MCALLEN, Texas – Over in North McAllen, just west of Edinburg, you’ll find an interesting assortment of buildings in what looks like regular ol’ residential neighborhood.
This stop is a popular place for weddings, quinceaneras, and any sort of private party. But every Sunday it suddenly becomes something a bit saucier.
Pepe Maldonado is the persona who has the persona to make La Lomita Park what it is.
“We have our own dances every Sunday,” Pepe said. “Every Sunday we have Conjunto music.”
The peculiar dance hall is darn popular on Domingo. You see, it’s been open every single Sunday since Pepe built it back in 2000. But what makes this dance hall different from the rest is the type of tune you’ll get to take in.
“Conjunto music has got a different beat than the original Tejano or Norteno music,” according to Pepe. “They basically use the same instruments we do, but it’s a different beat and a different kind of music. It’s the same thing, but it sounds very different.”
The sound of south Texas resonates off the walls of La Lomita as Pepe keeps a watchful eye on the reception of the serenade. Irma his wife of 54 years takes the fee at the door while his son Joe does what he can to keep his Dad’s dream adrift.
“This is what he loves, and this is his passion,” Joe said. “And we’re here to support him. If he built it they would come, that’s what he said. So he built it and people started coming.”
Now Pepe is no stranger to this particular kind of music, he’s actually sort of a legend.
“A lot of people recognize him because of his last name,” Joe said.
On occasion, Pepe will clear the pipes and sing with other south Texas artists like Gilberto Perez.
“I get a kick out of seeing him play, and he gets a kick out of all the people running up to the stage to see him play,” Joe said.
Pepe was a popular Conjunto star in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and his star power still pulls in the people.
“I’ll say one thing, I feel great,” Pepe said. “I feel good. I still get up there and sing and do what I used to do 40-50 years ago. I can still do it. I can jump up high.”
His daughter Diana makes some the darn best enchiladas we’ve ever had while Rosie gives gringos like me a few lessons on how to cut a rug to conjunto.
“It’s the whole family. They help me out. You can see you’re surrounded by some kids there.”
Pepe was born and raised in the Valley, his family labored as migrant workers. They never knew that one day, Pepe would play the white house lawn.
“All we had was field work,” Pepe said. “Picked tomatoes, picked cotton, and do this and do that. All field work, and I said this stuff’s not for me. I’m going to do something better, so I did. Praise the Lord that I made it.”
So what exactly is Conjunto music?
“If you say country, classic country, we go back to Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and all these people,” Pepe explained. “Right now it’s a very different deal, and the quarter music, or Conjunto music, is the same thing.”
This mixture of music with Mexican roots is blended in a melting pot method with sprinkles of Italian, Czech, German, African American, just about everything that’s gone into making south Texas what it is today.
It’s been said that dancing is way to find yourself and lose yourself. Well at La Lomita Park you’ll definitely lose yourself to the music but you will also find yourself in the friendly faces fixated on continuing a family tradition that happens to be a terrific part of Texas culture.
“This is his passion, this is his music, and he likes for people to hear it, come out and dance, and have a good time every Sunday.,” Joe said. “That’s his life.”