Laredo – Festive, fun, and full of life. Celebrating is easy to come by in Laredo, Texas. From January to February, Laredo throws a bash fit for a king, though fortunately he rejected the offer. George Washington was the first President of the United States and down in the border town the George Washington Birthday Celebration is a fitting party for a politician that never affiliated with one.
“We know how to have a really good time,” Veronica Castillon, Lifetime Director of Washington’s Birthday Celebration, said. “We have a great time, but tomorrow morning we gotta get up and do it again, so space yourself, space some energy.”
Veronica plays a huge role in this presidential party that’s been a part of Laredo since 1898.
“Here in Laredo we’re very good about celebrating El Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre,” Veronica said. “We do that very well, so now let’s do something that’s American. Why not George Washington’s birthday?”
The celebration started back in February of 1898 when a fraternal organization called the Improved Order of the Red Men captured city hall in a mock battle. The key to the city was presented to the chief of the tribe, who handed it to Princess Pocahontas. It’s been said that the Sons of Liberty of the American Revolution held the same sort of ritual, and George Washington posed as the Chief. For some reason, this really resonated with Laredo in the 1800’s, and over 100 years later the party has grown.
“We have the nation’s largest and longest celebration of George Washington,” Veronica said. “Freedom and democracy. We celebrate everything he stood for.”
The majority of the celebration takes place in February. Parties, parades, pageants and plenty of particulars go into this massive celebration put on by the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association, which offices out of a building built to look like Mount Vernon.
“We’ve got to celebrate something in Laredo that’s truly American,” Veronica said. “If you look inside my closet right now, it looks like Uncle Sam threw up. Everything is red, white, and blue.”
The Martha Washington Pageant is a popular part of celebration as young girls from all over the state showcase fashion that is no longer in style but still incredible to see.
“The dresses, those are works of art,” Veronica said. “You know, if it’s velvet and it’s beaded, if those dresses, and the petticoat. Those things weigh anywhere from 50 to 65 pounds. So you have to learn how to walk and move in it. The first time I put my dress on I go, oh how pretty. And then I tried to move forward, and I couldn’t.”
On the final Saturday of the month, hundreds gather on the square in Laredo and march towards Mexico because a celebration of this size just isn’t the same unless you invite your neighbors. The international bridge is closed off to traffic and grandiose displays of patriotism from both sides of the border can be seen. Slowly, delegations from Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico make their way to the middle of the bridge. After all the spectacles have subsided, four children emerge. A boy and girl from Mexico and another pair from the U.S.A. meet in the middle. The future of the two countries aren’t here to debate or to get a look at what life is like on the other side of the border, they’re here to hug.
“To me the bridge ceremony is the heart of our celebration,” Veronica said. “It’s just the way of us every year, announcing to the world, or demonstrating to the world, our friendship. The river that runs through here, it’s not a divider, it’s actually a connector. We drink the same water, we ride the same bridges on a daily basis.”
The children make way for adults, city, state, and even national leaders to exchange flags and do something this world so desperately needs: Take a moment to show a little love for one another.
“We have so much in common with our friends and families in Nuevo Laredo,” Veronica said. “We’re human, we all bleed the same, I like to say. We like to party together. And we like to build relationships. We like to build strong, safe communities for our children and grandchildren.”
The George Washington Birthday Celebration in Laredo is one of kind. It’s a border town with a big place in its’ heart for a man who never even knew what the state of Texas would become. Somehow, he still brings people together, and being a part of this month long celebration truly is well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“I really don’t believe that we’re the only community that has a sister city that maintains a long lasting ties that go back hundreds of years,” Veronica said. “But, we’re probably the only one that demonstrates it so festively as we do here in Laredo during Washington’s birthday.”