Illustration of a man holding a tranquil image of the house to his chest amidst the whirlwind of uncertainty


What is the meaning of


In this project we are highlighting the experiences of people in the state of Texas.

Sarah Vasquez speaks with Miguel Mendías, a resident of Marfa, Texas. Mendías learned seven years ago that his family may lose the adobe home that has been in his family for over a century due to the delinquent property taxes. He worked as much as he could to reclaim this house and make it his home.

Texan reconnects with family and finds home in historic adobe house

by | Sep 8, 2023

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by SARAH VASQUEZ | Next Generation Radio, Texas Newsroom & UTEP | September 2023

Click here for audio transcript

(Slight sound of gate opening)


We’re coming through the back of the house. These two rooms are in addition. They were built in 1941.

The front part of the house, which is adobe, was originally two rooms. 

Hi, my name is Miguel Mendiaz. I live in Marfa, Texas, and I live in a house that used to belong to my great grandfather. 

It’s a humble house. It’s like 680 square feet. I have this memory of my childhood, my grandmother walking me through this house and explaining a lot, and I’m really grateful to her that she did, and it’s amazing to me that I remember it. 

I told my grandparents that it would be amazing if the house still existed in the future, but I was like, when I get old, you know, how cool would it be if I could come and stay here in this house?

(Sound of cars passing by on the highway)

And as far as I knew, it sold. They put it on the market and it sold. 

I wanted to visit my aunt who was getting so elderly. She was pretty much the only one left of that generation, my grandparents generation. So I stopped to visit her and that’s how I found out that the house had actually never sold. And then I called my other cousin who lives in California and he just explained to me that it was a huge mess.

And he said that he was done with it, done dealing with it and that he had stopped paying taxes on it. 

I thought I was coming to Marfa for like a three-day visit, and instead, on the third day, the day I was supposed to leave, I was going to the courthouse and trying to figure that out. 

It was slated to be on the next auction, and yeah, I had about 700 bucks. I was so desperate for it not to be sold off. 

I definitely got in way over my head when I decided to keep this house. I just didn’t want this house to be demolished. 

I used to look at things like these cracks in the walls and I had no idea. I literally would have nightmares about the walls caving in or collapsing the first few months and just like stress streams that I would never be able to fix it up.

(Sound of cars passing by on the highway)

I didn’t have water here for two years. I moved into the house with oil, kerosene lamps and no water. My aunt used to let me carry a bucket from her backyard and I gravity flushed the toilet. I used to come home from my bartending shift, and I would come home every night and count how much money I made.

And then I would almost immediately convert my work checks into cash and go make, I would go make more payments. I did a lot of bartending. Any job that I heard of I was trying to get. I was pretty miserable because it’s not healthy to work as much as you can like that. I was physically exhausted, but every night I would come here, count my money.

Write it down. It was like a check mark and then lay in my bed and just be so glad that I was here. I really never thought I would be able to own a home. Because of my particular family circumstances, it was a huge sense of relief. I probably literally cried with happiness because I’m like, okay, I did it.

This is the love I feel to my house. This is the level of commitment I felt. I’ve never… had a relationship like this. I put so much into it. It has put so much into me. It has completely changed my life, this house. And, you know, and I can’t sell it. And so it’s just like, I know that it’s this long, long commitment, right?

I literally wanted this house since childhood. And I cannot believe it is still here. And I have a opportunity here, but it will probably just take everything I have, like literally my entire life. This is what we have to do. I belong to you. You belong to me, but I cannot not make those sacrifices.


Miguel Mendías stands inside his adobe home in Marfa, TX. September 4. 2023.


Miguel Mendías remembers the first time he walked into the small adobe house on San Antonio St. in Marfa, Texas where his grandmother grew up.

“I have this memory of my childhood, my grandmother walking me through this house and explaining a lot, and I’m really grateful to her that she did,” said Mendías, a Texas native.

On that day in 1999, his grandmother gave him a tour of the over 100-year-old house, explaining the history of the four-room building. The front two rooms made of adobe predate 1906 and the two back rooms were added in 1941. Mendías’ family spent a lot of time in the larger home next door, but he never knew that they also owned this house that his family referred to as the “corner house” or “little house.”

“I didn’t know (she) still owned a house in Marfa,” and Mendías. “We were always coming to town and we’re staying with my great-great aunt Carolina and my grandfather who still lived there. We were staying at the ranch. I stayed with my other cousins.”

Without realizing it at the time, this visit from his childhood would spark Mendías’ journey to reconnect with his deep family history while reclaiming his family home.

[ABOVE] Miguel Mendías holds photos of his relatives including his great-grandfather, Papa Luis, who owned the house, and his grandmother who grew up in the house. July 10, 2023. 

[BELOW] Miguel Mendías looks through a box containing photos of his relatives. July 10, 2023. 


Mendías was raised in various parts of Texas due to his dad’s career working for American College Testing. He was born in Houston, lived in Austin and went to high school in El Paso. During his childhood, he would spend his summers in Marfa with his twin brother.

“We were the weird city cousins,” said Mendías. “We would go to the pool, but sometimes our cousins would pretend they didn’t know us, ’cause they were with their friends.”

Mendías’ family roots go as far back as 1880. One side of his family started ranching at Carolina Borunda Humphries Ranch in 1880 and the other constructed buildings that currently house The Get Go grocery and defunct Teatro Libertad. His dad would always talk about Marfa with this sense of pride, even before the town became a world-class tourist destination. He’d refer to Donald Judd, the artist who moved to Marfa in 1971 and turned decaying buildings and other properties into studios and living spaces, as “that guy from New York.”

“I learned a lot from living here as an adult and that’s been really, really enriching and wonderful for me. I think it’s honestly given me a sense of rootedness I’m not sure I had before,” said Mendías.

Over the last few decades, Marfa has transformed into an art destination with the help of Judd. Art institutions such as Chinati Foundation, Judd Foundation and Ballroom Marfa, among other galleries, attract visitors from all over the world.

As an aspiring artist, Mendías wanted his grandparents to bring him to Marfa to see the art. They agreed, and his grandmother said that it would be a good opportunity to visit her house. It was the first time Mendías heard of the home. He has memories of visiting relatives in the bigger house next door, but it was news to him that the smaller house just around the corner also belonged to the family. 

His grandmother said the house was a wedding gift to Mendías’ great-grandfather from his first wife. The couple and their two daughters lived in the house and got sick during the Great Influenza in 1918-19. Only Mendias’ great-grandfather and his daughters survived.

“There were a lot of remarriages after that,” said Mendías. “If you look at the old family trees in Marfa, you see those splits very clearly, those divisions. The branch of the family that I come from wouldn’t exist without that pandemic.”

“I told my grandparents that it would be amazing if the house still existed in the future, so that I would have a place to visit.”

During that initial visit in 1999, Mendías thought the humble house, standing at 680 square feet, was perfect and wanted to make it his home base when he was in Marfa.

“I told my grandparents that it would be amazing if the house still existed in the future, so that I would have a place to visit,” said Mendías.

The house needed work, though. His grandparents had begun installing a new roof to avoid further water damage, but didn’t have the means to fix much more. So the house was put on the market. As far as Mendías knew, the house had sold.

“It turns out it was a way more complicated story than that,” said Mendías.

Turns out the title for the house was unclear. Mendías said there are two versions of what happened that different family members recall. Either his great-grandmother didn’t write a will or she did write a will, but didn’t file it at the Presidio County Courthouse. That created a problem.

Then in 2017, he stopped in Marfa to see his aunt, who was the last of his grandparents’ generation. There, he learned from his cousin that while the house was still in the family, they needed to pay at least $13,000 worth of delinquent property taxes before they lost it.

“He just explained to me that it was a huge mess,” said Mendías.

His cousin told him that nobody wanted to deal with the house and Miguel needed to go to the courthouse to figure out how to settle the debt. Mendías learned that the house would be added to the auction list soon. That turned his three-day visit to Marfa into a three-month stay.

He only had $700 to get himself across the country for a job, but he instead gave the county $650 to start reclaiming the house and went to work. He changed the property tax bill to his name. He started working for his cousin and staying in Marfa for three months to gather as much money as possible. He eventually made it to California to work, but the entire time, that house in Marfa stayed in his mind.

“I wanted to be in this house,” said Mendías. “I was in Berkeley, trying to make thousands of dollars so I could come back and put some work into this house. But I just couldn’t wait to come back and be in the house again and start dealing with it.”

The two front rooms of Miguel Mendías’ house are made of adobe. Mendías removed the plaster off the walls to expose the adobe bricks. July 10, 2023.




Miguel Mendías points at a list of things that his grandfather wrote on a wall with Sharpie. The list also reveals his grandfather’s sense of humor. July 10, 2023.


“I belong to you, you belong to me.”

Miguel Mendías’ house on San Antonio Street in Marfa, TX. July 10, 2023. 


When he returned to Marfa, he primarily worked as a bartender to raise the money to pay off the house’s pending delinquent taxes. He also picked up side jobs that included yard work, clearing AirBnbs, catering and working at festivals.

“Any job that I heard of, I was trying to get,” said Mendías.

But he was physically exhausted. Every night, he would come home and count his money and write down in a binder how much he earned. He then made payments towards his balance.

“I was pretty miserable because it’s not healthy to work as much as you can,” said Mendías. “Every day that I made more money, I was getting closer to my goal. I was the most motivated I’ve ever been in my life.”

While he was working, he was also renovating the house which didn’t have running water or electricity. He used oil kerosene lamps at night and carried a bucket of water he’d grab from his aunt’s house to gravity flush the toilet.

“The thing is I had been making some money and putting a little towards property taxes, but I was also putting it towards the house,” said Mendías.

When he finally paid those delinquent property taxes, Mendías felt a huge sense of relief.

“I just couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe like it’s done,” said Mendías.

Mendías never thought he would become a homeowner because of his family circumstances. He thought that he wouldn’t own a home unless something incredibly lucky happened. But the fact that the house didn’t sell and he learned that it was still available when he did feels like a strike of lighting to him.

“This is a once in a lifetime [opportunity]. This will not happen again,” said Mendías. “I literally wanted this house since childhood, and I cannot believe it is still here.

Renovating this house might take nearly every dollar he has, but he’s committed. This small humble abode completely changed his life in the past seven years, and the certain sacrifices he’s had to make to reclaim this home feels familiar to him.

“This is what we have to do,” said Mendías, talking to his home as if it was an old friend “I belong to you, you belong to me.”