-This is where most of the truck drivers that go along these routes stop to eat.
So we're going to try to capture and eat the food, and hopefully you can hear some of the conversation here, too, 'cause it's loud.
The idea of the border has profound meaning to me.
As a Mexican-American, I always feel like I'm treading between two worlds.
I was born and raised in Mexico, then moved to America, and I'm raising my family here.
And I've spent my career traveling my homeland, sharing Mexican food and culture with the world.
Are you with me?
I want to tell you things.
Now I'm setting my sights directly on the place where my two beloved countries meet.
I'm traveling the Texas-Mexico border, from far west Texas to the Gulf of Mexico.
-Welcome to South Texas.
We're just starting.
-Oh, yeah, take me there.
Take me there.
In this episode, I'm traveling from Laredo and Nuevo Laredo to Brownsville, Texas, a region with a strong ranching tradition that has evolved into a hub for trucking and trading.
And it might even be a launch point into the future, where every story ends up wrapped in a taco.
I'm Pati Jinich and this is "La Frontera."
♪♪ -About halfway down this lower part of the Texas-Mexico border, the sister cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, have one very important, very loud claim to fame.
♪♪ This is the busiest trade port on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Thousands of trucks carrying over $200 billion of goods cross back and forth every day.
[ Cow moos ] But before trucking was a number-one industry, ranching was a way of life for centuries.
And just outside of Laredo, many people are still holding on to that history.
Oh, my God!
I see why she married you.
You look good on a horse.
-Yeah, those Wranglers still fit really nice.
[ Laughter ] -Tano Tijerina is a former minor league baseball player and current county judge.
He runs El Bosal Ranch with his wife, Kim... -What do we got?
-...where they work hard... [ Laughter ] ...and play hard.
-This is normal.
You have to understand.
This is normal.
-Ranching has been such an integral part of Laredo's history that the entire region started as one small ranch in the 1700s.
And then families came and settled around it.
You are, like, the handsomest couple ever.
-I think we're probably a good interpretation of what Webb County is.
My family's been here since the 1890s, and ranching has been our way of life.
And then his family had, you know, ranches.
-The family strength is stronger than anywhere in La Frontera, from Baja, California, to Brownsville.
That is what makes Laredo so unique.
You have Laredo families married to a lot of people from Mexico, Nuevo Laredo, and vice versa.
So it's a very strong bond.
And that's what creates that power of the trucking companies, the trust, the bond, all that kind of stuff.
-Yeah, 'cause it's family.
-It's rooted -- it's rooted for generations.
-We never considered Laredo a border town because we would literally walk across and it wasn't -- there was no distinction.
The whole concept of border really, to me, started in the early 2000s.
-Oh, so recent.
-That there was a distinction between Mexico.
There was no real distinction between Mexicans and Americans.
It was never like that growing up.
-Going back to our trucking, because that's what makes us today, the import-exports.
-If you look at Texas as a heart, and you look at the United States as a body, if you look at little, old Webb County, Laredo as the aorta, if you would happen to say, you know what?
Our one bridge that we have, the World Trade Bridge, if you would stop that today, you would see the United States -- Texas and the United States shut down... -Suffer.
♪♪ -Where do you see ranching now, because you were talking about trade and the importance of trade?
-I think ranching and the tools of ranching have evolved and have changed very much so.
Back in the 1800s, early 1900s, that was the income that a family would receive.
You know, they might have not had much, but it was part of life.
It was a cowboy life.
It was a tradition.
I think the cowboy way of life is still hanging on to a certain tradition and heritage, but actual finances and actual putting money on the table, most families now are subsidizing it one way or the other.
We're in the same boat right now.
We're in the hemp business.
-You tried to keep up the ranching.
-Well, I think just like big box stores, we're kind of in the same position as ranchers.
It's become so commercialized that it's hard for us to compete with a bigger market.
-But you want the ranch lifestyle?
-'Cause what does it mean to you?
-It's who we are.
-It's truly who we are.
It just makes our heart content and we can go to sleep at peace knowing that we have a little bit of history that we're passing along.
-Some of that tradition Tano and Kim are passing along is my favorite way to connect with the ranching lifestyle.
-Pati, have you tried machitos before?
-I have not tried machitos.
So, it's all the organs.
-Wrapped in -- It's put in the large intestine and then wrapped in the small intestine.
-This is true-grit-type stuff, recipes from a time when you had to get the most out of the animal just to survive.
Like braided tripe.
Like, does it have seasoning?
Oh, that looks so good.
-[ Laughs ] -Could we try?
-You want to try a piece?
The inside tastes like the most exquisite chopped chicken liver with a crunchy casing.
-Welcome to South Texas.
We're just starting.
♪♪ -The ranching lifestyle, everybody's involved in one way or another, right?
-It very much is.
-I think our social circle is our family.
We would work cattle together.
We would go to church together.
I guess that's why we form that bond, is we spent so much time growing up together.
Everybody, including the women, were taught to do a job.
We have 2-year-olds, they're in the pens with us.
We taught them the trade because we taught them where their food comes from, number one, but also where their house comes from, that it's hard work.
Everybody has to work.
-My family, they're like, "Hey, your hands are getting soft."
And that to me is like, ugh, it just hurts, you know.
-Got to go back to the field.
-And don't ever serve my family chicken.
-That's another insult.
Tell me about that.
-Because we're in the beef industry.
So, what do you guys do for Thanksgiving?
-I cook my dad prime rib.
-Oh, you do?
-He will not eat turkey.
-Just thinking about the history of this region, within the history of Texas, I mean, Texas is already its own thing, but it feels like this is a world within that world.
This place has, what, like, 94% Hispanics?
Like, isn't this one of the least diverse places in the U.S.?
And it's not least diverse because it's mainly white.
It's least diverse because it's mainly Hispanic.
-Growing up, I was like one of five white people graduating high school.
-I've noticed that Texans are very proud of being Texans, but Mexicanos look at us like gringos and the Americans look at us like Mexicanos.
-Look at my wife and I.
She's white outside.
I'm Hispanic on the outside.
What you're doing today, taking and tasting a little bit of our freedom, this is what we get to do and we get to cherish.
Ranching is who we are, but it's a way of being.
A cowboy is what comes from inside, getting the hands dirty.
That's who we are.
I am so happy for this.
-We -- I know.
I am so happy for this.
-And I'm happy that you're here.
You're getting to experience a little bit of who we are.
And I think it's important.
I really do appreciate that.
♪♪ -Strength in family, determination, perseverance, these qualities have come to define the border.
They have also helped to build one of the most successful regional food chains in South Texas based on tacos, Taco Palenque.
-Pancho, his wife Flérida, their son José, along with his sisters and brothers, are the family behind this beloved Frontera food.
You know, as we're coming to the border, we were telling friends and people we're coming to Laredo, we're coming to La Frontera, everyone -- everyone kept saying, "Oh, you have to go to Taco Palenque."
It feels like everybody says Taco Palenque is, like, their pride and treasure.
There are over 20 Taco Palenque locations throughout southern Texas.
And Pancho still makes sure to check in on every restaurant.
'Cause I'm hearing stories about Pancho, that he would just run into any kitchen of any of the restaurants.
Is that true?
He doesn't just check in.
He still gets back into the kitchen to cook whenever he can.
And why not?
Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, parrilladas, he created the menu.
♪♪ A salsa cart, anyone?
Pancho wants to start with one of his favorite creations.
Es como, crunchy crispy arrachera tacos in bite size pieces.
And because Don Pancho is so proud of his food, he wants me to try all of it.
We need another table.
Like, all of it.
♪♪ It is so good I didn't have breakfast this morning.
Oh, my God, at this point we're going to need like three more tables.
Pancho built the most successful regional chain in Texas.
To understand his pride, you have to know where he comes from.
He was born in a tiny town of 200 people in the mountains in the state of Sinaloa, one of 12 kids.
By the age of 12, he quit school to help support his family and worked odd jobs for years.
At 30 years old, he was working as a shoe salesman, barely making ends meet.
The next day, Pancho bought a grill and some tables.
Yes, that El Pollo Loco.
That fast-food franchise with almost 500 locations in both the U.S. and Mexico?
Pancho started it.
In 1987, after finding success in both the U.S. and Mexico, Pancho decided to start his next restaurant right at the border.
So he and his family moved to Laredo, Texas, and opened the very first Taco Palenque, the one we're sitting in today.
Going from the most popular tacos of the region to the best tacos you've never heard of.
Trucking and trade impacts everything here in the Laredos, from the multimillion-dollar trade industry to small businesses, including another taco family.
Right through here is the Laredo Nuevo Laredo International Bridge Port of Entry.
And just a quarter mile south of the border crossing, right on the side of the highway is this food truck, a favorite stop for truckers.
This is where most of the truck drivers that go along this route stop to eat.
So we're going to try to capture and eat the food, and hopefully you can hear some of the conversation here, too, 'cause it's loud.
It smells so good already.
Ta Con Ganas is a play on words 'cause "taco" is a taco and if you say "es ta con ganas," it's like you're craving it, like you're wanting it.
Luis Miguel Casillas has been making crave-worthy food on this noisy highway for over 13 years.
This is crazy.
Did you get used to the sound, to the noise?
However loud it gets, you can't beat the location for business.
Ta Con Ganas is less than one mile from the border crossing.
Over 16,000 trucks cross this border every day.
If I were a truck driver, I would be stopping every day on my way, too.
Inside the truck, Angel and his crew keep the cravings coming.
Tacos, quesadillas, gorditas, and burritos.
And if you think the truck might act as a noise buffer, it doesn't.
It's just as loud in here.
Chicharron, picadillo, deshebrada, carne asada, I'm getting one of everything.
I'm, like, at the best taqueria.
Do you have truck drivers that are Mexican and American or mostly Mexican?
Like, it shouldn't be any surprise to people who love Mexican food and how good this is.
This is home food.
-One of the truckers who frequents Ta Con Ganas is Manuel Espinosa Romero.
No matter your route, this is the way in and the way out.
And every time you pass through here, you stop here?
So it's kind of a -- it's kind of a balancing act between staying sane and healthy and doing the route the fastest possible so that you can do a next trip to get paid.
My new friend Manuel has offered to take me out for a little spin around the highway.
Oy, this is a beast!
♪♪ That was like climbing a building.
30 years doing this.
What is it that you transport the most?
Manuel, what's the toughest part of this job?
What do you love the most about driving?
[ Truck horn honks ] ♪♪ There is no wall dividing Laredo from Nuevo Laredo.
Even though they sit on opposite sides of a major political border, these two cities are very connected.
And just as the truckers go back and forth all day, I'm making my way back to Laredo, Texas.
-Laredo has always been a huge trade point.
You know, strategically and geographically, it is very important for trade.
-It's closer to Mexico or...?
-No, it's because this is where I-35 starts.
From here, it's a straight shot to Dallas.
And then from Dallas, you know, you can go anywhere in the U.S. -Lucy Montemayor runs a major import-export station in Laredo, Texas.
So, you got here when you were nine.
-I was about nine when we got here.
I was born in Zamora, Michoacán, which is more in central Mexico.
My father ended up getting a job with a broker who sold strawberries in the U.S.
So that's how my parents ended up in Michoacán.
And then that's where I was born.
And then how did you all make it here?
-So, then after 10 years, this same company said, "Come to the U.S." That's how we ended up in Laredo.
-People here are really proud to be the biggest trucking port at the border, but Lucy brought me here to Los Jacales to share another unique part of Laredo life.
Mariachis are Laredo's breakfast tacos.
I'm getting eggs and machaca -- dried shredded beef -- on a warm, almost crispy tortilla.
Tell me a bit about the mariachi tacos.
-The legend is that the original owner from this restaurant had another restaurant a few blocks down.
People used to love his breakfast tacos, but he used to make them so spicy that people used to say they would make you scream like a mariachi band.
-Oh, that's so funny.
-And so that's how he came up with the name of mariachis.
-The people here in the Laredo region are so proud.
-About all of their things.
-Literally, our slogan is "Laredo Proud."
Everybody tends to overlook Laredo for what it really is.
Laredo is kind of like a hidden gem and people really don't see the true value of the city.
And the true value of the city is within the people.
-And the people here love their history, which makes them feel connected with Nuevo Laredo in an intense way.
-The very unique part about Laredo is that the people here have been both Mexican citizens and they are U.S. citizens.
-Laredo, for a little under a year, was the capital of its own independent country, the Republic of the Rio Grande.
Back in 1840, about 20 years after Mexico won independence from Spain, leaders of the northern Mexican states formed an alliance and declared independence from the central Mexican government.
Their independent territory covered much of today's Texas-Mexico border.
But it didn't last long.
They were defeated by Mexico and forced to rejoin after just under a year.
So, how does the region of Laredo and the people of Laredo distinguish themselves, not from other border towns but from the rest of Texas?
-It's the mixing of the culture.
It's because they got the Mexican traditions and the Mexican culture and the Mexican dishes that they love and they mixed them with the U.S. culture and the U.S. traditions that they love.
-The people of Laredo-Nuevo Laredo, since 1898, have celebrated George Washington's birthday.
The celebration is over a month long and has over 40 events.
One of its main events is the Martha Washington Pageant and Ball, where young women from both Laredo and Nuevo Laredo dress in elaborate period gowns and have an honorary George and Martha Washington.
There is also jalapeño -- yeah, jalapeño festival.
George Washington probably would have loved some tacos with jalapeños on it.
-I really feel he would.
-One of the most powerful events is the Abrazo Ceremony.
Once a year, only for a few hours, the cities close the Juárez-Lincoln Bridge.
Two children from each city are chosen to lead this abrazo, or embrace.
-You have our Mexican counterparts and the American counterparts walking to the middle and exchanging flags and hugging.
-I feel like crying and I'm not even there because it's -- -It was beautiful.
And there's nothing like that anywhere in the border.
-Not on the border.
-But the truth of the matter is and the reality here on the border is that a lot of people live in Nuevo Laredo, they come to school here in Laredo.
They're probably U.S. citizens as well.
-It's very meshed and there's a lot of gray area.
The children here, they become adults where they're very adaptable to other cultures, to other, you know -- -Like people grow up to already know how to put themselves in other people's shoes.
They automatically have that advantage.
And they're very successful because they just morph into wherever they're at, and then we always hope that they come back and contribute to Laredo.
That's what we always want, to make Laredo grow even more.
-So, here's a little, like, Laredo region teaching the world how you can be the number-one trade port in the United States and how you can have citizens that come out of school ready to meld and be incredibly adaptable, selfless, empathetic.
You guys embrace that.
I love it.
♪♪ The Laredos are so rich in tradition.
And there's another favorite pastime of both the U.S. and Mexico -- baseball.
I'm going back across the border to take in a game in Nuevo Laredo with my friends José and Pancho Ochoa.
But first, José and I have to pick up Pancho at work.
I want to grab Pancho and I want to put him in a taco.
I want to eat you up.
You're so cute!
[ Laughter ] -Pancho built his entire food empire around such a simple thing, this chicken, using one little trick.
This is brilliant!
-So, there's water there so it gets crispy and moist.
Mmm, mmm, mmm!
I love chicken wings.
♪♪ We know how crazy Mexicans and Americans are about their baseball, so tagging along with José and Pancho, a huge baseball fan, to a game makes sense.
But there is something that really stands out about their local team here.
♪♪ The Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos, or the Tecos, of the Mexican Baseball League, are the only binational baseball team in the world.
They play half of their home games in Mexico and the other half across the border in Laredo, Texas.
Tonight, they're south of the border.
♪♪ No matter which side of the border they play on, the Tecos honor both countries and sing both the Mexican and American national anthem.
♪♪ If you've ever been to a game in Mexico, you know it's a different experience.
The music, the mascots.
But one of the biggest differences to seeing a game on the Mexican side of the border -- the food.
With fresh-made corn tortillas.
The Tecos are not just a team for the people of Dos Laredos to root for.
In the early 2000s, ownership moved the team out of Nuevo Laredo to a different city in Mexico.
Then, as crime and cartel violence became a serious issue in Nuevo Laredo, the cities organized to bring the Tecos back in 2019, to be a sign of unity for the region.
-It was around a time when everybody here got very unified because of the rhetoric that was going on against, you know, Mexicans and especially... And so, at that moment, it felt like we unified as two countries, as two cities.
We brought together and we really fought hard to bring back Tecos.
And it's incredible because we converge with two different countries, two different cultures, but we converge in a very harmonious way, and for one common ground, which is baseball.
♪♪ -Because Laredo is the busiest port of entry on the border for trucking and because it's less expensive to produce things in Mexico, many companies have factories along the Mexico side of the border, making everything from clothing to car parts to electronics.
These factories, called maquilas or maquiladoras, produce the items, get them onto the trucks, and ship them right across the border to be sold in the U.S. and all over the world.
The people who work in these maquilas are hardworking and highly skilled, and some of them have some serious skills outside of the factory, too.
♪♪ You're looking at one of the fiercest and nicest competitive grilling teams this side of the border.
[ Speaking Spanish ] -Edwin Morales.
-[ Speaking Spanish ] -Carlos.
Carlos Delgado and his team of more Carloses all met working together at the maquilas.
What started as a hobby turned into friendly competitions with grillers from other maquilas.
Now, they're getting serious about competing.
Carlos and his team sometimes cook out in the parking lot at the maquila to hone their skills.
While their grilling techniques might resemble things you'd see in a Texas barbecue competition, they are flipping things upside down.
I want to learn all about the competitions.
This is going to be brisket like you've never seen before.
The secret to really good brisket is go either really slow and low or super high and fast.
-Mexico has to go for high and fast.
They're saying that whenever they cook, they share.
Is that true?
-Yes, that's true.
-Barely, barely the heat level that I take.
Look at this beauty in this parking lot.
Ooh, I have never eaten arrachera smoked.
Competing teams not only in the U.S. but around the world, watch out.
Like, you guys are killing me with your food and you're killing me with your smiles.
I really wish that everyone could come and see how skilled you are, how good you are, how proud you are.
[ Speaking Spanish ] I want another taquito.
♪♪ Back across the border in Laredo, I have a celebration to attend before continuing my trip.
♪♪ ♪♪ The pedida is a Mexican tradition.
When a couple wants to get married, the groom and his family ask the father of the bride for her hand.
If there's a yes, there's a celebration to make an engagement official.
It's incredible when you think about it, where Pancho started and what he's built.
He discovered his passion for food later in life, but he used that passion and determination to provide all of this for his family, where he found opportunity here, at the border.
Garrita de Leon.
Okay, what is it?
-[ Speaking Spanish ] -We're talking about food, okay?
We're in the middle of you asking for the hand of your daughter-in-law and you're explaining to me the new taco I'm going to try.
I love this so much, Pancho.
I love this so much.
You're just like me.
It's like food and family are like... Pancho's new taco has prime rib eye and three salsas -- chile de árbol, pico de gallo, and avocado.
You are tasting the newest taco creation of Don Pancho right here, just you and me and Pancho.
I mean, this is like the perfect ending.
I'm so happy they said yes to you 'cause they're getting into a good taco family.
[ Laughter ] I'm traveling east along the border, through the Rio Grande Valley, known for its seemingly endless miles of fertile farmland and ranches.
I'm here to meet up with Chef Larry Delgado, one of the driving forces behind making McAllen one of the Texas border's hottest food destinations.
How are you?
-Larry invited me out to his friend's ranch for a cookout.
Stephanie Martinez and her daughter Alyssa are cattle farmers.
And Larry sources a lot of his meat for his restaurants from them.
Stephanie has found a way to reinvent the business of ranching.
-We are the only wagyu breeders down here that are totally integrated.
And so our meat, we're hoping, is to stay mainly in the valley and be able to support the valley and supply restaurants.
-Stephanie breeds a very specific type of wagyu, or Japanese beef, called Akaushi.
She believes the Akaushi produce a higher-quality beef with better marbling than any other cattle she's ever seen.
-Our cattle graze freely on our buffelgrass in South Texas but they are also supplementally fed in their pastures to give them all their vitamins and minerals.
And a part of that feed is masa harina, which we get from local tortilla mills.
They're corn screenings, and that is the main protein in their diet.
-You grew up on a farm, right?
Yes, I didn't grow up on a cattle ranch.
I grew up -- my dad was a farmer and he moved down here in the '40s.
And my mom was born and raised on the West Coast.
Unfortunately, at that time, when Pearl Harbor hit, my mom got put into a concentration camp in Arizona.
When they were released, they went back to the West Coast, but, unfortunately, everything was gone.
They moved down to the valley where my grandfather started farming with his brother.
And my dad also came down.
That's where he met my mom.
And they've been here ever since.
My dad -- I'm second generation.
My children are third generation.
-You told me that you're expecting a baby.
Yes, we're expecting our first little girl.
The ranch that we're sitting on here today I was born and raised at.
After University of Texas A&M, I moved to McAllen, started working in town, but now, since we're expecting, I would like to raise our daughter on the ranch that I grew up on, too.
Being a girl on a ranch, you learn how to rope, how to ride, how to take care of cattle, how to feed cattle.
But I wouldn't learn all of that if it wasn't for my mom, because I grew up watching her do it.
And I knew if she could do it, I could do it.
-Hope to be able to pass it on to our children and to keep this ranch here, you know, Felo is Hispanic and I'm Japanese, and it just makes a neat thing that we're raising quality beef right in our backyard.
♪♪ -Back at the ranch, Larry wants to use Stephanie's beef to make some classic Tex-Mex recipes.
-Well, before we get to the botana, I want to make a snack.
-Very popular dish.
I might even consider it iconic in Tex-Mex food is chile con queso.
♪♪ -So, you know, coming from Mexico City, I was shocked when I first encountered a combo platter.
I had never been to Texas.
I married my husband, who's also from Mexico City.
And we moved to Dallas.
People kept saying, "You need to drive to San Antonio to have really good Tex-Mex food."
And I remember I started eating it and I was like, it's like it wants to be Mexican but not really.
But as the years went by and went by, and I switched into cooking, I started learning that Tex-Mex is not a version of Mexican but Tex-Mex is a regional Mexican food, does its own thing.
-Tex-Mex in the valley is not the same as Tex-Mex in San Antonio.
It's not the same as Tex-Mex in El Paso or Laredo.
It's, in and of itself, very regional.
-How much does agriculture define this region?
-We're absolutely defined by our agricultura.
My parents were farmworkers their whole lives when they were growing up.
-And it was something that I felt -- I always felt like I wanted to do.
-And they came from where?
-They were from here, from Texas.
-When I say migrant farmworkers, we would go from the valley to North Texas.
-People usually think about migrant farmworkers as coming from one country to another, not from one region of the U.S. to another.
-Right, but if you go from Texas to anywhere else, it's going to a different country.
I think that when people moved here, wherever they came from, they tried so hard to assimilate to an American culture.
And now cooks like me want to get back to doing what our great-great-grandmothers did.
Oh, that's looking beautiful.
The meat is browning.
Queso is melting.
-It's going to thicken up just a little bit more.
-Do you feel like you're at the border here in the valley?
-You know, I think that most people think that Texas ends in San Antonio.
-And you're 300 miles south of San Antonio.
-Is there a common denominator that connects all of the different regional Tex-Mex variations?
-I love that.
-Cheese is very important to Tex-Mex, and a very specific type of cheese.
-We're in the Texas-Mexico border.
We need queso.
♪♪ ♪♪ Mmm.
This is so good!
-This is so good.
This is so good.
This is so good.
It feels like very social food.
Like, jump in and make a mess.
I don't care.
-Tex-Mex as a cuisine is unapologetic about American cheese.
And yes, I did call Tex-Mex a cuisine.
-[ Laughs ] Now, on to the botana.
♪♪ -The bottom of the plate is going to be built with tostadas.
-You know what?
You're Mexicanizing your Tex-Mex, Larry.
That's what you're doing.
As more Mexican ingredients become more available north of the border, Tex-Mex is getting a huge infusion of the Mex.
-I think that that's why I consider the valley so unique.
When we talk about local, I mean, consider this.
You are closer to Monterrey right now than you are to San Antonio.
So, what's local anymore?
We want the fajita to fill the taco.
-Oh, that's beautiful.
-Fill the size of the tortilla that we have.
-Go over the top.
-Oh, my gosh, the quesadillas go on top?
But we're not done.
To this, we would add maybe some pickled peppers, some grilled peppers, and, of course, we serve chile de árbol, guacamole, fresh pico de gallo.
-Come to the Rio Grande Valley and this is the snack you get.
-Start with the tortilla.
Mixture of both, how's that?
-Peppers, then the chile de árbol.
[ Laughs ] -Tell me you love it.
-I love it.
This is so good.
-Scared me for a second.
-You guys, join us because this is just too much food.
-Thanks for cooking, Larry.
-Oh, my pleasure.
-That is great.
Thank you very much.
-The meat, you guys.
The meat is ridiculous.
-We enjoy not just eating it by ourselves.
It's more enjoyable when it's with family and friends and more people, you know.
-Well, Pati, one of the things that you're going to notice whenever you leave here is some people say Tex-Mex as though it's not a good thing.
To us, it's everything.
It's a culture in and of itself, the food, the people, the community.
This is where Texas and Mexico come together for generations, if not centuries.
♪♪ -As I travel the Texas border with Mexico, there's one topic that feels present at every turn -- migration.
It's an issue that is constantly evolving.
And I wanted to learn more from someone who deals with it on a daily basis.
I'm in downtown McAllen to visit with Sister Norma Pimentel.
Many of the migrants coming to America these days are coming from Central America.
After they cross the border, they arrive here, at Sister Norma's respite center, where they can rest, get a free meal and some other essentials on their way to reuniting with family who have already come to America.
Sister Norma, how many people do you care for on a daily basis?
-Right now, we're seeing close to almost 700 every day.
For me and for my staff, the most important thing is to receive everybody that is brought to us, not to turn anybody away, to make sure that we can care and give that family an opportunity to connect quickly with their family and move on to their next step in their journey.
-I see you.
You get to know every single person.
Is there a common thread in all their stories?
-The common thread that I see is the children.
I can talk to a mom and dad with two or three children and I say [speaking Spanish], "Why did you come?"
And the dad will immediately say, "Because I need to make sure I can feed my family."
And the mother will say, "Because my child, he's not safe anymore in my country.
I need to make sure that all of us as family stay together in a safe space."
-I had the chance to sit down with Sister Norma, to find out what drives her compassion and her need to help others.
How did you know that your path was connected to immigrants?
-I think it's in me to help another human being, somebody who's suffering, somebody who needs help.
For that reason, God called me to be religious in a nun.
It's because I care about humanity, I care about people.
-Your family is a family of immigrants.
-Did that have something to do with it?
-I think that if I can see back now that my dad's own personal American dream was so important in my life because, for him, America was a country of dreams that come true, you know?
He was hopeful that in the United States we would be better off, we could have a future, you know.
And so I think that it's so important that people that are not from here, that are just hearing in the news that we have an immigration problem, we don't have an immigration problem.
What we have is a human reality -- a crisis.
Humanity is hurting at the border.
You need to come.
You need to see because if you see that face and you know that person and you know their story and you know their name, it's no longer just something out there.
It becomes very real, right here before you.
This is why we're here on this Earth, you know, to make this world a better place for all of us.
♪♪ -Just an hour east of McAllen, the last major stop before the very end of the border, is Brownsville, Texas.
Here, at this U-shaped bend in the Rio Grande, Brownsville sits across the river from Matamoros, its sister city in Tamaulipas, Mexico.
Just 20 minutes outside of downtown Brownsville, this stretch of the border is known for lush forests and fertile nature preserves that seem to embrace the deltas of the Rio Grande.
As we know, the river is the natural border between the U.S. and Mexico.
But it has so many bends, twists and turns that when the U.S. needed an efficient way to build a border wall, they just cut a straight line across the land.
Driving to one of these preserves is a surreal experience because you have to drive right through the border wall to get there.
So, you're actually stealing U.S. territory on the south side of the wall.
-Our mission is to preserve the land and water that all life depends on.
-Here, at Southmost Preserve, Sonia Najera is the project manager, and she and her team are focused on restoring the natural environment of the area by growing native plants.
-The area all around us has been altered in some way or another.
It's either agriculture, it's development, and we have the border wall.
-One species being affected by the border wall is the ocelot.
-Water is not an impediment to them.
They can swim across.
But one thing they cannot get through is a wall.
-We need that genetic exchange.
Otherwise, our populations in Texas are becoming more and more isolated.
We need native vegetation.
In order for them to do the job that we need, to capture water, to capture carbon, to provide the habitat that the native wildlife needs, it needs large tracts of land.
-Sonia is working to harvest and grow plants and trees, to build back the native vegetation.
But the border wall has become a barrier to many aspects of Sonia's work.
-It's not just a barrier ecologically.
It's a barrier mentally.
You see the wall, but look at the vegetation.
You can hear the wildlife.
You can hear the bird community, a lot of -- all of that that is so important and so exciting, and what is the valley.
You know, for our own well-being, we have to go beyond the wall.
Sonia knows the work being done here extends even beyond the border.
We've seen so many things, you know, along our road trip in the Texas border, but really didn't expect to find this.
-We're a thriving community, both in flora and in fauna, and it's extremely important to the ecology and to our well-being.
You have selvas.
You have a jungle here.
People don't realize that here, in the United States, we have a plant community that is like a jungle.
-The nature here is the jewel of the region, shared by both the U.S. and Mexico.
And while preserves like this are working to protect it, there's one natural resource that might be under threat.
At the end of the border, on the Gulf of Mexico, is Boca Chica, where locals park their cars right on the sand to spend the day fishing, playing in the waves, and soaking up the sun.
♪♪ And this beach is now home to a giant rocket ship.
Elon Musk picked this beach as a base for SpaceX in 2014, and they've been building their base and testing rockets ever since.
The ultimate mission is to eventually carry man to Mars.
But a lot of the people here are more concerned about this beach.
-This is the launchpad, which is at the end of the beach.
And this is where they've been launching the rockets.
-Vero, it really feels like a science-fiction scene.
-Veronica Rosenbaum is Director of the Brownsville Wellness Coalition, which promotes healthy lifestyles.
And part of that is taking advantage of Brownsville's great natural resources.
What's the general feeling?
-So, there's a kind of bittersweet, right?
This beach has been a virgin beach for a long time.
So it's never been touched, but, at the same time, it's a great experience for our kids to learn about science, technology, and the education that comes with it.
So I'm really torn between both things.
-The people that don't like the idea, what are the things that they say?
-The questions are, you know, the preservation of our beach, how are we protecting our environment.
I have four girls, and this is where I grew up, and I would like for them to continue coming as a family and to bring their families, too.
So those are a lot of things that, you know, it's a controversy of it.
I really feel as if someone's building a sand castle right there that's going to take someone to the moon.
It's someone's dream.
It's someone's project.
And I am privileged that I have the opportunity to be able to see it.
But, at the same time, I understand the concerns that come with it.
Yes, it has its challenges.
Yes, it has its consequences.
But let's make it a safe space for everyone.
-And so we've reached the very end of the border, standing next to a rocket on the Gulf of Mexico.
I've said the border is filled with surprises.
That smells like a taquita.
Am I crashing your party?
-I've stumbled upon the Boca Chica Beach Boys, a club with members from both sides of the border, who've been grilling and enjoying the beach for over 10 years.
And just my luck, they're making tacos.
-We have fajitas, beef ribs.
-But Bobby and his crew are not just here to grill.
They're outspoken opponents of SpaceX.
-All of us want this beach to be just like it is.
We want to be able to come at a drop of a hat's notice, but many times they close it.
But if you see what he advertises on TV, he wants daily launches.
So that means we're going to lose this beach.
And we're devastated about that, really.
-The community here is understandably torn on this issue, and the debate will continue on for years.
But there is one thing I'm certain of now.
No matter any controversy in La Frontera, you will find tacos even at the end of the border.
Ay, it's rib eye.
-It looks beautiful.
It's only fitting, right?
Just as I didn't know how my journey would begin, I had absolutely no idea I would eat carne asada tacos until the end, this time practically where the Texas-Mexico border ends.
But just as the border ends where the Rio Grande flows into something greater, so do many of the stories of the people from La Frontera as their impact reaches not only one country but two.
And hey, maybe to a new frontier.
Meanwhile, the tacos, the stories and the conversation continue on.
And I will be back for more.
♪♪ -"La Frontera" with Pati Jinich is available on Amazon Prime Video.
-To order "Treasures of the Mexican Table" cookbook, visit ShopPBS or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.
The journey to La Frontera continues at PBS.org/LaFrontera, where you can watch exclusive interviews and video extras, get recipes, and more.