But for the Great Depression, Charro Days might never have come into being.
America was nine years into the worst economic catastrophe in the country’s history when some of Brownsville’s business leaders brainstormed about how to give a boost to the local economy and give residents something to think about besides being out of a job and hungry. Charro Days is what they came up with. The first one was held in 1938 and has been celebrated every year since except 1945.
Charro Days Inc. President Henry LeVrier said the first celebrations involved horse-drawn carriages. In the early days the international bridges were opened so residents of both sides of the border could freely circulate back and forth.
“It’s a celebration of tradition,” LeVrier said in a 2015 interview. “It’s a celebration of the cultures between Mexico and the United States and between Brownsville and Matamoros. There’s a lot of heritage, a lot of tradition, and it gives us the opportunity to continue that traditional between the two countries and the two cities.”
Gradually the week-long event every February got bigger and gained renown, turning into a major draw for locals and out-of-towners alike, he said.
“Over the years word has gotten out,” LeVrier said. “We have been featured in Texas Monthly and in other magazines.”
The first Mr. Amigo ceremony took place in 1964 and became part of Charro Days in 1969. The first Mr. Amigo was former Mexican president Miguel Alemán Valdés. The second year it was Mario Moreno, or “Cantinflas,” a Mexican actor, producer and screenwriter best known in the United States for his 1956 role in “Around the World in 80 Days” opposite David Niven.
Sombrero Festival entered the Charro Days fold in 1986, the brainchild of Danny Loff.
LeVrier gave a shout-out to “our forefathers,” the men who came up with the concept of Charro Days.
“They planted the seed and gave us a wonderful opportunity to build on a festival,” he said.
Next year is a big one, the 85th anniversary, LaVrier said.
“While we were very sad to have to cancel the event this year, we’re also excited thinking and planning for next year because it’s going to be a very special year,” he said.