2021 Jim Parish Award for Documentation and Publication of Local and Regional History, Webb County Heritage Foundation
For 120 years, residents of the cross-border community of Laredo/Nuevo Laredo have celebrated George Washington's birthday together, and this account reveals the essential political work of a time-honored civic tradition.
Since 1898, residents of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, have reached across the US-Mexico border to celebrate George Washington's birthday. The celebration can last a whole month, with parade goers reveling in American and Mexican symbols; George Washington saluting; and “Pocahontas” riding on horseback. An international bridge ceremony, the heart and soul of the festivities, features children from both sides of the border marching toward each other to link the cities with an embrace. ¡Viva George! offers an ethnography and a history of this celebration, which emerges as both symbol and substance of cross-border community life. Anthropologist and Laredo native Elaine A. Peña shows how generations of border officials, civil society organizers, and everyday people have used the bridge ritual to protect shared economic and security interests as well as negotiate tensions amid natural disasters, drug-war violence, and immigration debates. Drawing on previously unknown sources and extensive fieldwork, Peña finds that border enactments like Washington's birthday are more than goodwill gestures. From the Rio Grande to the 38th Parallel, they do the meaningful political work that partisan polemics cannot.
Elaine A. Peña is an associate professor of American Studies at George Washington University and author of Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Her work has been recognized by the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists.
A much-needed academic analysis of the history and meaning of the binational celebration of George Washington's birthday…Are the cross-border cooperation strategies inspired by Washington's birthday celebrations a solution to immigration restrictions or are they a sophisticated articulation of a longer history of exclusion on the border? This book provokes these and other important questions.
~Southwestern Historical Quarterly
If the word “border” evokes walls, cages, and raids, Elaine Peña reminds us of long histories of cross-border ritual, tracing curious practices of meaning-making that shape the cultural and physical infrastructure of borderlands geographies. Rich with theoretical synthesis and closely observed detail, ¡Viva George! takes the analysis of power and performance to a new level.
~Philip J. Deloria
Borders separate and link. Few borders are more alive, for better or worse, than the Mexico-US border. In this book, Peña not only traces the more than one hundred years of Washington's Birthday Celebration at the Nuevo Laredo/Laredo border, she also explores the changing meanings of this dynamic performative event. Her study—especially these days—is a model of scholarship and storytelling.
¡Viva George! Celebrating Washington’s Birthday at the US-Mexico Border takes a surprising event—the annual binational celebration of George Washington, east-coast patriotic US hero, in the heavily Mexican "dos Laredos"—as a launching point for a clear and insightful trip through the politics, economics, and culture of the border. Border scholars and community members will certainly want to read this, and also anyone interested in the politics of public culture.
Informative and concise...The book is composed from archival sources in both the United States and Mexico, making it a model of transnational research. Moreover, Peña’s years of field work in Los dos Laredos as an observer in the celebration give the book a street-level view that makes the book engaging.
~Pacific Historical Review
"[Peña] brings an admirable measure of ritual and performance theory to bear on what she calls 'border enactments and 'scaffolding'—symbolic and practical actions—fostered by the [George Washington's Birthday Celebration] and oriented toward Mexico, especially events enacted at the International Bridge."
~Journal of American Ethnic History
[¡Viva George!] demonstrates that cross-cultural events observed in borderland geographies provide opportunities to define—or redefine—performative expressions of identity, nationalism, and spatial control....¡Viva George! is suitable for undergraduate and graduate students who wish to explore themes related to borderlands history, performance, race, identity, and foreign relations. The book is well researched with great attention to detail and includes many different examples and creative analysis.
~Western Historical Quarterly
[¡Viva George!] presents a strong case for an interdisciplinary approach in folkloristics—one that also debunks artificial genre borders as well...¡Viva George! demonstrates how the study of festivals and celebrations in the field of folklore studies has gone beyond the merely descriptive to serious analysis and theorizing...I would highly recommend the book for use in classes on ritual or popular cultural festivals, especially at the graduate level.
~Journal of American Folklore
Elaine Peña writes a masterful study of the material economy of religion in the borderlands . . .She suggests that border actors engage with place and space in all sorts of ways—refusing to accept lines between nation-states as static or permanent. Play is key here, and it is at once world-building and world-shattering.
~Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief
Introduction: From Border Capricho to Border Scaffolding
Part 1. Playing for Power
Chapter 1. Playing Indian, Playing Colonial
Chapter 2. Playing Mexican
Part 2. Playing under Duress
Chapter 3. Hurricane Alice and the International Bridge Closure Crisis
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