Friday, April 25, 2014

Laredo, Texas

There's an old cowboy ballad that begins with the words, "As I walked out on the streets of Laredo..."  Well, today we followed in those footsteps, and we walked about on the streets of Laredo!  It's an interesting and lovely city, and we learned four important things about this tenth most populous city in Texas:

IT IS HOT!  Average temperatures for April range in the upper 80s.  It was 94 yesterday afternoon when we arrived, and about the same today.  If you ask the locals about the heat, they'll probably reply, "But you ought to come in the summer when it really gets hot!"

IT IS HUMMING!  Laredo is the county seat of Webb County. The economy of this city of 236,191 people revolves mainly around trade between U.S. and Mexico.  The city has four international vehicular bridges and one railroad bridge.  It is the largest inland port on the U.S./Mexican border.

IT IS HISPANIC.  The 2010 U.S. census indicated that 95.6% of the citizens of Laredo are Hispanic.  We saw very few white faces and used our (poor) Spanish more than in any other Texas town we have visited.  Spanish is the language of the streets, although persons who deal with the public are bilingual.

IT IS HISTORIC.  The city was founded by Don Tomas Sanchez in 1755.
It was located in the Nuevo Santander region of the Spanish colony of New Spain.  (Remember, this was long before the area north of the Rio Grande River belonged to the U.S.)  It was founded at the site of one of the oldest crossings of the Rio Grande River.
As in most cities influenced by the Spanish culture, the church was one of the first buildings of the town.  The Cathedral of San Agustin de Laredo stands in the center of the historic part of the city on one side of the main plaza.  As we walked toward the plaza, we felt as if we had been transported back to Mexico!  We were surrounded by brown faces, heard only Spanish being spoken, and advertising signs were mostly in Spanish.
Great care has obviously been taken to preserve -- or restore -- some of the earliest buildings in the historic district. 
La Posada Hotel, for example, has been elegantly restored.  It includes the ornate iron work so typical of wealthy old Hispanic homes, and beautiful gardens.
El Pasillo de Agustin, once a private residence, has now been converted into a restaurant serving delicious food.  It is also available as a location for parties and celebrations.
The home of the Garcia family, built in the 1830s, has been restored to become the town's historical museum.  That opens for us another unique chapter in Laredo's history.  If you count carefully the flags flown over the Museum's doorways, you will discover that there are seven flags, not just the six celebrated in all other parts of Texas,  The museum is called the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum.  It preserves -- and celebrates -- the brief history of a failed attempt to form an independent nation, separate from Mexico and its government in 1840.
The flag of the Republic of the Rio Grande
The ill-fated Republic of Rio Grande survived for 283 days and included parts of the Mexican states  of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and the northern province of Texas.
Wikipedia indicates that, eight years later, when the Rio Grande River was declared the new boundary between Mexico and the United States, the citizens of Laredo petitioned the U.S. military command in charge of the area to allow them to return to Mexican governance.  Their request was denied so most of the inhabitants packed up, moved across the river, and established the city of Nuevo Laredo.  In the 2010 census, the combined population of the two cities was nearly 625,000.
Do you suppose that singing cowboy who "walked out on the streets of Laredo" ever dreamed how historically rich those streets were?