February 2018 marked the first Michigan State University Latinx Film Festival, which featured eight films. As I Walk Through the Valley, directed by Charlie Vela and Ronnie Garza, was featured at the Robin Theater. Initially intended to be a documentary about the late-1990s and early-2000s punk scene in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, of which Vela and Garza were a part, the film instead presents a larger history of popular music in the Valley from the 1960s through the 2000s, covering rock ‘n’ roll, Texas-Mexican conjunto and orquesta, Chicano country, and finally the punk and metal scenes that took hold between the late-1970s and early-2000s. Combining oral history with period film footage and print media to frame the trajectory of popular music within broader social and political contexts, Vela and Garza construct a narrative that highlights the historical continuities and ruptures that connect these seemingly disparate musical genres and scenes.
One factor that unites each of the scenes is that they all developed more-or-less organically, with little interest or support from outside of the Rio Grande Valley. Comprised of Willacy, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Starr Counties and situated on the southern tip of Texas, Vela and Garza’s interviewees contend that the Rio Grande Valley is largely ignored by the rest of Texas, as well as by the rest of the U.S.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008 the Latino population of the four counties ranged from 86% of the total population of Cameron County to 97% of Starr County. Inevitably then, the music scenes of the Valley were shaped in part by interethnic conflict between Mexican Americans and Anglos, though even in the 1960s there were some integrated bands. However, according to an interviewee, there were intraethnic class differences between Brownsville and McAllen. Additionally, given its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, music scenes in the Rio Grande Valley have historically had close ties to scenes in Mexican border cities, as the film aptly demonstrates. Finally, as several interviewees note, ties existed between the music scenes of the Rio Grande Valley and Tejano communities in Michigan and throughout the Midwest, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, as bands often traveled north to perform for migrant laborers as well as those families that had settled out in the Midwest.