News Column

Locals and former locals turn out for regional dance, music

October 19, 2013


Oct. 19--SAN BENITO -- For the third year in a row, Rene and Anna Barbosa came down from Chicago to dance to the music that wooed them when they were young.

"They don't have this over there," Barbosa, a retired molding supervisor who grew up in Pharr, said from under the brim of his cowboy hat.

The sounds of the accordion bellowed over downtown San Benito on Friday night as organizers staged the 22nd Annual Narciso Martinez Conjunto Festival, a three-day event that celebrates the music of the accordion legend from La Paloma who's hailed as the father of conjunto music.

"It's old-style music -- polkas, boleros, the whole shebang," Barbosa said. "When I first started dancing at 11 years old, I heard this kind of music. I like the beat. It's a nice beat you can dance to."

Javier and Lisa Villegas came with their children for a lesson on the accordion-driven music that many claim was born in San Benito.

"It has to do with the culture," said Javier Villegas, a telephone company technician from Raymondville. "At one time I was just listening to rock 'n' roll. But I came back to this -- the accordion, the beat. We make sure we've got the music playing in the car so the kids can appreciate the culture, the history of it."

Raul Mena brought his mother Maria to hear the music that brought back memories of his childhood.

"We've been listening to this kind of music forever," said Mena, a Rio Hondo clerk. "We used to go up north when we were migrants and listen to this music. My parents would dance to the music. At the camp the music was always there. Some are sad songs that you can relate to -- all the sacrifices, all the hard work, a little bit of suffering here and there."

Near the stage, Martha Trevino joined parents who sold roses for $3 to raise money for students who play in the San Benito school district's conjunto music program.

About 30 parents formed the new San Benito Conjunto Booster Club to raise money for students' instruments, uniforms and travel, said Trevino, a San Benito florist.

"If our kids like what they're doing, we want to support them," said Trevino, whose daughter Vianka plays bajo sexto. "It's to bring tradition so they can have this in their future. These are our roots."

Joe Mendez, brother of hometown hero Freddy Fender, said his daughter Yvonne Mendez was trying to raise money for his granddaughter Nayley Rodriguez.

"This is part of our heritage," said Mendez, the school district's warehouse manager. "The music tells of the struggles and the lives of the people of this region, from migrant workers to the American way that we live."

In 1992, Rogelio Nunez founded the festival as part of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center.

"It's a fantastic feeling," Nunez said as he and his son Amado gazed at the makeshift dance floor. "These folks are the older generation. It's one more polka, one more dance. It's a big emotion."

The festival continues today from 4:15 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. and Sunday from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the arts center at 225 E. Stenger St.


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