Rio Grande Valley

Rio Grande Valley again draws attention ahead of 2024 elections

Is the boom in home prices in Austin, one of Texas’ hottest markets, over? And what might that mean for affordability?
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, long a champion of free markets, is now calling for lawmakers to take action and curb large-scale home purchases from institutional investors.
Some national politics watchers are pondering whether this is the year a long-time stronghold for Texas Democrats – Rio Grande Valley – turns solidly red.
And when it comes to chili, ¡Viva Terlingua! But chili’s got a new challenger. Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn samples what’s cookin.’

The state’s only sugar mill is closing. What’s next for sugar cane farmers?

New laws – one from Texas – to regulate platforms like Facebook and TikTok are getting Supreme Court scrutiny today, with potentially profound implications.
Years of drought have devastated sugar growers in South Texas – so much so that the state’s only sugar mill is closing.
Austin’s I-35, the spine of the region’s roadway grid, is about to undergo the largest expansion since the highway opened in 1962. Nathan Bernier joins with a drill down into what it means.
And: We’ll learn about a device that can help blind and low-vision people experience the eclipse.

Ballet folklórico competition comes to North Texas

Former president and presidential candidate Donald Trump wades into Texas politics with downballot endorsements.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton takes aim at a faith-based group in El Paso providing services for migrants.
In Texas farm country, concerns grow over a lack of water.
In the congressional district that includes 800 miles of the state’s border with Mexico, four republicans are challenging the GOP incumbent as polls show high voter interest in border security.
Plus: High schools push for competitive ballet folklórico.

Chronicling Resilience in the Rio Grande Valley

In the series finale of Mind of Texas, Ike uncovers the threads between historical research, community engagement, and minority mental health in one of Texas’ most troubled regions. You’ll hear from Dr. Monica Martinez, author of The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas, alongside researchers Stephanie Childress, PhD/Assistant Instructor for UT’s American Studies Department and Alexandra Salazar, PhD for UT’s Mexican American and Latino Studies department.

What we know about Ken Paxton’s upcoming impeachment trial

The Department of Justice has sued the State of Texas over its floating border barrier near Eagle Pass, alleging Texas doesn’t have the authority to place barriers in the Rio Grande. Gov. Greg Abbott’s reply? “See you in court.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán of the Texas Newsroom brings us the latest developments in Ken Paxton’s upcoming impeachment trial.

Congressman Greg Casar is calling for federal regulations to protect workers against heat-related illness in light of state law that will undo local rules starting Sept. 1.

And why a goat that went missing from a livestock show has captured the imagination of lots of folks in the Rio Grande Valley.

Texas outlawed red-light cameras years ago – but this town still has them

As a deadline approaches for bills to be filed in the Texas Legislature, proposals on guns and secession are making headlines. There is rare bipartisan support building around a proposal that proponents say would boost the effectiveness of background checks for buying a firearm, a move prompted by the school shooting in Uvalde.

When it comes to property tax relief, are Texas Republicans a house divided? There is a possible battle looming between the Texas House and Senate.

And the last red-light cameras still giving out tickets in Texas – and the push to switch them off for good.

What zoos are doing to stay safe

Funding for public education is set to take center stage at the Capitol. Sergio Martínez-Beltrán of the Texas Newsroom joins us with what to expect this week as the Senate finance committee takes up education funding.

Some Texas lawmakers say student mental health is a top priority this legislative session. We’ll take a closer look at what’s being proposed.

Nearly two years after a major winter storm that knocked out power statewide, the city of San Antonio is facing a federal lawsuit that says its emergency preparedness plan is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Plus: After a series of animal disappearances at the Dallas Zoo, how are zoos and aquariums rethinking security?

Texas Standard: October 25, 2022

With voting in the midterms underway, we’ll take a close look at how political disinformation is playing out in Texas politics. A case study of disinformation in action as the Texas Newsroom hones in on how false claims are affecting the democratic process. Also a disappointing report card on the post-pandemic state of education for elementary and middle schoolers. What can be done to combat learning gaps. Plus a historic shakeup in the UK, and what it could mean for Texans. And a first of its kind effort to lift barriers separating the field of chemistry and students with blindness and low vision. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: October 11, 2022

As protests have grown over the school boards’ handling of the aftermath of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary, the Uvalde school superintendent announces his retirement. We’ll have more on Monday night’s school board session. Also: are national democrats conceding republican gains in south Texas come November? The cancellation of campaign ads in the Rio Grande Valley raising questions. And the annual college rankings: a go to for students and parents. But how useful a tool in the real world? Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: August 26, 2022

A Texas gun restriction for 18 to 20 year olds ruled unconstitutional. This, just 3 months after a young gunman’s deadly attack on a school in Uvalde. A judge in Fort Worth rules that Texas can’t ban 18 to 20 year olds from carrying handguns. We’ll hear more about what’s behind the decision and what comes next. Also beyond debt forgiveness: what can be done to bring down the cost of higher ed in the first place? And amid a water shortage in the Valley, one community moving to reclaim water for the future. Also a teacher shortage today, a crisis for the future? Plus the week in politics with the Texas Tribune and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 28, 2022

An horrific discovery outside of San Antonio where investigators describe one of the deadliest human smuggling incidents in years. The bodies of at least 50 people, all suspected migrants, found in and around an unair-conditioned abandoned tractor trailer truck. We’ll have the latest. Also the continued repercussions of the Dobbs decision. How the fall of Roe factors into Texas politics: specifically the race for governor. Plus post Roe privacy concerns and the intersection with technology, including the smartphone. And the push for truancy reforms after the shooting in Uvalde and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 21, 2022

An excruciating inside look at what happened during a critical 70+ minutes inside Robb Elementary on that May 24th, 2022 in Uvalde. Though officials have been reluctant to release video evidence from the mass shooting in Uvalde, Terri Langford of the Texas Tribune has seen critical footage from inside the school. She shares with us what she’s discovered. Also Brian Chasnoff of the San Antonio express reports that classroom doors may not have been locked, contrary to one of the key claims made by law enforcement. We’ll have details. Also a very public transitioning for a Texas small town celebrity. And an update on what’s left for the Supreme Court. All of that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 23, 2022

Plans to lift Title 42 at the border today are now on hold. We’ll look at what this means for the future of immigration and deportations. Other stories we’re tracking: how the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York is resonating in El Paso, the site of a racist shooting at a Wal Mart three years ago. Also what a political runoff in South Texas tells us about an intra-party ideological battle among Texas Democrats. And more than a year ago, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality announced a social justice initiative. So what’s happened since, and what hasn’t? And a new film that puts a more human face on a larger than life Texas baseball legend. All that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 17, 2022

There’s an election going on and all week we’re profiling the races. Today it’s the Democratic runoff for Land Commissioner. We’ll have details. Also, Sweden and Finland want to join NATO after decades or even centuries of military nonalignment. A look at the road ahead for the alliance. And comparing the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade to a brief submitted by the architect of some of Texas’ abortion restriction laws. And not a leak, SCOTUS released a final opinion on a case involving campaign finance yesterday. The plaintiff was U.S. Senator from Texas Ted Cruz. Plus we’ll slow things down in a conversation focused on the legacy of Houston’s DJ Screw. Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: November 2, 2021

SB8, the state’s new abortion law, is in the crosshairs of the U.S. Supreme Court. On the day after oral arguments, where does the law stand? What clues can be drawn about the future of abortion restrictions after yesterday’s high court questioning in two cases challenging SB8? We’ll explore. Other stories we’re tracking: a new poll shows a tight race between Governor Greg Abbott and a certain democrat yet to officially announce his intentions. We’ll have details. Also, you’ve heard about winterization to avoid a repeat of last winters massive blackouts…but what does that actually entail? Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: October 14, 2021

It is a legislative season that at times has seemed like it might never end. Today Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News and Taylor Goldenstein of the Houston Chronicle get us up to speed on what the lege has left to finish, and what’s been done up to this point. Also the launch of a lawsuit over public beach closures near the SpaceX facility. And a military plane crash brings home the dangers of housing developments near bases, quite literally. Those stories and a whole lot 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.

Texas Standard: June 2, 2021

The walkout at the capitol over voting restrictions sparks one kind of response from the governor, but a different tone from the GOP House speaker. As governor Abbott threatens to withhold legislative pay over the house’s failure to pass a restrictive voting bill, the GOP speaker of the House defends the democratic walkout that scuttled the bill. Also in parts of Texas hardest hit by COVID-19, vaccination rates now surpass those of the rest of the state. We’ll hear why. And the real death toll from the winter freeze and power outages, a new report claims a massive undercount.Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Watermelon Season

It’s June. Watermelon season. All my life, June has meant watermelon season and I don’t mean it’s just the time of year to eat them. As a kid, it also meant a time to work, and work hard, from can’t-see-in-the-morning to can’t-see-at-night, for no more than a little over a dollar an hour to get the melons out of the fields. So every June, I can’t help but drive by the fields and nostalgically marvel at the stamina we once enjoyed. Now in our sixties, my friends from those days often hypothetically wonder how long we think we could last in those fields today. The general belief is about thirty minutes… providing the ambulance got there on time.

In my little town, as was true for many ag towns across Texas, we thought of watermelons as our fourth sport. The fall started with football and then we had basketball and baseball, and then, watermelons. We thought we should have been able to letter in watermelons. For those who played football, pitching melons half the summer was ideal conditioning. There were three kinds – grays, stripes and black diamonds. The grays were kind of like footballs – a little heavier of course. The stripes were enormous – and averaged 35 pounds or more. The black diamonds were the most despised because they were heavy and round like a medicine ball. Hard to pitch and hard to catch. The best thing about watermelon season was being able, when tired, to cut open a beautiful melon in the field and to eat just the cool, sweet heart of it, and move on. Nature’s Gatorade.

There was a hierarchy in the fields. You’d start out as a pitcher, making a dollar, twenty-five an hour, at least that was the going rate in the late 1960s. You would work with a crew of four or five and take a large trailer, generally pulled by a tractor, out into the fields to load with melons. The crew would fan out and then, like a bucket brigade, toss the cut melons in their path to the next guy in line and he’d pitch it to the next guy who’d throw it up to the man in the trailer. You didn’t want to be the man working by the trailer because you had to handle every melon and lift it up over your head for the guy in the trailer to set it down with reasonable care so as not to break it open. The best job was to be either the man in the trailer or the outside man who handled the least number of melons, only those in his path. Yet it didn’t matter which job was yours, it was still brutal work. You worked in the giant sauna of the Texas summer, often in 100 degrees with no wind and stifling humidity. But it was about the only work you could get at 13 or 14, so you gladly did it and when you got your 80 dollars at the end of the week, you felt rich if not sunburnt and tired. And you longed for the day you could move up to cutter or stacker. Being a cutter was a good job because you didn’t pitch anymore. You went down the rows and identified, by sight, the melons that were ripe and ready to harvest and the proper weight for the store wanting them (H-E-B for instance – grays 18-to-24 pounds). You would cut them from the vine and stand on them on end for the pitchers to come along later and get them. The only downside was you were the first to come upon the rare rattler hidden in the vines. For this job you made $3.00 an hour. Double the pay. Knowledge is power.

The final and best job in the field was stacker. You might get to be stacker by your third or fourth season, when you are 17 or so. You’d work inside the big 18-wheeler trailers and stack the melons “to ride.” The little trailers, or pickup trucks would come in from the fields and the line would form to pitch the melons to you inside the trailer. Stacking was an art form. Taking into account the weight and shape of the melons you’d stack them into tiers about 8 or 9 rows high, nice and tight, so they wouldn’t shift and break on the long ride north.

The best stackers would start the season in the Rio Grande Valley and follow harvest north all the way up into the Panhandle where there would be a late summer and fall harvest. They’d make 25 dollars per 18 wheeler. Serious money, then.

The greatest thing about those years and that work, at least for many men (and some women) who worked in those fields, is that they say it taught them a work ethic that has never deserted them.

Texas Standard: May 12, 2021

A 15 billion windfall for Texas, relief funds much larger than the pandemic’s projected economic impact here. Where will the money go? Todd Gilman of the Dallas Morning News with more on how federal pandemic relief money could lead to raises for firefighters, infrastructure changes, and more. Also, the boom in the hispanic population in Texas. Does it equal political gains for the GOP? Arelis Hernandez of the Washington Post on how the numbers add up. And FDA approval for kids as young as 12 to to get vaccinated against COVID-19. How soon will shots be ready for Texas adolescents? Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard: