“We are anything but a ‘dusty border town,'” says Stephanie Gitkin Hawk, owner of Cobalt Digital Marketing in McAllen, Texas. She’s referring to the way she, along with many of the longtime residents of this border town, feel their beloved home has been portrayed recently in the national media.
With the Rio Grande at its southern border and enough palms to earn the nickname “The City of Palms,” she is certainly not wrong. But Hawk isn’t really referring to the terrain; she is concerned about the characterization of her hometown and the people who live there.
Why? Because McAllen, along with other Texas border cities like Brownsville, has been under intense media scrutiny since the immigration debate became a political flash point. Politicians pointed to these border cities as crime-ridden and chaotic — proof, they insisted, of the ill effects of immigration. Soon after, the national attention intensified with the heart-wrenching news (and accompanying photos) of Mexican immigrant children being separated from their parents. The largest immigration processing center in the country — the one that we all saw on the news — is in McAllen.
What happens when a vibrant, complex city like McAllen becomes the backdrop for a humanitarian crisis? According to residents, both the political soundbites and the ensuing media storm have failed to capture the truth about life on the border.