The sister cities of Brownsville and Matamoros have had a strong relationship since the mid-19th century. The metropolitan area consisting of Matamoros, Brownsville, and the suburbs of both cities is host to a population of more than 1 million people. Its population also makes it the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Mexico-US border.
The principal river, Rio Grande, has served as the border between the United States and Mexico since the 1840s. Matamoros, part of Tamaulipas state of Mexico, is situated on the southern side of the river. In contrast, Brownsville, part of the Texas state of the US, faces the former along the northern side of Rio Grande.
Both cities serve vital purposes in the international exchange of goods and services between Mexico and the United States. The city of Matamoros has four international bridges, the only such Mexico-US border city. Three of these bridges are shared by Brownsville, while the fourth bridge joins Matamoros to Los Indios, Texas.
A Brief Look at History
Matamoros was an important city for people situated on either side of the river, the Rio Grande, long before the city of Brownsville was founded. It is widely accepted that the establishment of Matamoros began in 1686 when the Europeans explored the area and found that the river was an excellent route for navigation. Matamoros was also reasoned to be the ideal spot for cattle raising.
Around the 1750s, thirteen enterprising families invested and started an influential cattle industry in the area. In a few decades, they had given structure to 113 cattle-raising sites and established an effective business. In 1774, the newly developing region was officially given the title of San Juan de Los Esteros Hermosos.
In 1826, five years after Mexico’s Independence from Spain, a decree was dispatched to change the name of the city to Matamoros, in honor of Mariano Matamoros, a hero of the Mexican War of Independence who fought alongside with the revolutionary rebel leader José María Morelos.
The history of Brownsville
correlates with that of Matamoros when, in 1828, Charles Stillman arrived in Matamoros to handle his father’s merchandise business. Stillman is mainly credited for the establishment of the city of Brownsville in 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed the same year to make Brownsville an official part of Texas.
The fact that Brownsville was located on the river promoted its status as a trade center for southern Texas. This and the heavy steamboat traffic on the Rio Grande further enhanced its economic value. During the American Civil War of 1861, the North’s naval blockade vastly increased Brownsville’s importance from a trade perspective. Its proximity to the port of Bagdad, Mexico, made it a significant smuggling point for the rebels.
Meanwhile, before the war, Matamoros was considered a small port that saw no more than six ships each year. By 1865, however, the war had allowed Matamoros to serve both as a major port and a great commercial and financial center for Mexico. The cotton trade in the area had brought in over 20,000 speculators from the US, England, Germany, and France.
By the end of the American Civil War, the English-speaking population of Matamoros had grown so much that the city decided to introduce its first English newspaper, called the Matamoros Morning Call. The port of Matamoros also exported to millions of people in France and England, where cotton was a fundamental requirement of daily life.
The start of the 20th century saw both the cities connected to the outside world for the first time through the railroad. The first big steam engine was introduced in the area in 1904 when the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway reached the Rio Grande and established a rail bridge between Brownsville and Matamoros.
Out of the three bridges that today connect the sister cities, the first was constructed in April of 1909. Known as the B&M International Bridge, it was designed as a swing bridge to accommodate river traffic. However, this later proved unnecessary as the river traffic soon became a minimum.
Later, the B&M International Bridge was widened twice. In 1997, a concrete, four-lane toll bridge was opened next to the original one due to the ever-increasing automobile traffic demands. The old bridge continued to be used for large commercial trucks and now primarily serves railway traffic.
The Veteran and Gateway International Bridges are two other bridges that cross the Mexico-US border between Brownsville and Matamoros. Gateway is mostly famously for pedestrian crossings while the Veteran Bridge, opened in 1999, accommodates both pedestrian and truck traffic.
Matamoros is the second-largest city of the state of Tamaulipas. In 2016, it had a population of 520,637, making it the 39th largest city in Mexico. It is one of Mexico’s chief ports of entry for both tourist activity and the import and export of goods.
Matamoros is also considered a major historical site with respect to multiple nations. The city has seen several wars and rebellions over the last two centuries, including the Mexican Independence War (1808 – 21), the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 20), the Texas Revolution (1835 – 36), the Mexican-American War (1846 – 48), and the French Intervention of 1861. This has earned the city its title of “Undefeated, Loyal, and Heroic.”
Matamoros compromises one of the most successful industrial sectors in Mexico. Of these, the automotive industry is the most promising one, featuring brands such as BMW, General Motors, and Ford. In 2011, the Mexican petroleum company PEMEX announced a multibillion-peso drilling project for the port of Matamoros, intended as a future addition to Mexico’s oil industry.
Matamoros has a semi-arid climate with hot and humid summers and mild winters. It is not uncommon to go without any rains during the generally wet seasons of July and August. However, its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico allows for cool winds to blow throughout the summers and winters frequently.
Brownsville is the seat of government for the Cameron County of Texas and covers an area of approximately 81 square miles. As of 2019, its estimated population of 182,781 makes it the largest city in the Rio Grande Valley and the 131st-largest one in the US.
Owing to Matamoros’ maquiladora (“textile boom”) in the late 1980s, Brownsville has seen continuous growth in the air cargo industry. In the past 15 years alone, its wealth has nearly quadrupled, and the city currently has an assessed valuation of $7.1 billion. It is also a major tourist site due to several key historical events that it famously shares with Matamoros.
Most of Brownsville’s economy is derived from the services and manufacturing industries. Brownsville is also recognized for its successful agricultural history. Its delightful subtropical climate has made it a commercial hub for the citrus industry. Education, aerospace, and space transportation are a few other prominent industries of Brownsville.
Besides several private elementary and middle schools, Brownsville is home to seven high schools, which are part of the Brownsville Independent School District. There are a total of six colleges and universities in the city. These include the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the tenth-largest university in Texas, and the University of Health Science Center, offering a Ph.D. program in epidemiology and a DrPH in health promotion.
Both Brownsville and Matamoros share historical traits that have come to shape the Mexico-US relationship that has lasted for nearly two decades. The Matamoros-Brownsville metropolitan area is a favorite tourist location. With overall enjoyable weather, everything is a short distance away, and there’s plenty to do in the cities.