Who is this guy? Like just about everyone else that does a double-take the first time they see Chito, I didn’t know what exactly to think. My first impression, however, was nothing further from the truth.
Jose Angel “Chito” Martiarena – a Del Rio native often seen pushing a train of children’s wagons with flashy balloons and road cones attached to a lawnmower down Veteran’s Boulevard, continues to inspire me.
Before you read any further, you have to watch this 9-minute video from the Texas Country Reporter.
He inspires us to give our time, effort, talents, and passions to our community, simply because it’s our home. He inspires us to embody and encourage hard work and sense of duty over laziness and irresponsibility. “Entitlement” doesn’t exist in Chito’s vocabulary, even though he has that right more than most of us. Chito exemplifies how priorities should be arranged in life – family, community…and lastly – himself. He is the epitome of a dedicated, hard worker – not because it results in personal gain, but because it’s just the right thing to do. It’s not about glory, wealth, or even long-lasting health for Chito – it’s about using the gifts God gave him at their max potential solely for the purpose of making a difference here in Del Rio. Chito has taught me more about life than any life-skills coach could ever teach me, and yet he hasn’t spoken a distinguishable word to me.
If you’re interested in supporting Chito, he’s not hard to find. Look for the trail of wagons attached to an old lawnmower with a bunch of balloons and road cones. Tell him you appreciate him, thank him, pat him on the back, and spend a moment or two talking to him (and he’ll understand you). Chito gives it all for Del Rio, the least Del Rio can do for him is offer their gratitude (and a bottle of water, perhaps).
It’s June in South-Central Texas, and local watermelon farmers in Quemado, a small town between Del Rio and Eagle Pass along Highway 277 and the Rio Grande, are harvesting sweet, savory melons by the ton.
It’s always about this time of year that local vendors park their pick-up trucks loaded with melons along the busy roadways of Del Rio. If you’re like me, you drive past them every day and wonder who they are and how they make a living selling giant fruit on the side of the road.
Well, curiosity finally reeled me in when I was thinking of my next article to write about the unique and awesome culture of Del Rio. I decided to interview a couple of these local vendors to get a better idea of what exactly I’ve been missing on my way home from work every day this week.
I didn’t really need to send any formal invitation for an interview – I just happened to pull off Highway 90 near the Del Rio Middle School and end up at Dionisio’s watermelon truck. Dionisio has lived in Del Rio since 1957, originally growing up outside of Acuña. He sells his watermelons for anywhere between $3 and $5, depending on the size, and has been selling them for about seven years.
Dionisio fills his truck, equipped with a camper-top, full of melons for $390 from a farm in Quemado. When I asked him how much money he made from his sales, he replied, “Not much…but it [gives me] something to do”. Although not a man of many words, Dionisio explained that weekdays are not as good for business as weekends are. “If they stop [to purchase a melon], they stop. Otherwise they keep going,” he remarked as we watched rush hour resume on the highway, closing in on 5:00 PM.
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Learning how to prepare the food you’ve raised should also be free, she said. “It’s something that used to be passed down from generation to generation,” she commented as she reflected on receiving a notebook of gardening tips and tricks from her grandfather who farmed through parts of Texas in the years past – a notebook that she’s used personally, with a team of volunteers, to transform a vacant lot near San Felipe Creek into a beautiful arrangement of vegetable plants, new saplings, and flowers.
“We have a Farmer’s Market on the first Saturday of every month,” said Maria. “We need more vendors and local farmers, it’s a free gathering place.”
The Del Rio Community Garden is part of the Del Rio Parks Foundation – a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to enriching the quality of life for the community through the development of outdoor park and recreational spaces in the City of Del Rio. If you are interested in becoming involved with this organization, visit their website at http://delrioparksfoundation.com/ and follow their various Facebook pages at Del Rio Parks Foundation, Del Rio Community Garden, and Del Rio Community Garden Volunteers. Article written by Dan Schreiber.
Del Rio, Texas – Flawed Perception? Texas Border Town Fights Misconceptions, Boasts Safe & Friendly Family Living
I’ll start by saying I was one of those people, when I first received notification of job transfer to Del Rio.
My wife and I came from Tucson, Arizona. Arizona has a lot of problems with the Mexican border and drug smuggling. It’s a great state, but the border is a big problem. We all have heard the stories of cartel wars in Nogales & Juarez, mass graves, kidnappings, stray bullets flying over the fence, murdered border ranchers, and the whole works. I’ve spent most of my life near the border, but not in a border town, per-se. So, Del Rio was our first real exposure to the remote, West Texas border, and initially thought...of all places to go! A previous coworker even asked, “who did you piss off?”
When you research Del Rio, you can’t find much about what people who actually live here think about it. And, actually, the only thing I really heard about it before we moved there was, “it’s only a three-hour drive to San Antonio”, as if Del Rio was a God-forsaken, run-down, dusty border town that everyone couldn’t wait to leave.
To be honest, I know some people feel that way, and my heart aches for them. In most cases, from what I’ve observed, it’s because they arrived close-minded to the opportunities and relationships that Del Rio and the surrounding area offers. I’m not talking about Mexico – although I’ve heard there is fun to be had there as well. I’m talking about a culture, that, if you choose to immerse yourself in it with no strings attached, will welcome and hold you like family.
You see, it’s the uneducated misconception of the town that Del Rio struggles with – one of its worst enemies – and that in itself deters many from ever experiencing it for real. Is Del Rio perfect? Absolutely not! Certainly, not every perception or rumor about the town is flawed. There is plenty that both the town and the townsfolk could do to improve the quality of life, economy, and attractiveness. This discussion is not about community development, however – it’s about the importance of being open-minded.
Listen, one of the first people I met in Del Rio told me that they had relocated here because they just loved the culture and the friendly, safe town. While encouraging to both me and my wife, we can both admit that we both thought this person must be a little crazy or something to want to do that. I tell you what, though – I’ve come to see why more and more folks – many of them transplants – are calling Del Rio home. They aren’t crazy, they have just learned to appreciate the real things in life that the community of Del Rio holds dear – things like faith, family, and community spirit.
But, without going any further, I’d like to address some of the perceptions that both my wife and I had when we were a little less educated about Del Rio before we moved here – and what the reality of the town actually is.
Misconception: Nobody Speaks English
Not true at all. While Spanish will certainly help you understand the local gossip standing in line at the H-E-B grocery store, you don’t have to speak any Spanish to get around. Signs are in English, menus are in English, and we even have English radio stations.
Now, if you are Hispanic, some Del Rioans may speak initially to you in Spanish, assuming that you speak Spanish. If you reply in English, they will be happy to accommodate you in your native tongue. Many Hispanic locals are bilingual, so this is common. I’ve also heard conversions switch languages mid-sentence. You will hear this the first few times and be confused, then just learn that that’s the way it goes.
One foot-note, however – it helps to be bilingual for job opportunities. This is a common “plus” in many places, not just border towns, but it really does make a difference here. No worries, my wife easily got a job upon arrival here and doesn’t speak Spanish.
Misconception: The Low Crime Rate Is Fudged
I suppose that I can’t say for sure that this is false, but I can say that I’ve never really witnessed a crime in Del Rio in the two years that I’ve been here. It is extremely safe. I never worry about my wife and young daughter at night, out on the town by themselves, or even if we left our front door wide open (not that we do that…).
I’ve read the arrest reports for a little mischief here and there – but compared to many other places that I’ve lived, Del Rio does not have me worried about safety and security. I’m actually way more worried about crime in San Antonio than in Del Rio.
I learned quickly that Texas does not tolerate drugs. In California, Oregon, and Arizona – three states that I lived in most of my life – it seemed like drugs just seemed to overwhelm small towns. Not Del Rio, Texas.
Del Rio isn’t drug-free. I’ve heard a few stories of folks getting caught with a little marijuana – and in some cases heavier narcotics or pills. But overall, I don’t see a bunch of people blazed out of their minds walking aimlessly down the street in Del Rio like I would see in many other places that I’ve lived.
A common side-effect of drugs – homelessness – is another thing that Del Rio appears to lack. I can’t remember the last time I saw a homeless family here. Del Rio doesn’t let folks go without a roof over their head.
Misconception: It’s a Barren Wasteland
Google Maps doesn’t help with this misconception. Do yourself a favor and don’t use Google Maps Satellite View to get an impression of Del Rio, sort of like I did originally. Del Rio and the local surrounding area is home to not only the Rio Grande and Amistad Reservoir, but also the Pecos River, the Devils River, the Frio River, the Nueces River, and Hill Country. My favorite local natural beauty is San Felipe Creek, which the city has done a great job developing into a wonderful park.
Del Rio is actually pretty diverse when it comes to nature. West of Del Rio is the Chihuahuan Desert and Big Bend. It’s dry, but serene. North and northeast of Del Rio is Hill Country – the closest Central Texas can come to forested mountains (hills). South and east of Del Rio may seem a bit barren for an hour or so, but is relieved by a bunch of farmland and much more humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. So, whether you want to spend a night under the desert stars, tube down the rivers in Hill Country, or start a garden – Del Rio gives you the opportunity to do so.
In conclusion, I think it’s only appropriate that I thank a number of unnamed people in Del Rio who welcomed my wife and me to this town. I remember telling my mom, when she asked about what I thought of Del Rio, I said, “I haven’t met someone who hasn’t smiled”. It’s a growing community, slowly, but surely. Every day it seems like there is a new organization or initiative in town with a passion for continuing to promote and develop the community, highlighting the pride that Del Rioans take in their city.
If I had never met many of the locals that I have come across if I didn’t have an open mind about Del Rio, I might still be lumped into the category of folks who can’t wait to leave. Fortunately, I’m in the other boat – the group that doesn’t want to leave.
- Dan Schreiber
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