Author’s note: In this article, I will be spelling “tlacuachito” as “taquachito” as that is how it is normally spelled within conjunto. Exceptions will be when speaking of just the animal, like “tlacuache”, or when quoting a book passage that spells it differently: ‘tacuachito’.
“Te voy a comprar chinelas,
y un vestido muy bonito,
para que bailes la polka,
al estilo taquachito…” – “Margarita, Margarita”, a popular song in the South Texas conjunto repertoire.
Rio Grande City native Rodney Rodriguez is only 33 years old but has a lifetime of conjunto experience. When he was 13, he was already playing with a local conjunto in his hometown. By the time he was 16, he was the accordionist for Los Fantasmas del Valle, a legendary conjunto act that has been active in the Rio Grande Valley since 1968.
Now he helms Los Cucuys de Rodney Rodriguez, his very own conjunto, and they just had their big debut at La Villita Dance Hall in San Benito on Nov. 18. During these past 20 years of representing conjunto music in the Valley and beyond, Rodriguez has been playing a musical style and seeing a dance that he has called “al estilo taquachito” and “puro taquachito style!”
“I know it started cuando Tony de la Rosa hizo slow down el tempo,” Rodriguez said as he talked about this style of music and dancing that he has championed during his career. “Es cuando surgió eso, el taquachito style, que dice la gente.” (“It’s when it surged, the taquachito style, like the people say.”)
While up on the stage with his button diatonic accordion, Rodriguez delivers on the signature taquachito tempo, that he describes as being “mas calmado” (“calmer”). He adds, “We see and hear, ‘Puro taquachito!’ Dice la gente [en los bailes].” (“That’s what the people say at the dances.)
Rodriguez has experienced the taquachito style all across the Valley.
Lupe Saenz of the South Texas Conjunto Association likes to say “bailando al estilo taquachito” and agrees with Rodriguez when it comes to crediting the style to the late South Texas conjunto accordionist Tony de la Rosa. Saenz tells me that de la Rosa slowed down the beat so it could be danced at a slower pace. It is truly a Valley style.
“If you listen to the Flaco [Jimenez] or Santiago [Jimenez Jr.] conjunto style, notice how much faster or different the rhythm is compared to most Valley conjuntos,” Saenz pointed out to me, using the popular Jimenez brothers of San Antonio as an example. “Valley conjuntos are more taquachito style.”
Video description: Tony de la Rosa’s classic “Asi se baila en Tejas”, which was the introduction music for Lupe Saenz’s longtime KMBH television show “Acordeones de Tejas.
The late accordionist Ruben Vela is another person that popularized this Valley dance craze.
“Cuando toca Ruben Vela, todo el mundo se desvela!” was a popular saying when Vela was still alive and leading the taquachito way. This Vela polka, titled “Al Pasito Taquachito” and the chotis (from the original Bohemian word schottische) that follows are examples of taquachito music.
Video description: Songs uploaded to YouTube by Rodney Rodriguez.
If you haven’t been to a local conjunto baile and want to get an idea of how this dance looks like, Manuel Peña of Weslaco wrote the best explanation in his book Música Tejana: The Cultural Economy of Artistic Transformation:
“[E]l tacuachito consisted of the slow and deliberate shuffle of couples gliding counterclockwise around the dance floor. Reminiscent of a possum sauntering across an open field, el tacuachito represented an emphatic statement by tejano workers of their aesthetic sense — a sense captured nicely by the possum metaphor, with its evocation of an agrarian life. The slowed-down tempo of the polka and the motions of el tacuachito were two symbolic elements critical in stamping a strong ethnic, working-class identity on the whole music-and-dance style of the conjunto.”
The symbol of the taquachito has become important to many people here in the Valley. Smithsonian Folkways of the Smithsonian Institute produced a live album titled “Taquachito Nights: Conjunto Music from South Texas” (1999), recorded on location at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in San Benito. De la Rosa, Vela, Gilberto Perez, and Los Fantasmas del Valle were some of the acts featured on that release.
Celeste de Luna, an artist whose work has been exhibited many times over the years at this center, is known for art that has been inspired by our borderlands.
“I was exposed to conjunto music as kid growing up because my parents constantly listened to the local radio as well as the Sunday morning Johnny Canales show and through local dances and festivals,” de Luna told me.
One of her popular pieces was a drawing of a tlacuache that was saying “Neta.”
“I wanted to create a character that I felt was very ‘Valle,’” de Luna said. “The dance called the taquachito always struck me as funny, regional and unique. Joe Lopez of San Antonio also did a great ‘Chicho conjunto festival t-shirt image of a tlacuache that I really loved. The ‘Neta’ came from watching a video clip of a girlfriend gossiping on the phone, she listened, laughed, said ‘Neta’ and stuck her tongue out the way people do here. It struck me as a particularly Valley thing to say and do.”
(Disclaimer: Neta, the organization that published this article, uses de Luna’s drawing of the tlacuache saying “Neta” as our official Mascot with De Luna’s permission.)
For Rodriguez, it’s been an honor to continue the taquachito legacy that some of his favorite conjunto heroes started and kept alive many decades ago, at venues like La Villita Dance Hall.
Reopened this past August, La Villita Dance Hall is, along with La Lomita Park in McAllen, the go-to place to experience the taquachito style in person. Los Cucuys de Rodney Rodriguez drew over 200 attendees to this historic conjunto landmark that dates back to the 1940s.
“It went really well, gracias a dios,” Rodriguez said. “They even had to close the doors, ‘cause ya no habia tables, sillas, o nada. I had never seen that in all my years with Los Fantasmas [del Valle], so I guess that’s a good sign.”
It’s a great sign that, for now, “bailando al estilo taquachito” has not gone out of style.