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.
“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, Harvard University
“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.”
Richard Schechner, editor, The Drama Review
“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.”
Josiah Heyman, University of Texas at El Paso, co-editor of Paper Trails: Migrants, Documents, and Legal Insecurity