Friday, January 18, 2019
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20181024 TOURIST DAY Progreso Moering IMG 6654Concern about border troubles don’t seem evident in at least one popular Mexican border town on the Rio Grande River. Nuevo Progreso, which is just a short walk or drive across the international bridge, has been a popular spot for tourists from the U.S. for decades.

While the perception of trouble on the border may make news headlines in some border locations, the Winter Texans who come to the McAllen metro area and many full-time Texas residents still find Mexico’s Progreso to be a charming place to go shopping, enjoy a meal, get a manicure/pedicure and buy cheaper prescription drugs and liquor.

And best of all, the visitors feel perfectly safe, according to Mary Kinsel, a Donna resident. “We have been coming here about 10 years and feel safe,” she said. On a recent visit to Nuevo Progreso with a group of friends at Angels Restaurant and store on Main Street, she recalled one time when some kind of problem started “and the merchants sent us home. They protect us.”

The others who were part of her group echoed her sentiments about safety, including her husband, Sherman. The couple, along with Frank Cueller and Janie Zamarripa, also of Donna, and Lico and Janie Rodriguez, from nearby Weslaco, come to Progreso about once a month on average. Lico is a businessman operating a body shop and Cueller has been a butcher for some 30 years.

Enjoying a drink at a street café were Oscar and Deyaniva Sifuentes, sporting New England Patriots jerseys. The couple, from Alton, Texas have been coming just about every other weekend for the past several years. They don’t have any qualms about visiting the town regularly.

Nuevo Progreso’s Arizona Restaurant was one of the stops for John and Wendy Colomb, who have been full-time residents for six years at Green Bay South Community Park in La Feria, where a lot of Packers fans from Wisconsin live. Wendy, who is a retired Spanish teacher from Racine, Wis., enjoys using the language.

20181024 TOURIST DAY Progreso Moering IMG 6654Wendy noted they come at least once and sometimes twice weekly. Sometimes she comes with girlfriends. But the couple likes the restaurants in Progreso. When asked, Wendy said, “We do feel safe and have just done what we want to do, even going dancing at night.”
John added, “You just need to be aware of your surroundings.” He also said that they have never had any trouble with the food when in eating out there.

Oscar and Rose Billarreal usually come once a month from Harlingen to shop. They either walk or drive over the bridge. The latest trip involved groceries including avocados, crackers and a couple cases of pop. The couple said they feel safe all the time.

Some shoppers came all the way from Raleigh, N.C. The group from Grace Church came to the Valley on behalf of Faith Ministries, of McAllen, which builds cinder block houses for the poor in Reynosa, Mexico. The church, which has been sending members for a week’s time annually over the last decade, usually includes a visit to Nuevo Progreso, according to Holly Cook, a member of the group. One visit included items they were taking back for reselling to raise funds for the area ministry.

“We enjoy coming and feel very safe,” Cook noted.

Businessman Larry Burgess, a long-time Alamo resident, says the news about the Rio Grande Valley is being misconstrued when it comes to crime.

“As far as Progreso goes, we go at least every two weeks and have never had a problem.” He and his wife, Sandra, usually take a vehicle across the bridge. Sandra, who likes to go Saturdays because of live music, said, “It’s very safe...and they have margaritas (for sale) on the street.”

20180329 Progreso Winter Tourist Appreciation Day MOERING DSC 0450Larry said his wife was headed for the dentist on the next trip. In addition, the Valley is attractive because the cost of living is much less than most other areas in the U.S.

Friends of the Burgesses, Jessie Dreher and her daughter, Denise Dressler, enjoy going to Progreso. Dreher is a Winter Texan from Kansas, living at Royal Palms Park in Alamo. Her daughter brings her down from Kansas. Another friend, Joann Lincoln, who is president of the Royal Palms Women’s Club, has been going to the border town since 1994 and finds not much has changed, except now there are federal authorities around to make sure the area is safe.

The addition of more law enforcement is thought to be one of the reasons things are peaceful, according to Angel, an employee at Angel’s Restaurant, the oldest eatery in the town. He said there are federal troops from a station at the south edge of Progreso and the police, who come from Rio Bravo, are on the north side at the bridge entrance.

Angel, who has been a resident of Progreso for 55 years, feels the criminal element is more interested in large cities than small towns where it’s too peaceful. He figures visitors feel safe because of the easy accessibility of being downtown as soon as one crosses the bridge over the river. “You can find anything you want within the first four blocks (of Main Street),” he stated.

“The news doesn’t help too much,” said dentist Dr. Jorge Mustre, in commenting on the perception of what many Americans outside of the Rio Grande Valley have of the area. If problems persisted, people would not flock to the town from many places in the U.S. for work on their teeth at the numerous dental offices. The dental profession, of which he, his wife, Rocio, and their three grown children are all a part, plays a major role in the town’s economy.

Among those who heard about the Mustre clinic was Jim Walker, a converted Texan living in La Feria, who, with his wife, Carolyn, came from Pennsylvania Amish country as visitors 10 years ago. The couple, who have been “steady customers” over the years, come once a week for food, drinks, to have a meal, meet new people and enjoy the weather.

More than 1,000 people enter Progreso daily and that number increases on the weekends, according to Briseno.

20180329 Progreso Winter Tourist Appreciation Day MOERING DSC 0433A town association of merchants plans major celebrations for the American tourists every year. One of those events coming up soon is the Welcome Back Winter Texans, set for Dec. 7. The committee organizes it, arranging the music entertainment, the foods and other items provided by merchants on that Friday.

A similar event takes place for the Winter Tourist Appreciation Day, which is always held on March 21 each year. The 43rd annual event next spring will include a program of officials from both sides of the border along with the announcements honoring “Mr. Tourist,” “Mrs. Tourist” and “Winter Texan,” of the year (usually a couple). The event includes a ceremony at the center of the international bridge. An overflow crowd can be expected at this event, which marks the end of the winter tourist season.

The town’s committee held a motorcycle event on Oct. 12-13 and another will be next April. Both correspond to the bikers being at South Padre Island. There is also much interest in the May 5 Cinco de Mayo celebration, Dr. Martinez said.

Dr. Martinez is anticipating continued growth in the numbers of Winter Texans coming to Texas that has been occurring in the last few years—and more Winter Texans visiting Nuevo Progreso to experience the good times to be had south of the border.

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