Tumbleweed Smith
Tumbleweed Smith

The largest George Washington Birthday Celebration in the country takes place in Laredo. It started 123 years ago when some settlers wanted to promote Americanism. They staged a mock battle in 1897 on the Laredo Square between Colonial Troops and Native Americans. The event has grown and grown over the years and has become Laredo’s largest single event. National media including the New York Times, CNN and others, have covered it. It begins with tequila tasting in mid-January sponsored by the local Bar Association and goes for 47 days with 37 events. Posters and program books become valuable historic souvenirs.

It is an elegant affair, with an elaborate debutante ball and other formal galas where women wear the fanciest evening gowns money can buy. “The bottoms of their dresses cover an area about 8 feet wide,” says Bobby Peregoy, President of the George Washington Birthday Celebration Association (WBCA). “A lot of the men wear clothing from Colonial days. It’s something you can’t see anywhere but Laredo.”

Hotels and motels in Laredo put displays of dresses and costumes in their lobbies. The official George and Martha Washington portrayers go to Laredo from Philadelphia to stage a state dinner for dignitaries. The meal covers five courses prepared by a celebrity chef. Later George and Martha visit with school kids and put on a show about events during Washington’s presidency.

“The seven week celebration attracts well over half a million people to Laredo,” says Bobby. “The economic benefit has been estimated at upwards of 20 million dollars.” The highlight of the event occurs February 22nd and is called the abrazo (Spanish for embrace) when a delegation from Mexico and a delegation from Laredo meet in the middle of the International bridge over the Rio Grande to exchange abrazos. “That ceremony is led by four young children: a little boy and girl from Mexico and a little boy and girl from the United States. The children exchange the first abrazo. That’s followed by adults from both countries giving each other a hug. It’s the only event of its kind where a federal port of entry is closed down during the ceremony. It is truly a sight.”

The abrazo is followed by a parade with 200 entries. “We’ll have over a hundred floats along with all of our marching units, bands, Shriners, the military just a whole bunch of folks getting together and having a good time.”

The WBCA has headquarters in a building patterned after Washington’s Mount Vernon home. It has a fulltime staff of five and 38 board members. The executive committee meets every week during the year.

Among the events during the celebration are a Comicon (where Bobby tries to make people laugh), a jalapeno festival, an air show, classic car display, a golf tournament and a carnival that lasts 11 days. If you want to find out more, visit www.wbclaredo.org.