Abrazo de amistad: Hidalgo and Reynosa, sister cities in US and Mexico, show unity amid polarizing border rhetoric

City of Hidalgo mayor Sergio Coronado greets Reynosa Tamaulipas mayor, Maki Ortiz Dominguez with the traditional "abrazo" to launch the beginning of BorderFest on Friday, March 01, 2019 on the Hidalgo/Reynosa International Bridge. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor dlopez@themonitor.com

HIDALGO — Standing in the middle of an international bridge that has found itself in the national spotlight, the mayors of two sister cities used a long-standing local event to send a message to those focused on the region: the border is united, thriving and as strong as ever.

Hidalgo Mayor Sergio Coronado and Reynosa Mayor Dr. Maki Esther Ortíz Domínguez met at the halfway point of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge on Friday morning for the annual Abrazo, which kicks off the city of Hidalgo’s BorderFest celebrations. They embraced and exchanged gifts against the backdrop of a line of Mexican residents waiting to cross into the United States, the Rio Grande visible behind the bridge’s chain-link fence.

The event, Ortíz Domínguez said, is more than a hug between neighboring mayors.

“It is a strong argument in history: That we should be always be united in order to continue evolving,” she said in Spanish.

Now in its 43rd year, there were some differences this time around.

Concertina wire was still visible on the bridge, having been installed by U.S. troops in November 2018 during their deployment to the border. And feet from where the mayors stood was the booth U.S. Customs and Border Protection installed in late summer, so agents can stop people for documents before they make it to the official port of entry on the U.S. side.

This was a response to migrants camped on the bridge after CBP began “metering” the number of asylum seekers allowed entry.

Surrounded by local elected officials from both sides, Winter Texans looking for an opportunity to visit Mexico and members of the U.S. and Mexican media, the mayors’ intended audience seemed to be hundreds of miles away.

“For centuries, enemies of these lands have tried to divide us with barriers; with walls,” Coronado said in Spanish to the crowd gathered on the bridge. “But they have failed. Because the regions sitting on both sides of the border are one — in (terms of) economy, culture, history and dreams.”

Photo Gallery: Annual cross-border ceremony kicks off BorderFest

Also speaking in Spanish, Ortíz Domínguez added: “Today, Mexico and the United States not only trade together, they build things together, like smart phones and computers. We are called by history and our geographic situation to continuing confronting challenges together, such as migration and drug trafficking … with open doors and not with closed minds.”

That interconnectedness was captured best in her description of this part of the border: “Como lo he repetido muchas veces, aquí, nos gustan los tacos y las hamburguesas. Nos gusta el rock y nos gusta el mariachi. Queremos ser frontera para siempre.”

In English, this translates to: “Like I have repeated many times, here we like tacos and hamburgers. We like rock’n’roll and we like mariachi. We want to be frontera forever.”

And no one, the Reynosa mayor said, can teach those living on the border how to be a border but border communities themselves.

State Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Palmview, attended the Abrazo for the first time this year and said the significance of the event is more important than ever given the national attention on the region.

“We have to look at initiatives and proposals that will make us work together better,” Muñoz told The Monitor. “We’re not only tied with family but with commerce and our local economy, especially the economies of the state and the nation, are tied to international trade.”

And for Hidalgo’s mayor, ensuring that Mexican residents feel comfortable crossing the bridge and visiting his city and the Rio Grande Valley is a priority given the political climate.

“We want to reflect the unity we have between the city of Hidalgo and Reynosa and the United States and Mexico,” he said. For us it’s very important that the Mexican people feel comfortable because much of our economy depends on that.”

Monitor staff writer Daniel A. Flores contributed to this report.