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Spc. Suzanne Carter, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
LAREDO, Texas - 02.20.2011 19:02 Most of the United States lets George Washington's birthday pass unceremoniously, observed as President's Day on the third Monday in February. That doesn't fly in Laredo, Texas.
"They've been celebrating George Washington's Birthday for 114 years," said Carlos Garza, a Washington's Birthday Celebration Association of Laredo, Inc., volunteer and liaison for the Texas Military Forces.
The George Washington Birthday Celebration began in 1898 with a mock battle between Laredoans and Native Americans, where Laredoans presented the local Great Chief Sachem with the key to the city. Laredoans and people in the surrounding area saw George Washington as the Sachem of the United States according to the Association.
"George Washington was so revered in the United States and Mexico that we honor him," Garza said. In and around Laredo, Washington is the people's symbol of freedom and the celebration demonstrates their love of American history, he said.
Growing from a simple two-day fiesta to the current month-long extravaganza, the celebration features parades, parties, a carnival, an air show, and many other events. In the months leading up to and during the celebration, citizens of Laredo portray George and Martha Washington during visits to schools, re-enactments, parades, and parties.
"The Washington Birthday Celebration is one of the oldest celebrations of George Washington's birthday," said Francis C. Averill, this year's Washington. "Throughout the United States, not many of them take place. In Laredo, Texas, yes, we do have a grand one. People come from all over."
The celebration, which attracts more than 400,000 people each year, came packed with public and invitation-only events during its fourth and final weekend, February 18-20. Each event highlighted a different piece of Laredo's traditions and community as it honored the country's first president.
"Many people basically say, 'Laredo, Texas? George Washington?'" said Javier Cabello, a member of the Laredo Knights of Columbus. "We're here. We're part of the United States. We're honored to be citizens of this great country. We're blessed to have a culture that is a mix of both American and Mexican heritage. It's a great honor and privilege to be part of these festivities."
The celebration allows Laredoans to honor prominent members of the community while celebrating American history. During a welcome luncheon on Friday, February 18, the WBCA and La Posada Hotel honored one of the U.S. military's first female pilots, Laredoan Barbara Fasken.
Texas State Guard Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Charlie Miller presented the Congressional Gold Medal to Fasken's grandson, Spc. Robert D. Dickson of the 124th Cavalry Regt., during the luncheon. Fasken received the medal posthumously in recognition for her service in the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II.
Los Caballeros de la Republica del Rio Grande hosted the Caballeros Cocktail Party at the Laredo Civic Center Friday, where former Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, Brig. Gen. Miller, and other Texas Military Forces representatives were honored guests.
"It's good to see the military here," said Charlie Elizalde, a photographer from San Antonio. "It's great to meet and greet them and thank them for their service."
Later that evening, the civic center's auditorium sparkled during the Society of Martha Washington Colonial Pageant and Ball.
Averill and his Martha Washington, portrayed by Betty Ann B. Moreno, received nine debutantes and their escorts during the pageant, which recreated an event the Washingtons would have attended during George's presidency. Each couple represented significant figures from the Colonial period, decked in elaborate costumes that glittered in the spotlight as they promenaded across the stage.
"Wow! Those look great," Sam N. Johnson, a Laredoan who played Washington in 1979, said about the hand-beaded ball gowns. Johnson said the gowns get more elaborate every year.
Meanwhile, the rest of Laredo prepared for the next day's Anheuser-Busch Washington's Birthday Parade. Folding chairs tethered to parked vehicles lined the parade route by 6 p.m. Friday evening. Spectators filled those spots long before the parade began around 9 a.m. Sunday.
More than 160 floats, bands, performance troupes, and other participants marched in the parade, a GWBC staple since the celebration began. Spectators waved at passing public officials such as the mayors of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Texas Speaker of the House and Mr. South Texas Joseph R. Strauss, and Maj. Gen. Mayorga.
Cabello said that Laredoans from all walks of life have the opportunity to participate in the parade, whether they're walking with a float or waving from the sidelines.
"They always take great joy in seeing all of the entries in the parade, all the military units, all the civic and religious organizations that participate," he said.
Cabello said Laredoans enjoy the opportunity to host such a unique celebration.
"Laredo, we are a very friendly people," he said. "We are honored and proud to be part of this celebration, and we welcome [the public] with open arms."