MCALLEN, RGV – The City of McAllen, McAllen Chamber of Commerce, and McAllen Economic Development Corporation are banding together to launch a $250,000 marketing campaign in Mexico.
Mayor Jim Darling said the campaign is being launched to make sure McAllen does not suffer from anti-Mexican rhetoric emanating from President Trump or the White House. More than 30 percent of McAllen’s retail sales comes from Mexican shoppers.
“We have to counteract some of the negative rhetoric coming out of Washington. The reports that are coming back to us indicate that the (Mexican) people with disposable income are spending it in other places,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Darling said he met recently with a senator from Nevada who was making the same point. In Nevada, there is concern Mexican tourists will be less inclined to visit Las Vegas. Darling said he was told a story about 15 people from Mexico who go to Las Vegas every New Year’s Eve but decided against it because they did not feel welcome in the United States.
“It is not just McAllen, although we feel it more than anybody. The feedback we are getting is, ‘How come you are not over here saying we care about you?’ I think we have tried to do that. But, now, we are going to do it in a more concentrated campaign.”
Asked how much the marketing campaign would cost, Darling said: “I think it is over $200,000. I cannot remember the exact amount. Around $250,000 I think. It will be the Chamber, MEDC and the City participating.”
Keith Patridge, president of McAllen EDC, confirmed that his organization would be participating in the marketing campaign. Patridge said: “This week we were approached by the City and the Chamber about going in with them to do a marketing campaign in Mexico. We have agreed to participate. It will be all over Mexico, not just Monterrey.”
Darling said the three cities in Texas that have been hit hardest by a drop in Mexican shoppers are McAllen, Mercedes and The Woodlands.
“The Woodlands is all about attracting higher end shoppers. People who can afford to fly there. They have high end stores up there, probably more than McAllen. I have not verified the numbers, it was told to me. But, it would certainly make sense (that The Woodlands would be affected). The rhetoric is having an effect. I think you have to feel good about the country you are going to,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian.
National TV Appearances
At a McAllen EDC board meeting, Mayor Darling said he would be scaling back his appearances on national TV because McAllen’s message was not getting through. Darling has been in demand with national TV news crews and program producers ever since the 2014 surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America.
“We have decided not to do national stories any more. We were supposed to do George Stephanopoulos last Sunday. When I talked to the producer it was obviously going to be a debate with him (Stephanopoulos) on certain things, such as immigration policy. I decided I did not want to do that,” Darling told the MEDC board.
“It is becoming increasingly more difficult to tell our story. The differences between Republicans and Democrats is so stark. Each time we did an interview it was what they want to put out. It is not very good for us. I think the best thing to do at this point is not participate. We need to be much more selective.”
George Stephanopoulos hosts ABC TV’s Sunday morning politics show, This Week. Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian that it was Stephanopoulos that started calling the surge by unaccompanied minors from Central America a “border crisis.” That still rankles Darling.
“George Stephanopoulos started a lot of this stuff. He called it a border crisis. That border crisis turned in an unsafe border narrative. The guy in Duluth, Minnesota thinks okay, we need to build a fence because thousands of Mexicans are pouring across our border every day and we cannot do anything to prevent it. That is not the case. It was Central Americans, unaccompanied minors, that spiked that number. Technically they are illegal when they come across but they were saying, ‘I’m here’,” Darling said.
“It was not an interdiction issue, it was a processing issue. It was processing all these people that were seeking asylum. We do not have an asylum policy that makes any sense. We do not have a system set up to handle it. So, all of a sudden, we have a border crisis. All of a sudden, it becomes a presidential issue and a guy wins the presidential election on a slogan that we need to build a border wall. We need to address the asylum policy, address the immigration policy and give Border Patrol and CBP the means to address these people because they were flooding across. It was a border crisis because they could not handle all these mothers and kids. It was not because they could not catch them.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Darling pointed out that McAllen was listed as one of the Top 10 places to retire to in a national survey. He said this does not get reported by the national media. Instead, they focus on the border being a dangerous place to visit. Darling said some people wanted to move last year’s Games of Texas because it was being held in McAllen. He said organizers were asking if McAllen was safe. He said he also heard that a La Joya ISD sporting event was impacted in the same way. “We have enough on our plate dealing with the devaluation of the Peso, without having to deal with stories about how dangerous it is here.”
Asked why he would not be appearing as much on national TV, Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian:
“You can have a half hour interview and maybe they will pull out a 30 second soundbite. If they aired the whole thing, it would be different. The news media has already decided which way they want to tell a story. I was on NPR and they were asking me to comment on the facial expressions of Speaker Ryan as he sat behind Donald Trump. I thought, this is a weird conversation.
“It is not just NPR. You have got the right wing and the left wing and no one in the middle telling the story. They have an angle they want to pursue and I don’t want to participate in that. I do not want to pile on anybody. If they want to know about the border, well, we are the safest city in Texas.
“If the President said, we think the cartel threat is spread across the border and we want to do everything we can to work with Mexico to try to curtail that and put those people behind bars, that is a fantastic message. But to say, ‘if you can’t do it we are going to invade your country because you have got bad hombres down there,’ and every time you speak Spanish you insult those people you are trying to work with, it just makes it difficult for us as a border community to tell our story.”
Darling acknowledged it is “pretty frustrating” to sit and listen to the national debate on border security. He said he sits and listens to it and thinks, “Gee whizz, how far away from the truth can you get?”
Darling also recounted an incident when a U.S. senator visited Anzalduas Park recently and pointed to a nice-looking playground with lots of families have a fun time.
“I told him that was Mexico and he was surprised. He started taking pictures. All the senators have been very nice. One of them asked if we are losing Winter Texans because of border violence. I told him we are losing Winter Texans due to demographics. I point out to them that if they go to the Riverside Club on a Sunday they will see hundreds of Winter Texans dancing and enjoying themselves. That is a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande. I tell them there is a trailer park full of Winter Texans just a stone’s throw from Mexico.”
Darling concluded his interview by saying how much he wished the national media would connect the dots when discussing border security.
“Our drug habit fuels the cartels, which cause the terrible conditions in Central America. And so, we get those seeking asylum. It is all connected. We seem to deal only with things that have political expediency. It is very frustrating.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story comes from the McAllen Means Business website. More than 30 percent of McAllen’s retail sales comes from Mexican shoppers.
Editor’s Note: Video-Journalist Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.