The Rio Grande Valley is a remarkable and beautiful place. You can find the greatest Mexican food of seemingly limitless varieties, the weather is always warm, and the sense of community is strong. While nearly one million people call the southern tip of Texas home, it still has a feeling of a small town where everyone seems to know each other.
Unfortunately, to many people, the Valley is also known for its reputation of dirty politics and corruption. Partially because there does seem to be a higher rate of elected officials indicted for various crimes in our towns. Partially because of how intense and aggressive our campaigns and elections are. And partially because the elections are dictated significantly by the “politiquera” system— a system that at times lends itself to corruption in the form of paid votes.
The Valley has long been known as a political madhouse, where our politics are practiced by true experts. In 1990, Robert A. Caro famously wrote about the Valley in his book, “Means of Ascent”. In it he wrote:
“…politics was violent in the Valley. A reporter from Philadelphia who journeyed there in 1939 found “as hard bitten a political crowd…as Texas ever saw…Each (county) has its own iron-fisted boss, who would make Philadelphia’s Jay Cooke or New York’s Jimmy Hines look like pikers.”
Anyone who has grown up in the Valley’s political environment can rightfully consider themselves an expert in politics as a blood sport. However, times are changing, new systems and technologies are being developed, and the stakes are becoming higher.
The Valley’s political system is not helping the people of the Valley or the Hispanic community in this nation. In fact, because of the political system that has yielded such low turnout, we are barely on the radar of state or national campaigns, and our region is ignored because of that. The only time state or federal politicians come to our hometowns is when they are touring what they refer to as a “war zone.” Because we do not vote, they don’t care. When turnout is low, our local leaders are less representative of the people and are less responsive to the needs of the people.
To change the way Valley leaders operate and make them more accountable to the needs of the people, the political culture must change. Real issues that genuinely impact a majority of the people need to be discussed and advocated for. The people need to be communicated to; they need to be understood and adequately represented. The political culture needs to change from political apathy to active political engagement. Significant change is necessary.
This is why I am proud to cofound and work with Cambio Texas, an organization focused on changing the political culture of regions like the Valley by registering more voters, utilizing the best technology and methods to communicate with those voters, and talking with those voters about the issues that matter.
We intend to support candidates that will actually accomplish issues that will positively impact a majority of people in the Valley. More importantly, however, we will work to actively bring issues that affect a majority of our people to our local leaders and mobilize our communities to influence and affect real change for our people and communities. Cambio Texas is an organization developed by local Valley people that are young, technologically savvy, and optimistic individuals that represent what the Valley could and should be.
It has long been understood that Hispanics are the “sleeping giant” in the American political system. As soon as we wake up, our needs and concerns will begin to be listened to by our state and national leaders. This goal is important: if we can find a way to awake the political spirit of the Valley, a majority Hispanic region, then, theoretically, we could find a way to awaken the political spirit of the entire Hispanic population.
If Cambio can change the Rio Grande Valley, then Cambio’s playbook could someday be used to change the entire state of Texas. If Cambio is successful, maybe the national reporting on Valley politics can change from “violent” to “inspirational”.
This post was published under Neta’s “Community Voices,” a space for community members of the Rio Grande Valley to publish stories, opinions, information, and ideas. Posts in this section solely reflect the views of the authors. To read more from Community Voices, click here.