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HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — A local philanthropist says the Rio Grande Valley is being unfairly portrayed as violent and dangerous following the recent kidnappings and deaths of two Americans across the border in Matamoros, Mexico.

“When something like this happens, it sets us back so far on what we’re trying to do is get rid of the fear factor and have the non-sensational news of our real life on the border, put out there so that we can have a return of our cultural tourism, which is what supports any local economy,” Diane Milliken Garza told Border Report on Friday.

Diane Milliken Garza heads the Cultural Corridor Initiative in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Milliken Garza is the executive director of the nonprofit Brownsville Community Foundation and she was appointed by the governor to the Texas Arts Commission. She also spearheads the Cultural Corridor Initiative, a grassroots coalition of leaders and shakers from both sides of the border who meet in border cities to promote culture, arts and the region’s image.

The group formed last year and has already held three binational events, all designed “to revitalize our cultural tourism, to revitalize our national reputation,” she said.

They had dinner with the mayor of Matamoros in June in that border city, where they were treated to an Indigenous dance performance by local Matachines in colorful costumes.

In January, a contingency traveled to Reynosa, Mexico, about 55 miles west of Matamoros, and also dined with that city’s mayor. They discussed tourism, travel and ways to entice more visitors to the region, Milliken Garza said.

The Cultural Corridor Initiative has held several events south of the border in Matamoros and Reynosa, Mexico, to allow elected officials and leaders to talk about culture, tourism and promoting the Rio Grande Valley. (Photos Courtesy of The Cultural Corridor Initiative)

Earlier this month, Mexican dignitaries crossed north to Hidalgo, Texas, where they met at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center, and picked up their binational conversations on bettering the region.

They were in the process of planning future events with other sister border cities like Juarez and El Paso; and Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. But now those dates have not yet been set.

She says the bad rap is unfair, especially since Brownsville and McAllen are among the safest cities in the nation, according to various reports.

“There’s a lot of questions about the incident that happened last week that have not been answered. That still needs to be answered. But it’s one incident. It should not define our entire region. It should not define Brownsville, Texas, or Matamoros,” she said.

Milliken Garza grew up in Dallas but has spent her entire adulthood in Brownsville.

She often drives to Matamoros and visits with friends. She helps to raise money for the region and promotes art and culture on a statewide level.

She says she loves living in South Texas and she hopes others will speak out about the region.

“Local residents need to get up, realize that and then get up and speak about it. And and don’t be complacent. Because it affects everything. Everything, everything in our way of life becomes collateral damage to this fear factor. Because it’s a quality of life issue,” she said.