Good question. A Valley Rat is an individual, who was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley down in south Texas, near the Mexican border. This area of Texas used to be part of Mexico and it didn’t become part of the United States until 1848, with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which was signed after the Mexican American War and the border was then officially adjusted southward to include all of the land north of the Rio Grande River.
This area in extreme south Texas is separated from the rest of Texas by the large King Ranch and it has become its own mini world where the influences of Mexico and Texas combine into a culture that differentiates itself from any other place in the United States. The flora and fauna are plentiful in the Valley with tropical plants, such as palm trees, mesquite trees, citrus trees, cactus, beautiful hibiscus plants, bougainvillea, century plants, papaya trees; and animals, such as deer, bobcat, ocelot, jaguarondi, javelina and mountain lion. However, if you look beyond the veneer of beautiful palms and hibiscus, there is a toughness of life that persists in the Valley, which can cause individuals difficulties in getting ahead in life and becoming successful.
The socioeconomic status of the Valley has always been lower to middle class and the area is primarily agricultural with most of the population involved in farming and the citrus industry. Back in the 60’s, there was a large migrant worker population that would work on farms and in packing sheds in the fall and winter in the Valley and then migrate north to Michigan to pick cherries in the summer. Back then, there were also large groups of illegal immigrant families from Mexico that would swim the Rio Grande River and work on cotton farms, picking cotton for the land owners in the summers. They would live in the shacks provided by the land owners and get paid a penny a pound for the cotton they picked. When the cotton season was over, these migrant workers would head back into Mexico or stay in Texas, looking for other work that could feed their families.
Kids growing up in the Valley during the 60’s typically were from hard working families that didn’t have a lot of assets and had to work hard to make ends meet. They lived in small two to three bedroom homes that did not have air conditioning or central heat. The young kids went barefoot during their youth and many mothers made their shirts and dresses. Even though this lifestyle was very simple and austere, the kids of that era didn’t realize that they were poor, but they knew that they had to work at various odd jobs just to have enough money to go to the movies or buy a pair of tennis shoes. The guys had to scrounge for money, working paper routes, mowing lawns or sacking groceries if they wanted anything extra in life. Thus the term Valley Rat was coined. I don’t know when the term was first used, but I remember the term being mentioned in the seventies.
The Valley Rat is a hard working, sun burned, barefoot kid from the Rio Grande Valley, who has had to scramble for any extra money just to pay for a soda or a pack of baseball cards. That was my early life. I was a Valley Rat and proud of it. We all have stories to tell and this is my story, Michael Ray Burns, the Valley Rat from Harlingen, Texas. Enjoy the read.
Note: This is a story about my life, growing up in the Rio Grande Valley in the 60’s. The names of my friends and associates during this period in my life have been changed to protect their true identities. Some of the events have been embellished to increase their entertainment value.
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