Why Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott Should Still Talk about the Rio Grande Valley [Opinion]

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Dear Senator Davis and Attorney General Abbott,

As the presumptive Democratic and Republican candidates for the Texas governorship, I’d like to talk to you about a region of the state that up until recently has been largely ignored. I am of course talking about the Rio Grande Valley, those four counties that provide a buffer zone between Mexico and the rest of the state.

In the last couple of days, a lot of words were said and a lot of lip service was paid to the Rio Grande Valley because of an unfortunate—whether it was intentional or not is up for debate—parallel drawn by you, Mr. Abbott, that likened the region to a third world country.

Your statement caused a stir in the local press and it also presented you, Senator Davis, and opportunity to take a shot at your opponent. Eventually, you, Mr. Abbot, wrote an op-ed where you clarified that the third world country comment wasn’t directed at the Rio Grande Valley, but at any region where corruption was rampant. Great, now that everything has been clarified, we can move on, right?



This story should not leave the news cycle because neither of you have addressed the biggest issue affecting the Valley: the rampant poverty.


When it comes to talking about the RGV, the conversation always turns towards talk of securing our borders, fighting the drug war, and in your case, Mr. Abbott, picking at the open wound that is political corruption (one only needs to look at your Twitter feed to see what I’m talking about).


What no politician cares to talk about—including those who represent the region—is just how poor the area is. There’s hardly a mention of how the Brownsville-Harlingen and McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro areas are respectively the two poorest in the country, with more than one third of all its residents living below the poverty line in 2012. And I don’t see either of you tackle the sad reality that in just about every economic category, the Valley trails the national average. Per capita income? Less than half ( $12,408 compared to $27,334). Median household income? A good 20 grand less ($51,914 versus $27,616).*

But these are just numbers. You’re both politicians. You both know that the best way to make a point is by telling a story, so here's one of those apocryphal sob stories that you guys like to tell, except that mine is actually real:

I spent the first sixteen years of my life living in Hidalgo, a town just south of McAllen. Well, most of the time. Between the fifth and eighth grades, my family—mom, dad, younger brother, and younger sister—traveled to Oskosh, Wisconsin during the harvesting season in mid-April so they could work at a corn and pickling plant in nearbly Ripon, before returning home in mid-October. That yearly transnational commute ended right before I started high school because my father thought that having a stilted high school education would have a negative effect on his children's future. He thankfully eventually found a job that was closer… 230 miles away in Port Lavaca. Every Friday for the last fifteen years he’s driven those three hours home to spend time with his family, only to make the same journey back on Sunday evening in time to start the work week on Monday. The sad thing is, this weekly ritual doesn’t seem like it will end soon.


The good news is that my parents’ sacrifice mostly paid off. I was fortunate enough to go to and graduate from a good college, and my sister is currently working on her degree.

The bad news is that my brother didn’t got to college and he could repeat my father’s hardship.


I’d like to point out that my family’s own experience is by no means representative of every household in that part of the border. I’ve met individuals who were able to forge their own version of the American Dream in the Rio Grande Valley.

That said, I know a whole lot more people whose story resembles ours, and until either of you do more than argue semantics and rhetoric, I doubt this will change any time soon.


So, Senator Davis and Attorney General Abbott, let’s accept premise that the Rio Grande Valley isn’t a third world country but that it resembles one, and move on to what actually matters. As Governor of Texas, what specifically will you do to improve the region? You owe at least an honest answer to the 1.3 million people who call that place home.

*Figures for the Rio Grande Valley were derived by averaging U.S. Census data for the four counties that comprise the region: Hidalgo County, Cameron County, Willacy Count, and Starr County.


Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.