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Photographs by Ilana Panich-Linsman. Growing up on the border is even harder. But for teenagers growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, where Mexico and the United States come together in a lush land of brush-covered hills, fast-growing cities and deep, shared history, there is no template.
They are shaped by an extraordinary place, at an extraordinary time. Valley girls are Americans with Mexican roots. They are Mexicans with American dreams. They meet their friends at the mall, at Whataburger, at the volleyball court. The worries about immigration status always linger in the background: When Isabella went on a vacation to Corpus Christi with her aunt, her parents could not go along, because they knew there would be Border Patrol traffic checkpoints along the way.
To grow up in the Valley is to live in a bilingual, binational world that defies the barriers dividing the two countries. Some Valley girls have relatives on both sides and, depending on their schedules, live on both sides, sleeping over here one day and over there the next.
Carolina Sierra, 15, lives in the city of Brownsville; her boyfriend lives in Mexico, crossing the bridge from Matamoros every weekend to see her. On the American side, towns like McAllen and Brownsville are much like any other small town, and life has a distinctly suburban feel. But home is also one of the poorest places in the nation, with some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, high-school dropouts and child poverty.
In Hidalgo County, On the Mexican side, it can be even harder: Clara Medina, 15, works seven days a week at a nail salon in a border town popular with American tourists, Nuevo Progreso. She left school around the age of 12 to help support her family. Sign up here to receive the next issue in your inbox. Here, in their own words, are some of the girls of the Rio Grande Valley, who call the border their home.