The border fence in the southernmost tip of Texas adopts the ways of the Rio Grande River—or the Río Bravo, as it’s known in our neighboring country—contouring around it and splitting off the land of those who inhabited it long before. Built over the last decade or so, the fence is made up of rusty, thick bars that can reach a height of 18 feet. There are a group of people deep in the Río Grande Valley, for whom this border fence is not a political football, but a fact of life. The fence is literally in their backyards and, in some cases, slices right through it. It’s an everyday sight out of their windows.
These residents use the word muro interchangeably to refer to the existing border fence and to the proposed border wall. For this photo essay, five families living in the small Texas town of San Benito, a five-minute walk from México, told me what it’s like to live directly next to the muro.
Minerva “Mine” Hernández, 66
I was 19 years old, newly wed, when we moved here. I’ve been living here for 47 years now. All of my eight children were born here and I am so happy because I like living this way, out in the country. This place is very peaceful.
Many years ago my dad used to live here and we, my husband and children, used to have a small house next door. When my parents started getting sick, since I was the one living next to them, I had to take care of them day and night. My dad passed away first and then my mom. She would always say, “This land will be Mine’s. This house will be Mine’s.” We have always been very close to each other, so nobody had a problem with me inheriting the property when both of my parents passed away.
We are happier now that they build the border fence because the river is just a few minutes away within walking distance, and we feel safer. Before they built it, a lot of people would come through my property. Now ever since the border fence is there, we don’t see people passing through anymore.
Abel Longoria, 16
I live a few doors down from my grandma [Mine]. She is like a second mother to me. All my life I’ve sort of lived away from people. I don’t like the city that much. At school they call us ranchito kids [little ranch kids] because we live out here in the country. The border fence hasn’t really affected us; I don’t mind it.
Mine’s husband, Juan Hernández, 67
We like living here. Everything is good; it is very peaceful. I was against the construction of the border fence. What do you want it for? People are still going to cross. God help them.
Abel, his mother Claudia Hernández, 41 and his sister Angelina Longoria, 15
Angelina: I don’t like the fence because before my brother Abel and I would go walking and be able to see on the other side, but now we can’t.
Claudia: I don’t want to say that the muro hasn’t made a difference. We just don’t like it; we think that [Trump’s] wall is a waste of money for everyone, even for those on the other side. People still find a way to cross. We have never been victims of the supposed violence. That might happen in other places, but not here. My grandparents, my parents, and us have lived here for many years and thank God, we’ve never experienced any violence. Why is Trump saying that they are killers and rapists? They are not.
The people would hide in the bushes around the house and while my grandparents were working in the yard, they would ask them for water and they always helped them out. My grandma would feel so sorry for the people crossing and she would tell them, “I know you have to go, but here’s a gallon of water, food and here’s old clothes.”
It has gotten worse temperature-wise since they built the muro because it covers the wind. Before it was so fresh and we would sit outside and now it’s boiling hot all the time.
Minerva Hernández, 33, pictured in the middle
When we were kids, they would burn the caña [sugarcane], we would rescue rats, rabbits, anything that was there. We would take a bucket to rescue them. Those were the good old days when we would play around the river. We were never inside.
Gracie García, 54 and her mother Magdalena García, 76, stand in front of their 100-year-old house
Magdalena: I got married in 1958 and ever since then, I’ve been living here. My husband inherited this house from his parents. It is over 100 years old, but we have been doing home improvements throughout the years. My husband passed away in 1980 and now I live with my daughter only.
We are waiting to receive a check for the piece of land that they used to build the border fence. It has been so many years and we just get letters after letters by mail, but never a check.
Before the border fence we would see people crossing all the time—it was a business thing. I don’t know who lived there before, but they would charge them to pass through. I can’t complain because no one ever did anything to us. They never even scared us, they would just cross. My neighbor has seen people crossing, but I haven’t. Now you don’t see them crossing like before.
I remember that one time a large group of men crossed. They were wearing the same color shorts so I believed it was a soccer team. They tried to hide, but the border patrol was able to detain some.
Gracie: Before they built the fence, we would go to the levee, and walk to the river. I had a beautiful childhood. When we were little kids, my neighbors, my brother and I would get pieces of cardboard so we could slide down the levee in my backyard.
Supposedly we are going to get paid for them putting that fence [up]. We have gone to court and the judge has told us that they are going to do it as fast as they can since it has been about seven years now. We get these letters every two or three months and mom says, “They’re spending more money on paper, envelopes and stamps than anything.”
Edna Weaver, 50, and her mother Concepción “Connie” Weaver, 71 standing in their backyard
Connie: I’ve lived here for 53 years now, since I got married and I’m not going nowhere until I die.
I had 7.35 acres, but when they were building the fence, I sold three fourths of an acre because if you didn’t sell, they were still gonna take it away. So I have about 3.6 acres on this side and the rest on the other side of the fence. I’m paying taxes for nothing, I won’t be able to use that place no more, you’re not allowed to build on that side.
The game reserve has been buying land around here and the animals have eaten my goats and chickens. So now I can’t have very much of anything. I only have chickens now and I can only have them in cages.
I was never opposed to the border fence—I feel safer now. You don’t know who’s coming in…But I never felt in danger of the people passing through. They were very poor. Most come here to work. They never did anything to us, they just wanted to keep on going.
[The Mexican federal police] were never there on the river. These are things I had never seen all these years until recently. You don’t know what they’re doing or what they’re gonna do. To tell you the truth, I don’t trust them. If they put the muro, for me it’s fine.
Edna: The river is literally on the other side of that mountain. We used to go swimming in the river as kids. I was born here, and I raised my three children here as a single parent. When you have kids, you don’t want to raise them in town, I prefer the country because you know everybody.
I don’t have anything against the border wall, but I believe that with it we are depriving people from coming. They’re not animals. My ancestors are from México. So people are saying that they are not good enough to come to this land? Why? It hurts me to hear that.
Nora L. R. Moreno Lasley, 60, WWII Veteran José D. Weaver Moreno, 94, Teresa “Terry” I. R. Moreno, 56 and Irma R. Moreno, 82
Terry: I have almost eight acres. Personally, I like the idea of the border fence only because it has put a halt to the flow of foot traffic of people crossing illegally. I had fenced in my house even before the construction of the border fence.
Henry G. Weaver
[My great-great grandfather Henry G. Weaver] owned land from the Rio Grande to Arroyo Colorado, which he called El Venadito (“the little deer”). He had 12 children and he gave each one some land. So his son, my great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Weaver, would have had almost 100 acres. When the hurricane of 1933 hit, the river turned and two thirds of his land ended up in México. They were allowed to claim their land, but my great-grandfather decided not to. He had four kids and divided up his land between them. My dad was born where this house seats now, in this property.
Nora: We never had anything against [immigrants crossing the border]. I ended up helping a lot of people. All they wanted was just water from the hose and food. Then came in the law that if you helped anybody, then you would be an accomplice, so I couldn’t do it anymore.
Terry: I don’t think [Trump’s] border wall would make a difference. If they want to come across, they are going to figure out a way of doing it. I own about eight acres all the way to the river. When I first moved here, I had thought about having a kids’ summer camp. I’ve had ideas of what to do with the land, but nothing has come of it because then the border fence was built. My nephew and I thought we could use the property to have a bike trail or even motor cross. Even for bird-watching because we get very unique birds. But all of those were just thoughts.
This feature is part of Fusion’s project to recruit local, embedded reporters, essayists, and photographers across the country. Read more here.