The Charro Days Fiesta

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By Savannah Barrett

Now celebrating their 77th anniversary, the Charro Days Fiesta  begins this week and continues through March 9, 2014. With its celebration of the shared culture of Southwest Texas and Northeast Mexico and its international dialogue on place-based cultural heritage, we are proud to present the Charro Days Fiesta as the February feature on the Year of the Rural Arts Calendar of Events.

Born to lift community spirits during difficult times, the Charro Days Fiesta commemorates decades of bi-national friendship with the Mexican city of Matamoros, located directly across the Rio Grande River. The celebration honors the unique border culture of the region and the rich cultural heritage of Brownsville.

Although rumored to have begun unofficially in the previous century, the official Charro Days Fiesta began in 1937 during the Great Depression as an antidote to the gloom that engulfed Brownsville and the rest of the country. From the very first celebration, Brownsville residents and visitors dressed in the traditional costumes of Mexico and honored the Mexican cowboys — the Charros — who were heroes of the borderlands.

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In those early years, horse-drawn, hand-made floats processed through downtown Brownsville, with marching bands from Mexico, soldiers from old Fort Brown and children from area schools dressed as charros and chinas. Elegant costume balls, popular street parties and fireworks – all launched with a joyful yell, the traditional “Grito” – were popular back then and contribute to lively Charro Days celebrations today with two dances scheduled as a part of the festivities.

Charro Days survives because it preserves the past while engaging a new generation. Brownsville school children assume a starring role each year with their own special Children’s Parade in addition to the traditional Illuminated Parade and Grand International Parade. These events take place in conjunction with the Charro Days Carnival, the 57th annual golf tournament, and many other cultural events.

The Mr. Amigo Association became a part of Charro Days in 1967, honoring a Mexican citizen who contributes to friendly bi-national relations. This year’s Mr. Amigo is Mexican actress, model, and singer Mariana Seoane García. Additionally, each Charro Days Fiesta hosts the Sombrero Festival, which features popular rock, country and Tejano performers and takes place over three days as a Washington Park street party with a Jalapeno Eating Contest, Waiters Race, Grito Contest, Charro Days Classic 5K run, Tortilla Frisbee Toss, Hat-Stack Relay, and the only Charro Bean cook-off we know of, Frijolympics.

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Brownsville’s sister city of Matamoros has always been a key participant with Fiestas Mexicanas. In years gone by, international bridges were open during Charro Days, allowing family and friends to share the festivities. Even today, ties between the sister cities are celebrated each year with “Hands Across the Bridge”. In this ceremony of friendship, the mayors of Brownsville and Matamoros meet to officially began the celebrations. This extension of international friendship is particularly important in today’s cultural and political climate.

The Charro Days Fiesta is a fantastic example of an event born out of rural cultural heritage that continues today with respect for the traditions that first captivated Brownsville 77 years ago. For a complete listing of events, visit www.charrodaysfiesta.com. To purchase tickets for events, visit the Charro Days Headquarters (Mon. -Fri. 9:00am -5:00pm) or call their offices at (956) 542-4245.

Please mark your calendars for this fantastic event, check out the Charro Days Fiesta  story on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture, and report back to us at Art of the Rural to tell us about your experience! Please use the social media hash tag #ruralarts in any social media posts from the event.

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THE YEAR OF THE RURAL ARTS is a biennial program of events, conversations, and online features celebrating the diverse, vital ways in which rural arts and humanities contribute to American life. The Year is coordinated by Art of the Rural and organized by a collective of individuals, organizations, and communities from rural and urban locales across the nation.

The inaugural Year is a collaborative, grassroots effort designed to build steam over the course of 2014. To present a more equitable representation and a more comprehensive narrative of rural arts and humanities, all online features will be freely shared across websites and social media. For more information on the Year of the Rural Arts, visit: www.artoftherural.org.

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Savannah Barrett is Program Director of Art of the Rural.