There is a Starr in your future, and in your past and your present. So close, yet in many ways so far.
I took a trip yesterday to Starr—Starr County, Texas—destination Rio Grande City, driving from my county, Hidalgo, with some natives of that area. We had not been back for many years.
On the “back road” (State 107, to avoid US 83 traffic), we marveled at the heavy commercial traffic we had hoped to avoid. What a joke! Tanto traffic! Soh surprising, so much!
Also, much of the names and symbols remain from past Conservative days (yet, not totally extinct). We go ahead”chary,” then “the bentsenroads named for South Texas’ major Anglo-Saxon political families and officials who ruled for so long. Starr was named after James Harper Starr, Secretary of the Treasury for the Republic of Texas. The larger geographic (now political) area, up to San Antonio, was once occupied by Coahuiltecans, Tonkawas and Lipan Apaches, then Spaniards, then Mexicans, now, primarily, Mexican Americans, the largest non-Anglo ethnic group in the country. .
The route, 83, that will eventually bypass Sullivan and so many other quaint little towns (where I once researched peeled of gallo, or cockfighting) will end, I guess, in Laredo, once the capital of the independent Rio Grande Republic, in 1840. Driving the speed limit (I remembered speed cameras from the 70s and 80s, but, actually , all the others passed me) we reach an imposing and large white building, part of the La Joya high school, memorably named “Juárez-Lincoln”. It honors these two great friends, two great presidents, each opposed to slavery, President Abraham Lincoln, killed by Confederate traitors, and el Benemerito Benito Juárez, Mexico’s first indigenous president.
We continued our journey, not to nowhere, but to both old and new adventures. Aesthetic senses are teased by the light show, along the highway, of what could be our very own “Taj Mahal”, the golden tower of La Grulla High School. Their mascot? The “Alligators”. (I guess the alligators ate the grullas, cranes?) Often, our most beautiful public monuments are now our educational establishments? Not a bad idea.
Then, heading west, we continued; finally entering Rio Grande City, surely the longest city in the Rio Grande Valley – miles of jammed, frantic traffic and commerce, most commercial signs in Spanish. You have to go even further before reaching the city center. And what a city. Always pretty busy, but you’re in the old west, son. Five degrees warmer than Hidalgo, narrow streets, adobe buildings, some of which date from the turn of the century (19e) high and decorated balconies. So much to see. Neither my friends, although they are from this region, nor I had returned for a long time. It was comforting, stimulating to do it – the return, as a promise.
But, amidst the hubbub, under the familiar cross, on top of a hill, leading into town, the mansions, some abandoned, some being restored. . . strange, there was not yet a single campaign sign for Congressman Henry Cuellar of this 28e District, nor for his Republican opponent, Cassie Garcia. He is a candidate for re-election. She was the former deputy aide to Cuban-American Senator Ted Cruz. (Lots of other local campaign signs, though; Starr is nothing if not extremely politically active). An older friend of mine remembered President Eisenhower visiting many years ago with his ranching family to see the President cut the ribbon to open the Falcon Dike. It was the time of “The Partido Viejo», (Republican) and El Partido Nuevo (Democratic). Some of these divisions remain.
28e The Congressional District includes Zapata County, named after Col. José Antonio de Zapata, a rancher who rebelled against Mexico in the mid-1800s. Starr dominates the lower part of the district, with a population of 60,000. ; it includes Rio Grande City (11,000). Part of the county of Hidalgo (775,000 inhabitants) is also involved. Perhaps there is more partisan activity in the north, towards San Antonio? Can’t say, as I haven’t been there recently.
Representative Cuellar is running for re-election in this district in November 2022. He defeated a Democratic primary opponent, Jessica Cisneros, by just 1,000 votes. He might have lost had another Hispanic woman, Tannya Benavides, not shown up and received 2,000 votes. 28e spans nine different counties (even stretching southeast to Bexar County, San Antonio, hundreds of miles). It is also interesting to note that 51% of the population is female, only 49% male. Hidalgo County, too, sees a progressive woman, Michelle Vallejo, challenged by another, but rather conservative, woman, Monica de la Cruz; may the best woman win!
To compare, the 15e Congressional District, of which McAllen is, perhaps, the leader of the “lizard”, the congressional district; it appears, if not as a Salamander (where does the term “Gerrymander” come from), at least as a Gila Monster? The district meanders to Seguin (more republican). The narrow 28eliquidations, in the same way contemplated by the Texas Legislature, considerably north. Who did this to us? Who cut our constituencies into narrow, winding, probably unconstitutional, uncompact sections? Republicans.
Whichever party is in power, at the state level, each new decade decides the very shape of the federal districts. So, for more than 25 years, guess who has the power? Republicans. The idea? To dominate, they hoped, Mexican-dominated American voters in South Texas, crushing its largely Democratic votes with more Republican, “northern” votes. Now, allegedly, a lot of money, especially from Republicans, is flowing this way. In power, controlling our lives, for more than a quarter century – Republicans; and Governor Abbott’s third term. Democratic voters, and many others, are saying “it’s time for a change.” quien sabe?
But away from politics and back to culture. . . Once in historic Rio Grande, we did our scheduled business at the Old Courthouse, paid homage at the nearby replica of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, and visited La Borde House, in the old Fort Ringgold Hotel. the hostess, Senorita Virginiaso nice, so full of wonderful stories (ghost stories and the like – “Lady Bird stayed here”, etc.) showed us the beauties and elegance of this historic showcase. Our imagination took over when she showed us the “secret” entrance to the tunnel leading to the river, which would have helped Al Capone (according to one version) at the start of the smuggling.
It only remains for us to end our stay with a lunch in town at Caro’s, famous for its exotic and “inflated” dishes. Tacosfollowed by sopapillae. The townspeople who ate there ranged from tattooed and muscular laborers to smartly dressed young women, who might have just walked out of the tapas bar of the Maison La Borde. We came back, still talking politics, of course – who doesn’t, who can’t in South Texas – but reveling in our “step back in time” and our chance to renew our love of Hispanic culture and our valley heritage. Long live the Valley! Long live our sister city, Rio Grande City! Long live our sister county, Starr!
Editor’s Note: The guest column above was written by UT-Rio Grande Valley Emeritus Professor Dr Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Mounce can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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