Slice of Life: Chuck Vieh - Valley Morning Star : Slice Of Life

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Slice of Life: Chuck Vieh

North or south, he’s still home on the range

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Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 8:58 pm

RANGERVILLE — He runs a few head of cattle and some sheep.

He teaches agriculture when he can, sells car parts and shows local youth the finer points of team roping.

And he remembers fondly growing up near Tampico until he was in the sixth grade.

The way Chuck Vieh, 50, tells it, he had a somewhat idyllic life growing up on a 1,200-acre ranch in a jungle where trees stood 75 feet tall. His parents ran 700 head of cattle, and while his parents spoke English at home, everyone else spoke only Spanish.

So, not surprisingly, Vieh, whose parents hail from Tennessee, grew up totally bilingual and bicultural.

How did this all come about?

“My grandfather was a farmer and crop duster for cattle ranchers in Tennessee,” he said. “My dad had just graduated from college and gotten married. My grandfather got an offer to run a cotton operation north of Tampico.”

It was a grand opportunity, or so it seemed, but nature had other plans. Hurricane Beulah stepped in and ruined the cotton crop and his family was out of a job. They needed to do something, and found an opportunity to purchase a large ranch in the area.

There was only one problem. Only Mexican citizens could purchase land in Mexico. Vieh’s mother happened to be pregnant with him at the time and was expecting to give birth in Tennessee. His father asked her to come have the baby in Mexico, thus making him a Mexican citizen. He was born in a hotel in Mexico about a month later, and the family bought the ranch in his name.

“Spanish was my first language,” he said. “My mother and father spoke no Spanish. I thought I was Mexican. We lived eight miles from a paved road.”

He and his sister were home schooled by various American teachers until sixth grade. That’s when he went to live with family friends in Tampico for a year. He describes a wonderful life but alas, as with all things, it was not to last.

Squatters moved onto an adjoining ranch and petitioned the government for ownership, and his father knew they’d be next. They put the ranch up for sale, asking for more than apparently it was worth. A young man in a jeep showed up within days and offered to write a check for the entire amount right then and there.

His father said he’d have to pay taxes and other fees, but the man said, “I’m prepared to write you a check including taxes and everything.”

The man’s father, it turned out, worked for the Mexican oil company Pemex and purchased about 15 surrounding ranches about the same time.

That sealed the deal. Vieh was a middle schooler having to leave his home and his friends.

“I hated it,” he said. “I was moving to another country.”

They settled in Harlingen in 1980 where he attended St. Paul Lutheran School in seventh and eighth grade. He later attended San Benito High School. These days he enjoys his various activities in the community while living on a small 30-acre plot near Rangerville.

He brings with him a wealth of experience to pass on to local youth, including his ability to speak Spanish like a native speaker, well, because he is one.

twhitehead@valleystar.com

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