BROWNSVILLE — The Mr. Amigo Association held its yearly Hands Across the Border, also known as Saludo Binacional, Friday morning at the Gateway International Bridge, between Brownsville and Matamoros, where Mr. Amigo 2019 Julio Cesar Chavez talked about the pride of being Mexican and how he feels about the recognition.

The celebration started with prayers and was followed by the national anthem of the United States and Mexico. During the ceremony, children from both Matamoros and Brownsville exchanged flags as a sign of friendship.

“The first Hands Across the Border event took about three years of planning and was inspired by Hands Across America, a charity event where five million people made a human chain across the United States,” Graciela Salazar, vice president of Mr. Amigo Association, said in Spanish. “This is Mr. Amigo’s most significant event and our mission is to celebrate the friendship, culture and family that unifies both border cities, Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Tamaulipas. And to also enjoy the traditions and history that unite both cities, unifying the Rio Grande Valley border with the Northeast of Tamaulipas even more.”

Mr. Amigo Chavez said he is very grateful and humbled to be Mr. Amigo 2019. He said he thought Mr. Amigo Association recognizes artists and not boxers.

“To be honest, thank you so, so much for being here,” Chavez said in Spanish. “I want to tell all of you that I feel very happy to be receiving this recognition and honor.

“I’m going to be very honest with you: At first when Artemio [President of Mr. Amigo Association] went to visit me at the hotel, with all due respect I said no, that I didn’t want to be Mr. Amigo because this event and this recognition is for people who are important and people who are artists, not boxers like me.”

Chavez continued to explain how he ended up saying yes and how proud he feels to represent Mexico. He added the most important fight he’s ever won is the one against addiction and that he has been clean for 11 years.

Chavez founded the Julio Cesar Chavez Foundation, which helps children and teenagers in vulnerable situations with the treatment and prevention of addictions. He said he is grateful he has been able to save many lives.

The 2019 Mr. Amigo, famed boxer Julio Cesar Chavez, addressed the crowd Friday at the Hands Across the Border event on Gateway International Bridge. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“I think this has helped me save a lot of lives,” Chavez said. “I had an addiction to cocaine and just very quickly I’m going to tell you that I used to dream about being a champion, about having millions of dollars, about having sport cars, mansions, yachts and a private plane, and I had it all. And what did I look for after having it all? The most stupid and dumb thing, which was find comfort in drugs, and that was my damnation.”

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez addressed the audience in Spanish and talked about the importance of having a good relationship with Matamoros. Mendez also mentioned a talk they had during the Crossroads Festival, where both Mendez and Matamoros Mayor Mario Alberto Lopez discussed ways they could improve the economy of both cities together, the importance of bilingualism, among other things.

“One of the very first things I did is that I had the pleasure of meeting my friend, the Mayor Mario Alberto Lopez Hernandez, and we discussed several issues, but mostly we talked about how can we show the friendship between the two cities and show everyone that we are working together and that we want the best for our cities,” Mendez said.