#Brownsville

Bonus Episode: Regional Taco Flavors of Texas

From border to border, El Paso to Brownsville and a little in between, we’re gonna talk tacos regionales and just like the musica itself, there’s many elements and things that go into them. Our guests include Miguel Cobos from Vaquero Taquero and Paola Gabriela from Visit El Paso.

A man died working on the Tesla Gigafactory. The company didn’t tell officials.

A car crash in Brownsville: 8 dead, 10 injured. An accident or was it intentional?

One day before a vote to expel a Texas house representative, a resignation. Sergio Martínez-Beltrán of the Texas Newsroom on the state lawmaker accused of an inappropriate relationship with an intern.

Questions about the heat death of a worker helping to build Tesla’s Texas Gigafactory and whether reporting rules are being followed.

And a Texas based Go-Go, Head Over Heels about her new role with a stage production. Our conversation with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Kathy Valentine.

How the Farm Bill is about a lot more than farming

Another election day looming, another deadline to register to vote. We’ll look at what Texans need to know.

A court decision that could change rules involving gun laws and domestic violence.

They call it a farm bill, but it affects issues ranging from SNAP benefits to environmental regulations. A closer look at one of the most consequential items on Congress’ agenda.

That little blue badge on Twitter: what does it mean nowadays? Omar Gallaga with a reality check.

And as Texas lawmakers move to help with water issues for colonias, communities struggle with other mounting issues.

Texas Standard: January 3, 2022

With schools statewide returning to classes and Omicron cases rising, many Texans are asking: now what? Some answers from a doctor today on the Texas Standard.
Other stories we’re tracking- the US Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments this week over Biden Administration vaccination mandates. We’ll have the latest. Also, the 5th Circuit is set to hear arguments in another challenge to SB8- the state’s new abortion restrictions.
Earthquakes spark an order from state officials affecting fracking in the Midland area.
And, you’ve seen the bumper sticker “Don’t California my Texas”? Why some in South Texas are now saying don’t “Austin-ify our Brownsville”. Those stories and more.

Texas Standard: November 12, 2021

Roads, bridges, electric charging stations… in all some 35 billion dollars earmarked for Texas in the infrastructure bill. So what comes next? San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg joins us. Also, a new law aimed at preventing deaths due to drug overdose has a policy expert warning about the fine print. Plus the week in Texas politics and more today on the Texas Standard:

Long Before Elon Musk, A Different Man Had A Plan To Develop Boca Chica

One hundred years ago, Col. Sam Robertson stood on the same Boca Chica Beach in South Texas that Elon Musk owns today and dreamed a different dream. Instead of Musk’s spaceport, Robertson dreamed of seaports and an oceanside highway.  

Robertson owned 800 acres at Boca Chica, about 20 miles northeast of Brownsville and it was likely some of the same thousand acres now managed by Musk’s companies. Back then, Robertson built the railroad that connected the Rio Grande Valley to the wider world. He had founded the town of San Benito, serving as sheriff and helping to run the Ku Klux Klan out of the region.  

He had repurposed the old channels known as resacas to irrigate the lower valley. In 1926, he gathered RGV leaders in Brownsville’s El Jardin Hotel to make his pitch for an oceanside highway that would run from Boca Chica all the way up Padre Island to Corpus Christi. It would become, in his words, “the most beautiful 150 miles of highway in the world.”  

Robertson laid out his vision before the Rio Grande Valley Commercial Club. “I have traveled somewhat extensively in this world,” he said, “and have never seen any scenery wilder or more beautiful than this stretch of beach.”

Robertson was not only an entrepreneur; he was a decorated soldier and noted engineer. In 1915, he served as a scout for General Jack Pershing in the pursuit of Pancho Villa in Mexico. During World War I, he served in Europe as a commander of the 22nd Engineers, building railroads and bridges for Allied troops in France. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for bravery under fire. 

The business leaders of the Valley trusted his vision because they believed his claims. He wasn’t pitching a blacktop road. 

“The beach is as smooth as a billiard table,” Robertson said. “No road can be constructed by man as good for autoing as the beach, and the Gulf of Mexico maintains it.” All you would need is maintenance crews to move driftwood out of the way, he said, telling those assembled that he had explored the beach from Corpus Christi to the mouth of the Rio Grande River and that a highway was quite possible and would bring in enormous numbers of tourists. Just “throw across” some bay bridges at either end, he suggested, and you’d be open for business.  

Such a development would be good for the Rio Grande Valley, too, he argued. With good roads to Boca Chica Beach, Valleyites could have a Sunday lunch at home, then drive to the beach for a Sunday afternoon swim at the beach and still be home by 10 p.m. 

Robertson’s oceanside highway was never developed. But looking at South Padre and North Padre today, just north of Boca Chica with their causeway bridges, carefully maintained beaches, opulent hotels and verdant landscaping, you can see that his dream for the island has been partially realized. 

Robertson opened his Del Mar Resort on Boca Chica Beach in 1931, but the resort was virtually wiped out by a hurricane two years later. He rebuilt within six months and constructed an asphalt road from Brownsville to Boca Chica Beach because his personal mantra was: “Civilization follows transportation.” 

Musk would like that, too.

Jefferson Davis Highway: The Persistence Of A Confederate Memorial

By W.F. Strong

On July 29, 1925 — a full 60 years after the American Civil War — Miss Decca Lamar West of Waco, Texas, wrote a strongly worded letter to Chief Thomas H. MacDonald, the head of what was then the Federal Bureau of Public Roads. Miss West was an influential member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy  who was lobbying  for a coast to coast highway to honor the Former President of the Confederate States. After all, President Abraham Lincoln had a highway already that stretched from New York City to San Francisco. She wrote:

The Jefferson Davis Highway directors are doing constructive work in every state, and patriotically the women of the United States feel that nothing could tend to the greater unity and understanding of the people than that two transcontinental highways should be named for the two great leaders of the critical period of American history. 

The honorary highway of which she wrote was almost fully realized. Today, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway still exists – but only in bits and pieces – from Virginia to California. You’ll find United Daughters of the Confederacy markers along highways in Georgia and Louisiana and Arizona. But New Mexico had them all removed from along I-10 two years ago. You can see the Texas markers along U.S. 90 and 290 and I-35 and along Highways 59 and 77 South toward the border.  Others have been removed — including those in Elgin, San Antonio, and San Marcos.  

Brownsville just removed its marker after a contentious debate. The marker, originally placed on Palm Boulevard by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1927, was later moved to a city park after the state passed on certifying that memorial route. It was a simple, large boulder with a plaque praising Jefferson Davis. Some wanted the boulder  removed altogether because it honored Davis who was a traitor to the U.S. Others felt that removing it would be an attempt to erase history.  

My contention is that the monument itself tried to erase history. It was one of at least 250 markers placed along U. S. roadways which tried to re-brand Jefferson Davis, to make the enslaver equal to the emancipator. The plaque on the boulder in Brownsville was stone cold propaganda.

The plaque identifies Davis as President of the C.S.A. The word “Confederacy” is not spelled out there. Were they hiding the word from Davis’s resume? He is lauded as a United States soldier and Senator. It says he resigned as Senator, but it omits the fact that he resigned to create a new country where slavery would be forever legal. Finally, he is declared a martyr, but a martyr for what? Hundreds of thousands died for his cause but he didn’t.

President Ulysses S. Grant believed the contentiousness that resulted from the Civil War would, in time, pass. In 1885, in his famous memoirs, he wrote: “As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.” And yet these arguments over monuments persist.

Texas Standard: May 11, 2020

Under Governor’s orders, restrictions on businesses lift bit by bit. But can Texas really be a little bit open for business? Reporters from across the state on how and whether the incremental reopening is taking hold. Also floating storage facilities start crowding parts of the Gulf Coast offshore, we’ll hear why. And the first graduates of the new medical school in the RGV ender a brave new world. Plus something’s going missing in Texas. Namely the difference between certain vowels. The latest Texan Translation and much more today on the Texas Standard:

The Man Who Led The Battle Against Yellow Fever

By W. F. Strong

I’m walking on the veranda of the Gorgas Building at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville. It’s named for the famous Army physician, William Gorgas, who was sent here to Fort Brown in 1882. This building was already here when he was. It was the hospital he ran. What he would learn here, and what would happen to him, would change the world.

Gorgas was just 27 years old when arrived at Fort Brown. There was a full-blown yellow fever epidemic raging at the time. It was so named because it turned eyes and skin yellow. About half the people who came down with it, died. Yellow fever was not only deadly, it was quick. You could feel fine on Wednesday morning, have symptoms kick-in that afternoon, and be dead by Saturday.

Gorgas fought yellow fever head on. He didn’t yet know that mosquitoes spread it, but he did know that good sanitation and quarantining patients was useful. He launched public health measures that helped cut short the epidemic. Perhaps the best thing that happened to him during this time, and it will seem a strange thing to say, is that he came down with yellow fever himself, but it gave him life long immunity. He vowed to make fighting the disease his life’s work.

His next significant posting in his war on yellow fever was to Cuba.  It was there that the research of the Cuban doctor, Carlos Finlay, had laid out a convincing case for mosquitoes being responsible for transmitting the illness. Walter Reed, a name you likely recognize, tested Finlay’s theories and proved without a doubt that mosquitoes were responsible. Then Gorgas put the knowledge to practical use with fumigation, screening, and outlawing open cisterns and standing water. Astoundingly, those efforts virtually wiped out yellow fever in Havana in a couple of years, reducing cases from thousands a year to fewer than 20.

Then Dr. Gorgas made his big leap onto the world stage. You will remember the French had tried to dig the Panama Canal but failed miserably because they lost thousands of workers to yellow fever. Disease drove them out and silenced the steam shovels. The Americans, in a cannot-fail bid to do what the French couldn’t, resumed the dig. But in the first years, yellow fever and malaria threatened to drive the Americans out, too. Some said it would have taken 50 years and 80 thousand lives to finish the canal under those conditions.

Gorgas was brought in to solve the problem. But the political leaders in charge didn’t want to hear anything about his mosquito theory. They told him to keep that crazy theory to himself because “everyone knew that those tropical illnesses came from miasma, bad air.” Hell, the word Malaria itself came from Italian, translating verbatim “mal” “aria” – bad air. Gorgas learned as Galileo did that getting the world, even scientists, to ditch a centuries old belief system in favor of a new one, has always been unfathomably difficult.

Gorgas wanted to take what he had learned in Brownsville and Cuba and put it to work on a grand scale in Panama. He applied for a million dollars to protect Panama. The U.S. gave him 50 thousand. But with such poor funding, hundreds of workers were dying each month and the Americans risked being embarrassed by failure, just like the French. Teddy Roosevelt himself intervened and more or less said “give Gorgas what he wants.”

So it was then that Gorgas screened all the houses, buildings and particularly the hospitals in the Canal Zone. This was essential because a patient could only get yellow fever from a mosquito that had bitten someone with yellow fever. Gorgas also had an army of fumigators at work across the isthmus every day.

As he had in Cuba, Gorgas got rid of standing water and required covers on cisterns. He also drained swamps and treated undrainable waters with oil to keep larvae from forming. Within two years yellow fever had been completely eradicated from Panama.

Gorgas was considered the medical hero of the canal because, without his work, the engineers and diggers and construction workers could never have done their work. Gorgas without question, made the canal a reality.

After Panama, Gorgas eventually became Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and was knighted by the King of England for his work in tropical diseases, from which the British greatly benefited.

So here I sit on the veranda of his old hospital at Fort Brown in Texas. The building still bears Gorgas’ name. I also admire the fact that his name has a place of honor 8 thousand miles away on the side of the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Here at Texas Southmost College, funded from this very building, are many fine programs in nursing and health professions active today.  I think Gorgas would be pleased.

Texas Standard: July 15, 2019

Threatened immigration raids in Houston and elsewhere fizzle. Lots of political sound and fury, ultimately signifying what? We’ll take a closer look. Also, after outrage over conditions at border patrol detention centers, the Vice President comes to Texas. What did he see that democrats didn’t, or vice versa? And the Texas city that bet big on cryptocurrency loses its wager. How much was the loss, and what might it say about cities chasing growth? Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

What’s In A Name – The Rio Grande Valley

When some people first arrive in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas they often ask, “Where are the mountains?” It’s natural. Generally a valley is between mountains or at least hills. But the Rio Grande Valley is most accurately a delta region, as level as Lubbock. The highest roadway point is the 80-foot summit of the causeway bridge that goes to South Padre Island.

So how did a delta become the Valley? Marketing. Back in the early 1900s when developers were selling beautiful orchard acreage to northerners in New York and Chicago, they found that naming the area the Rio Grande Valley was a powerful selling strategy. It was also marketed as “the Magic Valley” – and I have no problem with the magic part. After all, there are dozens of varieties of exotic birds and butterflies that migrate through here each year. Some species winter here, too.  The vibrantly colored birds and butterflies do make it a magical. And there are the crops, too. Early on, visitors saw that sugar cane and cotton and citrus orchards, irrigated with plentiful Rio Grande water, grew like magic in the Magic Valley.

The strategy worked. Hundreds of thousands of people came to the RGV from northern states last century for the subtropical climate and relaxed living. Some came just for the mild winters they were called “Winter Texans” (and still are). “Winter Texan” was another successful PR term that seemed much more warm and personable than the slightly pejorative, “Snowbird.” From the point of view of a Texan, there could be no greater compliment than to crown visitors a “Texan” for the time they are here.

The Rio Grande Valley is comprised of many small and medium-sized cities.  Many have interesting name origins. South Padre Island translates to “Father Island.” It was named for a catholic priest – Padre José Nicolás Ballí. He inherited the island from his grandfather who received it as a land grant from King Charles III of Spain in 1759.

Brownsville could have been called Texasville if the original fort built there had kept its first name, which was Fort Texas. The makeshift fort was quickly constructed in 1846 to lay claim to the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas.  The Mexican army bombarded the fort and Major Jacob Brown, originally of Boston, was killed. He was the first casualty of the Mexican-American war. So the fort was renamed Fort Brown in his honor and the town that grew up around the fort was named Brownsville.

Harlingen was named for the town of Harlingen in the Netherlands. Its founder, Lon C. Hill, thought the town’s river, the Arroyo Colorado, could be a commercial waterway to the sea, and Harlingen a city of canals, similar to its namesake in Holland. It’s pronounced differently. The Harlingen in Holland has a different “g” – Harlingen.

Weslaco is almost an acronym. It was founded by W.E. Stewart, owner of the W.E. Stewart Land Company, which was a real estate development company. So you take Stewart’s initials and the first letters of “land” and “company” and you get “Weslaco.”

Edinburg was named for Edinburgh, Scotland. Well, technically named in honor of John Young, a businessman from Edinburgh, Scotland. Both are university towns, but are spelled differently and pronounced differently, too. The Edinburgh in Scotland has somewhat of a silent g and h at the end. The one in Texas has no ‘h” but does pronounce the “g.” Edinburg. Don’t know the reason for spelling and saying it differently, but this is Texas – it’s what we do. We take the names and make them our own.

Texas Standard: March 13, 2019

The biggest college admissions scandal ever? With a Texas coach one of 50 charged over corruption in college admissions, what’s fair versus what’s legal? Why the federal probe of wealthy parents securing spots at elite colleges and universities for their own kids may or may not bring reforms in higher ed. Also, were pilots warnings about the safety of the Boeing 737 Max ignored by authorities? The Dallas Morning News makes some stunning discoveries. We’ll talk to one of their investigators. Plus why a new album by Houston’s own Solange matters way beyond the music itself. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 4, 2017

Show me your papers: Governor abbott set to sign into law a measure requiring Texas police to enforce federal immigration law, we’ll explore. Also murder charges mulled for the North Texas police officer who fired the shots killing 15 year old Jordan Edwards. Some wonder why it seems so few officers suspected of such crime ever wind up doing time. We’ll explore. Plus one of Texas’ best known investors buys one of the world’s best known social media platforms. But does Mark Cuban really want Twitter, or something smarter? All of that and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: December 16, 2016

A federal warning for pregnant women: do not travel to Brownsville. But what if you live there? What the new Zika warning means for a mother to be..today on the Standard.

Repeal and replace Obamacare. What’s that gonna mean for coverage? We’ll take it up today with the powerful Texas lawmaker who’s setting the stage right now with a rare recess conference on Capitol Hill.

Also, as holiday fliers prepare to deal with screaming babies on board, the one thing worse–and ways to cope.

Plus, could it happen this Christmas? A legendary honkytonk awaits the return of Gary Floater. But don’t hold your breath. Or maybe you should. All that and more…today on the Texas Standard.

Texas Standard: June 6, 2016

May it please the court? When in Brownsville beware. A judge in the deferred deportation case orders Washington attorneys back to ethics school. That story today on the Texas Standard.

Two police training academies shut down in south Texas–the allegations: brutality toward cadets. Details on the investigation.

Also the skinny on a school district taking childhood obesity rates rather seriously.

And should Hillary Clinton borrow a tactic from LBJ? How the campaign of 64 could foretell the autum of 2016.

Plus, a new breakout profession—the cuddler.

Turn it up and get cozy because the Texas Standard is on the air.