Friday, July 29, 2016

Q&A with Pedro Garcia

Pedro Garcia

This month's regional legend will be Pedro Garcia, a local actor who has worked on popular television series' like "Breaking Bad", and who has helped run the Pharr Community Theater for several years now.

Eduardo Martinez: Where were you born and raised?

Pedro Garcia: I was born in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. A town called Trenton, Michigan in 1961. I was raised in Detroit until I was 10 years old and then my dad picked up the whole family and we moved to Hidalgo, Texas in 1970. I was raised there most of my life. My dad was from Hidalgo originally, but he had worked in Michigan for 18 years as a journeyman electrician for Great Lakes Steel Mill company.

EM: What experiences did you have in Hidalgo?

PG: It was wonderful. Hidalgo was right alongside the river and I had lots of friends. I also had to work a lot ‘cause my dad had a hardware store. I was taught at a very young age the responsibilities of being on time, of merchandising and everything. But I also got my days off and I got to play a lot. One thing that I liked doing was going alongside the river with my good friend Beto, even though my dad told me, “No te andes juntando con Beto, mijo! (“Don’t be hanging out with Beto, son!”) I would still hang out with Beto. You know, it’s amazing that bird watching is now real famous throughout the whole world. But when I was a kid, I didn’t know that it was called bird watching or anything. But me and Beto, we’d go to the big arboles (trees) along the river vato, and we’d chase the birds of all colors. We would look at them for hours, we even gave names to them.

Being a bird watches as a kid, without even knowing it, was one of my greatest experiences in Hidalgo. And going swimming in the canal at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse. And fishing in the Rio Grande, getting big garfish and big catfish. It was wonderful, man.

EM: What got you interested in theater?

PG: Well see in 1979, I graduated from high school. I joined the Marine Corps. When I got out of the Marines, I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do.

I went to Houston to work as a tree trimmer, for a tree company. Then I heard that they were hiring at a car lot, and I said, “I’m going to go try car sales instead of climbing trees and trimming branches.” When I was turning on a car one day, I heard that they had a school for broadcasting and I wanted to learn how to be a radio announcer. I went to college for one semester. I was going to major in communications and they said, “You need to take an acting class.” So when I took my first acting class in ‘85, I realized that I really liked this acting business. So then I moved to Albuquerque, NM, became a public affairs director for a radio station and got involved with a local community theater. I did 60 plays there in 10 years. After that, I got an agent, I did my first movie role called “Mad Love” (1995), with Drew Barrymore. Then I came to the Valley to be with my family.

EM: How did you get involved with the Pharr Community Theater?

PG: I was working in McAllen, for a theater company that I started called Teatro Nuestro Cultura. I had been directing. I directed like 35 plays. Elva Michael started the Pharr Literacy Project and needed a director for theater. She called me over, we talked about it, and we were able to make arrangements to do it. I’ve been here since 2008.

EM: You’ve also worked with two conjunto legends. First let’s talk about Wally Gonzalez.

PG: I had known him since I was a little boy because he used to play at the political dances in Hidalgo for my father. My dad was a commissioner for Hidalgo, and he ran for mayor. He would always invite Wally, and Wally would come. Wally was popular back in those days. They were playing him on the air, all the time. He had songs like “El Pajaro Grande”, “The Big Bird”, that supposedly everyone saw flying around the Valley. That was before the Chupacabras days!

So I met him when I was a young boy. I’ve been friends with him all my life. The other one, I think you’re talking about is [conjunto musician] Cha Cha Jimenez?

EM: Yes.

PG: I met him at the Pharr Literacy Project, he was standing outside one day when I was talking to some other people about a play that I was directing about the Vietnam war. This man just popped up, which was Cha Cha. I didn’t know at the time, I didn’t even recognize him. He says to me, “You know, I heard about your play about Vietnam. I was there.” I go, “Really? Wow, thank you very much. Would you like to be in our play?”

He says, “Maybe, I don’t know.” And then he asks me, “Do you know who I am?” I go, “No sir, I’m sorry.” He says, “I’m Cha Cha Jimenez.” That’s when I became starstruck, right away. I practically wanted to hug him, I was like, “Woah Cha Cha Jimenez!” I used to love his music. I always thought he sang to La Raza. His music was real brown, real beautiful. The way he would harmonize his voice, the way he would hang a note. Not very many people can do that. So when I met him, I was totally enthused.

When he told me who he was, I got him involved in my play. He played a bartender in Vietnam, in a place called the Saigon Cafe. He had to also sing “My Country Tis To Thee”, and man, Cha Cha did wonderful in his role. You can tell that he had discipline. This was towards the last years of his life. During the time that I was directing him in the play, he kept talking about an ailment and a sickness. He just said, that the doctor said that he had cancer. He kind of cried a little bit. It was very sad. He had the support of his wife. He was a very emotional guy but he stil had a lot of pride.

I was so sad when he passed away, after he did the play. Maybe 3 to 4 months later. It was quick, he had the type of cancer that consumed him quickly. His wife was with him to the very end. To say the least, Cha Cha was an awesome guy, and I was happy to have known him. I just felt like I wanted to know him more.
EM: How did you secure the gig with “Breaking Bad”? Did you talk to Bryan Cranston, behind the scenes?

PG: Through my agent, Kandy Stewart, who runs Legacy Talent Agency in Austin. She got called by the casting director for “Breaking Bad”, that’s shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They had bit parts that they have to fill. They branched out to Texas, to look for people in Texas. They gave her the breakdown, “Hispanic guy, in his 40’s, 50’s.” So then she said, “Well I got Pedro.” She sent my picture, they said, “Yeah have him read this part.” I read the part. Then they gave me another part to read, and then later on, she called me and she says, “They want to cast you for the car wash manager, Pedro. Are you available?” I said, “Sure.”

I went to Albuquerque. I shot the scene and then I came back home. So they called me back, so I went back again. Of course, I only have that one speaking bit part, and yes I did meet Bryan Cranston on the set. The first day that I was there, he looked at me. He came up to me and he goes, “Pedro, great audition. Thank you. You know a little bit about your character? This is what I want. He likes his job, not in love with it, but he likes it, and he’s doing well. Basically that’s it.” I go, “That’s it, that’s great Bryan. That’s what I thought.” Then he says, “Okay”, and he moves aside to do some other work.

My friend, Steven Michael Quezada, who had a recurring role in “Breaking Bad”, he played “Gomie”. I called him on the phone. He wasn’t working that day, but he said, “I’m going to go over to the set, Pedro, I haven’t seen you in five or six years and I want to see you again.” Me and him did theater back in Albuquerque when I lived there. So Steven came to the set, and he brought me closer to Bryan Cranston, when Bryan was taking a break.

I was able to ask [Bryan] about taped auditions. I wanted his opinion, because that’s how I won the role. I never went to the audition live.

Nowadays, in my acting classes here in the Valley, locally, when people want to learn about acting, and they want to learn about how to tape your auditions, I can teach you how to tape your auditions. To try to win a role. To tape them properly so that the casting directors can know that you’re professional.

Bryan Cranston said, when I asked him, “That is an efficient way to cast, Pedro. I can tell if you can act or not if you send me a good tape, like you did.” That was it.

EM: Almost every year you do a run of “The Life and Times of Juanito Gonzalez”. What’s the history and story of that play?

PG: It’s my children’s play that I do every year. It was born in the town of Albuquerque, where I lived for 10 years, from ‘87 to ‘97. A literacy group asked me to do a children’s story about reading and writing, but to set it on Dia de los Muertos, because they were celebrating that over there. I said, “Why don’t I just write a play instead?” They go, “Okay, yeah.” So I wrote a 20 minute play at the time, based on reading and writing, and about loving a good life. This is how the Juanito Gonzalez character started. In the next 2 to 3 years, I added some more scenes to it, and it ended up being a 55 minute play, which it has stayed at.

I do it every year, around October, November, because it is about a guy who has been dead for 2 years. He’s 100 years old. He comes back, pulling his hack of books to his gravesite, to clean it up before his relatives come to visit on Dia de los Muertos. Then he notices that there is an audience! So he decides to tell everybody about his beautiful, wonderful life.

It’s a beautiful play, man. I love performing “The Life and Times of Juanito Gonzalez”. Schools, museums, art centers, all over the Southwest, and anywhere in the world.

EM: What have you been up to now in 2016?

PG: I've been producing plays for the Pharr Community Theater. Now we are presenting "El Color de Nuestra Piel", in Spanish. "The Color of our Skin", famous drama that was written by in the '50 in Mexico City, and won a prestigious prize for the playwright, Celestino Gorostiza. That plays deals with racism within the same family.

I also continue to teach acting classes to adults, one on one classes, for those serious wanting to learn believable acting. That's what I've been doing.

EM: When does this new play premiere?

PG: It opens July 28, this Thursday, and runs 'till August 7th. Two consecutive weekends. The times are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM.

EM: Thank you so much for your time.

Friday, July 22, 2016

18th Annual "Conjunto of the Year" Results

Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers at the Tejano Conjunto Festival

This past Sunday night, the South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA) presented their 18th annual "Conjunto of the Year" Award Show at the KC Hall in Mercedes.

The MC once again for the occassion was Rick Garcia of Hacienda Records. A special presentation was held for the late accordionist Gilberto Garcia, of Los Dos Gilbertos, who passed away in September of 2015. The Garcia family was there on his behalf.

Gilberto Garcia wasn't the only legend honored that night. Gilberto Perez Sr., Efrain Solis, Cande Aguilar Sr., Roman Martinez, Ruben Garza, Temo Lopez and Tomas Vasquez all walked away with a "Lifetime Achievement" award.

First set of awards were for composers, radio stations, conjunto spots, and a special recognition. Oscar Soliz walked away with the composer crown, Super Tejano 102.1 was tabbed as the top radio station, Bossman's Night Club in San Antonio was picked as the top conjunto spot, and Conjunto Puro Corazon got a special recognition award.

As far as recordings go, honors were in order for "Single of the Year" and "Album of the Year", and "Ya Me Voy Para Siempre" by the Hometown Boys and "Lo Mejor y Mas" by Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto took home both those prizes, respectively.

The next set of categories represented the key components of the conjunto ensemble — Los Badd Boyz del Valle won for "Conjunto Dueto of the Year", Oscar Anzaldua of Los Tejano Boys won for "Male Vocalist of the Year", Katie Lee Ledezman won for "Female Vocalist of the Year", Ruben Mendoza of Los Chamacos won for "Drummer of the Year", Bene Fonseca of Los Fantasmas del Valle won for "Bass Player of the Year", Max Baca of Los Texmaniacs won for "Bajo-sexto Player of the Year", and Steven Martinez of Hache 3 won for "Accordion Player of the Year".

"It felt great," Katie Lee Ledezma said. "I'm super happy to know how proud my supporters are that I got the female vocalist award. It means the world to me that they still have hope that one day I'll be the first female that brings conjunto music back into the charts. Something like this award gives me a boost to continue."

The title award of "Conjunto of the Year" was, as always, saved for last. After an energetic performance from Gilberto Perez Jr. y su conjunto, with Tapia on the accordion, Garcia went to the podium to announce that Los D Boyz were the "Conjunto of the Year".

Then there was only one award left, which was the "Conjunto of the Year" award. This year's best conjunto prize went to Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers, out of Alice, TX.

Ruben Naranjo III, the group's accordionist and vocalist, is especially proud of this accomplishment.

"We would like to take this time to thank God for always guiding us down the right path, the fans for voting for us and for being with us every step of the way, the radio stations that support our music and the South Texas Conjunto Association for all of their hard work and dedication to conjunto music.  We are honored and humbled to be the 2016 STCA Conjunto of The Year."
Samantha Perales, a longtime attendee of these annual extravaganzas, shared her favorite moments with us.

"My favorite moments from the event were the arrival of the special guests, musicians, and friends," Perales said. "Also the excitement of seeing so many conjunto legends all in one place, such as Gilberto Perez, Chore Perez, Fruty Villarreal, Gilberto Lopez, Flavio Longoria."

Friday, July 15, 2016

18th annual "Conjunto of the Year" Award Ceremony in Mercedes

The late Gilberto Garcia of Los Dos Gilbertos (Edinburg)
On Sunday night, the South Texas Conjunto Association (STCA) will be hosting their 18th annual "Conjunto of the Year" award ceremony at the KC Hall in Mercedes, TX. The annual Rio Grande Valley extravaganza honors the very best in conjunto music year after year.

This year's ceremony is dedicated to the memory of the late Gilberto Garcia, of the Edinburg conjunto Los Dos Gilbertos. He passed away on September 21, 2015.

"Gilberto Garcia was an icon in conjunto music as a member of the Los Dos Gilbertos," said Lupe Saenz, STCA president.
A special painting of Gilberto Garcia by local artist Roel Flores will be presented to the Garcia family at the beginning of the evening.

"He was one of the most consisted conjunto musicians that kept the genre going strong even in the face of (conjunto music) disappearing during the strong presence of Tejano music in the 1980's and 90's, when radio stations were making the switch to the Tejano genre."

Los Dos Gilbertos were crowned the "Conjunto of the Year" in the year 2000.

How are the winners chosen? Saenz explained the process to me.

"Early in the year, we start to make inquiries to the public about who should be the next conjunto of the year. Then, we start to follow and watch those conjuntos that are making an impact and are having a strong year. We, then ask a 10 member committee from Houston, San Antonio, Laredo, Austin, and the RGV to make nominations based on this information. We also get input from record companies around the state and suggestions from radio personalities. We then make a ballot and let the people decide who wins in each category."

Different categories also honor the top album, single, accordionist, vocalists, bajo-sexto player, drummer, and bass player in conjunto music.

There will also be "Lifetime Achievement" awards handed out to six conjunto legends — Gilberto Perez, Sr., Efrain Solis, Cande Aguilar, Sr., Ruben Garza, Temo Lopez and Tomas Vasquez.

Throughout the program there will be over 15 different conjuntos performing, including but not limited to: Conjunto Kingz de Flavio Longoria (San Antonio), Boni Mauricio y Los Maximos (Corpus Christi), Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto (Elsa), Katie Lee Ledezma y su conjunto (Brownsville), Los Badd Boyz del Valle (Elsa), and Gilberto Lopez y sus Hijos (Edinburg).

The event will be streamed via audio on online radio stations "El Magico Show", "DJ Dora Da Explorer Radio", and "Tejano Radio", and will be broadcast on public television at a later date in August. It will eventually be uploaded online for fans to check out later in the year.

As for the rest of the year, the local organization does have some more things on their plate, and continues to urge fans to continue to support their local conjunto events.

"We have other events on the schedule including more dances and more conjunto concerts," Saenz said. "People must continue to support conjunto music in the Valley or it will be gone."

What: 18th annual "Conjunto of the Year" Award Ceremony.
When: June 17th, 5 PM to 10 PM.
Where: KC Hall, 150 N Ohio Ave, Mercedes.
Tickets: $10.00
Contact: For more information, call 956-454-2207

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tito Santana

Tito Santana

In the 1980's, Mission's Tito Santana found fame on the biggest professional wrestling stage on the planet. As the WWF Intercontinental Champion, Santana toured across the nation, having great matches with men like Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. As he found success with his flying forearm smash, one may ask themselves, where did the man who was billed from "Tocula, Mexico" really come from?

Merced Solis or "Tito Santana" was born on May 10, 1953, in Mission, TX. Like many people in the Valley at the time, he was raised in a family of migrant farm-workers. 

"Being a migrant worker, we lived on the wrong side of the track," Santana said. "I had real low self-esteem 'cause I knew my parents were not educated and we were poor." 

At Mission High School, Santana participated in track, basketball and football. When he graduated in 1971, he went on to play football as a tight end, on a scholarship he received for West Texas State. Two of his teammates would also end up becoming well-known professional wrestling stars — National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) star Tully Blanchard and World Wrestling Federation (WWF) star Ted Dibiase. 

Tully, son of San Antonio professional wrestling promoter Joe Blanchard, tried to convince Santana into giving this hybrid-form of sport and entertainment a shot.  

"At the time, I had no interest in wrestling," Santana said. "Football was my first love."

After he graduated from West Texas State, Santana signed on to be a part of the Kansas City Chiefs' training camp. 

"I was there ten weeks, as a matter of fact, I started every pre-season game. Then I got cut. Then I went to Canada and I ended up playing the rest of the season in Canada."

Santana was playing for the BC Lions and continued to be a part of that team for the following season. After that stint was over, he had some free time and stayed at the Blanchard family house in San Antonio. He got his first taste of professional wrestling by refereeing a few matches for their Southwest Championship Wrestling promotion. Tully was making plans to head to Florida, to train and perform there. After finally being convinced, Santana took a risk and tagged along with him as they took off from Texas. They arrived in Tampa on New Years Eve 1977. 

Santana started training under well-known professional wrestling coach Hiro Matsuda. 

"Once I started working out, I realized wrestling was a lot harder than [I thought]. For [Tully] it was easy 'cause he was around it all his life. I wasn't even a wrestling fan so I had to crawl before I was able to get in to the ring. It took me a while. It was tough, it wasn't a cakewalk getting started." 

After he completed his training, he wasn't so sure if wanted to continue. He was struggling financially and was having trouble finding any working opportunities. He considered going back to the BC Lions until he ran into former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Terry Funk. 

Funk, an alumni of West Texas State, would often visit his Alma Mater when Santana was practicing football there.

"He really liked me. He came in as the [NWA] world champion, he was the heel (bad guy). I was in the dressing room with the good guys. He sent for me and he asked me how I was liking it. I said, 'Terry, I really enjoy it but I'm not making any money.'"

It didn't take long for Funk to help out the young kid from Mission. 

"He talked to Eddie Graham, who was the owner of Florida Championship Wrestling. Then I started getting a few bookings. At least making some money to buy food, pay the rent, and before I know it, they set up for me to move to Atlanta, Georgia with a different promotion. Things took off after that."

For a brief time, Santana worked under the name "Richard Blood", which was professional wrestling star Ricky Steamboat's real name. After working in Georgia, he went to North Carolina and then headed down to the Amarillo territory, which was owned by the Funk family. He wrestled under his real name there. 

Shortly after his arrival, the territory was sold to Blackjack Mulligan and Dick Murdoch. Santana said that he wasn't pleased with the two new owners.

Luckily for Santana, he caught a big break. 

"Andre The Giant came into the town. I had befriended Andre the Giant, when I was in Atlanta, I picked him up at the airport. I'd always hang out with Andre, whenever he was in town. Andre took a film of one of my matches, he was on his way to New York and he showed it to Vince McMahon Sr. Before I knew it, I was wrestling in New York." 

When he got to New York, meaning the WWF, he got the name he would forever be associated with. Where did the name come from?

"There used to be a guy in Mission, as a matter of fact, his name was Santana. He ended up getting shot, he was a drug-dealer but I knew the name. So Vince [Sr.] asked me to think of a name, I told him that I liked 'Santana'. And he liked it. And he's the one that gave me 'Tito'." 

It didn't take long before Santana found success in the WWF. He won the WWF World Tag Team Championship with Ivan Putski, by defeating The Valiant Brothers on October 22, 1979.

"I got pretty lucky, my career moved up pretty fast. To become a champion and walk into Madison Square Garden with the tag team belts was an unbelievable feeling. For somebody that came from Mission, to be wrestling in front of twenty-four thousand people was unbelievable." 

After losing the titles to The Wild Samoans on April 12, 1980, Santana took off to Japan before becoming a part of the AWA in Minnesota. Santana is very pleased with his time there and is happy that he got to work with great wrestlers like Nick Bockwinkel and Sgt. Slaughter. 

"In New York we used to wrestle three-hundred fifty days a year. In Minnesota, you'd work about two-hundred days a year. You'd make good money, you almost lived like a normal human being with days off. It was really great." 

He eventually returned to the WWF in 1983 and was now working under Vince McMahon Jr. After a few months, on February 11, 1984, he defeated Don Muraco to become the WWF Intercontinental Champion. 

In 1984 and 1985, he developed a legendary feud with Greg Valentine over that championship. It all started when he lost the title to Valentine on September 24, 1984. That led to a storyline that focused on Santana chasing after Valentine, hoping to get revenge and his title back.

"I think the reason it got over so big was because I legitimately got surgery on my knee," Santana said. "Then we get in the ring and both of us worked so hard, we had a lot of pride and we beat the heck out of each other. People believed our matches." 

The rivalry with Valentine proved to be a big draw in the mid-1980's. 

"We sold out Madison Square Garden without Hulk Hogan on the card," Santana said. "We battled in the ring and they saw it. We were good wrestlers, we had good ring psychology." 

The feud climaxed in a cage match on July 6, 1985 in Baltimore. When asked what his favorite pro wrestling memory is, Santana picked this match, where he defeated Valentine to start his second reign as Intercontinental Champion. 

"That was the biggest pop, it was such a successful match," Santana said of this memorable cage match. 

The following year, Santana lost the title to Randy "Macho Man" Savage on February 8, 1986 in Boston. A few months later, the two had a bout in Toronto — on May 4, 1986 — that ranks as one of the best WWF matches of the decade. 

"It was good, we had very good chemistry together. We had known each other for a long time. We were together in Atlanta in 1977 when I first started. Randy was a very hard worker, that's why he went on to become real famous." 

In 1987, he became part of the Strike Force tag team with Rick Martel, and they won the tag team titles from the Hart Foundation on October 27, 1987. They ended up losing the titles to Demolition at WrestleMania IV on March 27, 1988. 

The Strike Force team split up on April 2, 1989, at WrestleMania V, when Martel turned on Santana during a match against The Brainbusters (Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson). Santana found himself as a singles performer once again. His biggest moment of the year was at the King of the Ring, which took place on October 14, 1989. In one night, Santana went on to defeat Bad News Brown (Allen Coage), The Warlord, Akeem the African Dream and Martel to win the 16-man King of the Ring tournament. 

In 1990, his highlights were his tilts with Mr. Perfect in the Intercontinental Title tournament finals and on NBC's Saturday Night's Main Event. 

He was then given a bullfighter gimmick in 1991 and renamed "El Matador". Santana isn't too fond of that time period. 

"I didn't care for it because they didn't push it. They told me they were going to push [the new character change] and then they didn't push it. They lied to me." 

Then, in 1992, Santana explains that the company was thinking of expanding into Mexico and South America, and using him as a way to break into that Spanish-speaking market. 

"They told me that they were going to be doing that, they were considering me for the [WWF] World Championship belt," Santana said. "Instead they went real heavy into Canada and that's when they decided to go with Bret "Hitman" Hart [as WWF World Champion]." 

After being passed over for a main event title run, Santana worked a low-profile role until he left the company after defeating Damien Demento on August 13, 1993. He has spent a limited amount of time on the independent circuit, working on his own terms and schedule. In the late 1990's, he came back for a stint as the WWF's Spanish broadcast color commentator but that didn't last long. 

In 2004 and 2007, he was inducted into both the WWE Hall of Fame and the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame. He now resides in Roxbury Township, NJ, where he owns Santana's Hair Salon and teaches Spanish at a local middle school in the area.

While his home is thousands of miles away, his Valley roots are still strong. His relatives and best friend still live in this area. He has made several public appearances in the Valley on local independent pro wrestling events over the past decade. 

He strongly feels that his time here in the Valley and working in the fields played a major role in all the success he's had in his life. 

"There's no doubt in my mind that how hard we worked as migrants, I developed a great work ethic. I think its what made me successful and not blowing my money on drugs and stuff. 'Cause I realized how hard as a young person, [me] and my entire family worked for every dime that we had."

Friday, June 3, 2016

Carlos Moreno, Jr.

Carlos Moreno, Jr. 

Carlos Moreno, Jr., local PSJA High School graduate, has been carving away at the rock for 25 years and has been having a lot of success as of late in Hollywood. It hasn't always been easy, and he's had a lot of obstacles he's had to overcome over the past three decades. When it's all said and done, he's hoping to have successfully establish himself as a legend, both locally and beyond.

Carlos Moreno, Jr. was born in McAllen on December 20, 1971. His father was Tejano star Carlos Moreno, who was known for his group Carlos Moreno y La Semilla. That group's most popular song was the hit "Hello Baby Doll". Moreno, Jr. was influenced by his dad's dedication to his craft.

"I grew up around my dad," Moreno, Jr. said. "You work with him, you hang around with him, and it catches on. You hear a song start from the beginning to the end. How do they do that? I got to see them play (often)."

While he was most known for his Tejano music, work in the music industry wasn't consistent. So the family would travel north to work on the fields.

"We would work in the fields, up in Michigan," Moreno, Jr. said. "We would go to Michigan for years. So I would have to study really hard."

At the time, he was into acting but it wasn't something he really considered. Moreno, Jr. entered PSJA High School, and was briefly interested in politics. Finally in 10th grade, he became interested in the thespian group. He applied but he was told "No" due to being a migrant student.

"So there was a man I complained to," Moreno, Jr. said. "I can't remember his name. He complained to the school board (on my behalf). The next thing you know, they created a special class for migrant kids that wanted to take drama classes at PSJA High. But we weren't allowed to participate with the thespians, it was just a special drama class for us."

According to Moreno, Jr., the teacher's name was Mr. Gomez and they only had this class for one year. He graduated and then went to a university to study political science. In his sophomore year, he took an acting class and got the bug again.

"I said, 'Oh no, I like this thing,'" Moreno, Jr. said. "The only problem was that I had a hard time. There wasn't a lot of Latinos in the university, at the drama department. So again I felt like, 'Oh no, I'm a migrant worker, I'm a second banana.'"

He kept at it, continuing his acting at the university, but Moreno, Jr. describes his time there as being difficult.

"Nobody wanted to do scenes with me," Moreno, Jr. "Eventually I felt bad and I told my counselor that I'm going to move to L.A."

Luck came his way soon after that conversation with the counselor at the university.

"Eventually, a production company came to Santa Fe. I had a teacher, who was teaching me, and I auditioned. I got the job!"

He was in his early 20's, and was now a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

"Everybody was like, 'You joined the union?' I was like, 'Yeah.'"

Due to finding work in film, he didn't have time to attend school, so he had to leave the university. He then also became a backup vocalist for his dad.

"I tried it," Moreno, Jr. said about recording and going on tour with his dad's Tejano band. "But it wasn't what I expected. So I got the money I made from the film, and I moved to L.A."

He worked as an extra in several different programs but it was tough for him to find success early on.

"I knew when I got there it was going to be hard. Because if it was hard for me to get an acting class at PSJA High, if it was hard getting scenes at a university, then they kicked me out for doing what they told me to do, and I didn't get my degree, so could you imagine how hard Hollywood is going to be? It's going to be the toughest thing. But guess what bro? I was ready to go, I was ready for the long run, I'm going to figure it out."

Moreno, Jr. says his parents and family kept supporting him and encouraging him to stay there. He started getting minor roles and he met Milton Katselas, an acting teacher who would become his mentor.

"I am a short morenito (dark-skinned man), so it's hard, difficult for someone like me to get really consistent work. The struggle, the tears, I was homeless for a while. I had to live in my car. Then I got into a car accident with a friend."

As the years passed by, Moreno, Jr. started getting more and more roles as he continued to fight on. In 2007, he got a small role in Transformers. He kept getting more and more work, including roles on television shows like Community, The Bridge and Dexter.

In 2016, he appeared in the film Frank & Lola, which stars Michael Shannon. Recently he  also did a TV pilot called Mad Dog for Amazon Prime.

Moreno, Jr. is starting to see 2016 as a potential breakout year for him, and hopes to one day be able to do for others, what his mentor, Katselas did for him.

"I'm hoping this is the catalyst for my next step," Moreno, Jr. "I think I'm ready."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Remembering Antonio Orendain


By Benito Gonzalez and Manuel Torres, 4/13/16.

The first time that we met Antonio Orendain was in 1966. Orendain and some other organizers from the United Farm Workers (UFW) had come to talk to the farmworkers at the Weslaco labor camp, to unite the workers with others in Starr county. Orendain was the man with the black hat, as he was known then. The Valley, for the farmers and ranchers, was the “Magic Valley”. They would make huge profits from the crops that they planted like onions, tomatoes, melons, oranges, grapefruits, and many others. But for us, who work the land and harvest the crops, it was the “Valley of Tears”. That’s how Antonio would explain to the farmworkers, that we too had to put a price to our labor. Just like anybody else in the world, that we too are professional, like a doctor, or a lawyer.  And with that, he started his legend. From there on, the farmworkers were not afraid of being united as a group. Even further, Antonio and the union here understood that here in the border, we have to organize with immigrant workers. “The workers from Mexico are not our enemy.”

So every morning, we would get up at 4 AM and pass out flyers to the farmworkers at the Hidalgo bridge, where they would cross in the hundreds. The key to winning any strike or work stoppage was to organize the undocumented immigrant worker. After so many years of educating and organizing farmworkers on both sides of the border, they started to look up to Antonio and the Texas Farmworkers Union (TFWU). Whenever there were some problems with the crew leaders or the packing sheds owner, you could hear “Huelga! Huelga! Huelga!”

In the late 1970’s and 1980’s, hundreds of thousands of onion workers clipped onions in the fields throughout the Valley. At nighttime the workers would go looking for the TFWU office, looking for help from the organization and Antonio. One night a plan was formed with TFWU organizers, with Antonio as the lead organizer. It was agreed that the main reason that workers wanted to carry out a work stoppage was because they were not making the minimum wages of $1.25 per hour. Their pay was .25 cents a bucket (5 gallons), or .50 cents for a sack of 100 lbs. They also asked for use of bathrooms and clean drinking water.

That was one of the hundreds of strikes and work stoppages organized by the TFWU, here in Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties back in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s, besides the ones in West Texas, Pecos, Plainview, Muleshoe. Times have changed ever since NAFTA, with so much agricultural work moving south into Mexico and in other southern countries.

The legend of Antonio Orendain will live forever, and his goals of seeing a just society, where every farmworker is paid equally, treated fairly, and lives comfortably in a happy economy and political system for all. RIP our friend, our general, the struggle continues! A new movement is growing for a new world!

Friday, February 5, 2016

February Round-Up

This week, we're going to have a round-up of some of the most anticipated Tejano, conjunto, and lucha libre shows and events of the month of February.

--This past week, La Lomita Park de Pepe Maldonado in McAllen released their schedule of the popular conjunto acts that will be stopping by in the month of February. The line up of artists is as follows: Riley y Los Gilitos and Los Delta Boyz (2/7), Los Fantasmas del Valle (2/14), Pepe Maldonado and Los Nuevo Chachos de Jesse Gomez (2/21), Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto and Los Tremendos Alacranes de David Flores (2/28). Entry fee is $10.00, and the music starts at 6 PM every Sunday night. For more information on these upcoming events, you can visit or call La Lomita Park owner and promoter Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783.

--The Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center (NMCAC) of San Benito will be having "A Romantic Evening of Poetry with Julieta Corpus" on Friday, February 12, at 7 PM. Julieta Corpus is a poet whose works has been featured in several publications, including the Festiva. Also, Edward Vidaurre will be reading, along with some music by Mario Mora. Donations are being accepted at the event, and the works of Corpus and Vidaurre will be on sale as well. At this same location, NMCAC will also be having their monthly Thursday "Conjunto Nites at the Chicho" event on February 18, with a soon to be announced artist. For information and details on these presentations, contact coordinator Soledad A. Núñez at 956-244-0373.

--Salinas Promotions returns to Los Portales Pulga in Mission on Friday, February 5, at 7:30 PM.  The main event will be Big Neurosis and Corazon de Barrio vs Silencio and Orquidia Negra, while the co-main event will feature Hijo de Monster, Mini Chucky and Psicosis Jr. vs Asterisco Jr., Temblor, and Temblor Jr. There will also be two other matches in the undercard. Pre-sale ticket prices are $15.00 for adults, $10.00 for children. The prices go up $5.00 at the door. For more information, call 956-457-9828.

--Jaime y Los Chamacos will be stopping by at the Gaslight Club in McAllen on Saturday, February 6. The cover before 9 PM will be $10.00, after that time, it'll be $15.00. Door will open at 7 PM.

--Attorney and promoter R. Bruce Tharpe, of Brownsville, TX, has been adding more and more professional wrestling gems to his streaming service. In the past two weeks, a Jose Lothario vs Hector Guerrero brawl from May 25, 1984, and a Terry Funk vs Mark Lewin scrap from April 27, 1979, were unearthed from the archives. Two totally different, but excellent matches between four great professional wrestlers. Check them out if you're a fan of old school, territorial professional wrestling.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Delia Gutierrez Pineda

Delia Gutierrez Pineda

Legendary singer Delia Gutierrez-Pineda lives in McAllen, with photos on her wall and a treasure trove of memories that brings her back to her past. Among the items found in her house are photographs, records, old newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia from a career that started in the 1940's and officially closed in 1990. Those memories, which include her late parents, her late husband, and various other musicians she's worked with, are very dear to her heart. She's always happy to share her memories when you ask her about them.

Delia Gutierrez was born as an only child to Eugenio Gutierrez and Melida Ayala on July 5, 1931 in Weslaco, Texas. Her father was part of a family of farmers from Runge, Texas. He was also a young musical prodigy, who started playing a violin at 9 years old, one that he had made from scraps.

"They would play at weddings, anniversaries, little things like that," Delia said.

Her mother came from the musical Ayala family of the Rio Grande Valley, so her love for music came from both her parents.

As a child, Delia first started singing while attending school in Weslaco. Later on, she would also start participating at talent shows at the Benitez Theater in Weslaco.

"I'm glad to say I always won," Delia laughs. "Nombre I got so used to winning that it was hard for me not to win. You know what the prize was? A bag of groceries. Coffee, sugar, bread, flour, and stuff like that. So I was very proud of getting those bags of grocery."

At that time, she also enjoyed opening for famous artists whenever they would drop by to perform at that theater.

Despite her obvious talent, Delia admits that her father didn't really want her to become a singer. Due to her father being ill, it was decided that she would start singing professionally with the family orchestra — The Eugenio Gutierrez Orchestra — at age 12.

"That was the only reason he let me sing," Delia said. "Let's face it, we needed the little help (it would bring us)."

For inspiration, Delia would listen to the radio stations from Mexico. She notes that her father's orchestra originally played English only, but his main goal was to be a bilingual band.

"He wanted to have a band that would play like the ones in Mexico," Delia said. "Spanish and English, with a variety of music."

Promo shot of Delia Gutierrez Pineda for Ideal Records.

They performed from one end of the Valley to the other, from Brownsville to Rio Grande City, and everything in-between. The orchestra would stop by Edinburg's KURV studios regularly on Sunday morning to perform for the live radio audience at 11:00 AM.

"Edelstein was a furniture store, and they had an hour on the radio," Delia said. "We would play an hour of our music during that time."

It wasn't long after that that The Eugenio Gutierrez Orchestra began recording for Falcón Records near the end of the 1940's.

"He asked my dad because he had followed my dad's music," Delia said.

After that, the crew, which became a 12-piece orchestra, went on tour to help promote the recordings. They stopped by in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Dallas, El Paso and many other stops.

"We were very blessed," Delia said. "I think what made a difference was that it was a father-daughter orchestra."

They left Falcón, and started recording for Armando Marroquín's Discos Ideal in the early 1950's, in Alice and San Benito. Popular recordings between both those labels included  "La Carta", "Pasito Tun Tun", "Mi Marianita" and "Blue Moon" (in Spanish).

During that same time frame, the orchestra added a trumpet player by the name of Moises "Moy" Pineda. He quickly became a part of the cast of musicians, joining them on tour.

"That was the first time we met," Delia said. "He was good, he learned fast, tambien (too)."

Delia and Pineda fell in love, and were married in 1954. They had three daughters: Cecilia Diaz, Norma Perez, and Melba Carvajal.

"It's funny, he was engaged to another girl, and I was engaged to another boy," Delia said. "We both gave the rings back to the boy and the girl."

Delia Gutierrez Pineda and Moy Pineda.

Delia continued playing with the orchestra until 1972, when her father passed away after a long battle with cancer.

"I told Moy I wasn't going to play anymore," Delia said. "We were married, and had our kids. He decided to get his own group going."

Delia Gutierrez Pineda, Eugenio Gutierrez, and Moy Pineda.

That group would end up becoming The Moy Pineda Mini-Band. Jose Peña was right beside Pineda for years, helping out with that ensemble. The band started getting more and more gigs, and Pineda eventually convinced Delia to return to singing. They performed at wedding, conventions, Bar Mitzvahs , anniversaries and gatherings of all types.

"We picked up where we left off," Delia said. "We had so much fun singing and playing."

She continued until she officially retired in 1990. That same year Delia was honored by being interviewed and having her career documented by Dr. Clay Shorkey for an exhibit at the Texas Music Museum. That showcase was dubbed Musica Tejana: The History and Development of Tejano Music. Unfortunately, Delia couldn't make it, but it's something she's very proud of.

In 2002, Delia was inducted into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame in Alice. Other people who were inducted into that same class include Freddy Fender, Ventura Alonzo and Tony "Ham" Guerrero. A year later, Pineda passed away in 2003.

"He was such a good person," Delia said. "Moy loved people, he loved his trumpet (too). He loved playing music."

On October 2012, the Ben F. McDonald Public Library of Corpus Christi hosted an event where Delia was chosen to be one of the honorees by The Music of South Texas committee. A photo of her was included in a gallery of Tejano pioneers, to pay tribute to her contributions to Tejano music.

Now at 84 years old, Delia enjoys spending time with her three daughters, two son-in-laws, six grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. The memories she participated in are as strong as they've ever been.

"Thank the Lord," Delia said. "I am in good health, I can still walk, talk, and drive. And do Just about everything."

Q&A with Manuel Maldonado of Alto Mando.

Lead vocalist and accordionist Manuel Maldonado of Alto Mando was here in the Rio Grande Valley this past week to talk about his band, his influences, and his new CD.

Eduardo Martinez: How did you first get interested in music?

Manuel Maldonado: I was about 15 years old, I'm originally from Merced, California. Over there, I didn't really listen to Mexican music. But when I came over here, to Texas, I started listening to it more because a lot more people listen to Mexican music over here. I was really inspired by Ramon Ayala and his accordion skills. I asked my dad to buy me an accordion 'cause I really wanted to learn his songs. So that's how I started with the music.

EM: What part of Texas did you move to?

MM: San Antonio, and I still live there.

EM: Other than Ramon Ayala, do you have any other favorite musicians that influenced you?

MM: Since my family is from Nuevo Leon, my favorite bands were like Los Invasores de Nuevo Leon, Los Cadetes (de Linares), Lalo Mora. Those were the main bands that I started liking.

EM: When did you first perform in front of an audience?

MM: Professionally, in front of a live audience, about an year ago. Before that, maybe two years ago, in the backyard, BBQ's, quinceañeras, weddings.

EM: How did Alto Mando come about?

MM: I live in San Antonio, started playing in backyards. Everybody in the city knows each other, and they started saying, "Well these kids play music." And that's how we started to meet other musicians, that were playing in bands. That's how we found our tuba player, and we ended up playing our style, the genre of norteño banda.

EM: What can you tell me about your new CD, Dime Que Si?

MM: It came out in late November, November 20th. It's doing really well, especially with our newest single "Dime Que Si". It's track number three. As well as other songs that we promoted in the last year.

EM: Is this your first time visiting the Valley?

MM: Yes this is our first time here in McAllen.

EM: What are your impressions?

MM: I really like the people here. They are laid back, chill, and they are really nice people. And they are fun. I've been to a lot of radio stations today and it's been fun.

EM: What are some of your longterm plans for Alto Mando?

MM: We are already in the studio recording our second album. We are starting to record it already, but we are still writing more songs to complete the CD. I am writing some songs myself, as well as other band members. We are planning to promote exactly the way we have been doing (the first CD).

EM: Any other update you would like to tell fans?

MM: I would like to give my Facebook page: Alto Mando Oficial. Also on Instagram and Twitter you can find us at: PuroAltoMando.

EM: Great, any last thing you would like to say?

MM: Yes, I want to say thank you for everybody that has believed in us, and that is helping us.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Looking Forward To 2016

Gilberto Perez y su conjunto. Photo by Raul Robert Perez. 

As we are just three weeks into the new year, I wanted to share some of things I am most looking forward to in 2016. I feel that when the year is over, we will have a lot of great memories to look back on.

One of the events I'm most looking forward to in 2016 is Texas Folklife's annual "Big Squeeze" showcase and playoffs. The statewide accordion contest for players under 21 is set to start sometime soon, so keep a look out for an announcement from the non-profit that is based out of Austin. The previous two years have seen 'Showcases', or auditions in another word, take place at La Joya High School in the month of February. Last year, Raul Resendez from La Joya High School and Josue Garcia of La Feria High School made it to the finals in Austin. Curious to see which young accordionists, from the deep talent pool that is found in the Rio Grande Valley, will stand out this year.

La Lomita Park in McAllen is now entering its 14th year in existence, and it's still one of the must go-to places in the Valley for authentic conjunto music. They started this year on January 3 with a great night of music, featuring Gilberto Perez Sr. y su conjunto, and it was awesome. They got a lot of top conjunto acts that regularly stop by, like the aforementioned Perez and Los Fantasmas del Valle, but I'm also looking forward to seeing what new acts will show up to the dance hall in 2016.

There are going to be a lot of major festivals this year, but the ones I'm most excited for are the 35th annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio, during May, and the 25th annual Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in San Benito, during October. I have never been to the San Antonio festival before, and am eager to go for the first time. I'm also excited about what the 25th installment of the San Benito festival will bring us later this year.

Not sure which artists will be releasing new albums this year, but am interested in seeing what gems pop out from those releases. Recently, Rio Jordan finally released Legendary Dynasty, which included ten tracks from them and ten never before released tracks from their legendary father, the late Esteban 'Steve' Jordan. I hope to see more unique releases along those lines, along with some traditional instrumental albums from some of the legends and established musicians of conjunto music.

More than anything, I'm interested in seeing what new conjuntos will pop up in the Valley, along with what direction and angle they plan to take conjunto music in. It's a form of music that can literally be taken to many different directions, and I hope to see some young musicians do something very special with it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Three Albums To Check Out

On this weeks Regional Ramblings, I will recommend three under-the-radar albums that one can stream right now for free on Spotify. There are some gems on here that I think are really worth going out of your way to listen to.

Borders y Bailes by Los Texmaniacs - In 2009, Los Texmaniacs of Max Baca released their first album with the Smithsonian Folkways label, and it's a great taste of what this group is capable of. At the time David Farias, of La Tropa F, was the accordionist for the group and does a great job lending his sharp style of accordion playing to this ensemble. We get a little bit of everything here, as far as conjunto goes, like polkas, cumbias, a redova, rancheras, boleros, danzón, a huapango, and even an old fashion schottische (aka chotiz or chotis). Baca's style of bajo-sexto playing is such a treasure to listen to, and it's the backbone of all these songs on here. Check out how he shreds the bajo-sexto on the title track "Huapango". It's amazing the level of control that Baca has over the bajo-sexto. This modern take on traditional music release won "Best Tejano Album" at the 2009 Grammy Awards.

They All Played For Us: Arhoolie Records 50th Anniversary Celebration - In 2011, roots music label Arhoolie Records celebrated their 50th anniversary with concerts that included Los Cenzontles, Santiago Jimenez Jr. y la familia Peña-Govea, Ry Cooder, Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, and several other bands that included various types of musical genres. For the two-row, diatonic button accordionist Jimenez, he played two classics — "Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio" and "Viva Seguin". Both are exciting and spirited performances of the songs, by Jimenez and crew. Los Cenzontles perform "Voy Caminando", "El Chuchumbe", "México Americano", "Prenda del Alma", "Arizona, Estado de Verguenza", and "Puño de Tierra". This California group plays this really whimsical string style of music that is both socially conscious and great to listen to. That's only two different groups, the rest of this four disc compilation is a great treat for roots music lovers.

La Conocí en La Pulga (I Met Her at the Flea Market) by Los Dos Gilbertos - Also from 2009, this release from the legendary conjunto based out of Edinburg might have my favorite Rio Grande Valley album title of all time. One of the tracks on here is a nice tribute to the late Cornelio Reyna. It's titled "Recordando a Cornelio" and it's a nice potpourri of the legendary norteño musician's repertoire. Of course the main draw on here is the title track "La Conocí en La Pulga", which is a catchy cumbia about a man who met his love at the pulga. A romantic cumbia about going to the pulga every Sunday is one of the most Valley-things ever and I absolutely love this silly song.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Spurs vs Cavaliers

Ridiculous game. Brother and I are leaving right now. Spurs were struggling in the first half, were down 15 points at one point. Tony Parker specifically kept us in the game early on. Manu Ginobili also had some bright moments early on. I was all worried they were going to lose since most of the team was cold. Finally things picked up in the second half, and the Spurs came back to win 99-95 in a nail biter. Kawhi Leonard had some great moments in the final two frames. Tim Duncan had this tough clutch bank shot at the end that was just lovely. Epic game, and so happy they won, especially since it's difficult making out to games. It's a risk watching sports live, because you can spend money to buy tickets and then watch your favorite team lose, and that's an awful feeling. But if they win, especially a difficult game, it's an amazing feeling. Spurs are now 23-0 at home. Also, props to LeBron James. The second the game was over, he immediately hugged Duncan, then started talking to him, and went around genuinely congratulating a lot of the Spurs. Tambien David West is so solid, feels like he's been a Spur forever. Here's a post-game selfie with my brother and me.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Rogelio T. Núñez Fundraiser

Rogelio T. Núñez, co-founder of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center (NMCAC) in San Benito, will be celebrating his birthday on Saturday night, January 9, with a major fundraiser that will benefit two organizations. Núñez, who will be turning 64, will have the proceeds of his celebration going towards the NMCAC and Casa de Proyecto Libertad, an organization in Harlingen where he has served as the executive-director since 1990.

The idea for the NMCAC, which is entering its 25th year in 2016, first started to develop when Núñez returned to the Rio Grande Valley in 1983, after he had been away studying in Kingsville and Austin.

"When I was in college, I got influenced by, and became part of the Chicano movement," Núñez said in 2014. "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."

Since its formation on October 29, 1991, the NMCAC has presented a variety of events, showcases, classes, exhibits and festivals. This year will be the 25th anniversary of their highly popular NMCAC Conjunto Festival.

"Probably come February, we are going to start looking at bands," Soledad A. Núñez, coordinator of the NMCAC, said. "I know the bands that were cancelled on Saturday (for the 24th annual NMCAC Conjunto Festival due to weather issues) will be playing this year's festival."

According to their website, Casa de Proyecto Libertad "was founded in 1981 to provide legal defense and advocacy for detained Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States."

Soledad notes that there will be food available, beverages, and live music from yet to be confirmed musical artists for this birthday gathering.

The featured attraction of the evening will be a photo exhibit titled "Texas Farmworkers Valley March 1975 and Muleshoe to Austin 1979" from photojournalist Alan Pogue.

"He dropped the photos a while back," Soledad said. "We combined the photo (exhibit) and the fundraiser. Anybody that is interested can come down, listen to music, grab a bite to eat and check out the photo exhibit. There are probably a good 20 and 30 photos."

Soledad and the NMCAC are happy to be able to present this as the first event of 2016.

"It's for two great causes," Soledad said. "The cultural arts center and Casa de Proyecto Libertad. This is so we can keep on doing the work that we are doing. Come on down, and you will have a good time."

What: NMCAC and Casa de Proyecto Libertad Fundraiser
Time: 5:00 PM
Date: 1/9
Cost: $20.00
Phone Number and Website: 956-244-0373 or visit
Location: Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center, in San Benito