COMMENTARY: Beyond the river’s edge

I remember a place beyond the river’s edge where once young children played. A place that beckoned with its serenity and its beguiling charm. It was natural, open and free.

This was the edge of the Rio Grande that curved and turned and twisted its way along the fertile land that touched the river’s edge.

A river of promise and of tragedy, the Rio Grande defined a boundary between two worlds, and served as a golden gate to dreams. The allure of its beauty astounding to the eyes and to the soul. It’s naturalness and grandeur never failing to overwhelm the simple heart.

This was the majesty of the Rio Grande, where young children played along the river’s edge, and where heroic men and resilient and determined women braved the flowing currents to see the green, green valley that rested beyond the river’s edge.

This was my Valley. This was my home. This was where my roots were set and where my heart began to beat — in the valley by the Rio Grande.

My heritage explains the color of my skin. My legacy clarifies the passion I have within. I was born as free as the raging winds that blow across the open fields. I was born with the hunger to survive and to persevere. My stock was of dreamers and of visionaries who saw beyond the river’s edge. And like my parents and my ancestors, I too began to dream.

It wasn’t easy growing up in a place that demeaned and used and even abused those who toiled and strove to simply exist in the lands that had once belonged to us. It wasn’t easy to be identified as inferior or subordinate, simply because of the color of our skin or the birthplace of our ancestors. And it wasn’t easy to turn the other cheek and bend our backs and then reap the harvest from fields that had been seeded and tended by our blood and our sweat.

It wasn’t easy to be an American in that time when I grew up along the riverbank, when black and brown, and yellow and red were species inferior, subservient and subordinate to the Americans whose ancestors had crossed an ocean and landed on Plymouth Rock, as opposed to those of us whose ancestors just walked across a river to find their dream. It wasn’t easy in the early days growing up in the Valley by the Rio Grande. We had to know our place and we had to bow and scrape to make it through each day. But I still had my heritage and my legacy, and I continued to dream. Inside of me there always lurked the spark and the fire of those who had dreamed even before I came to be.

This past year was one of illumination and enlightenment. It was the year I finally came to terms with the fact that I was growing older, but not necessarily wiser. It’s isn’t easy to accept the inevitability of what comes next in a life that has seen the best and worst of men and of our humanity.

The year 2019 brought back memories of my youth along the Rio Grande, and of my personal confrontation with the brutality and cruelty of the war in Vietnam. The year also brought me recollections of the joys that family and friends brought into my life, as well as nostalgic glimpses back to moments and to episodes in my life that touched my heart, and times that brought me tears and sorrow.

Oh, how time has changed the valley along the river’s edge, and the lives of those who struggled and who sacrificed for those of us born into a time and into a place that that did not quite accept the fact that we were part of the family of man — sharing the universality of emotions and of devotions.

A lifetime has gone by and dreams have been lived and new horizons have emerged. Yet, after all the struggles and scuffles that we have sustained and endured over decades and generations, the resurrection of the malevolence of the past threatens the progress that has been made.

In 2019 I sensed and heard the whispered echoes of our past. And it saddens and dismays me at how quickly and how quietly we have begun to conform again, and to bow to words and actions (and inactions) that demean and degrade our legacy of hope and of dignity.

For many of us born and raised along the Rio Grande, the river represents the rich history of our heritage and the connection of people and of nations. I find it difficult to imagine our vista of the river’s edge obstructed by a man-made barrier or wall — making our wondrous Rio Grande no longer natural, open and free as it was meant to be. And I find it hard to imagine the river’s edge without the laughter and the joy of children playing, yet I saw in 2019, along the river’s edge, the images of cruelty and of death, and I heard the cries of anguish and despair by caged and defeated men, women and children, whose only crime was simply trying to exist.

It is hard for me to imagine the death of dreams and the rebirth of partition and division in the land of the brave and the free. Yet I see the ominous shadows of our past looming before us. And, unfortunately, too many do not recall the darkness of those early days along the river’s edge, nor the cruelty of those times.

I remember a place beyond the river’s edge where once I frolicked with untamed innocence and joy. I recall the tranquility of the riverbank and the soothing sound of the coldclear rushing waters that bathed the day in hope.

That was so many years ago, and yet I can still feel and smell the moment.

And as 2020 begins, I only hope that our children will continue to see beyond the river’s edge, and see the beauty and the passion of what it represents to those of us who lived the dreams of those that dared to step beyond the river’s edge.

I have learned, through the passing of the seasons, that age only makes our memories more profound and more potent, and that age amplifies regrets and diminishes the hardships and adversities that once defined our lives. But most of all, I am learning that my life along the river’s edge had meaning and purpose.

How well I remember the valley beyond the river’s edge — lush and green, with fields of promise and of hope.

May 2020 give a new generation a sense of their history, their heritage and their legacy, so that the best of us can flourish without resurrecting the worst of us and the transgressions of our past.

Al Garcia lives in Palm Valley.