The Jewel of the Tex-Mex Border
By Greg Fieg
More than 200 years ago there were four great jewels along the subtropical shores that made up at various times the French- and Spanish-controlled coastline of early North American civilization: the historic sister cities of Ste. Augustine in Florida, New Orleans in Louisiana, Galveston in Texas and Matamoros in Mexico.
Though 18th-century European architectural styles remain clearly discernable to one degree or another in Ste. Augustine, New Orleans and Galveston, in Matamoros the once prominent cast iron ballustrades, ornate dentile cornices and other Franco-Moorish-Creole influences have often been deliberately obliterated in favor of more modern looking, sterile masonry and glass.
Ironically, though, while the three U.S. sister cities may look like 18th century America, what remains of the original culture is perhaps best represented just a few steps across the international bridge on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, across from Brownsville.
There, within sight of Texas, the language remains Spanish and so are the customs, the entertainment and the food. In the palmetto-lined plazas of the center city, musicians and dancers beat out modern or traditional Spanish rythyms to the delight of tourists and locals alike. And while shoppers are caught up in the frenzy to purchase inexpensive native-made clothing, discounted electronics and tax-free liquor, the bustle of the street remains punctuated by the slow pace of horse-drawn wagons, burros with side-baskets, and amiable, free-running dogs or livestock.
Take a ride on a minibus and you might share space with a chicken being taken to market. In the hot afternoons the call of street vendors can be heard as they offer freshly boiled white maize, brightly colored pastries, oven-warm breads , barbecued goat or fresh, iced orange juice hand-squeezed from fruit picked that same day in lush citrus groves nearby.
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