Del Rio, Texas – Flawed Perception? Texas Border Town Fights Misconceptions, Boasts Safe & Friendly Family Living
I’ll start by saying I was one of those people, when I first received notification of job transfer to Del Rio.
My wife and I came from Tucson, Arizona. Arizona has a lot of problems with the Mexican border and drug smuggling. It’s a great state, but the border is a big problem. We all have heard the stories of cartel wars in Nogales & Juarez, mass graves, kidnappings, stray bullets flying over the fence, murdered border ranchers, and the whole works. I’ve spent most of my life near the border, but not in a border town, per-se. So, Del Rio was our first real exposure to the remote, West Texas border, and initially thought...of all places to go! A previous coworker even asked, “who did you piss off?”
When you research Del Rio, you can’t find much about what people who actually live here think about it. And, actually, the only thing I really heard about it before we moved there was, “it’s only a three-hour drive to San Antonio”, as if Del Rio was a God-forsaken, run-down, dusty border town that everyone couldn’t wait to leave.
To be honest, I know some people feel that way, and my heart aches for them. In most cases, from what I’ve observed, it’s because they arrived close-minded to the opportunities and relationships that Del Rio and the surrounding area offers. I’m not talking about Mexico – although I’ve heard there is fun to be had there as well. I’m talking about a culture, that, if you choose to immerse yourself in it with no strings attached, will welcome and hold you like family.
You see, it’s the uneducated misconception of the town that Del Rio struggles with – one of its worst enemies – and that in itself deters many from ever experiencing it for real. Is Del Rio perfect? Absolutely not! Certainly, not every perception or rumor about the town is flawed. There is plenty that both the town and the townsfolk could do to improve the quality of life, economy, and attractiveness. This discussion is not about community development, however – it’s about the importance of being open-minded.
Listen, one of the first people I met in Del Rio told me that they had relocated here because they just loved the culture and the friendly, safe town. While encouraging to both me and my wife, we can both admit that we both thought this person must be a little crazy or something to want to do that. I tell you what, though – I’ve come to see why more and more folks – many of them transplants – are calling Del Rio home. They aren’t crazy, they have just learned to appreciate the real things in life that the community of Del Rio holds dear – things like faith, family, and community spirit.
But, without going any further, I’d like to address some of the perceptions that both my wife and I had when we were a little less educated about Del Rio before we moved here – and what the reality of the town actually is.
Misconception: Nobody Speaks English
Not true at all. While Spanish will certainly help you understand the local gossip standing in line at the H-E-B grocery store, you don’t have to speak any Spanish to get around. Signs are in English, menus are in English, and we even have English radio stations.
Now, if you are Hispanic, some Del Rioans may speak initially to you in Spanish, assuming that you speak Spanish. If you reply in English, they will be happy to accommodate you in your native tongue. Many Hispanic locals are bilingual, so this is common. I’ve also heard conversions switch languages mid-sentence. You will hear this the first few times and be confused, then just learn that that’s the way it goes.
One foot-note, however – it helps to be bilingual for job opportunities. This is a common “plus” in many places, not just border towns, but it really does make a difference here. No worries, my wife easily got a job upon arrival here and doesn’t speak Spanish.
Misconception: The Low Crime Rate Is Fudged
I suppose that I can’t say for sure that this is false, but I can say that I’ve never really witnessed a crime in Del Rio in the two years that I’ve been here. It is extremely safe. I never worry about my wife and young daughter at night, out on the town by themselves, or even if we left our front door wide open (not that we do that…).
I’ve read the arrest reports for a little mischief here and there – but compared to many other places that I’ve lived, Del Rio does not have me worried about safety and security. I’m actually way more worried about crime in San Antonio than in Del Rio.
I learned quickly that Texas does not tolerate drugs. In California, Oregon, and Arizona – three states that I lived in most of my life – it seemed like drugs just seemed to overwhelm small towns. Not Del Rio, Texas.
Del Rio isn’t drug-free. I’ve heard a few stories of folks getting caught with a little marijuana – and in some cases heavier narcotics or pills. But overall, I don’t see a bunch of people blazed out of their minds walking aimlessly down the street in Del Rio like I would see in many other places that I’ve lived.
A common side-effect of drugs – homelessness – is another thing that Del Rio appears to lack. I can’t remember the last time I saw a homeless family here. Del Rio doesn’t let folks go without a roof over their head.
Misconception: It’s a Barren Wasteland
Google Maps doesn’t help with this misconception. Do yourself a favor and don’t use Google Maps Satellite View to get an impression of Del Rio, sort of like I did originally. Del Rio and the local surrounding area is home to not only the Rio Grande and Amistad Reservoir, but also the Pecos River, the Devils River, the Frio River, the Nueces River, and Hill Country. My favorite local natural beauty is San Felipe Creek, which the city has done a great job developing into a wonderful park.
Del Rio is actually pretty diverse when it comes to nature. West of Del Rio is the Chihuahuan Desert and Big Bend. It’s dry, but serene. North and northeast of Del Rio is Hill Country – the closest Central Texas can come to forested mountains (hills). South and east of Del Rio may seem a bit barren for an hour or so, but is relieved by a bunch of farmland and much more humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. So, whether you want to spend a night under the desert stars, tube down the rivers in Hill Country, or start a garden – Del Rio gives you the opportunity to do so.
In conclusion, I think it’s only appropriate that I thank a number of unnamed people in Del Rio who welcomed my wife and me to this town. I remember telling my mom, when she asked about what I thought of Del Rio, I said, “I haven’t met someone who hasn’t smiled”. It’s a growing community, slowly, but surely. Every day it seems like there is a new organization or initiative in town with a passion for continuing to promote and develop the community, highlighting the pride that Del Rioans take in their city.
If I had never met many of the locals that I have come across if I didn’t have an open mind about Del Rio, I might still be lumped into the category of folks who can’t wait to leave. Fortunately, I’m in the other boat – the group that doesn’t want to leave.
- Dan Schreiber
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