In this first playlist for Neta, I thought it would be best to explore the history of the Rio Grande Valley, as told by musicians in this area. We start in the 1800s with Juan Cortina and end in the 1980s with our version of the “Satanic Panic!” Between those points, we learn about Jacinto Treviño, Irene Garza, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of the farmworker movement in the Valley, Hurricane Beulah, the 1971 Riot in Pharr, the “March For Human Rights,” and the death of Rosie Jimenez.
Read about each song below or click here to listen to the playlist directly on YouTube.
1. “Corrido de Juan Cortina” by Oscar Chavez
Juan Cortina became a folk hero in these borderlands and someone that has since been referred to as “the Rio Grande Robin Hood.” In 1800s, Cortina lead a militia confronting new settlers in this area, the United States Army, the Confederate States Army, the Texas Rangers, and various others. Lots of history here wrapped up in a song by Oscar Chavez that has an upbeat tempo and rhythm. Historian Robert Elman describes Cortina as the first “socially motivated border bandit.”
2. “Corrido de Jacinto Treviño” by Los Donneños
One of the most famous and beloved corridos in this area, this song tells the tale of Jacinto Treviño, another folk hero in these borderlands of South Texas. This version of the tune is my favorite and is performed by norteño conjunto pioneers Los Donneños (bajo-sexto player and singer Ramiro Cavazos at 90 years old is still performing and has a store in McAllen that he works at). Treviño resided in Los Indios in the lower Valley and is best known for taking on the Texas Rangers.
3. “Irene Garza” by Wailin Storms
North Carolina punk band Wailin Storms did this song about the death of Irena Garza, a local teacher in the RGV, at the hands of Catholic Priest John Feit in McAllen on April 1960. The case was untouched for decades until a renewed interest developed in the 2000s after various television programs covered this story. Feit was finally arrested in Arizona last year, and now at 84 years old is set to go to trial soon in Hidalgo County for the murder of Irene Garza.
4. Los Derechos Civiles by Los Oros del Valle
Los Oros del Valle, a conjunto from the Valley, performed this corrido about civil rights, during the height of the civil right movement in the 1960s. This is a rallying call for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to stand up for our rights. This was part of an Arhoolie Records “Ballads & Corridos” compilation that also had a Valley ballad dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.
5. “Rinches de Tejas” by Dueto Reynosa
Decades upon decades later, the Texas Rangers are still causing trouble. Here they assaulted local farm workers 50 years ago on June 1, 1967, during the now legendary Starr County melon strike. This song is composed by the late “Chulas Fronteras” radio host Willie Lopez and is performed by Dueto Reynosa. It covers the story of what exactly happened and accuses then-Texas Governor John Connally of playing a role in the violence that Texas Rangers unleashed that day.
6. “Las Crescientes de Beulah” by Gilberto Perez
It was 50 years ago on Sept. 19, 1967, when Hurricane Beulah landed and caused destruction in South Texas and Northern Mexico. There were many songs about this hurricane, including corridos by Gilberto Lopez, Tony de la Rosa, and Flaco Jimenez. This song, in particular, is by Mercedes conjunto legend Gilberto Perez (who is still performing at 82 years of age) details the effects that that devastating hurricane had here in our borderlands.
7. “Corrido de Pharr” by Rumel Fuentes
Rumel Fuentes was an activist, composer, musician, and teacher from Eagle Pass who specialized in writing songs about struggles during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. “Corridos of the Chicano Movement” was released by Arhoolie Records posthumously after Fuentes passed away in 1986 and features a powerful song about police brutality in Pharr and the infamous Pharr Riot of 1971, which left Alfonso Loredo Flores dead after getting shot by Deputy Sheriff Robert Johnson.
8. “Marcha del Campesino” and “Siguieron Los Campesinos” by Esteban Jordan
Forty years ago, the Texas Farm Workers Union embarked on their 2000-plus mile “March For Human Rights” that went from San Juan to Austin, then from Austin to D.C. Just a few weeks ago was the anniversary of when they arrived on D.C., which was on Sept. 3, 1977. Elsa’s Esteban Jordan, “El Parche” as he was affectionately known due to his eye patch, composed and performed this epic two-part corrido that paid tribute to what the Texas Farm Workers Union did in 1977.
9. “Remember Rose” by Sandy Rapp
Oct. 3 will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of McAllen’s Rosie Jimenez — the first known victim of the Hyde Amendment — due to the complications from an illegal abortion. This is a heartfelt tribute to Jimenez and a strong protest song against anti-choice laws: “Get your laws off of me, I’m not your property, don’t plan my family, I’ll plan my own.” Not familiar with Sandy Rapp, who is not from the Valley, but she appears to be a folk protest songwriter who would compose songs regarding reproductive justice. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more songs regarding Rosie Jimenez, but so far, this is the only one I’ve been able to find.
10. “Tragedia En Matamoros” by Los Suspiros de Salamanca
The “Satanic Panic” was a huge part of America during the late 1980s, and the Valley experienced a version of that hysteria with arson in Pharr, and with this even more famous story involving Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo and Sara Aldrete, a student at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville. The song by norteño group Los Suspiros de Salamanca narrates and talks about the two being responsible for the death of Mark Kilroy, along with 15 other people whose bodies were found at Racho Santo Elena near Matamoros.