Learn what makes cities like Laredo so unique
Learn what makes cities like Laredo so unique
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Learn what makes cities like Laredo so unique

Project CommUNITY is an ongoing initiative across Hearst Television to put a spotlight on diverse voices in our communities. The initiative is built around regular coverage of people who are working to make a difference and stories detailing the history of the battle for Civil Rights, inclusion and social change across America.
Oftentimes, stories from cities along the Mexican border are limited to headlines about drug trafficking and immigration. What they miss is the reality that these cities are filled with a rich history and citizens who embrace a uniquely American experience.
Laredo is a prime example of a border city with much to offer to both visitors and residents. Executive Director of Reporters and Editors Diana Fuentes was born in Laredo and appreciates the multifaceted identity she formed while living there.
“They talk about the United States being a melting pot, right? And so, we’re a little bit of that melting pot,” says Fuentes. “But we’re the United States, you know? I’m a proud American, I’m proud to be a United States citizen, a very proud Texan, and I’m proud to be Latina.”
Everyday Life
The United States-Mexico border is defined as the area 62.5 miles north and south of the boundary and the population continues to grow.
The growing population near the border created the chance for many people to live between two countries. Maria Castillo is one of those people and her family history serves as evidence of the two worlds merging.
“My dad is from Nuevo, Laredo. He just became a U.S. citizen. So he’s been a Mexican citizen his entire life. My mom actually met him at a bar on the Mexican side, even though she lived on the U.S. side,” says Castillo.
Their experience is not uncommon. The border area contains over 15 million people and that population is expected to double by 2025.
“Both of them have family on both sides of the border. They actually were together and while living on both sides of the border,” says Castillo.
Traveling across the border into another country is not a rare occurrence for residents of Laredo. Moving back and forth between nations has become a part of their daily routines.
Work permits to come into the U.S. to work are easy to obtain, as Fuentes describes.
“You need a bigger permit, a longer permit, a more intense permit to go past San Antonio, for example, or to go past the Border Patrol checkpoint, but a lot of people don’t. They just come and live, in Laredo in that area,” says Fuentes
The workforce varies, but as a trade town, the top three areas of employment are office and administrative support, sales and transportation and material moving. Despite the bustling trade ports and companies moving goods in and out of Laredo, those who work outside of these industries are often below the poverty line.
The Struggles of a Border Town
Four out of 10 households in Laredo are below the poverty level. Making it the poorest metropolitan area in Texas, Maria says.
“We are definitely poorer than other parts of Texas, so there definitely could be investments to empower the local community that could be better spent than on immigration enforcement,” says Fuentes.
Twenty-five of 60 neighborhoods in Laredo deal with extreme poverty, which is described as not only having low income, but lacking access to things like health facilities, information and education.
The citizens of Laredo not only have to wrestle with high poverty levels, but they also deal with the impact of stereotypes on a political level.
“It used to be, it was a lot easier when the United States needed the labor force, right. And there was a group of people that wanted to come work, they didn’t want to live here, they just wanted to come work. It worked well, for generations, where a group of people would come and then they make their money, and then they go home, and it was no big deal. And then suddenly, they didn’t want to do that. And they made it more difficult. And then it came to the point where it was too difficult for them to go back. So now suddenly, you’ve got all these people having to stay here, and they didn’t want to stay here in the first place. But here they are. And now they’re stuck here because they need to earn money,” says Fuentes.
Militarization of the Border
Diana has covered the border and also observed the militarization of border towns. While border agents have existed since the 1920s, their budget and presence have increased dramatically over the years.
Diana says a large border presence is having the opposite effect on the people that live in these areas.
“So you could say, we sent the troops to the border and we’re protecting our borders, from what I mean, the drug people who were still getting through. But that’s not what you were stopping, you were stopping the poor guys who don’t know any better.”
The militarization of border towns can leave the wrong impression for the rest of the country.
“They think ‘Oh my God, we’re being overrun by drugs and criminals and they’re all rushing over here to the United States,’ without knowing real people live there.
“And so we would have people coming from, you know, Connecticut or, you know, Missouri, Ohio, that were applying for jobs, and some of them were scared because it’s the border, ‘oh, my god the border!’ And they come down and we show them and we have a grocery store, we got art shows, we have museums and all that kind of thing,” Fuentes says.
Investing in the People
Castillo has praised the role that TAMIU has played in investing back into the community of Laredo.
“Laredo missed out on educating and retaining people that could contribute to their community. It mitigated the brain drain. They felt like they didn’t have to leave to get a quality education.”
TAMIU became a four-year university in 1995. Ever since, Laredo has made great strides in developing small businesses. Texas A&M International University Graduate School offers 25 graduate degrees, including nine certificates, seven online programs and two doctoral degrees in Criminal Justice and Philosophy in International Business Administration.
In 2022, the U.S. The Department of Commerce invested $1.5 million to support small business development in Laredo. Diana attributes much of the investment to Laredo to its commitment to education.
“TAMIU has brought in the arts, not just improving education in general, but the arts, you know, they’ve got really good. Again, it’s dance programs and artistic programs, music, dance, fine arts, you know, has sculptures and paintings and things like that. I mean, all of that stuff. There’s some really fine artists in that town,” says Fuentes. “It’s brought in big businesses, which helps increase jobs. Everything just feeds on itself, which I think has helped make the city bigger and promoted.”
Education was one of the major gateways in Laredo’s growth. Although there are still many societal problems that locals face, Laredo, like many other border towns, is home to American citizens who embrace their unique experiences.
Border Towns are a Unique Slice of American Life
The multifaceted nature of living here is not only seen in daily life but in their celebrations as well.

“You know, I, I tear up the Star Spangled Banner, and I can tear up at a mariachi song, you know, it’s like, I can do both, and it makes me happy,” says Fuentes. “If people have an opportunity, they should go to the border.”
“Our biggest event of the year was the George Washington’s Birthday Celebration, it still is. You would think we’d be honoring Benito Juarez, for example. Right? But no, we honor George Washington, right? That’s the big deal,” Fuentes says.
Every February, Laredo puts on many events in honor of George Washington. The 100-year-old festival includes parades, air shows, carnivals and a jalapeño festival.
“There, you can see the U.S. and Mexico merging in a good way. And I think if you keep an open mind and come see the border for yourself. If you set aside all the politics, all the electioneering, and everything else, and just for a minute, come look and see for yourself. I think you’ll like it.”
This video is the final episode of a four-part Clarified series meant to educate viewers on the contributions, experiences and heroes of the Hispanic community.
Hearst Television participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.


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