Our Local History
The Delta Area – which includes the small communities of Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and Monte Alto – became a busy agricultural center in the Rio Grande Valley during the 1920s when the Southern Pacific Railroad laid train tracks through here. The area was coined the “Magic Valley” in an attempt to draw people to the area, and Northeasterners heeded the call and came to develop the land. As a sign of the great prosperity happening here, the Delta Area claimed a zero percent unemployment rate while the rest of the country was suffering through the 1930s Depression, due in large part to a vibrant agricultural industry. During this boom, many Mexican families came to the area looking for work.
Over time, however, a number of factors led to a decline in the local agricultural industry including the freezes of 1949 and 1951, the development of mechanized labor, and the development of roadways that ultimately replaced railroads as the primary means to transport crops. With a labor force that was unprepared, uneducated and untrained for employment in other industries or services, new industry settled in other parts of the Rio Grande Valley and Texas.
The hardships from the displacement of the agricultural industry remain today. In the towns comprising the Delta Area, the total population of 20,000 has an unemployment rate ranging between 20% – 32% depending on the migrant cycle. These rural towns, located 15 miles north of the Mexican border, are home to a community that is 95% Hispanic, with almost 50% of school-age children participating in the migrant stream. The Edcouch-Elsa school district is recognized as the third poorest in Texas and has a significantly higher economically disadvantaged population (85.1%) compared to the state average of 45.1%.
The agricultural boom of the early 20th century was built by “outsiders” on the backs of Mexican labor. This practice was profitable for very few families, while it simultaneously neglected the educational development of the workers and their children. These laborers suffered from years of geographic and social isolation, economic stagnation and educational neglect. The communities of the Delta Area struggled with these tensions for decades, and the issue surfaced into the mainstream consciousness with the 1968 walkout of Edcouch-Elsa High School students protesting what they saw as a racially oppressive school environment. Gaining national media attention, the EEHS walkout is credited with beginning the movement to recognize the injustices of the school culture created by local leadership at that time.
It would not be until the late 1980s when a homegrown leadership would begin to revitalize the region. Young graduates of Edcouch-Elsa High School understood that economic revitalization was of paramount importance to the survival of the region and that it would begin with education. Thus, the search for educational, economic, and political reinvestment has guided the vision of the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development.