An iconic figure of the West Texas borderlands has died.
Victor Valdez of Boquillas, Mexico was beloved by many for his singing that often welcomed visitors to his small town on the Rio Grande.
He was a lifelong resident of Boquillas, a small Mexican town just across the river from Big Bend National Park that’s been a low-key tourist destination for decades.
Valdez was famous for his charming rendition of the classic “Cielito Lindo”, which he’d sing for tourists arriving to his town as they slowly rowed across the river.
Close friend and Boquillas resident Lilia Falcon said Valdez died at the age of 65 on Wednesday after experiencing chest pains.
She called him “an excellent man” and “a man of God”, saying he’ll be truly missed.
Valdez was one of the few older lifelong residents of Boquillas to see a once-informal border crossing there re-opened as a formal crossing in 2013, more than a decade after it was shut down amid the border security crackdown that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The experimental port of entry, where Americans headed south speak with a U.S. Customs agent remotely through a kiosk, has been largely hailed as a positive example of how isolated and historically cross-border communities can maintain connections and economic ties without sacrificing security.
In 2013, Valdez told Marfa Public Radio how important the re-opening of the border was for Boquillas.
“I’m glad the people can come from United States, because us all the [help] all the time, and that’s precious for us,” he said. “If no American people, no business for us.”
Tributes and fond memories of Victor Valdez have already started pouring in on social media – it’s expected there’ll be a funeral in Boquillas in the coming days.
Fronteras Desk correspondent Lorne Matalon has filed many stories from Boquillas in recent years. He joined us on Thursday’s Morning Edition to talk about Valdez and his influence on people on both sides of the border. Listen to that conversation below.