By Bryan Ramos
Well, we made it. Another year down means another year of life, which we should all be grateful for. While happy to be alive, 2017 was pretty hectic with spots of sunshine scattered throughout. Here are the top ten best and worst moments of 2017 in the Rio Grande Valley.
10.) Some random dude dresses up as Robert Downey Jr. aka Tony Stark at La Plaza Mall, hysteria ensues
The Valley shows love like no other. Want to experience it first hand? Dress up as any celebrity and head over to La Plaza Mall and watch people lose their shit.
That’s what happened in February of 2017 when this random dude fooled people into believing he was Robert Downey Jr., aka Tony Stark, walking through La Plaza Mall. Remember when “Fez” aka Wilmer Valderrama came down and people went bananas over him? Well, this Iron Man had people lining up for selfies, pointing in the camera, kissing babies, moms ready to risk it all. It turns out, the dude is Braulio Ledezma, a Robert Downey Jr. impersonator and singer/songwriter. Dos XX better hit this dude up ASAP for their next marketing campaign.
9.) La Plaza Mall gets a facelift
No, La Plaza Mall isn’t offering free facelifts, sorry. McAllen’s mall opened its new wing, a $50 million expansion on November 1st, featuring stores like H&M (not related to BDSM) and Kendra Scott with restaurants like Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Texas de Brazil. Once complete, the La Plaza Mall expansion will feature 25 new retailers and five new restaurants. A new parking deck with 1,260 spots connected to Dillard’s also opened in the first week of November ’17 so shoppers no longer have to park at their Tia’s and walk.
(h/t to The Monitor) Credits taken from The Monitor
8.) South Texas College honors late student with degree
Graduation offers a moment for parents to be proud of their children. Although Bianca Sarmiento, a former student at STC, passed away in 2016 due to brain cancer, STC presented her mother, Griselda Sarmiento, with her degree at STC’s commencement ceremony on December 16th 2017 as the rest of Bianca’s family watched from front row. At 24, Bianca was diagnosed with glioblastoma, but lost her battle before she could graduate and walk the stage. Bianca was studying to become a sign language interpreter.
(h/t to STC Photo) Credits taken from STC Photo
7.) UTRGV School of Medicine to open three primary health clinics across Valley
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration awarded the UTRGV School of Medicine $3.75 million to use over the next five years to develop three Area Health Education Centers, which will provide healthcare access to underserved areas and training for students pursuing a healthcare career.
The grant will allow the School of Medicine to establish primary healthcare clinics which will be operated by professional healthcare staff, faculty and students of the UTRGV College of Health Affairs and the School of Medicine. The three centers will be located in the three counties along the border, Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr County.
(h/t to UTRGV Archive Photo by David Pike or UTRGV) Credits taken from UTRGV Photo
6.) H-E-B Park opens in Edinburg
The 9,700 stadium which houses the RGV FC Toros opened its doors in March, welcoming soccer fans inside for year one at H-E-B Park. Originally slated to open in 2016, delays prevented the field’s opening and the Toros from playing a home-game, but RGV FC made its debut at H-E-B Park in an exhibition match against Liga MX club C.F. Monterrey on March 22nd. The stadium is complete with a 48-by-24-foot high definition video board right above a 360 bar and hopes to bring A-list acts down to provide other types of entertainment for people in the Valley.
5.) Viva’s Dallas Cowboys dream become reality
On December 2, the City of McAllen invited kids from the Capable Kids foundation to meet with the VIPs of the McAllen Holiday Parade. That’s where “Diva” Viva Selena Lopez of Palmview created her bond with VIP and Dallas Cowboys’ rookie wide receiver Ryan Switzer.
Viva has Down Syndrome and left a lasting impression on everybody she met that day, including Guillermo from Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Dallas Cowboys’ cheerleaders. Then Viva and her mother, Mary Jane Lopez, received a Christmas gift–two tickets to the Dallas Cowboys’ home game against Seattle on December 24th. Switzer heard his biggest fan was at the game and arranged for Viva and Mary Jane to receive pre-game and post-game passes which provided this photo of “Diva” Viva and her favorite Dallas Cowboy.
4.) Sharyland family builds Blockbuster for son with autism
Hector Andres Zuniga is a 20-year-old man who has autism whose favorite store was a Blockbuster in Sharyland. When Blockbuster declared bankruptcy, a number of stores closed their doors, including Zuniga’s favorite stop.
With Blockbuster gone for good, Hector Andres’ parents, Hector and Rosa, stepped up to give their son his very own Blockbuster in his very home. Hector and Rosa bought items including Blockbuster signage and DVDs to create an at-home version of the store Hector Andres loved so much.
“His way of saying ‘I love you,’ is by going up to you and grabbing your earlobe,” Hector Sr. told the Huffington Post. “So he came up to me and grabbed my ear … it was one of those moments us parents live for.”
3.) John Feit found guilty of 1960 murder of Irene Garza
Former priest, John Feit, was found guilty of murder with malice aforethought and sentenced to life in prison for the 1960 killing of Irene Garza, a beauty queen. Feit, now 85, was convicted of killing Garza, a 25-year old school teacher when he was 27 and serving as a fill-in priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen. I’m not going to go into detail about what this monster did, but we should all be glad he finally got his, allowing some justice and closure for Garza’s family.
This makes the Best List because this was long overdue after an alleged cover up between local law and the church. Women are speaking up more now than ever in a time when it’s so needed. What’s done in the dark will always come to light, and to all the scumbags out there, you’re going down too. Here’s what we’re NOT doing: harassing women, assaulting women, being shitty to women. Here’s what we ARE doing: listening to women, uplifting women and protecting women at all costs. If you’re not down with that, leave your ass in 2017.
2.) First-grader’s Christmas wish comes true
First-grade teacher Ruth Espiricueta assigned her class at Monte Cristo Elementary to write a letter to Santa Claus. When Espiricueta read one student’s letter, Crystal Pacheco’s, she knew she had to do something.
“This Christmas I would like a ball and a food. I need a blanket,” Pacheco’s letter read.
After taking Pacheco’s letter to social media, the first-grader’s wish went viral. Espiricueta, along with the principal of Monte Cristo Elementary, started a Blanket Drive, which resulted in hundreds of blankets from all over the world flooding the school, showing how much people out there care.
1.) Snowfall in Valley for first time in 13 years
Christmas has come and gone, but on December 8th, the Valley received a gift many will never forget. For the first time in 13 years, snow fell and touched the ground of the Rio Grande Valley. While it was merely a dusting in terms of snowfall, a number of people were able to see snow for the first time in their lives as children and adults alike got in on the winter fun. I know, I know, northerners shouting “Snow? You call that snow?” Seriously, though, this was a big deal for us, so let us enjoy it. Who knows when the next snowfall will hit the Rio Grande Valley, but this winter was definitely one to remember for people in South Texas.
10.) Gamehaus closing its doors
All good things come to an end, and that’s the case for one of the most popular establishments in the Valley, Gamehaus Gastropub. Frequented by the younger crowd, Gamehaus quickly became a staple in the RGV nightlife with its video games, billiards and awesome environment.
After years of pending litigation, the City of McAllen finally got its way as Gamehaus and the city reached an agreement to close the bar on Nolana by the end of this year. Don’t worry too much though, Seby Haddad, the owner of Gamehaus, is already started on his next venture, a microbrewery restaurant on North 10th St in McAllen.
9.) Unfavorable politicians visit the RGV
When lawmakers like Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and Paul Ryan aren’t taking from the poor and giving to the rich, they’re showing up in your backyard and smiling in your face. Gotta love big politics, right? The trio of d-bags visited in February, which is supposed to be the month of love, an emotion the three are most likely incapable of showing.
Their quick visits didn’t last more than a day before they returned to their ivory tower. Paul Ryan looks like he always just asked “May I speak to your manager?”, Ted Cruz looks like he’s hiding something in the ass of his pants and John Cornyn looks like the dad in “Get Out”. I’m glad the three are gone, although they left a trail of slime behind them that reeks of white privilege.
8.) The end of Big Al and Charlie
December marked the end of an era for radio listeners in the Rio Grande Valley. The famous radio duo of Q94.5’s Big Al and Charlie, who held it down on the waves for more than 20 years, were let go from their jobs, as Entravision cut a number of jobs within the company.
Growing up, Big Al and Charlie was what I listened to on the way to school as either of my parents drove me each morning. Their taste of music, sense of humor and influence will stick with me forever, as I’m sure is the case for many others who spent years listening to the duo.
Let’s all pour one out for Big Al and Charlie.
7.) UTRGV remains on probation
We’ve all got that one person in the family who’s always in trouble, can’t get their act together, repeatedly failing to comply with orders. Well, now the Valley has a university who matches that description too!
UTRGV was placed on a year-long probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) in December of 2016, with a review to be conducted in the fall of 2017 to see if the university made the necessary changes to put UTRGV back in good standing with the accrediting agency. Looks like UTRGV is still riding dirty as the SACSCOC stated the university will remain on probation for one more year after failure to comply with a federal requirement about program responsibilities. Better get your sh-t together, Bailey.
6.) The shitshow that is local politics
Local politics are my favorite. I mean, we can’t be this dumb, right? Combining a few different crazy stories in this one so bear with me.
In Donna, Ernesto Lugo forgot he didn’t live in Donna, and was deemed ineligible to seek office for the November election. Nice one.
In Starr County, a former justice of the peace who was suspended and convicted for accepting bribes in exchange for lowering bonds of defendants, filed for re-election. Good luck, bud.
In Progreso, Geovani Hernandez, formerly a sergeant with the Progreso Police Department, was charged with three federal offenses as he agreed to protect law enforcement informants posing as drug traffickers to earn money to support his political campaign for Hidalgo County constable. Hope that goes well.
Finally, Brownsville city commissioner Cesar De Leon was caught on leaked audio using racial slurs when speaking about black attorneys hired by the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office. The audio also revealed other issues regarding the City of Brownsville and Brownsville Independent School District. Following the leak, De Leon resigned from his position as city commissioner only to rescind his resignation days later. Real stand up guy.
Classic RGV politics. ??♂️
5.) Criminal mastermind steals $1.2 million of fajitas
This was the hardest decision I had to make on this list. This dude stole $1.2 million in fajita from Cameron Country which is borderline genius and pretty damn impressive. Gilberto Escaramilla, aka the meat mastermind and former employee at the Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department kitchen, ran a scheme for nine years in which he stole fajitas through county-funded purchases. The dude would receive hundreds of pounds of fajitas under the table and re-sell them to customers he had lined up. I think it was the great philosopher Jay-Z who said, “More than a hustler, I’m the definition of it.” Now, the Meat Mastermind’s got mystery meat in his future after he was busted and charged with first degree felony theft.
4.) Border Patrol arrests parents of sick infant at hospital
In September of 2017, Oscar and Irma Sanchez’ 2-month-old Isaac was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, a condition that causes vomiting, dehydration and weight loss in infants. The couple who lives in the Rio Grande Valley was told to they would need to take their son to a hospital with a pediatric surgery team capable of performing the necessary operation of the infant’s stomach.
While the couple was coming to a decision inside Harlingen hospital, a Border Patrol agent showed up. The agent told the parents they would be arrested when they arrived at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. The undocumented parents agreed.
Border Patrol followed the ambulance with Oscar, Irma and baby Isaac inside to Corpus Christi. Once at the hospital, border patrol agents never left the side of either of the parents, following Oscar to the bathroom and cafeteria, even asking Irma to breast-feed Issac with the bathroom door open, you know, to keep an eye on them.
What an embarrassment on the part of law enforcement. I understand you’re doing your job, but please, next time f-ck off.
The latest update in September said the family was doing well at their North Brownsville home.
3.) Locals bid to build border wall
While a majority of people in the Rio Grande Valley oppose a border wall, that didn’t stop money hungry charlatans from making bids to be the company to build the border wall that would run through the Valley. James Carpenter, president of QUantum Logistics of Mission, bid on two wall concepts. Carpenter told The Monitor, “If it’s going to happen anyway, why not with somebody local?” Sorry, man, couldn’t hear you over the cash register cha-ching every time you open your mouth. Another local who bid on the border wall is Luis Sepulveda of Sela Construction LLC. Y’all ain’t low.
2.) Gas hysteria
People in the Rio Grande Valley love to talk. For years after I moved here from Corpus (as a child), I thought the G in RGV stood for gossip. Now, I know it stands for “Girl, did you hear about…”.
A perfect example of this is the gas hysteria caused earlier this year when the entire Valley freaked out in fear of a gas shortage. KRGV reported that Gas Buddy, an international crowd-sourced fuel watch app, said there could be a potential shortage of fuel and price increase due to Hurricane Harvey.
Lines at every single gas station were backed up with loads of cars. While there was no shortage, the flood of people at pumps resulted in some gas stations running out of gas. Fun fact, the facepalm emoji was created in direct response to this. Don’t believe everything you hear people, especially if it’s from a chismoso.
1.) Donald Trump elected president
Hands down, the worst thing to happen in 2017 to not just the Rio Grande Valley, but the entire planet, was Donald Trump’s first year as president. I’m still truly astonished as I’m here typing this out.
Like Donald, many republicans believe in making their pockets fatter, claim christianity, yet ignore the poor. He’s the same con-man he always was, he just used racism, bigotry and hatred to get people out to the polls. He single handedly turned the United States into the laughing stock of the entire world.
So you know, 48,642 voted Trump in Hidalgo County, 29,432 in Cameron County and 2,224 in Starr County. Want to find out who they are? Just look for the racist comments on your Facebook timeline! Turns out a lot of them were the assholes you went to high school with. Funny how that works.
I’m not just being petty either. The Trump administration has been incompetent from top to bottom since day one. He let the Children’s Health Insurance Program expire without renewing funding and is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. He’s been accused of sexual misconduct by 19 women. It’s crazy how we’ll hold others to high standards, yet will let the president of the United States get away with being the biggest sexist pig around. Gotta love the American way.