Bland El Paso

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. And maybe it wasn’t that much of a secret. But really, they should have known better.

There was such an uproar when the Glass Beach Study came out, I just assumed it had been discredited and abandoned. I had no idea it became the blueprint for Brand El Paso. I had no idea that City Council, after being self-righteously outraged, quietly adopted the study’s recommendations.

To review, in 2006, the Glass Beach Study suggested that El Paso was perceived by the rest of the United States to be lazy, uneducated, old, and Spanish-speaking. In a word, Mexican, as perceived by ignorant bigots.

It’s no surprise that El Paso should be perceived as Mexican. After all, we are. What’s surprising is that the people from Glass Beach would think that asking bigots what they thought of El Paso might prove instructive.

Oh, wait. The Glass Beach study was actually prepared by advertising agency Sanders Wingo. At the time, Sanders Wingo’s biggest local client was the Paso del Norte Group. And the Paso del Norte Group was, at the time, trying to convince El Pasoans that the only viable course of action to save El Paso from a future of poverty and ignominy was to bulldoze Segundo Barrio to build a “lifestyle center.” Segundo Barrio, you may have noticed, is like 110 percent Mexican. If you wake up in Segundo Barrio, it may take you a while to decide which side of the border you are on.

So maybe it’s not surprising that Sanders Wingo asked bigots what they thought of El Paso. Their conclusions fit the agenda of their biggest local client. And maybe it was never so sinister. After all, more than half of Americans are prejudiced against Mexicans, according to a recent study.

I guess a better question is how Glass Beach, a company that never existed before El Paso came calling for a brand study, got the contract. Oddly, Glass Beach seems to have ceased to exist immediately after cashing the city’s check.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the bamboozlers from the bamboozled. They both act like they believe the bamboozle. Was Sanders Wingo/Glass Beach induced to produce the results they got? Did they do the study themselves for the money, or was it so they could queer the deal? Were the PDNG and City Council in on it? How about the increasingly controversial City Manager, who is herself a member of the PDNG?

Of course, that is all ancient history, toilet water under the bridge. Most, if not all, of the elected officials who served on City Council at the time have moved on. The career bureaucrats who abetted the study have been quietly acquiescent, the way career bureaucrats are, muzzled, for the time being, by the latest election results. But curiously, the study results linger.

The City, and the various actors influencing El Paso’s branding, seem intent on minimizing our cultural heritage. Take, for instance, the plans (already approved) to redevelop San Jacinto Plaza. Table tennis? Really? How about washas? Or the names proposed for the baseball team. The only slightly Spanish name selected for consideration by the ownership group is Chihuahuas, and when Mexicans think of Chihuahua, they don’t think of dogs.

Soon they may be asking us to change our name to The Pass.

El Paso is the most Mexican of American cities. And because a handful of American bigots attribute negative traits to Mexnicity, El Paso is pretending that we’re not. We shouldn’t be trying to compete with the rest of the cities in the United States on the basis of Americanism. We should capitalize on our unique traits.

The “science” of marketing says a marketer should tout a product’s Unique Selling Proposition; that is, the qualities that differentiate it from all other products in its category. El Paso has never done that. We continue to throw money at the areas where we’re weak, in an effort to bring us up to the standards of every other American city. Well, I’ve got news for you. El Paso will never be as American as Nebraska. If we’re competing with Nebraska for Yahoo’s next service center, we’re not going to win it because we’re more American.

We’ll be chasing American cities forever. How can we compete when we’re a pig in a dog show? More importantly, why would we want to?

(Some people may not appreciate the beauty of pigs, and take that as a denigration. But of course we’re not pigs, and it isn’t a dog show. But neither is El Paso an “American” city, and it shouldn’t pretend to be.)

El Paso should emphasize its international character. We should be the gateway to Mexico. And we should be a gateway to the U.S., for Mexicans. Every Mexican company in the U.S. should have an office in El Paso, if not its U.S. headquarters.

I’ve got no problem with the Borderplex Alliance’s continued efforts to pursue American factories, but I’d be a little more encouraged if they’d shown just a little bit of success for all the taxpayer money they’ve received, via REDCo, over the last umpteen years. Come on, what have they got to show for it? Maybe we should tie REDCo’s compensation to their success rate. REDCo hosted 12 client visits between July 5th and August 17th of 2012, according to their website. How many of those deals did they close?

Does REDCo point to El Paso’s lack of a vibrant downtown for their lack of success? Downtown is El Paso’s living room, according to the current crop of dissembling narrative. And I appreciate the value of vibrant neighborhoods, as a marketing tool, wherever they’re located. But it’s ridiculous to think that El Paso’s road to success lies through downtown.

Besides, all the good parties end up in the kitchen.

I’m not complaining because I’m a radical Chicano. I’m complaining because what they’re doing isn’t working.

If the City is looking for ways to trim the budget, cutting funding for REDCo is a place to start.

There’s more, of course. But this post is already too long.

Edit – Bob Moore commented via Facebook:
Bob wrote: “Lots of great points in this piece. However, on this recommendation that the city achieve budget savings by cutting REDCO, you’d be cutting from zero. The City Council in 2011, citing a lack of performance by REDCO, eliminated city funding to the group.”

2 comments

  1. I think the Glass Beach thing was hugely misunderstood. No secret that the rest of the country had a bad impression about El Paso then. Poll after poll showed that. Very parochial to say it wasn’t so. And to brand the whole efffort as racist is typical of the careless use of the word upon almost every use these days. Says a lot more, I think, of the speaker of the slur than the target.
    I’d also challenge the basis for this statement: “But it’s ridiculous to think that El Paso’s road to success lies through downtown.” First, no one EVER said a great downtown is the road to success. But if you have a great city and a boarded up downtown, it reflects badly on the whole place. Downtown El Paso was on it’s way to hell a few years ago thanks largely to the downtown property owners refusal to invest in their own properties. Lots and lots of closed and boarded store fronts. Few downtown residents north of Paisano. For whatever reason, that is all changing fast.
    I will concede that open-air table tennis is really stupid.

  2. Mr. Crowder, it’s been my experience thatt it’s easy to say it’s misuse of the word “racist” when you’re white… and as for the downtown property owners “refusal to invest”… can you name any of these property owners who are NOT one of the four or five usual suspects

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