|SAN BENITO, December 4 - Today I submitted my suggestions on the Project South Texas website of The University of Texas System for the name of the new university to be formed by combining UTPA and UTB.
I submitted two names: The University of Tejas (my first choice) and The University of Texas – The Valley. Read on and I’ll explain my rationale. First, though, below is my analysis of why the five names provided for public comment are not fitting for the new UT university.
UT for the Americas or Las Americas or International – Yes, UTPA and UTB are located near the border. Yes, both campuses have many students from Mexico and other foreign students. However, neither university has made a serious and committed and constant effort to take advantage of the international location of the campuses. Neither college has developed substantial relationships with Mexican or Latin American institutions to expand cultural and educational dialogue. I attribute this to the lack of priority to make UTPA and UTB international or Latin America powerhouses. That was the call of the current and previous university administrations and boards.
Instead, it has been individual faculty members or even student groups who have pursued programs involving U.S.-Mexico relations and other foreign affairs matters.
What a lost opportunity for our region. With a different vision and strategic leadership in the past, we could have by now been THE place to study Mexico and Latin America. In fact, Tulane University, which is in New Orleans, has more to offer than our two campuses combined. Just that one university has an unbelievable track record in promoting and supporting the study and research of Mexican affairs.
Slapping a new “international” name will not magically make the new university THE institution that links Texas and the U.S. to Latin America. I predict that the focus of the new university administrators will continue to be north and domestic, rather than south and international.
UT South – “South” is as uncreative as “South Texas”. Everyone from Laredo to San Antonio to Corpus Christi to the Valley claim the latter. No one identifies this region as the “South”. The Southeast U.S. has a historical claim to the label. Let them keep it. It fits them, not us.
UT Rio Grande Valley – This appears like a logical selection. After all, we are known as the Lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV). In Texas, it is a well-known name to identify our area, similar to “South Padre” refers to South Padre Island, not the northern end of Padre Island in the Corpus Christi area.
However, the name is too long. If people start identifying us as simply “RGV” that will be the beginning of the end of our regional identity. People will forget what “RGV” stands for and future generations quite frankly won’t care. How many of you know what IBM or ATT stand for? How many of you use “Los Angeles” versus “LA”? Be honest, now.
Also, our region along the lower part of the Rio Grande River/Rio Bravo cannot claim to be the only “Rio Grande Valley”. Ask the folks in New Mexico. Do some simple research as to how many other areas identify themselves as “Rio Grande Valley.” Remember, the river runs from Colorado through New Mexico and divides Texas from Mexico. We, as much as we want to, cannot claim to be the only region along the river.
This leads me to my choice number two: The University of Texas – The Valley (UTV). Folks in Texas know our area as “The Valley.” It does not matter if our topography does not fit the term. We may not be between two mountain ranges as a typical valley would be. To use this as a metaphor, though: we do have the rest of Texas and the U.S. to the north and the Mexican Republic to the south. We might as well have towering ranges on both sides seeking to control our destiny over several centuries. Sound familiar?
Interestingly, unlike a typical “valley” we even have a “range” to our east in the form of the Gulf of Mexico that hosted Spanish and French efforts to colonize Texas. The Spanish succeeded; most of the French died on the coast trying.
My number one choice, though, is: The University of Tejas (Tejas). A name can be a way to educate, not just identify an educational institution. “What is ‘Tejas’?”, you can almost hear a school child ask. “It is what the Spanish called this area when they settled it and it was the name of a Native American people,” would answer the parent or teacher. It is a name that denotes pride in heritage and a recognition that the history of Texas did not begin in 1836 when Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Ah. Education. Awareness. Pride in heritage and recognition of a complicated and rich history that resulted in the great state that we now call “Texas.” It is a way to honor the Spanish and Mexican roots of this former Spanish colony, Texas Republic, and now a U.S. state.
Yes, just about every corner of Texas can point to its Mexican or Spanish roots or influence. After all, Spain controlled it for several centuries and the Mexican Republic owned it from 1821-1836. However, our border region of South Texas right now has the reputation in Texas of being principally Hispanic or Mexican-American. Well, our demographics show that is true and population projections do not show a change. That is a reputation that we should treat as a strength and a way to market the appeal to ALL Hispanics, academicians, and researchers in the U.S. to study at Tejas if they want the premiere environment to pursue educational excellence in a bicultural, bilingual, and binational setting.
After all, our beloved Valley has plenty of social, economic, political, fiscal, territorial, and development challenges to keep us busy for a long, long time. The future graduates of Tejas will have the opportunity and preparation to be part of the solutions and contribute toward an improved region and a greater Texas.
Salomon Torres is a graduate in Business Administration from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and Law from Columbia Law School. He is the owner of Salomon Torres Soluciones, a government and legislative affairs consulting business in Harlingen. Torres was a 2012 congressional candidate for U.S. District 34. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.