Blue People, Red State - Winter 2010 travel blog







I grew up in one of the poorer families in our town. What I did not realize at the time was that our town was in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. It did give me a rather skewed understanding of relative wealth. But here in Hidalgo County in the Rio Grande Valley, there is no doubt; there are many very poor people living here. Poor housing and pawn shops are obvious signs that the level of income is low, but we spotted the most vivid example of the low level of income here in the newspaper which carried an ad for one of those “Girls, Girls, Girls” places that a certain sort of man might want to frequent on Friday night. The cover charge was a mere $5 and patrons were encouraged to BYOB (bring their own liquor). Now that’s affordable sleaze!

At a recent event we got a copy of “The Official Guide to the Rio Grande Valley.” Inside amidst enticing photos of things to see and do, were the official statistics for the towns in the valley: Alamo - median salary $21,820, major employer Walmart; Weslaco - median salary $26,573; Mercedes - median salary $24,064, La Feria - median salary $25,267; San Benito - median salary $26,155 and for these towns the major employer was the school district. Few educators in metro Chicago would get out of bed for those salaries. Some towns had median salaries in the low $30,000 - their major employer was the Department of Homeland Security.

Many of the folks in our campground stay put for three to six months rather than flitting around as we do. They find the poverty hard to ignore and have a number of projects to raise money to give to poor local families. Our lane has an auction at the end of February where people donate things they no longer use. Last year they raised almost $1700. The lane also has weekly cocktail parties which in actuality are light on the cocktails, but concentrate on helping those around here. A coffee can is brought to each meeting and passed around. People throw in the coins they have in their pockets and it all adds up. Last year a local family was adopted and given a couch, a washing machine, and changes of clothes for the five children and their parents. They described the home as neatly kept and the father, a migrant worker, was the sole wage earner. Their old washing machine drained onto the ground. Some of the campers also tutor in the schools. Students who don’t speak English at home need extra attention to get up to speed. It’s no wonder that we see so many signs welcoming the Winter Texans.

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