In a front page story in the July 16 Texas Journal, a special state section of the Wall Street Journal, prominent Hispanic leaders in the area credited The University of Texas-Pan American with helping them to achieve economic and professional success.
"We went from picking cotton to what we're doing now, and I can tell you it's a lot better. It wouldn't have happened without Pan Am. Most everybody I grew up with went to Pan Am. It was a way out," attorney Ramon Garcia is quoted as saying.
The story by Houston-based Texas Journal reporter Patrick Barta takes a look at what is characterized as an increasingly powerful Hispanic middle class in Hidalgo County and how this growing population is influencing politics, business and other parts of Valley life.
Barta notes that, in the past, while the Anglo elite were sending their children to college out of the Valley, "the offspring of local Hispanic families were swelling the ranks of Pan Am.... And just as New York's City College was the gateway to the middle class for generations of European immigrants, Pan Am has served as the means to the mainstream for recent generations of this region's long-disadvantaged Hispanic majority."
Barta writes that "only now, though, is the number of alumni in McAllen and other border communities reaching a level that gives them the social, political and economic clout of a fully fledged middle class."
Dr. Jerry Polinard, chair of the Department of Political Science and a long-time observer of Valley politics, is quoted in the story as saying that "we're just now seeing the positive effects of the university system. There's a much larger Hispanic middle class and educated class here now than ever before."
Roland Arriola, director of COSERVE, also served as a resource for the story. He noted that for decades "we didn't have a middle class here. There was a rich class and a poor class, and the Anglos were rich and the Hispanics were poor. Now that has changed completely."
The writer provides background on the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund suit that is credited with bringing about changes in how the State of Texas funds higher education in South Texas.
He quotes Al Kauffman, MALDEF's attorney in the suit, as saying that as a result of the legal action "the institutions on the border have made all the progress that we had envisioned."
Barta closes his story with a question, "What happens after the coming generations graduate?"
He uses a comment by Dr. Ted von Ende, UT Pan American's director of institutional research and planning, to provide the answer.
"As the population of Texas becomes more Hispanic," von Ende says, "people are going to look to this region for leaders."