Heritage, Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 1989 Page: 18
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By John Peterson
B illboards along IH-35 south from Austi
crow about Los Dos Laredos, "the tw
Laredos," and conjure up images of a festix
bordertown straddling the Rio Grande. Laredi
Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, often bler
into each other despite the best efforts of tl'
border patrol, but there are many other cot
trasting aspects of these international citie
There is a rich Laredo along with the many po(
of Laredo. There is a small but influential grin~
Laredo alongside the 85% who are Laredo Mex
cano. And there is old Laredo as well as a ne'
Laredo, where the plazas and churches an
houses of 200 years of history have become th
pawns of recent development. In a city whic
has the lowest per capita income in the nation
the struggle for the preservation of old Laredo
rich historical fabric is often impaled on th
dilemma between the needs of its poor and th
designs of its developers.
Laredo was founded in 1755 by ranchers wh
eagerly accepted the challenge of colonizin
new territory for the Spanish crown in e>
change for military support and expanded corr
merce with the interior of Mexico. By 1750 Do
Vicente Guerra had established a ranchin
community or hacienda at the Villa de Sai
Ygnacio de Loyola Revilla only a few mile
above what is now Falc6n Reservoir on the Ri
Grande. The land was open and lush with gra2
ing for sheep and goats and horses and mule,
There were no taxes. The river offered irriga
tion potential. And it was the last frontier c
northeastern Mexico. By 1755, the Vasque
Borrega family was managing ranchos along
both banks of the Rio, and controlled the
main road north to San Antonio through
Dolores and San Ygnacio.
But the crown wanted buffers of settlement
deeper into the north to resist the
Lipan Apache as well as the pesky French
who were intruding from the east, and so
the governor in Queretaro authorized Don
T6mas Sanchez to establish the municipio
of Laredo as an outpost of civilization on
the northern frontier.
It took another dozen years to plat the
town and sudivide porci6nes to the founding
families. In 1767 the town was laid out
with the Plaza de San Augustin at its center.
Over the next fifty years the city was to
grow from 200 colonists to over 1400; by
1881 the population was over 6,000. In its
earlier years its biggest problem was raiding
Indians. By the 1780s nude bathing in the
Rio was the bane of the municipio.The
mayor and the priest joined forces to
18 HERITAGE * SUMMER 1989
1881 NOV 20 TEXAS: THE RAILROAD UNION OF THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO:
protest "because it has been carried to
excess and without any regard for selfrespect,
setting a bad example for children,
thus causing the loss of self-respect and
morality, and because... it is an offense to
both majesties, God and the King." By
1816 the populace complained most loudly
about pigs running loose in the streets. And
the people of Laredo were characterized by
a traveller from Mexico City in 1815 as "all
care-free people who are fond of dancing,
and little inclined to work. The women,
who are, as a rule, good looking, are
ardently fond of luxury and leisure."
Laredo, with its stone church, its many
plazas, its verdant pastures along the Rio,
its jacal and adobe houses clustered along
dusty streets full of village life, and the
commerce of the King's Highway must
have been a vibrant and lively crossroads in
the period of Spanish and Mexican rule. It
continues today a long tradition of
Mexican culture that has been little disrupted
even by Texan governance in the
mid-nineteenth century and the influx of
gringo mayors. Unlike its sister cities further
south on the Rfo, Laredo has preserved
its ethnicity and even local control in the
face of usurpation by white outsiders. It is a
unique blend of Mexico and the U.S., as
everybody there knows and everyone from
there fondly remembers. It is culturally
distinct from its neighbors to the north or
the south, which brings headaches as well
as a sense of place to its citizens.
Laredo has endured two centuries of
political dominance and upheaval through
a creative disregard for outside authority.
Laredo was founded on the principle that
these communities along the Rio were
exceptions from the demands of tithing
and taxation that burdened many communities
further south. As incentives for
settlement, taxation was abated and land
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 1989, periodical, Summer 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45431/m1/18/: accessed September 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.