Ask a Mexican

Rio Grande or Rio Bravo? Why Can't Mexico and the U.S. Agree?

Dear Mexican: Why can't the United States and Mexico agree on just one name for the Rio Bravo/Grande river? And I don't understand why the Americans lo dice in español?

—Marfa Maven

Dear Wabette: The Mexican is a Californian by the grace of God so doesn't dare tread the intellectual waters of the Lone Star State unless absolutely necessary — recently, he declared Dallas as more influential in the course of Mexican food in this country than Houston, and got holy hell from it by Houstonians while folks in El Paso and San Antonio snickered! Gotta love those locos ... anyhoo, I forwarded the question to Joshua S. Treviño, vice-president of communications for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and one of the few conservative Mexis who doesn't give the Mexican Montezuma's Revenge.

"This question is near and dear to my heart: Though the Mexican who usually answers your queries is born and bred in sunny Orange County, California, my family is from the Texas-Mexico borderland along the Rio Grande," Joshua writes. "My Treviño grandfather would swim in the river between his childhood home of Roma, Texas, and Ciudad Aleman, Mexico, on the opposite bank. Thankfully, he married a Laredo gal and lived the rest of his life in Texas — else my Treviños might have ended up like the most (in)famous Treviños today: senior enforcers in the Los Zetas narco-cartel.

"That's right, I wrote 'Rio Grande' above," Treviño continues. "That's what we call it here en los Estados Unidos — and it's just as proper to call it Rio Bravo del Norte when you're in Mexico. The dual name stems from colonial-era confusion about whether the upper and lower courses of the river were connected. In 1840, Mexican revolutionaries in Laredo established the short-lived República del Rio Grande; the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the U.S.-Mexican War refers to the river demarcating the new boundary as 'the Rio Grande, otherwise called Rio Bravo del Norte.' In time, Anglo settlers in Texas adopted one, and Mexicans — perhaps inspired by the connotations of bravo en español signifying 'wild' or 'turbulent,' which aptly describe the region — adopted the other. As for why we Americans say Rio Grande in Spanish, that must remain a mystery, unsolvable until we discern why we say California, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, San Antonio, Los Angeles and San Francisco en español tambien."

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