Literally, a brazo is a Mexican’s arm. (An older Castilian form of the word includes “strength” in its meaning.) The celebrated Rio Grande is known in Mexico as El Río Bravo (sounds like “brave,” is more like “fierce,” “strong,” “wild”), but some sources suggest an earlier name was Río Brazo, and a perusal of cowboy fiction and old cowboy movies will easily turn up misadventures on the Brazos River in Texas. Figuratively, then, a brazo is an arm of a river, and the Brazos could be translated as the river Arms. Flowing between Fort Worth and the Gulf of Mexico, the Brazos can be seen to bend slightly at its elbow, as does the Rio Grande. When that arm flexes and shows its strength, trouble follows. For example, when the Brazos flooded on June 29, 1899, its bed spread to twelve miles in width in some places and its rampaging caused $10 million (in 1899 dollars) in damages. A narrow ocean inlet is un brazo del mar. A brazo muerto (dead arm) is a section of river that has become isolated from its main stream except when floods come and periodically recharge it in a brief connection with the original flow.

Luis Alberto Urrea