Let’s Go to Roma!

Discover remnants of Zapata and petrified forests

by Gretchen Losi

To get a sense of what life in the Rio Grande Valley was like back in the days of Poncho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, one must simply visit Roma.

Some of the Valley’s oldest architecture graces the streets of this once-vibrant border town. As you walk the historic downtown, taking in the masterful architecture from an art lost generations ago, you will find beauty from the past on every corner.

The Oblates arrived and left their mark on this town in a big way. The historic church the Oblates’ sweat and prayer established still stands proudly today as a testimony of a time–but not their faith—long forgotten. The church holds mass, weddings, and baptisms regularly. And the tiny town still honors the Oblates with a mural of them in its downtown square.

The architecture in this border town is unique to this country. Very few sites hold the art and mastery that went into Roma’s downtown, but it is beginning to crumble and be lost. Thankfully, Hollywood has captured the streets of Roma in the Hollywood motion picture Zapata! The church is among many Roma buildings featured in the Academy Award-winning movie.  

Though time is taking its toll on the brick and wood-framed structures that still stand, some residents are reclaiming their ancestors’ buildings to refurbish and welcome guests once again. Grandchildren are purchasing the land, homes, and businesses once owned by their families and restoring what they can to bring joy to future generations. The owner of one such property, as close to the border as any, restored his great-grandfather’s business and holds special gatherings like baptismal parties and weddings.

Among locals, everything in Roma is valued for its history. Even the rocks. Once home to a petrified forest, much of which was used for construction around the RGV, there isn’t much left of the forest today. But you can easily spot it in old, stone fencing and architecture around town (and likely in your town, too, if you look hard enough). And there’s still petrified rocks to be found around Roma for the rockhound with patience.

While the rockhounds look down, the birders look up.

Known for its birding opportunities, tourists from everywhere flock to Roma. The birding observation deck is unique. While looking up above the Rio Grande River you may find something as colorful and interesting as you do when you are looking straight across into Mexico. This birding balcony is directly on the Rio Grande River, with a “bird’s-eye” view into the backyards and parks of our neighbors to the south. It is likely you will hear gunfire while on the deck, but this is perfectly normal.  (At least that’s what the locals kept telling us.)

Whether the architecture, movie history, rocks, birds, or bucket list items bring you to Roma, it is quite spectacular and worthy of a visit.

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