A nagging challenge Rio Grande Valley officials face is a misperception of the area among people who have never been here. Wrong ideas of the Valley can cause people to decide not to bring their businesses and families here. We lose valuable investment, and they lose a chance to find a strong market for their wares and stable home for their families.
Thus, many people are justifiably irked at a recent report that paints the McAllen area as a haven for drug dealers and human smugglers.
The article, written by Isabel Vincent, appeared over the weekend in The New York Post, that city’s alternative newspaper. It’s a tabloid, in every sense of the word, with a reputation of basing articles more on rumor than on research.
It appears that Vincent originally came to the Valley to report on the asylum-seekers crossing our borders from the south and being brought by federal officials from the north. But she wrote another article describing McAllen as an “oasis of wealth and luxury,” concluding that it “thrives on trafficking near (the) border.”
Vincent, like many visiting reporters, notes Hidalgo County’s high poverty rate, with 34% of the population living in poverty.
She then points out that the area boasts a Maserati dealership and that McAllen’s airport contains ads promoting Rolex and Cartier watches. There’s even a polo club, and the city’s only retail mall is described as “upscale.”
The writer concludes that such opulence can only come from illicit activities, and supports the conclusion by noting the conviction of former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, his son and others involved in the notorious Panama Unit drug task force that was marred with corruption.
Vincent isn’t the first reporter to apparently bring errant assumptions to South Texas. And sometimes those assumptions color perceptions. For example, people who hear of poverty-level residents and expect to see squalid slums aren’t likely to find them. Hidalgo County’s poverty is more heavily present in the rural areas; McAllen and surrounding cities are among the nation’s fastest growing in area, population and wealth.
A distinction also needs to be made between people who have no income and those with low income, like most Valley residents. They have jobs, although wages are at or near minimum. And somehow they are able to buy cars and even homes.
In addition, 34% is a high level of poverty, but it’s obvious that two-thirds of the population lives above that level. And many McAllen-area residents, including doctors, lawyers, land developers and others, have reached enough success to afford a luxury automobile.
Yes, drug and human smugglers can be found here, just like they can be found in Houston, Chicago and other cities. But to suggest that all the area’s wealth comes from illegal means obviously ignores the investment of time, energy and resources that carries many local residents to success.
Fortunately, The New York Post has a reputation of producing questionable information. We trust that most people will note the source, and recognize that this description of the McAllen area doesn’t warrant serious consideration.