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. These days 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.