Notes on Labeling Places,
Peoples, and Diseases
A Note on Places, Peoples, and Labels
Shared borders don’t necessarily mean shared labels. In Mexico, most people
call the river connecting Mexico and the United States El Rio Bravo. In the
United States, most U.S. Americans use Spanish words in English to describe
the same river: they call it the Rio Grande. The use of “Rio Grande” instead
of “El Rio Bravo” in the United States might also remind readers that the
present political border between Mexico and the United States was one of
the outcomes of the war of 1846. Moreover, the presence of Spanish words in
English should remind readers that Mexico and Mexicans still shape the use
of English and Spanish in Texas. The different names and the enduring pres-
ence of Spanish words for the same river highlights an ongoing contention
over the local and national meaning of a shared landscape.
On the other hand, most people agree on the names for cities on the north
bank of the Rio Grande and the south bank of El Rio Bravo. The current
Texas-Mexico border begins in the city that once was El Paso del Norte and
is now both Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and El Paso, Texas. The river wends
its way south and east, through Big Bend National Park, past Presidio, Texas,
and Ojinaga, Chihuahua, and by the town of Del Rio, Texas. The cities of Pie-
dras Negras, Coahuila, and Eagle Pass, Texas, follow. These two cities house
the main rail hub linking the industrial centers of Torreon, Durango, and
Saltillo to San Antonio, Texas, and the rest of the United States.
If one were to follow the river’s flow, Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo,
Nuevo León, would be the next destination. These two cities have long been
the busiest crossing between Mexico and the United States, the site of the
first railroad linking Mexico and the United States, and the connection
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