Saints often give us our names and inspiration. Government gives to us sinners (that is, all of us) the opportunity to improve our own lives and to help our fellow human beings.

Such is the case of San Isidro and Santa Anna, small towns in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Such is also the case of nearby national governmental projects such as Moore Air Field and Falcon Dam. The Air Force base is closed, but the dam, lake and park survive and serve. All these entities have profited from one another for three quarters of a century. Their successes and benefits belie any of the (too frequent) negative messages, decrying the role of government in our lives.

Santa Anna (located in northeast Starr County) now hosts a population of only two people. It once was a thriving neighborhood of well-known, hard-working, extended families, producing hundreds of descendants. The ranch/village was probably not named for Mexican General and President, Santa Anna, but for Saint Ann herself.

Nearby is San Isidro, somewhat larger, named for Saint Isidore, the Laborer, Patron Saint of Farmers. It is, if not thriving, at least surviving. The 2010 census registered 240 citizens. It still possesses a functioning U.S. Post Office and an Independent School District (home of the Tigers!).

President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines

That school has always educated children from Santa Anna and other nearby (usually non-incorporated) towns, such as La Gloria, Delmita and Santa Elena. Readers would be surprised at the number of nearby Hidalgo County residents (McAllen, Edinburg, etc.) who emerged from San Isidro and environs. I write today to celebrate the memories and contributions of those citizens.

Some of the historical projects of which I speak would include nearby Moore Air Force Base and Falcon Dam, on the Rio Grande River. My own memories of useful government projects date back to my childhood in Oklahoma. There, I witnessed federal-funded entities such as Chilocco Reservation, where my Mother taught school, and the prison built to house German prisoners during World War II; I occasionally visited and chatted briefly with prisoners.

For stories about south Texas I often depend on a dear friend, “Memo.” He grew up in south Texas, and has tons of wonderful memories of his town and others, of Moore Air Base and Falcon. I thank him for sharing those stories. Memo recalls riding the school bus from his home to pick up fellow students in Santa Anna. Two entire buses were needed to haul the children. At San Isidro school, Memo was “first clarinet” in a very fine band and a prize-winning typist. The school system was quite good, producing graduates who continued advanced studies.

Often, Memo, siblings and playmates would watch the jets overhead, or, on going to market, would pause to watch the planes take off and land at Moore Field. The base was not blessed with a saint’s name, nor named for a local veteran or hero. Typical for the time, it was named for an Anglo, 2nd Lieutenant Frank Moore, killed during World War I.  Mexican Americans during that time had not enough clout to lobby for their own names and culture.

Moore was established in 1941 for single-engine training, closed in 1945 and deactivated in 1961. The airstrip was utilized in the 1950s as a “Tri-City” coalition airport for Mission, McAllen and Edinburg. Part of Moore was sold to private interests and part was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July 1963.

At that time, Moore (even when I first came to the Valley, over four decades ago) became an important Screwworm Research Unit, producing sterile flies in order to contain infestation of cattle for the region’s farmers and ranchers. It was an extremely successful project. Producers and consumers, that is, all us “sinners,” benefited. Later, other governmental projects were significant.

Even before establishing the historical Interstate Highway system later in the 1950s, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower realized the importance of government infrastructure for business, jobs and the economy. Memo’s family (who were “Partido Viejo” – old Party – or Republican) took him as a child to see the president inaugurate the Falcon Dam in 1953.

Falcon was conceived through a 1944 Treaty with Mexico and administered by the International Boundaries and Water Commission, to deal with conservation, irrigation, power, flood control, later, with development of parks and recreation. Construction began in 1950; water began to fill in 1953. Do you enjoy Falcon Dam and Park? Thank the government. Thank your forebears for having the foresight to accept and pay taxes for projects that benefited the entire society.

Yes, problems accompany any policy. For example, old Guerrero and a fort and chapel in the midst of the lake area sadly became submerged. Archaeologists despaired; looters descended when waters receded.  History was lost. Better planning and better projects always need to be envisioned. Administration and vigilance always need to be improved. But a grander scope of vision is always welcome.

Such a sweeping vision was embodied by President Eisenhower. In his address at Falcon, the President of Mexico, Ruiz Cortines, in attendance, “Ike” thanked his fellow president and acknowledged the essential role of Mexico. That traditional conservative Republican—most gone today–lauded the chance to provide “useful service to my country.” In a brilliant, even transcendent speech, he noted the importance of real “friendship” with Mexico. He defined that special relationship as “seeking to understand the viewpoint of others.”

Memo might not have understood all the symbolism at that momentous occasion, due to his youth; perhaps his parents did not fully comprehend. But they knew their cattle and their crops would benefit from what government did for them—water retrieved from the river, pests suppressed. They were pleased with that government assistance.

Today, we face—in the media and even from the government–vicious anti-government, anti-Washington rhetoric. Alas, much of it comes from the Chief Executive himself and his right-wing supporters. If they were alive, would Memo’s mother and father be so well served today? Would they vote to seal off the border—to build a “wall”? Would they deny their cultural heritage? Would they welcome slashing government assistance to education, or to the environment? Very doubtful.

We owe them — and we owe ourselves – a resurgence of involvement in government, (and in campaigns and elections before that). We must demand fairer taxes, better wages, more government involvement in the economy, more progressive state and federal policies. We need to think of Memo. He was no saint but he won prizes in state-wide typing contests. We need to think of what every typist at that time typed on those manual typewriters, in order to loosen up their fingers:

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”