A week last Friday, the mayors of Brownsville and Matamoros got together for a candid conversation during the first edition of the Crossroads Festival in Brownsville.

The panel discussion was part of a three-day program at the Camille Playhouse focused on important issues such as education, immigration, the environment, economic development and politics.

Maybe having grown up in the Matamoros and Brownsville area made me more receptive to this conversation. “These two cities may have many differences, but nobody can undo the blood ties that bind us said the Alcalde of Matamoros Mario Alberto López Hernández. His words sparked memories of those I know who married people from “the other side” and the many friendships I am blessed to have from both sides of the river. So many.

Brownsville Mayor, Trey Mendez, welcomed him and the audience to the event in very good Spanish. He emphasized on the importance of maintaining a strong relationship for the good of the region especially when it comes to trade. “Working together will ensure that our economies grow together,” he said. Both like the idea of teaming up when competing for new investments in this field and expanding their focus to natural energy and the oil and gas industries.

“This festival was named Crossroads after discovering an old Brownsville Chamber of Commerce logo depicting a hemisphere map with arrows pointing to Brownsville from different directions for Brownsville is at the crossroads of the hemisphere therefore an ideal partner for international trade,” said Mayor Mendez. Alcalde López Hernández said he is working at the federal level to bring the Mexico Customs General Administration offices to Matamoros.

For Alcalde López Hernández the area should be the number one port of entry. “We have what it takes because we have a port, three international bridges, and two airports. It is important to continue the project of a railroad bridge between the Port of Brownsville and Matamoros.” He informed the crowd about a local, state, and federal multi- million-dollar investment to improve the quality of life of citizens living in 57 low income and marginalized colonias in Matamoros. Building new schools, parks, adding street lighting and paving streets are on the budget in addition to 10 acres that were purchased in Playa Bagdad to develop a beach-side park with sports fields, water park and zip lines.

While Mayor Mendez stated no concerns for safety and security due in part to collaboration with federal agents, for Matamoros Mayor this is a constant and pressing concern. The new Guardia Nacional should help improve things soon said Alcalde López Hernández.

When it comes to education, both mayors agree speaking English and Spanish in this area is a big cultural and economic advantage. They talked about reviewing the possibility of making English and Spanish the official languages of both cities. Most schools in Matamoros already teach English, and hopefully more programs will be implemented said Alcalde López Hernández. Mayor Mendez said most people living in Brownsville are bilingual. He believes language bestows the opportunity to embrace a different culture.

Many important issues were discussed; too many to list. What resonated with me the most, was to see that despite years of challenges, Brownsville and Matamoros continue the tradition of solidarity and respect. It is just one very large city with a river flowing between them. How appropriate it is to have the Crossroads Festival scheduled the days prior to the 87th Annual Charro Days Celebration. As many know, Charro Days celebrates the unique heritage and strong roots of Brownsville and Matamoros. For me, the celebration has been a pause in daily routine to remind us of who we are and especially, of where we live. In the early years, the border would open, meaning no document check, so families and friends could get together and have a wonderful time in Brownsville. These two cities truly have a sisterhood vibe and it was refreshing to listen to these leaders’ friendly exchange. It was not difficult to notice the respect and sincere appreciation.

When asked where I’m from, I find it difficult to name just one city, for both sister cities influenced and impacted my life significantly. That two-name river: the Rio Bravo and Rio Grande, as magnificent as it sounds, has never divided my heritage, and like several of my family and ancestors, I also married someone “from the other side.”

Editor’s Note: For information on the Crossroads Festival and future event dates, please visit: Crossroadsbtx.com