UTRGV alum preserves cultural tales through spooky-themed podcast

  Wednesday, October 25, 2023
  Alumni, Community

By Amanda A. Taylor-Uchoa

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The Rio Grande Valley, with close proximity to Mexico, harbors a wealth of popular, culture-specific superstitions and folklore.

 So, if you’ve ever heard about La Llorona or the Devil at the Disco, Ayden Castellanos probably has a podcast episode about it.

UTRGV alum Ayden Castellanos
“I grew up, as did many people in the Valley, hearing these stories – classics like La Llorona, THE chupacabras, El Cucuy. Anytime I’d be over at a friend’s house or I’d spend the night at a cousin’s house, we’d end up scaring the life out of each other with these stories,” the Edcouch-Elsa native said. (Courtesy Photo)

Castellanos, a 2021 UTRGV alum who graduated with a degree in Public Relations, is the creator of Susto (fright, scare), a podcast dedicated to the preservation of his Mexican American culture through folklore – and sharing the spooky tales that were part of his childhood.

 “I grew up, as did many people in the Valley, hearing these stories – classics like La Llorona, THE chupacabras, El Cucuy. Anytime I’d be over at a friend’s house or I’d spend the night at a cousin’s house, we’d end up scaring the life out of each other with these stories,” the Edcouch-Elsa native said.

 “We connected on a level of fear, and I think that’s a very interesting way to connect with people because you don’t necessarily associate fear with a good time or happy memories. But I really do.” 


The “fear” with which Castellanos identifies signifies valuable time shared with family and friends, and more significantly, the impact these folkloric tales have had in his culture overall.

Susto is a way for Castellanos to preserve these cultural gems, not only through his oral storytelling, but also by digitizing certain tales to help keep them alive. The more episodes Castellanos produces, the more connections he makes and the more tales he explores.

“I help people connect through these stories, as a lot of them are related to the RGV specifically,” he said. “But, by doing this show, I’ve been able to find stories in places that I didn't even know I would have a connection to. Some of them are very unique to the regions of the world that they're from. But some of them are very similar.”

For example, many different versions exist of La Llorona (the weeping woman), the tale of a mother who drowned her own children in a river, only to end up a restless specter forever roaming the earth in search of them – or other children.

“With the many different versions of La Llorona from all over the Latin and Hispanic diaspora, it's interesting to make those connections, to see which cultures are these tales happening to? And are there any similarities between that culture and my culture,” he said.

One of his favorites with many versions, Devil at the Disco, is an easily recognizable story of a woman who dances with a handsome stranger, only to reveal at the end of the story that he was actually the devil.

“I grew up hearing that story and that it happened at Boccaccio’s 2000 (a popular nightclub) in McAllen, but people in San Antonio will say that it happened at El Camaroncito, and when I redid that episode recently, it’s apparently happened all across southwest America – even as far as New Mexico, where he supposedly hit up seven bars in one night!”

Being able to cross-section these tales to different regions fascinates Castellanos, as no two versions are the same. And, depending on where the certain version of the story stems from, the overall message of the story can change from region to region.


Susto isn’t just a digitalization of Valley folklore and beyond, though. It also features regional guests and other folklore enthusiasts, such as UTRGV professor and author David Bowles. No tale or superstition is off limits in Susto, as Castellanos dives deep into all things otherworldly.

susto cover art
Susto was launched back in 2019 by Ayden Castellanos. (Courtesy Photo)

Castellanos started Susto in 2019, and he remains the host, editor and producer of each episode. While it’s a passion project, it can be laborious for Castellanos, now based in Austin, juggling a full-time career and the potential pursuit of a master’s degree on the horizon. He said he wouldn’t have it any other way, though.

“I enjoy it. I wouldn't do it and put in that much work if I didn't love it,” he said. “It truly is my passion, and the dream is that one day, it will be what I do full-time and not after my full-time job.”

Susto is uploaded every other week and was recognized in 2022 in the inaugural class of the Gotham Film & Media Institute’s Gotham/Variety Audio Honors, presented by Wondery.

Susto also was nominated for the 2023 Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin in the Podcast category.

Castellano regularly participates in events to spread the word of Susto by way of live shows, lectures and tabling at relevant events. 

With podcasts increasing in popularity, Castellanos said that, while it may be daunting to start one, those interested in creating a podcast should take the plunge and just create that first episode.

“My first question is always, ‘How long have you been planning to do this?’ And the answer is always, ‘I’ve been thinking about it for a really long time,’” he said.

“I always say to just do it – put out that first episode. What you put out five years down the line is going to be so much better than what you put out today, because you kept doing it. You kept growing and learning.”

Susto can be found on streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Castro.

Listen – if you dare.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.