There’s no question the United States and Mexico share an important bond and mutual interests along our border. This became even more evident to my colleagues and me as we prepared for the opening of our brand-new $175 million consulate building earlier this year. Throughout this process, we made some exciting discoveries about the history of our consulate and what has bound us together with the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico since our founding in 1825.
We discovered some interesting facts about ways the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros, Mexico – a city of about 500,000 across from Brownsville, Texas – has played a quiet but courageous role in fostering closer ties between our nations over the past 194 years. In fact, this consulate is the oldest operating U.S. consulate in all of Mexico (out of nine in total), and among the oldest in the world.
As we mined archives of our consuls’ original writings, we learned that several consuls played a pivotal role in protecting refugees fleeing the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. We also learned that other consuls showed incredible courage in the face of great violence during northern Mexico’s tumultuous and revolutionary history. For example, in 1851, our then-Consul James F. Waddell was helping neighbors put out a fire following local street combat when he was shot through the cheek by snipers. And in 1913, Consul Jesse Johnson insisted on remaining in the downtown U.S. Consulate to protect U.S. citizens, despite the fighting that was raging all around the building. Two years later, an errant mortar from famed general Pancho Villa’s soldiers barely missed hitting the Consulate, making headlines in newspapers across the United States. Through it all, the Consulate remained a vital post in the United States’ consular and diplomatic network, serving as the U.S. Government’s eyes and ears for what was happening in northern Mexico, an area of perennial vital national security interest.
Today, U.S. diplomats continue to serve in Matamoros, supporting the broad range of issues that make up the relationship between the United States and Mexico and tackling tough security challenges. The U.S. Government’s investment in this new consulate building is also a symbolic investment in all of Mexico: We’re here to stay, and we want to work with our Mexican partners.
Although the broad swathes of U.S. diplomatic history are well known, there are many smaller posts, such as Matamoros, with their own exciting histories. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has begun to research the interesting stories of consuls throughout history who have ensured the safety of U.S. citizens abroad for 240 years, while promoting our economic ties with nations large and small.
We hope our research will inspire Foreign Service colleagues at other U.S. embassies and consulates to discover their history. And we hope that, by sharing this newfound knowledge of what our diplomats have done in this corner of the world, you will be inspired, too.
About the Author: Moises Mendoza served as a Consular Officer in Matamoros from 2017-2019. The staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros, as well as, Tiffany Cabrera and Bill McAllister with the Department of State’s Office of the Historian and Kelly Landry, who serves in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, contributed to this blog entry.