For just about every single Brownsville native, “Charro Days” is part of our annual February vernacular. According to Wikipedia, “Charro Days, also known as Charro Days Fiesta or Charro Days Festival, is a two-nation fiesta and an annual four-day pre-Lenten celebration held in Brownsville, Texas, United States in cooperation with Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The grito—a joyous Mexican shout—opens the festivities every year. This festival is a shared heritage celebration between the two border cities of Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Tamaulipas. The Charro Days festivals usually have about 50,000 attendants each year. This celebration includes the Sombrero Festival as well as a parade that goes down Elizabeth St. through Historic Downtown Brownsville, Texas. The festival was first organized and celebrated 1937 by the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce to recognize Mexican culture and honor the charros, or the “dashing Mexican gentlemen cowboys.”
Today, it really feels like a lot more than 50,000 people attend and participate in the now, almost month-long schedule of local activities.
My first Charro Days event took place while attending Tiny Tot Daycare and Kindergarten School as a dancer in the school’s group of dancing children. To this day, schools recruit children to learn Mexican dances, then perform the dances as part of parade entries during parades that come down Elizabeth Street from Sams Memorial Stadium to International Bridge. In the Spring of 1971, Tiny Tot dancers, all comprised of 1st graders and younger students, danced the LA RASPA or the Mexican Hat Dance. I remember the school had more girl dancers than boy dancers so some of the girls were asked to dance the boys’ part. And lo and behold, I was one of the girls who danced the boys’ part. Go figure! Preparing for my part included shopping for a charro outfit and charro hat. My Mom and Dad looked high and low for a charro outfit my size and finally found the perfect one to fit my big derriere and thick thighs. On the day of the performance, make-up was in order, but it wasn’t eye shadow, colorete and lippy sticky for this charra, it was patillas y bigotes for me, drawn up with flair on the sides of my cheeks and around my mouth with black eyeliner. From the looks of the faded black and white photos of the day we performed it looks like I was probably one of the cuter charros dancing. Diana Villarreal, Louise & Louis Ara, Joe Martinez may all disagree. On the morning of the Children’s Parade, Tiny Tot dancers were summoned to The Pavilion at Ringgold Park to perform (we were deemed too young to march the length of the parade . . . and God forbid we become too tired). Once at The Pavilion, the place was overflowing with parents, relatives, children . . . buzzing with the sounds of teachers redirecting us and loud Mexican music playing. We all took our places and danced our little hearts out for the next all of two minutes, although it seemed like an eternity on that day . . . ta-dant—ta-dant—ta-dant . . . ta-da-da-da-dah ta-dant . . . To this day, every time I hear that song, I get transported swiftly back to that cool, crisp February morning, to the Pavilion across from the Resaca. To this day, every time I see the photo of me in that black charro suit, I smile at the memory afforded me by this great early childhood experience. To this day, not a Charro Days passes that I do not feel the strong draw to return to my hometown to watch the parades filled with children and marching bands, charros and clowns, floats and vanguards. The warmth of my people, the love of my friends, the food, the music, the festivals all have a permanent place in my heart that no other children or adults have unless they too know what it is to experience Charro Days. To this day, whenever I am afforded the luxury of taking a day off to make the trek home I grasp at it . . . you see I am weak to palm trees, I am weak to the scent of jasmine bushes, I am weak to the food, the music, the people of my hometown, Brownsville . . . Brownsville, the place that gave me everything in me today that has brought me to where I stand today.