|Núñez Family - Soledad, Amado, Rogelio and Elma.|
Núñez has spent the past 22 years providing a platform for Rio Grande Valley artists through the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito.
The idea for the center first took shape after he returned to the Valley in 1983. He had been away studying in Kingsville and Austin, where he was swept up by the Chicano movement.
"When I was in college, I got influenced by, and became part of the Chicano movement," Núñez said. "So that movement began to tell me that it was important that we do things to better our community of Chicanos. So one of the leaders of the Chicano movement was a guy named Jose Angel Gutierrez, who was the founder of La Raza Unidad (political) party. He used to say things like, 'We need to create institutions by us, for us, and about us.' Because it wasn't being done by the institutions that existed."
Seeing some of the work that was done in San Antonio by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and Juan Tejeda further inspired Núñez on what needed to be done here in the Valley. He dreamed of creating an organization that would present the world with the art that was birthed from these borderlands.
One of those art-forms would be conjunto music.
"The interest there was because in San Benito we had some important things that happened that are very critical to conjunto music," Núñez explains. "One, we had a recording company called Ideal Records, that was the largest recording company for conjunto music and the largest distributor of conjunto music in the U.S. between about 1946 to about 1960. And then we also had what's called "La Villita" dance hall. Between the 40's, 50's, and early 60's, (it) was the premiere dance hall for all these great musicians like Paulino Bernal, Tony De La Rosa, Narciso Martinez."
Núñez tells me that he decided to name the center after Narciso Martinez because of what he represented to the community. To those not familiar with Martinez, he's the legendary accordionist that has long held the title of "father of conjunto music". Núñez felt that the name would provide a strong foundation for the future of his center.
Members of his family were friends with Martinez, so he went up to his uncle to inform him about the plans he had for the center. His uncle suggested that he go talk directly to Martinez. When Núñez met Martinez, he mentioned who his uncle was, and the conjunto pioneer immediately opened up.
"I tell him what we want to do, and (Narciso) says, 'It sounds good to me, no problem,' and we named the center after him," Núñez said.
The center opened on October 29, 1991, which coincided with Martinez's 80th birthday.
"(The center opened) with a presentation by Don Narciso Martinez, who was still alive, and it was one heck of an opening cause it was standing room only, not enough space for the people that wanted to come see Narciso Martinez."
Since that successful opening 22 years ago, the center has thrived with photo exhibits, art exhibits, poetry readings, writing workshops, concerts and a variety of other events that celebrate our cultural arts. Every year in the fall, the center stages their annual Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival. I've attended it once in the past, and have watched many videos of other times I have not attended. When I attended that festival in 2012, I thought, "This is the best celebration of conjunto music that we have here in the Valley."
Tonight's birthday party will be a fundraiser that will feature the live music of Juan Lugo, Los Angeles del Sur, and Ruben De La Cruz. The conjunto-inspired art of Roel S. Flores will also be on display. The proceeds will benefit this center and Casa de Proyecto Libertad, where Núñez has served as the executive-director since 1990. According to their website, Casa de Proyecto Libertad's mission is, "to promote and defend the Human Rights of immigrant families in the Rio Grande Valley through legal defense and community organizing." This organization also provides help for women that are survivors of domestic violence.
"The idea of the fundraiser is cause both organizations need funding," Núñez said. "I'm grateful to these institutions, it's my birthday, we'll celebrate, but we'll also celebrate the work of these two organizations."
WHAT: Rogelio T. Núñez's birthday celebration.
WHERE: The Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center, 225 E. Stenger Street, San Benito, Texas
WHEN: Friday, January 10, 2014, 7:00 PM.
COST: $20.00 at the door.
Contact: Rogelio T. Núñez - 956-367-0335, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.proyectolibertad.net.