By Herb Moering
The perfect weather arrived just in time for Mission’s first annual Veterans Festival Parade on Saturday afternoon, November 9.
The hour and a half patriotic parade was part of the city’s Veterans Day observance, which stretched over four days, starting with a flag laying ceremony Friday afternoon at the Texas State Veteran Cemetery in Mission.
It was the parade that drew several hundred spectators along Business 83, including from Mission, flag-waving Jesse Martinez and his granddaughter Jaynee, to applaud the service veterans riding in the parade.
Among those given a ride was the grand marshal, Lt. Col. Arnulfo Esqueda, a 30-year U.S. Army veteran and a Mission native.
“It was a great honor and privilege to represent all the veterans,” he said. “I want people to appreciate the veterans. Veterans want to play a role in the community.”
Esqueda joined the military at the age of 18 in 1965 and was in the Vietnam jungles for four years as a special forces operative. The green beret was a leader of one of the six-member teams involved in top secret cross border interdiction missions. His team, among others, which included two Americans and four South Vietnam soldiers each, were attached to the secret Military Assistance Command Special Operations Group. They operated mainly along the Ho Chi Ming Trail that wound through North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The retired officer said the greatest fear while deep in enemy territory was being captured. He said they were on their own at night, without communication with allied forces, but by day were back in contact and had U.S. air support if needed. What was also hard to comprehend was the condemning response from the public after returning home. There was no parade for soldiers who fought in Vietnam, he noted.
When his Vietnam tour ended in 1969, he went to college and also joined the Texas National Guard as a 2nd lieutenant, which was a part time situation until 1979. Then he went on active duty with the guard. He received his lieutenant colonel rank in 1993 and finished his service in 1995.
A World War II veteran, Savas Sandoval Jr., got to ride in a Mercedes Benz classic convertible. He served in the U.S. Army in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska from 1942 until 1945. Army 1st Sgt. Victor Fonseca was among veterans riding in golf carts.
One squad of veterans walked the parade route, which began at Conway Avenue and ended at Bryan Road. The lead parade entry was the Mission Fire Department’s 1927 fire truck, followed by color guard units and a contingent of patriotic motorcyclists. The parade included floats, school marching bands and cheerleader groups, scouting units, dance squads, and Texas Citrus Fiesta royalty.
The day also included the first Veterans Cook-off that began at 9 o’clock in the morning. A total of 26 teams competed for $5,000 in cash and trophies in five categories of chicken, pork spareribs, brisket, pan de campo and citrus dessert.
There was live music and food vendors on hand as the cookers worked their magic throughout the day. Head judge for the International Barbecue Cookers Association (IBCA), Eddie Tapia, has been running cook-off competitions for 13 years, which takes him all over the Valley. He said he began with just two events his first year, but now he averages more than two per month. His wife, Judy, helps him in distributing the entries to the local volunteer taste judges.
David Santoy, who heads the South Texas BBQ team, said he recruited eight family members and friends to join him in working the cook-off, which he’s been doing for four years. He’s out about once a month on average to compete.
“I love barbecuing and hanging out,” the Mission resident said. “It’s a ‘win, win’ time.”
Andy Garza, the head cook for the Mi Pedasito Ranch team, also from Mission, said he’s been involved in cook-offs for 10 years. He currently does about five events a year as time permits.
“I love it, being in charge,” he said. “We do it for the love of barbecue.”
His wife, Blanca, said, “We enjoy it, and it’s all family members on the team.”
The first 10 placings in each event received recognition, with the top five earning cash awards and a winning plaque to each first-place team.
The Veterans Cook-off grand championship trophy went to the Cowboy Up Cooking team headed by Ralph Flores of Edinburg. His team earned the top award by winning the pan de campo division, placing third in chicken barbecue, fourth in pork spareribs and eighth in brisket.
The reserve championship belonged to Chew N the Fat squad with head cook Jason Bartimus. Also, from Edinburg, the team topped the pork spareribs category and placed fifth in brisket.
Top finishers in the other categories included BBQ Holics, taking first in the chicken category with Hector Cantu the head cook from La Feria; the Chillin N Grillin team headed by Mario Benavides from McAllen, and Bridget Gonzalez who topped the dessert division.
The festival also included an evening of entertainment with music by several bands on stage in conjunction with the 5x5 Brewery sponsors. Kids rides went on all day.
The festival salute continued on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 10, with a Cars and Stripes car show along with a chili cook-off between five veteran’s teams, with winners chosen by “people’s choice.”
Wrapping up the celebration was the Veterans Day golf tournament, The Fairway to Freedom, a 3-person scramble. The tournament, free to veterans, was played at Sharyland Municipal Golf Course. The event was featured in last week’s paper.
By Herb Moering
A hundred people went hog wild at a dinner and dance Saturday afternoon, Nov. 16, at the Texas Trails RV Resort.
This first such event, open to the public, at the resort in Pharr had customers bellying up to one of the two hog troughs outside Friendship Hall for some shredded pork loin, beef roast and sausage, along with steamed potatoes, cabbage, carrots, corn on the cob, a homemade roll and a cookie for dessert.
Dave Cole, who headed the cooking committee, said they lit up four kettles outside the hall to prepare the foods. When ready the foods were dumped into two long troughs with lines forming before each of them. He added that several women in the park prepared the vegetables for cooking the previous day.
Cole might be considered a veteran of the hog trough, frequently holding one of those affairs at his place in the park for 30 or 40 people. So, it seemed natural to park activity director Lou Dewaele to see about expanding the hog trough to include more people. They had a trial run of it this summer on the Fourth of July, with some 80 people. This time they opened it up to the public.
While the cooking was outside, the consumption was inside, along with what was to have been a street dance. Dewaele said the change was due to some concern about the weather, although it became a very pleasant, sunny day.
Once lunch was over the scene shifted to the dance floor and the Barbed Wire Band, which was fine with Jim McCubbins and his partner Carol Jarvis. The couple had come from their place at Alamo Recreational Vehicle Park for the meal, but especially for the dancing. These Winter Texans have been coming from Missouri for 10 years and dance away the season, averaging at least five nights a week.
Besides frequenting Texas Trails and their own park in Alamo, the couple also go regularly to Winter Ranch, Mission Bell and Victoria Palms for dancing. McCubbins said they love to dance and especially enjoy the country music.
The hog trough is one of many events open to the public, Dewaele said, who is in his first year as Texas Trails activity director aided by his wife, Kathe. He was an assistant activity director at Pleasant Valley Ranch in Mission in the couple’s first year in the RGV.
All the Friday evening dances are for the public, featuring the Grayrock Band, Nov. 22; Diego, Nov. 29; Curt James, Dec. 6; Regan James, Dec. 13 and South Texas Ramblers, Dec. 20. Entertainment coming up includes Razz Ma Tazz, Dec. 10; Winter Texan Orchestra, Dec. 15; Lindsey Creek Christmas Show, Dec. 17, and the Tiny Hill Orchestra, Dec. 29.
In January every Tuesday and Sunday there’s entertainment he noted, including plans in the making for a “Ladies Only Night.” The first weekend in February, the schedule calls for a Super Bowl party at the park on Owassa Road.
Is seems likely the hog trough is going to remain a popular draw, based on the smiles and comments expressed by those digging into the food.
Have you noticed? The latest thing in specialty tours are those tours that are offering destinations that feature foods from their area. The latest travel e-mail that promoted cuisine destinations featured Poland - and not just Poland, but a tour that offered time in Northern Poland to sample their cuisine followed by a visit to Southern Poland to taste their typical foods.
The United States can offer some typical foods also but dividing our country into two sections for food would be virtually impossible. For us it is much better to look at states and then break those states into regions.
Perhaps, one of the foods most typical for the state of Texas might be bar-b-que with the city of LaGrange considered the bar-b-que capitol. Recently, I heard a discussion on the differences in bar-b-que sauce. Texas bar-b-que tends to have a little chili and maybe just a touch of bourbon or beer. On the other hand, bar-b-que sauce prepared in North or South Carolina will taste a little sweet. Pecan pies or sweet potato pies also tend to have their claim to fame in East Texas and parts of Louisiana.
Our Rio Grande Valley region certainly has their very own food heritage, most of which originated in Mexico ... we call it Tex-Mex or Mex-Tex. In our region we can offer tacos, enchiladas, empanadas, tamales and on and on. My taste buds are watering just thinking of all those wonderful, delicious dishes that started in Mexico, jumped across the border, and often picked up a little Texas flavor, producing dishes that are not really Mexican nor are they really Texan.
One of the most popular is the local taco - do you want a breakfast taco prepared with a flour tortilla wrapped around eggs and potatoes, wrapped around eggs and beans, or filled with eggs and chicharrones (pig skins)? Or how about tacos for lunch with fajitas stuffed temptingly inside a doubled over, fried corn tortilla?
Another specialty of this area is the tamale - a specialty served year-round but extremely popular during the Christmas season. One of the fillings for the tamale is pork, but it could be beans or chicken or even coconut and raisins. Local families will prepare well in advance for the traditional Christmas feast and the Posada - posada translates to inn. A posada is a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay where the Christ child could be born. The mouthwatering dish often served at a Posada will not be turkey and dressing as so many might expect. In the Rio Grande Valley, the main dish will probably be tamales.
Making tamales is no small chore. First you must buy all the ingredients including the corn husks, the lard, the pork, the spices and the masa - a very, very finely ground corn flour. Because the preparing of tamales is such a labor-intensive chore, families often gather together with neighbors and have what is endearingly termed a tamalada ... the work will go a little faster if a little gossip is thrown in as the masa is spread on the corn leaf! Just image the bathtub, or a number three wash tub, filled with tepid water in which the separated com husks are soaking. Once those leaves become pliable, they are ready to be trimmed and then spread with the masa mixture followed by the prepared filling. The corn husk blanket will then be tenderly folded over and put aside to be frozen. Later those delicacies will be steamed and served for the eager guests to enjoy.
Now don't try to make tamales on your own unless you can differentiate between the right and the wrong side of the corn leaf. It does make a difference!
Even though I really enjoy a good tamale, my favorite of all the typical Mexican dishes is the empanada - similar to the fried pies my mother used to make. The Mexican version is not fried but baked - better for our health - even if the dough is prepared using lard. Favored fillings could be camote - sweet potato - or pineapple or even cajeta - a caramel tasting spread.
Although these dishes had their beginnings in Mexico and spread to Texas, these flavorful offerings can now be found all over the United States and beyond. People who grew up in this area, went away to school or to work, will always come home with a craving for a "Taste of the Valley" just as I have substituted the empanada for the fried pies my mother made. It's a taste of home!
It’s that time of year and McAllen Elks Lodge #1402 is holding a ‘Share the Love Food Drive’ and a toy drive. Their food drive ends on November 22.
For the food drive, they are collecting all non-perishable food items. The items will go to feed needy families in the community for Thanksgiving.
The organization’s toy and coat drive begins on November 22. They will collect items until December 20. They welcome any contributions.
You can drop off donations at the McAllen Elks Lodge, 3500 Jordan Ave. For more information, call (956) 686-3902.
McAllen Elks Lodge is a nonprofit organization whose main purpose is to invest in their communities through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, meet the needs of today’s veterans, and improve the quality of life. McAllen Elks Lodge #1402 started on December 28, 1920 and will celebrate their centennial next year. They have invested over $1.7 million in charity and scholarships in the area communities.
Develop new art skills and socialize with other Winter Texans. The International Museum of Art and Science (IMAS) introduces a series of four Winter Texan Workshops this December through March featuring Mexican Embroidery, Landscapes, Milagros Hoop Art, and Floral Painting.
These art workshops take place every third Saturday of the month, December through March, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Each workshop features a guided tour of a current fine art exhibit followed by a studio art-making activity and refreshments. All workshops are open to beginning and experienced artists.
On December 21, IMAS teaching artist Lisa Cortez will teach about the origin of beautiful Tenango embroidery, a distinctive Mexican fiber art form, and participants will create their own Tenango embroidery piece.
Explore the history of landscapes with a behind-the-scenes look at art works in the museum’s collection with IMAS teaching artist Roni Cortez. On January 18, 2020, she will lead this landscape painting workshop for participants at all levels – previous art experience is not required – and everyone will have the opportunity to paint with acrylics.
IMAS teaching artist Valerie Escamilla will lead the final two workshops. On February 15, 2020, she will present Milagros Hoop Art. Milagros are small metal charms commonly used in Mexican folk art. Participants will learn about this folk art and create a mixed-media work of art using milagros, felt, and embroidery.
The final workshop, Floral Painting, will take place on March 21, 2020, when participants will explore different watercolor techniques with various watercolor types and applications. A still-life bouquet of flowers will provide a starting-point composition after which participants will be encouraged to experiment painting their own spring floral design.
Visitors can also explore the IMAS fine art galleries including large-scale charcoal murals of Dialogues with Mother Earth, Highlights of the Permanent Collection, Mexican & Latin American Folk Art, and the upcoming Compulsory Measures.
Winter Texan Workshops are $10 per workshop and limited to 15 participants. All workshops include General Admission on the day of the workshop. IMAS Members receive a discount. All workshop supplies are provided.
The museum is located at the intersection of Bicentennial Way and Nolana Avenue at 1900 W. Nolana in McAllen. Log onto https://www.theimasonline.org or call (956) 681-2800 for more information.
Eyes and faces were wet Monday afternoon as the colors were presented by the PSJA Early College High School JROTC during a Veterans event at Brookridge Retirement Community. Quilts in red, white and blue made by the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Guild hung along the stairway and banisters that circled the dining hall.
Veterans filled the dining hall and stood while the colors were posted, and they sang the national anthem. Some stood even though they needed an extra hand or something to lean on. The vets still showed their love for the country they served, even if their bodies were far different than the ones they had when they served.
The Veterans at the community were gathered to receive quilts that were lovingly made by the RGV Quilt Guild. This group of ladies work tirelessly to be able to present quilts and wall hangings to a community every Veterans Day. This year, they made over 20 quilts for the vets at Brookridge.
The event started with the presentation of the colors, then the anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, and the music for each branch of military was played as well. As the music played, vets representing that branch stood at attention with their fingers to their foreheads, paying their respect to the flags, to their country, and to each other.
After this, a poem was read. The poem, titled Thank You Veterans, was written by a then fifth grader, Justin. It read,
“Thank you for the job well done.
Thank you for the battles won.
Thank you for the battles fought.
Thank you for the freedom bought.
Thank you for the time you served.
Thank you for the freedom earned.
Thank your families for sharing you.
I know they miss you, they really do.
I’m sorry for the lives that were lost.
Freedom isn’t cheap,
It comes at a very high cost.
I love my freedom,
My Red, White and Blue.
Thank you Veterans for all that you do.”
Leslie, a Brookridge representative, said a short prayer for the food and the veterans before introducing the ladies of the RGV Quilt Guild.
Quilts were presented to each Veteran in attendance. One by one they were recognized for their service.
There were petty officers, specialists, corporals, lieutenants, staff sergeants, sergeants, seamen, and other ranks of all the military branches.
One sergeant receiving a blanket was the only female WWII veteran at the community. Annette said she served in public relations. While serving, she was stationed in three different areas. She shared that she was present as they would bring in the soldiers from the hospitals.
“The hardest, was seeing those that came from Japan,” she said. “From the prisoner of war camps.”
She, as were all the other veterans, were thrilled to receive their quilts. Annette was excited to talk to one of the RGV Quilt Guild members telling her she used to sew quilts years ago.
The event included a barbecue lunch for the Veterans and their family members.
The RGV Quilt Guild has about 300 members during the Winter Texan season. The group meets every second Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to noon at Trophy Gardens RV Park in Alamo, 800 Hwy 495. Each month features a different speaker. December 14 will feature Tina Hilton (Turtle Hand Batik) and a surprise guest. They also hold an Annual Quilt Show in February on SPI. Visit www.rgvqg.com for more information.
A simple shoebox can bring such toy to a child’s heart. This is just one purpose of Samaritan’s Purse/Operation Christmas Child. Organizers are building a local team this year to help get the Valley more involved with bringing those smiles to kids faces all over the world.
This year, Elizabeth Dukquits is serving as an area coordinator. On her team is “Big” Lew Corya who serves as the church relations coordinator. They are spearheading to make the Valley more involved in the effort to gather gifts and coordinate packing the boxes and shipping them off.
Operation Christmas Child started in 1993 in the United States when Samaritan’s Purse, an organization from Wales, partnered with them, to take it global. In 2018, 10.6 million shoeboxes were given out to children all across the world. More than 8 million of those boxes came from the United States. There goal for this year is 11 million. 168 million children have received a shoebox since the beginning of Operation Christmas Child.
The project goes to over 160 countries and are pushing to get into more every year. While they want to reach as many kids as possible in impoverished, third world countries, the project is simple to take part in.
Corya, a pastor with BT McAllen, has been helping the organization for several years. BT McAllen has been participating in the collection of boxes for 15 years. Now, Corya wants to get more churches, groups, and Winter Texan parks involved.
Dukquits said, right now, even though collections are coming to an end soon, they are trying to get the word out on what people can do to help out. Their range is from Brownsville out to Laredo and to Corpus Christi. Even though Laredo and Corpus have their own drop off locations, they have chosen to spread the word as far as they can.
Corya said they will be at this year’s Winter Texan Expo. His goal is to get at least two Winter Texan volunteers that will help him make a real impact. They can start collecting or putting together boxes early and already have some things done before coming back to the Valley in the fall.
He wants help in talking to local churches and organizations to share the message of how they can help send boxes to the children.
To date, they have already collected nearly 6,000 boxes.
The program has kickoffs in early October, but they encourage people to start collecting early. The earlier you start, the more you can collect.
November 18-25 is the time to put the boxes together and make sure they are ready to be shipped off.
They said they are looking for leaders that can organize collections in their own parks, or churches, and then bring to their drop off location at BT McAllen. You collect the boxes, make sure they are packed right, and then bring to the church. BT McAllen then goes through the boxes and makes sure it is done correctly before shipping them out to their main office in Dallas.
It’s a simple program – They have suggested items to put in the shoebox for girls and boys from ages two to 14 years old. Although the
Corya suggests buying items in bulk, or they could be something as simple as party favors. The items don’t have to be expensive.... They have to be small. Most boxes have items such as baby dolls, coloring books, crayons, chalk, silly putty, socks, jump ropes, marbles, yoyos, and other small items. These are items the kids would not otherwise have.
A $9 donation per box is welcome to help with shipping and materials, but it is not a requirement to participate.
This program is helping children all over the world, said Dukquits. It’s helping those that have no access to anything. It’s non-denominational, she said, you get a box no matter what, but they do like to share a message.
Corya said Jesus is at the core of this project. While it is not mandatory for the children or families to participate, all that receive a box are invited to listen to a message. After that, they are invited to participate in a bible class that continues sharing the message of the plan of salvation.
“They don’t know God. They haven’t heard of God,” added Corya. This box plants a seed and the program helps that seed grow if they want to take part in it.
They both stressed, that the recipients do not have to participate to receive a box. “It’s an invitation.”
“No strings attached,” said Dukquits.
“It’s an opportunity,” added Corya.
They share the main message of the gift of love. When the children see these gifts and wonder why people would do such a thing for them.
“They look at this box, and they can’t believe that somebody clear across the world packed this for them,” said Dukquits.
“To them, it’s everything,” said Corya.
If you would like to help, or need a few boxes, call Dukquits at (956) 458-1005. If you would like to help out at BT McAllen, call (956) 686-5296. BT McAllen is located at 2001 Trenton Road in McAllen.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse, visit online at samaritanspurse.org/occ. For online shopping go to samaritanspurse.org/buildonline.