MCALLEN, RGV – The former president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has applauded the McAllen community for producing a video that embraces diversity and welcomes the arrival of immigrants.
Javier Palomarez, a Rio Grande Valley native, was keynote speaker at a luncheon hosted by the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Friday. In an interview after the event, Palomarez, criticized Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham for fearing the demographic changes sweeping the nation and said border communities such as McAllen should be proud of the contributions they make to the country.
“I commend McAllen for its efforts. There is a great need for the Valley – whether you are on the right or the left is irrelevant – to become engaged and let our voices be heard. It is our right, it is our privilege, it is our duty as Americans, as a full-hearted part of this nation to be heard, to speak up,” Palomarez said.
“The Valley has much to offer this nation and I believe that it is absolutely the right thing to do for us to band together and change the narrative. The reality is, the Valley contributes greatly to this nation.”
PolluxCastor Creative, in cooperation with the city of McAllen, residents and community partners in McAllen, launched the “Another Side of Us” project on Aug. 7 with the release of Welcome — a new video to challenge misconceptions about life in a Latino-majority city on the Texas-Mexico border.
Adan Garcia, president of PolluxCastor Creative, said the “Welcome” video sets the tone for Another Side of Us, an ongoing community project that features McAllen residents “speaking on behalf of a community that defies expectations about education, crime, inclusiveness, sustainability, and quality of life” in a region where nine in ten people are descendants of Latino immigrants.
“The world’s eyes are on McAllen in the wake of the federal policy of separating and detaining immigrant families seeking refuge at the border,” Garcia said. “The underlying fear of a ‘demographic change’ harming our nation calls our community’s fundamental character into question. For years we’ve quietly proven what can be achieved by a Latino-built community; it’s time we stopped being quiet.”
Palomarez said he could could not agree more.
“This is a land where opportunity exists to this day and the reality is, it is about the diversity of this nation and the fact that particularly the Hispanic business community has so much to offer this nation. The stories abound of our contributions, our economic innovation, the way we are creating jobs. At the end of the day they are Hispanic but they are first and foremost Americans. Every tax bill they pay, every job they create, every service they provide, goes to benefit the American economy, and we would do well as a community here in South Texas, predominantly of Hispanics but not exclusively, to tell our story and let the rest of the nation know the Valley is right for investment, that we are organized, that we are speaking with one voice.”
In remarks on her weeknights show on Fox, Ingraham questioned where America is headed.
“In some parts of the country it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they are changes none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like,” Ingraham said.
“From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed. Now much of this is related to both illegal and in some cases legal immigration that, of course, progressives love.”
Asked about these comments, Palomarez said:
“It is unfortunate that some continue to use this divisive language, this language of hatred and fear that ultimately does nothing to help the American people. We are a nation of broad shoulders and big hearts. We are a nation that is built on the backs of immigrants and pioneers. That is our legacy. We need to hold onto it.”
Palomarez said the United States would survive a period of divisiveness.
“It is a very difficult time. But, as I said earlier I believe in times of great challenges there is also great opportunity. And we have an opportunity right now as a people that are the sons and daughters of South Texas, whether you are Hispanic or not, whether you are Republican or Democrat, to speak together about the contributions that we make to this state and to this nation.”
Leadership in Times of Change
Palomarez was featured twice at a RGV Hispanic Chamber luncheon titled “Leadership in Times of Change.” The event was held at the Double Tree Hotel Suites by Hilton in McAllen.
First, he gave remarks, extolling the contributions to society of local business leaders like Alonzo Cantu and the La Mantia family. He then participated in a town hall discussion with questions about immigration, politics and NAFTA posed by Cynthia Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the RGV Hispanic Chamber, and Veronica Gonzales, vice president of UT-Rio Grande Valley.
Asked afterwards what the key points were that he wanted to get across, Palomarez said:
“I wanted to talk about the potential that exists in the Rio Grande Valley. I think the Valley has immeasurable potential and I am thrilled to be back home talking to my people about the things that matter to them and to me. I am hopeful that the Valley will begin to shine in the way I know it is capable of.”
Palomarez gave a shoutout to business leaders such as Cantu and the La Mantias. “That is American leadership and it is not coming from some other place in the country. It is coming from right here in the Rio Grande Valley. I think they are illustrative of what this Valley is capable of.”
Palomarez said he also wanted to encourage the business community to get more involved in shaping public policy.
“We find ourselves right now as nation in a divisive environment. It is very combative. A lot of dichotomy between different points of view. But I believe American business and certainly small business has a role to play and we should look at everything, from immigration reform to healthcare and everything in between from a business perspective. Economics must play a role in the decision-making that is happening. Not only in Washington but right here in Austin and all the way to McAllen, Texas.”
In a Q&A after the town hall discussion a question was posed by a UTRGV student regarding a 16 percent cut in funding for her college. Palomarez, a graduate of UT-Pan American, the forerunner to UTRGV, was asked how students can fight that. He responded that it was important young people are made aware of such decisions.
“When I was your age I was not looking at the funding at UT. That level of awareness is what we need and we need our young people to vote and to get engaged and say, hey, hold it, we are an equal member of the family and all of a sudden we are not getting treated like an equal member of the family.”
Palomarez then broadened his response to attack the current state leadership, acknowledging that he is a Democrat.
“I think, frankly, that the people running this state aren’t really representative of the people of this state. They are representative of a very thin sliver of members of this state. But, the vast majority of us, perhaps, don’t really relate and they don’t relate to us. I think it is high time that we have somebody in Austin that represents all of the people of Texas and certainly represents South Texas better than what we are seeing now. Things like that (cuts to UTRGV funding) would not be the case.”
Palomarez again stressed the “promise” of the Valley.
“I am biased, obviously, but look at the potential that exists in the Valley. And yet, if you look at access to healthcare, affordable, quality healthcare, Texas ranks No. 48 in the nation, if you look at spending per student, Texas ranks No. 38 in the nation. If you look at the educational attainment, we are at the bottom quadrant here. If you look at the five poorest counties in Texas, they are these counties, Hidalgo, Wells, Cameron,” Palomarez said.
“That cannot continue to be the case. We have brilliant people coming out of the Valley. We have an educational institution here, UTRGV, that is second to none. But, we are not doing enough as a community to band together, to put our differences aside and speak with one voice to Washington, and to Austin about what we need down here.”
Palomarez said that if he was a businessman and was investing, he would look no further than the Valley.
“This stock, you can buy it cheap and it is going to do nothing but go up. So, I would encourage you to continue to be engaged and let (Congressman) Henry (Cuellar) and all the other members of Congress know your concerns because we do need to have a voice in the Valley. And by the way, who benefits from the Valley getting to be more of a powerhouse? Texas does. The nation does.”
Circling back to the student who asked the question, Palomarez said: “I think young people like yourself need to get involved, start voting, get out there, get your voice heard, lead with the facts and start making the change that we need for the Valley.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Cynthia Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Javier Palomarez, and Veronica Gonzales, vice president of UT-Rio Grande Valley.