We start our Latino history special with a trip to Laredo, Texas – a 96 percent Latino city rich with Spanish and Mexican history, located on the US-Mexico border. It also happens to host the largest celebration of George Washington’s birthday in the country.
Every year around President’s Day, there are galas, parades, ceremonies and parties in honor of the first American president. But the marquee event is a colonial-themed debutante event called the Society of Martha Washington Pageant and Ball, in which wealthy Mexican-American girls, many from oil families, are presented to society dressed up as the wives of America’s founding fathers.
The pageant is a big deal in Laredo. Generally, only girls from the oldest high-society families are invited to present. But it’s the dresses themselves that get the most attention. The gowns are massive, featuring endless ruffles of fabric and exquisite beadwork. They can weigh over 100 pounds and are rumored to cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The Washington’s Birthday Celebration is also a major event for South Texas politicians – this year, U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar was selected to play George Washington at the pageant.
Listen to our story to get the full scoop on this fascinating event, and check out our slideshow below for pictures of the pageant.
Born in 1950, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto was raised in London by his Spanish born father and British born mother, both active journalists. As a historian, he has written numerous books on a variety of subject from American History to the Spanish Armada. He currently teaches at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of “Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States.”
Photos courtesy of Marlon Bishop