grande City Main Street Program is a noble endeavor that demands a delicate balance between preserving the past and planning for the future. By capitalizing on our cultural heritage, fostering economic diversification, and actively involving the community, Rio Grande City can continue to thrive and evolve while staying true to its unique identity. The Main Street Program plays a pivotal role in steering the city toward a brighter, more prosperous future, where history and progress coexist harmoniously along the Rio Grande River. I’m humbled at the opportunity and privileged to take part in this remarkable effort.