Struggling to Overcome the Stigma of Stagnation

Iwo Jima at Sunset by Mike E. Perez

Iwo Jima at Sunset by Mike E. Perez

It certainly is disheartening when you see great things happening a half hour away, but your own hometown is a desolate wasteland. This is how my parents and my family feel living in Harlingen. It’s not just them either. A growing number of Harlingenites are getting fed up with the city’s history of bad choices. This is why we voted for single-member districts, this is why we voted for young blood on the commission. But Harlingen was apathetic toward its political arena for far too long. The damage is done.

At this point, we’re trying to pick up the pieces of our once booming city and market it as a great place to live and work. Like every city in the Valley, Harlingen has sunshine, beautiful scenery, great food (everyone loves Mexican!) and culture. But while Harlingen is paying for its past mistakes, McAllen is reaping the benefits from some great (risky, yes, but great) investments.

McAllen is bustling with nightlife, great retail and dining options… it is a testament to McAllen’s hard work in luring new business to the Valley. McAllen may be growing by leaps and bounds now, but I firmly believe Harlingen (and Brownsville) is gaining steam.

To start, our city has gained several new major employers, such as United Health, Tyco Flow and HHS Rotec. With the opening of Harlingen Corners stores such as Kohl’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond and Valle Vista Mall’s Forever 21, shopping has gotten quite a bit better. And dining options are constantly growing: Logan’s and Texas Roadhouse, Chick-Fil-A, with McAlister’s Deli and Cracker Barrel in the works. Admittedly, no five-star dining, but certainly better than before. With the planned expansion of TSTC, new elementary and secondary schools and facilities made possible by the recently passed $98.6M bond, and the development of a true medical school, students can look forward to a top-notch education.

These are great pluses for Harlingen. We’ve made great strides, and while we still imagine tumbleweeds blowing across Jackson Street, we realize that good things come to those who wait.

There are more visionaries, more educated young people in Harlingen than there were in the previous generation, when the vast majority were stripped of their potential thanks to lower incomes and stifled educational opportunities. How many of your parents were actually talked out of going to college by their guidance counselor back in 1972? How many were told they’d make better secretaries or mechanics than CEOs? How many were told to go to work to help feed their younger brothers and sisters? How many felt that military service was their only option?

This generation has lost its complacency, and is definitely working to better the city. But just as there are still plenty of the so-called “old guard” wishing to keep things the way they were, there are also plenty of naysayers from yesterday, who believe Harlingen will never change, that we’ll always remain looked down on… and so we might as well give up.

We have to somehow convince everyone that this city can be better than it ever was. Some will laugh, others will ignore us, and yet others will fight us tooth and nail. It’s a constant struggle. But it’s one that we have to make. And Harlingen will be better for it in the long run. It may take a while, but we’ve got time on our side. We’re the young ones now.

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5 Comments

Filed under Social Innovation

5 responses to “Struggling to Overcome the Stigma of Stagnation

  1. Robert Serna

    Okay, this comment won’t really be in any logical order, but here goes:

    I remember being little in the late ’80s and Harlingen was the place to be in the Valley. It was the city to go to. And now it’s not.

    What really gets on my nerves is that it seems that many citizens/leaders of Harlingen want everything in the world – for free. It’s hard to get them to believe that to make money, you have to spend some. Take a risk. We keep losing out to other towns and yet they wonder why – when many (not all) are the problem.

    And city leaders don’t seem aggressive enough in pursuing new business. Even the airport board seems lackadaisical every time I talk to them. It’s as though no concept of urgency exists in town. “Whatever will happen will happen” seems to be the approach many take after taking the backseat.

    My big worry right now is that Harlingen will lose something colossal, like Bass Pro Shop, to another town in the Valley, and then we’re truly screwed. And I’m having a rather difficult time understanding why a lot of people think it’s on par with Academy or Wal-Mart or Target – maybe because they don’t understand the magnitude of a Bass Pro Shop, or what a Bass Pro Shop is since I’m sure most residents haven’t been to one. But okay.

    And yeah, there is a serious lack of civic pride. It’s rather depressing. A lot of people act like going to McAllen is like going to New York/Paris/Milan/London. And it’s not only the citizens of Harlingen who feel that Harlingen is lame town – it’s much of the rest of the Valley, too, who tend to measure a town’s worth by how many Targets or Best Buys each has, when the proposed medical school and other (much more beneficial/important) projects kind of slip under the radar of many rather than be celebrated as a major win because it’s “not a store in McAllen.”

    My parents feel rather blah about Harlingen. Maybe it’s because they’ve lived down their most of their lives. Or maybe not. I don’t know what it is. But after not living there for several years, and only visiting about once or twice a year for a few days maximum, I think I see it through fresh eyes and see potential I never saw growing up and thinking everything was a bleak, deteriorating trainwreck.

    Either way, I love Harlingen, and really do feel, even in its current state, that it is the best (or has the potential to be the best) city in the Valley. Harlingen is improving. Things are picking up steam – and it’s great. I’m just hoping and crossing my fingers that nobody drops the ball – again.

    • Mike E. Perez

      My sentiments exactly.

      As I mentioned elsewhere, it’s really ironic that the same people calling the city stagnant and anti-growth are the ones who are vehemently against the Bass Pro Shops project. Yes, I’m also concerned about what has happened with BPS in other markets, but seriously, it’s time to take a risk that could potentially be a game changer for Harlingen. If BPS doesn’t happen, it’ll be just one more missed opportunity — like the arena and numerous other projects that were passed over. And then there are people saying, “Ooo, look at McAllen! They’ve got a Pappadeaux! Why can’t WE have a Pappadeaux?” … Pappdeaux? Seriously?

      The medical school is probably the absolute BIGGEST opportunity to hit Harlingen — EVER. And no one really seems to care. All I ever hear seems to be, “How much it will cost taxpayers?” or “The Lucios are just trying to get re-elected.” Think of the opportunities that school will afford the future doctors of the Valley, not to mention the outside investments coming from people and corporations who right now may not even know Harlingen exists.

  2. Andy Weaver

    I agree. Back in the 80’s and even the early 90’s there seemed to be a greater sense of “booster-ism” – real pride of place. Prior to field trips or school competitions, it was de-rigeur for a teacher or chaperon to stress the fact that we were a cut above, and that we represented not only ourselves but the city of Harlingen. We were better-than-though from cradle to grave and we took it for granted that EVERYONE knew it. What happened?! It’s as if the splitting of the high schools in ’93 was a trauma we never quite recouped from. I remember rioting at HHS in ’94 due to overcrowding, and being told by the Superintendent that “the split was never intended to be equal”. Like every other podunk Texas outpost, Harlingen was football country, and the division of team loyalties rubbed raw our community’s thinly veiled divisions of class and race. It was “US” vs “them” on MANY different levels. I suspect it always had been, and we were to young and sheltered to see it. If the economic engine of Harlingen is to gear up anew, then this collective small town mentality of “my team right or wrong” must be laid to rest. A municipality of 70 thousand or so has no reason to entertain fantasies of being a sleepy bedside community. Harlingen is not Mayberry. Turning your nose up at opportunity is the worst extravagance, and turning a blind eye to the needs and desires of the many at the expense of economic growth is a decadence we can ill afford – as the past twenty years have demonstrated. After all, we are Harlingen. We are better than this.

    • Mike E. Perez

      Very well said, Andy. I know exactly what you mean. We were always made to believe that as citizens of Harlingen we were a cut above the rest. And you’re right. Harlingen is NOT Mayberry. The town has held its own as one of the Valley’s largest cities, even without the help of a cross-border sister city like McAllen’s Reynosa or Brownsville’s Matamoros. But overall, the divisiveness in Harlingen needs to stop. We need to come together for a vision that will put Harlingen back on the map.

  3. Hector

    Mike,
    Thanks for your positive attitude and fresh perspective on this issue..This is the giant pink elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring, for the reasons that you listed above. I really want see your blog develop ideas as to how to regain that title of “Capital of the Valley”. I think that we need to give serious thought to all the underdeveloped land around town. Starting with the railroad relocation project that is starting up.. When I go to work I drive up Commerce street passed Jackson, and I see all the huge wharehouses all dilapitated and run down just waiting to be redeveloped. Its a great eyesore, but I know that if someone had the right vision we could have that space for parking, highrise townhomes, etc,etc… So now that I have found your blog, let the discorse begin and the ideas flowing…
    keep up the great work!!

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