Rio Grande Valley

The Río Grande Valley (Spanish: Valle del Río Grande) is a transborder socio-cultural region located in a floodplain draining into the Rio Grande river near its mouth. The region includes the southernmost tip of South Texas and a portion of northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. It consists of the Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco, Pharr, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, San Juan, and Rio Grande City metropolitan areas in the United States and the Matamoros, Río Bravo, and Reynosa metropolitan areas in Mexico. These cities are surrounded by many small neighborhoods or colonias. The area is generally bilingual in English and Spanish with a fair amount of Spanglish due to the diverse history of the region. There is a large seasonal influx of "winter Texans" — Texans who come down from the north for the winter and then go back up north before summer arrives.


Pre-Spanish colonization

Map of indigenous peoples in North America

Native peoples lived in small tribes in the area before the Spanish conquisition. The native tribes in South Texas were known to be hunter-gatherer peoples. The area was known for its smaller nomadic tribes collectively called Coahuiltecan. Native archeological excavations near Brownsville have shown evidence of prehistoric shell trading.

Spanish colonization

Map of Spanish colonies along the Gulf of Mexico showing Texas, Nuevo Santander, Coahuila, and Nuevo León
Map of Spanish Colonies along the Gulf of Mexico in 1815

Initially the Spanish had a hard time conquering the area due to the differences in native languages so they mainly focused on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico also known as the Seno Mexicano. There was also a major conflict on who would be the one to conquer the region. Antonio Ladrón de Guevara wanted to colonize the region but the Viceroy of New Spain José Tienda de Cuervo doubted Ladrón de Guevara's character eventually leading to a royal Spanish declaration preventing Ladrón de Guevara from participating in colonization efforts.

The first Villas in the region were settled in Laredo and Reynosa in 1767. In 1805 the Spanish government solidified the autonomy of the region by defining the territory of Nuevo Santander as south of the colony of Tejas from the Nueces River south to Tampico, Charcas, and Valles. The local government of the region had a rough start with various indigenous wars up until 1812. In 1821 after the Mexican War of Independence the state was renamed Tamaulipas.

Republic of Texas and annexation by the United States

Map of the Republic of Texas 1841 with expansive borders

The Texas Revolution of 1835-1836 put the majority of what is now called the Rio Grande Valley under contested Texan sovereignty. The area also became a thoroughfare for runaway slaves fleeing to Mexico.

In 1844 the United States under President James K. Polk annexed the Republic of Texas, against British and Mexican sentiments, contributing to the onset of the Mexican–American War. The area along the Rio Grande was the source of several major battles including the Battle of Resaca de la Palma near Brownsville. The war ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which defined the United States' southern border as the Rio Grande River. The change in government led to a mass migration from Tamaulipas to the United States side of the river.

From the end of the Mexican-American War the population of the valley began to grow and farmers began to raise cattle in the area. Despite the end of the formal war in 1848, there continued to be inter-racial strife between native peoples and the white settlers over land through the 1920s.

Early 1900s and the Mexican Revolution

Irrigation outside of San Benito, Texas in 1916.

At the turn of the 20th century trade and immigration between Mexico and the United States was a normal part of society. The development of the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railway in 1903 and the irrigation of the Rio Grande allowed the Rio Grande Valley to develop into profitable farmland. Droughts in the 1890s and early 1900s caused smaller farmers and cattle ranchers to lose their lands. Rich white settlers brought by the railroad bought the land and displaced the Tejano ranchers.

Meanwhile, across the river Mexico was dealing with the Mexican Revolution. The revolution spilled over the border through cross-border supply raids, and in response President Taft sent the United States Army into the region beginning in 1911 and continuing until 1916 when the majority of the United States armed forces were stationed in the region. Texas governor Oscar Colquitt also sent the Texas Rangers into the area to keep the peace between Mexicans and Americans.

Capt. Monroe Fox and two other Rangers on horseback with their lariats around the bodies of dead Mexican bandits, after the Norias Ranch Raid August 8, 1915
Texas Rangers with dead Mexicans after the Raid on Norias Ranch outside Kingsville, TX

The region played host to several well known conflicts including the backlash from the Plan of San Diego, and the racially fueled violence of Texas Ranger Harry Ransom. In 1921 the United States Border Patrol came to the region with less than 10 officers. Initially the agency was focused on import and export business, especially alcohol during Prohibition in the United States, but later moved to detaining illegal aliens.

Poster recruiting men to serve in the US Army along the Rio Grande

The region had a significant increase of Border Patrol agents during World War I in conjunction with the Zimmermann Telegram. The Texas Rangers also increased their presence as law enforcement in the region with a new class of Ranger that focused on determining Tejano loyalty. They were often violent, carrying out retaliatory murders. They were never held accountable to the law even though charges were brought in the Texas senate.

There were two major military training facilities in the valley in Brownsville and Harlingen during World War II.

Post World War II to present

United States Border Patrol officers on horseback near McAllen, Texas

The North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA, was established in 1994 as a trade agreement between the three North American countries, The United States, Mexico, and Canada. NAFTA was supposed to increase trade with Mexico as they lowered or eliminated tariffs on Mexican goods. Exports and imports tripled in the region and accounted for a trade surplus of $75 billion. The Rio Grande Valley benefited from NAFTA in retail, manufacturing,and transportation. Due to the influx of jobs and exportation, many people migrated to the RGV, both documented and undocumented. According to Akinloye Akindayomi in Drug violence in Mexico and its impact on the fiscal realities of border cities in Texas: evidence from Rio Grande Valley counties, NAFTA also indirectly aids the rise in immigration and drug smuggling practices between cartels in the region, with cartels profiting with over $80 billion. The Trump Administration decided to make new accords with Mexico and Canada and replaced NAFTA with the new trade agreement, United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) in 2018.

Border Patrol vehicle along a portion of the Mexico-United States border wall

After the September 11 attacks, the Customs Border Security Act of 2001 established United States Border Patrol interior checkpoints with some situated at the north end of the Rio Grande Valley. This allows for a second line of defense in the ever increasing subtlety of smuggling.

More recently the organization We Build The Wall has begun construction on a section of the border wall in the valley. Local residents have express concerns about the project including the site's proximity to the National Butterfly Center and the Rio Grande River with its potential for seasonal flooding. The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has ordered We Build The Wall to stop until they can review whether or not the construction violates a Treaty to resolve pending boundary differences and maintain the Rio Grande and Colorado River as the international boundary between the United States and Mexico signed in 1970.


This is a bi-national map showing the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The Rio Grande Valley is not a true valley, but a floodplain, containing many oxbow lakes or resacas formed from pinched-off meanders in earlier courses of the Rio Grande. Early 20th-century land developers, attempting to capitalize on unclaimed land, utilized the name "Magic Valley" to attract settlers and appeal to investors. The Rio Grande Valley is also called El Valle, the Spanish translation of "the valley", by those who live there. The residents of the Rio Grande Valley no longer refer to the area as "El Mágico Valle del Río Grande" ("The Magical Valley of the Rio Grande"), but as "the valley". The main region is within four Texan counties: Starr County, Hidalgo County, Willacy County, and Cameron County.

Cityscape of McAllen, Texas

Major settlements

The largest city is Brownsville (Cameron County), followed by McAllen (Hidalgo County). Other major cities include Harlingen, Edinburg, Mission, Rio Grande City, Raymondville, Weslaco, Hidalgo and Pharr. On the Mexican side of the border Matamoros, Río Bravo, and Reynosa are major cities.

Dirt Road in a Colonia near Edinburg, Texas


As of January 1, 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the population of the Rio Grande Valley at 1,305,782. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008, 86 percent of Cameron County, 90 percent of Hidalgo County, 97 percent of Starr County, and 86 percent of Willacy County are Hispanic.


The major metropolitan areas in the Rio Grande River Valley are surrounded by smaller rural communities called colonias. These communities are primarily poor and Hispanic. The areas often lack basic services like sanitation and sewage, and suffer from flooding. Many of these colonias are mixes of mobile homes and self-constructed houses owned by the residents. The Bracero program enacted in the 1940s allowed Mexicans to cross the border and work in the agricultural fields. Most worked in the Rio Grande Valley, and due to a shortage of affordable houses, developers started selling them land in unincorporated areas; these clusters of homes over time became what are now known as colonias. According to the Housing Assistance Council, a nonprofit organization that tracks rural housing, approximately 1.6 million people live in 1,500 recognized colonias alongside the Mexico–United States border.

Language use

The residents of the Lower Rio Grande Valley are generally bilingual in English and Spanish often mixing into Spanglish depending on demographics and context. Government statistics for the region are often underreported due to underlying immigration issues.

The Spanish language plays an important role in all aspects of life. In 1982 a statistically significant majority of people in the Rio Grande Valley spoke Spanish. People speak Spanish to communicate in all aspects of life including business, government, and at home.

People often prefer Spanish to English when interacting with government officials as seen in the response to the region's 2018 flooding.


The Catholic Church has been present in the Rio Grande Valley since the Spanish colonization of the region. In San Juan, Texas the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle is a major Catholic shrine.

In addition to the Catholic Church, several other Christian denominations are present in the Rio Grande Valley, including several organized Protestant churches in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and 26 congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with about 17,000 members. The church began with a small branch serving the area in the early 1900s, and by 1952 there were two stakes. The El Paso 3rd Ward became the Church's first Spanish-speaking ward when it was created in 1952. In 2019, the Church announced the construction of a new McAllen Texas Temple.

Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and Baháʼí Faith communities thrive in the Rio Grande Valley.


The Rio Grande Valley experiences a warm and fair climate that brings visitors from many surrounding areas. Temperature extremes range from triple digits during the summer months to freezing during the winter. While the valley has seen severe cold events before, such as the 2004 Christmas snow storm, the region rarely experiences temperatures at or below freezing, especially by the coast, which transitions into a Tropical climate.

The Rio Grande Valley's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico makes it a target for hurricanes. Though not impacted as frequently as other areas of the Gulf Coast of the United States, the valley has experienced major hurricanes in the past. Hurricanes that have made landfall in or near the area include: Hurricane Beulah (1967), Hurricane Allen (1980), Hurricane Gilbert, Hurricane Bret, Hurricane Dolly (2008), Hurricane Alex (2010), and Hurricane Hanna (2020). Having an especially flat terrain, the valley usually experiences the catastrophic effects of tropical cyclones in the form of flooding.


The Lower Rio Grande Valley encompasses landmarks that attract tourists. Popular destinations include Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, South Padre Island, Brazos Island, and the Port Isabel Lighthouse.

The valley is a popular waypoint for tourists visiting northeast Mexico. Popular destinations across the border and Rio Grande include: Matamoros, Nuevo Progreso, Río Bravo, and Reynosa, all located in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

The valley also attracts tourists from the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Mexico, D.F. (México City).

Places of historical interest

The First Lift Station in Mission, Texas once provided water for irrigating the crops of the early Rio Grande Valley.


The valley is historically reliant on agribusiness and tourism. Cotton, grapefruit, sorghum, maize, and sugarcane are its leading crops, and the region is the center of citrus production and the most important area of vegetable production in the State of Texas. Over the last several decades, the emergence of maquiladoras (factories or fabrication plants) has caused a surge of industrial development along the border, while international bridges have allowed Mexican nationals to shop, sell, and do business in the border cities along the Rio Grande. The geographic inclusion of South Padre Island also drives tourism, particularly during the Spring Break season, as its subtropical climate keeps temperatures warm year-round. During the winter months, many retirees (commonly referred to as "Winter Texans") arrive to enjoy the warm weather, access to pharmaceuticals and healthcare in Mexican border crossings such as Nuevo Progreso. There is a substantial health-care industry with major hospitals and many clinics and private practices in Brownsville, Harlingen, and McAllen.

Box of Oranges, from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas (postcard, c. 1912–1924)

Texas is the third largest producer of citrus fruit in United States, the majority of which is grown in the Rio Grande Valley. Grapefruit make up over 70% of the valley citrus crop, which also includes orange, tangerine, tangelo and Meyer lemon production each Winter.

There are two minor professional sports teams that play in the Rio Grande Valley: The Rio Grande Valley Vipers (basketball), and Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (soccer). Defunct teams that previously played in the region include: the Edinburg Roadrunners (baseball), La Fiera FC (indoor soccer), Rio Grande Valley Ocelots FC,(soccer), Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings (baseball), Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (ice hockey), and the Rio Grande Valley Sol (indoor football).

One of the valley's major tourist attractions is the semi-tropical wildlife. Birds and butterflies attract a large number of visitors every year all throughout the entire valley. Ecotourism is a major economic force in the Rio Grande Valley.


Presidential election results
YearRepublicanDemocraticThird parties
202041.6% 147,28657.6% 203,4350.9% 3,382
201629.0% 81,88567.6% 190,9223.4% 9,544
201229.6% 68,92769.3% 161,8041.0% 4,433
200831.2% 69,28767.8% 150,4241.0% 2,033
200445.8% 90,49353.8% 106,3000.4% 789
200039.5% 69,80159.1% 104,3271.4% 2,505
199629.2% 44,95965.8% 101,3275.0% 7,605
199230.7% 49,79856.6% 91,66712.7% 20,523
198837.0% 56,47962.5% 95,4250.5% 671
198446.5% 68,60253.2% 78,6250.3% 435
198042.9% 51,23354.9% 65,5712.1% 2,559
197635.3% 37,85364.0% 68,6610.7% 772
197256.8% 48,44242.7% 36,4100.1% 390
196838.1% 28,83155.1% 41,6656.8% 5,147
196434.1% 23,00265.7% 44,3740.2% 169
196040.4% 25,46559.0% 37,2390.6% 360
195654.2% 27,42544.7% 22,6211.0% 525
195260.2% 32,18539.6% 21,1890.2% 79
194836.8% 11,76460.8% 19,4392.5% 786
194437.5% 10,21156.6% 15,4065.9% 1,595
194036.4% 9,06563.4% 15,7890.3% 63
193626.1% 5,81871.7% 15,9602.2% 498
193220.9% 5,04578.0% 18,8371.1% 275
192849.7% 8,36850.1% 8,8970.2% 27
192424.6% 2,39571.3% 6,9504.2% 407
192038.0% 2,11560.9% 3,3821.1% 59
191619.5% 80578.8% 3,2501.7% 69
19129.17% 44585.0% 4,1255.8% 283

The region is represented by Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in the United States Senate and by Filemon Vela Jr. and Vicente Gonzalez in the United States House of Representatives.

In the twenty-first century, the dominance of agribusiness has caused political issues, as jurisdictional disputes regarding water rights have caused tension between farmers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Scholars, including Mexican political scientist Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, have argued that this tension has created the need for a re-developed strategic transnational water management. Some have declared the disputes tantamount to a "war" over diminishing natural resources. Climatologists believe water scarcity in the Valley will only increase as climate change alters the precipitation patterns of the region.

Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke received 164,232 votes from the region, compared to incumbent Ted Cruz's 79,049, in his failed bid to replace Cruz in the Senate in 2018.

Unlike most of Texas the Rio Grande Valley is strongly Democratic having last voting for a Republican presidential candidate in 1972 and only 3 times since 1912 along with 1952 and 1956.

In 2016, Donald Trump's won only 29 percent of the region's vote, an 80-year low for Republicans. However, in 2020, he significantly strengthened the Republican vote in the Rio Grande Valley, reducing, among other things, Hillary Clinton's 2016 60-point margin of victory in 96% Hispanic Starr County to only 5 points.


Historically education has posed significant challenges to schools in the region. Schools in the early 1920s through the 1940s were racially segregated in the Rio Grande Valley. In 1940 a study showed the need for improvement in cultural differentiation of instruction. The Texas Supreme Court in Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra reinforced the racial segregation. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Bilingual Education Act, helping students whose second language was English. The Act gave financial assistance to local schools to create bilingual programs, enabling Mexican students to integrate white schools. The area like many others had a hard time integrating. Texas still has the bilingual program, while states like California, Arizona, and Massachusetts, have removed the bill and passed similar propositions stating that students would only be taught in English. The bilingual program in the Rio Grande Valley is still in effect especially with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students in the area.

Colleges and universities located in the Rio Grande Valley include:




  • Cornerstone Regional Hospital, Edinburg, Texas
  • Edinburg Children's Hospital, Edinburg, Texas
  • Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg, Texas
  • Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Edinburg, Texas
  • Harlingen Medical Center, Harlingen, Texas
  • McAllen Heart Hospital, McAllen, Texas
  • McAllen Medical Center, McAllen, Texas
  • Rio Grande Regional Hospital, McAllen, Texas
  • Rio Grande State Hospital, Harlingen, Texas
  • Solara Hospital, Harlingen, Texas
  • VA Health Care Center at Harlingen. Harlingen, Texas
  • Valley Baptist Medical Center, Harlingen, Texas
  • Valley Baptist Medical Center, Brownsville, Texas
  • Valley Regional Medical Center, Brownsville, Texas
  • Knapp Medical Center, Weslaco, Texas
  • Mission Regional Medical Center, Mission, Texas



  • The Go Guide (published by Above Group Advertising Agency)
  • Rio Grande Magazine
  • Viva el Valle
  • RGV Drives Magazine (published by MAT Media Solutions)
  • RGVision Magazine (published by RGVision Media)


  • Valley Town Crier - owned by Gatehouse Media
  • The Edinburg Review - owned by Gatehouse Media
  • Valley Bargain Book - owned by Gatehouse Media
  • El Periódico USA
  • El Nuevo Heraldo - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • Mega Doctor News
  • Texas Border Business
  • The Brownsville Herald - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • The Island Breeze - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • The Monitor - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • Valley Morning Star - owned by AIM Media Texas
  • Valleywood Magazine



  • BLST Blistering Listens and Strange Sounds, Thank You (Rock, Punk, Hip-Hop, Electronic, Experimental, Ambient, & more)
  • KBFM Wild 104 (Hip Hop/Top 40 - IHeart Media)
  • XEEW-FM Los 40 Principales 97.7 (Top 40 Spanish/English)
  • KBTQ 96.1 Exitos (Spanish Oldies)Univision
  • KCAS 91.5 FM (Christian, Teaching/Preaching/Music)
  • KESO Digital 92.7 (Internacional, Spanish Top 40)
  • KFRQ Q94.5 The Rock Station (Classic/Modern/Hard Rock)
  • KGBT 1530 La Tremenda (Univision)
  • KGBT-FM 98.5 FM (Regional Mexican) Univision
  • KHKZ Kiss FM 105.5 & 106.3 (Hot Adult Contemporary)
  • KIRT 1580 AM Radio Imagen (Variety, Spanish contemporary)
  • KIWW (Spanish)
  • KJAV 104.9 Jack FM
  • KKPS La Nueva 99.5 (Regional Mexican)
  • KJJF/KHID 88.9/88.1 NPR (Classical/Public Radio)
  • KNVO-FM Super Estrella (Super Star) 101.1
  • KQXX Kiss FM 105.5 & 106.3 (Hot Adult Contemporary, simulcast of KHKZ - IHeart Media)
  • KTEX 100.3 (Mainstream Country - IHeart Media)
  • KURV 710 AM Heritage Talk Radio (part of the BMP family of stations)
  • KVLY 107.9 Mix FM (Top 40)
  • KVMV 96.9 FM (Christian, Contemporary Music) World Radio Network
  • KVNS 1700AM (Fox Sports Radio - IHeart Media)
  • XHRYA-FM 90.9 Mas Music (Spanish/English Mix)
  • KBUC Super Tejano102.1 (Tejano)

Notable people

A list of notable people who were born, lived, or died in the Rio Grande Valley includes:

See also

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article Rio Grande Valley, released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.