MCALLEN, Texas ( ValleyCentral) — Only 1% of the population in McAllen, Texas is Black, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. While there is a cultural divide for African Americans who live across the Rio Grande Valley, one local organization is looking to change that.
Village in the Valley, better known as VIVA has worked to bring together not only the Black community but all people across the Valley for several years. VIVA has connected the RGV Black community through events, social advocacy and cultural connections.
Dr. Theresa Gatling moved to McAllen from Boston with her family back in 1997 for her job as a physical therapist and says she experienced a huge culture shock.
"What’s unique to the Valley is that we don’t have a Black community in one area like a lot of the larger cities like Houston and Boston,” Gatling said.
After actively trying to find other African Americans in McAllen, Gatling and other founders started VIVA in the early 2000s. While the organization was put on pause for about 10 years VIVA was restarted in 2019. Gatling as well as the co-founders say the biggest motivation to renew VIVA was for their children.
“People who were having children now newly were saying 'Where’s the connection?'" Gatling said. "There is no one who looks like us why do we have to stay here? Kids were asking their parents to move. And we thought, there is a lot of us, we're just not all in one place."
Since restarting VIVA in 2019, the organization has been regularly holding monthly events and has seen its membership grow to up to 130 people. But their biggest goal is for the entire Valley not only to learn about Black culture but to also learn about other cultures around them.
Many VIVA members say they now have a sense of community since joining and are proud of the progress made with its latest achievement of implementing the Hidalgo County African American Cultural Heritage Council.
VIVA hopes to still keep completing its mission of creating a community and cultural connection for many years to come.
"I’m not from the Valley. I wasn’t born here, I moved here 20 years ago," said VIVA Co-founder Marsha Terri. "Coming into this area I didn’t see a lot of people that look like me so I think it is important for my children and other people's kids to have that sense of community.”
For more information on how to join Village in the Valley click here.