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AFTERWORD /WAS BORN and raised there and I know it intimately, but I still can’t make much sense out of the Rio Grande Valley. At least, I haven’t been able to wrap it up in a neat, fashionable package that describes what the Valley is and what it means to grow up there. Others have. They have studied the history and the cultures. Some of them say the Valley is “Mexamerica a hybrid nation born of riches and impoverishment,” or something along those lines. Recently, newspaper reporters have taken to calling the U.S. Mexico border area a Third Country. Using a predictable measure of journalistic wonderment, they note the blending of languages, the intermarriage, the business ties, and other factors which form the body and the boundaries of this place so close to Mexico. Social workers have their own term for the Valley; they call it a “poverty pocket,” a phrase that still eludes me. I guess it is something like a pocket of corruption or discontent. I was too busy growing up in the Valley to examine it, and now the only elements I’m able to take up and study with any degree of success are the tangible results of the forces that shaped me, the moments, the events, the words. Many of these have been diluted by the passing of years, but they are all I’m able to hold. MY GRANDFATHER sitting in his room in our house in Donna and listening to Mexi can radio dramas. Sometimes he would sit on his bed and read his Bible. He had read it several times through by the time he died. J.L. De La Cruz, my boyhood buddy, and I watching Captain Kirk and Spock save the Universe on cool schoolday afternoons. Javier Rodriguez, a native of Donna, is a reporter for the San Antonio Light. 22 DECEMBER 20, 1985 Late summer evenings with the Donna High School marching band, standing on a practice field, feeling the cooling dusk settle in deepening shades of violet, the orange sun retiring gently against straight rows of palm trees. Making grocery deliveries in the dilapidated colonia south of Donna, walking into small cramped homes, accustomed and almost oblivious to the terrible war between poverty and dignity. The night the junior high school band ruined a halftime show when half of it, including my section, decided to stop at the 10-yard line and the other half decided to stop at the 5-yard line. The drum majorette sat in the bleachers afterward and cried. Scanning the Alerta, on sale in my father’s store, a Mexican tabloid with gruesome pictures of bloody babies and unrepentant killers, and then going home to sneak a read of my brother’s latest book by John ‘ Updike, scanning the pages for the splendid forays into eroticism. The Mexican produce dealer haggling with my father about the price of tomatoes. The dealer always sold tomatoes, it seems. Our very old mongrel dog Lobo who at this writing still eats stickers. Holding a sticker stem between his paws, he chews on the stickers with an exaggerated open and closing of his jaws as he lies calmly on the lawn. Childhood crushes on Anglo and Mexican American girls; they were all the same back then. The high school band trip when one of the tenor sax players took along a briefcase full of eight-track tapes, each broken open and stuffed full of marijuana. Our hotel room’s scent attracted attention. Traveling along the Valley’s country roads and listening as my mother and father engaged in a pleasant ritual of identifying the crops growing on either side: sorghum, corn, cabbage, cotton, carrots, oranges, tomatoes, onions, sugar cane. . . . My mother’s pet parrot, Pancho, who knows us all by name and likes to bite the hands that feed him. He enjoys coffee with cream in the mornings and has a terribly insulting laugh, used often after a successful biting attack. Fighting off sleep in the early morning darkness of uncounted Mother’s Days and Christmases, serenading at the homes of friends and relatives. I played the trumpet while my cousin played drums and an uncle strummed a guitar and sang. Others, now nameless and faceless, sang and played a haphazard assortment of band instruments, filling the cold night air with song. The Mighty Fighting Redskins, the high school football team, with an Asian kid as quarterback. The high school Spanish class .. . mostly Mexican American kids. It never seemed odd to me, but I guess it was. Doria Angelita, now gone on to other worlds. A tiny, frail woman with a whining voice, she enjoyed harassing us as children, and some of my friends believed she was a witch. Mr. King in junior high who once said, half-jokingly, that he didn’t knovsi, for sure why Hispanics received sc many Purple Hearts in Vietnam. don’t know if they’re braver or just too, dumb to run,” Mr. King said to a classroom of surprised and stoic sevpnth-graders, most of whom were Mexican American. , Mr. King taught history. Scoring perfect I’s in high school marching band competition, basking in the glory of triumph and in the comaraderie of collective success. The rivalry with Jim Boyce for first chair in the high school trumpet section. Without him, I doubt I would have become as proficient as I was. The death of my grandmother after a war with lung cancer. Somehow, I remember purple dye markings on her chest beneath her throat. As I walked out of the Baptist church at her funeral, I saw Martin, a friend, and waved and smiled at him in unrestrained pleasure. I was almost 10 years old, and my lack of sophistication has haunted me ever since. Working in the store and selling sixpacks of beer to old and crusty Don Eusebio Lopez, a short guy with a long Pancho Villa moustache, wrinkled skin the color of brown shoe leather, and a The Subtleties of Memory By Javier Rodriguez