WBCA the non-MLK holiday

Check out the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) gathering in Laredo:

It only took one person (Dan Monahan) to want to do it and others followed. Not bad, not bad. Same goes for WBCA, it only took a few to get it going and… well… MLK stood for social equity, WBCA stands for… uh, other things.

Some think Laredo is immune to injustice. However, others know that many Laredoans of years past have experienced discrimination based on race, class, and other reasons.

I was reminded of the local large organizations and how they have evolved and continue to evolve year after year. Many started by exercising discriminatory membership practices. For example, LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) started with an assimilation focus, Rotary did not allow women as members, etc. As you know, the Laredo community is kicking off another WBCA season (in Laredo, it IS a season) – starting today with the Commander’s Reception at the LEA spotlighting the month-and-a-half long series of events, celebration and activities.

Many have written about the unique Washington’s Birthday Celebration, particularly how unusual it is for Laredo, a South Texas border town that was once the capital of the Republic of the Rio Grande, to be “party central” for Washington. I’ve read a few papers that chronicle the history and also review the local history at the time – and explore the “why” this particular holiday was chosen.

For example, check this quote out:

Heavens and earth, what are we coming to? When a darkey is permitted to intimate in a crowd of white men that he is their equal or even the equal of a Chinaman and escape a horsewhipping it is time for the Caucasian race to resign and let the nigger run the country.

Did you think it came from a WBCA program? Nope, it was from the Laredo Times, October 4, 1903. This was the climate of Laredo at the time. It was part of the introduction from an Dr. Elliott Young (at the time an assistant professor at Lewis & Clark College) article titled “Red Men, Princess Pocahontas, and George Washington: Harmonizing Race Relations in Laredo at the Turn of the Century.” In this quote, he discusses the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM) and their sponsorship of the 1898 first WBCA.

The IORM thus attempted to forge Anglo American hegemony in the U.S. West by representing the nation at the same time it enforced class and racial hierarchy by reserving manhood for the white middle- and upper-classes. The same men who led the extermination campaigns against Native Americans dressed up as Natives to justify colonial rule. This process of constructing hegemony was particularly crucial in a region like South Texas, which had not yet been culturally incorporated into the U.S., even though it has been militarily and legally annexed for half a century. According to the Times, Laredo’s Anglo elite initiated the commemoration of Washington’s birthday in an effort to “awaken patriotism on the border and make us realize that we live in the United States.”

Ah yes, I am pretty sure we know we live on the US side by now. Dr. Young’s article was a fascinating read and I am attaching it as a PDF – Elliott Young, WBCA History Article. When Dr. Dion Dennis taught at TAMIU, I also remember having discussions with him about the WBCA and it looks like LaSanbe had written a bit about his equally interesting article some time back.

Or Elaine Peña’s “De-politicizing border space” essay found online at e-misférica. A quote from her (and others’) perspective:

Celebration officials’ choice of George Washington and Pocahontas to epitomize American values and border life is representative of Laredo’s selective disavowal of Mexican culture, which is the dominant component of the city’s historical, cultural, political, and linguistic identity. Theoretically, the festival strengthens bi-national dialogue; it aims to build bridges between Mexican customs and American values. But this communication is limited to a few rituals, most notably the abrazo children ceremony.

Another quoted tidbit: “Further, the celebration impels xenophobic attitudes within the Mexican-American community in Laredo by setting the boundaries of self-identification: I am American, not Mexican.”

The celebration was ingrained into the fabric of the Laredo community long before my arrival. I’m not trying to slam it – just repeating my annual “What the… porque??”

Regardless of its inception, it is permanently etched into the culture and provides economic vitality to the City of Laredo despite the economic downturn. Is that not patriotic? Would good ol’ George Washington approve? Better yet, would those who fight for civil rights like MLK approve?

It doesn’t matter. I can already hear the Banda de Guerra practicing in the evenings in Nuevo Laredo for the big WBCA parade. It is not stopping now.

Even local bloggers and the pigeons flew in to support the MLK rally. See you all at WBCA events!

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About Que Fregados

Que Fregados is a quirky look at little things that strike us funny in Laredo and the unique Latino culture. Suggestions and comments are welcome. You can also email to quefregados@gmail.com.
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14 Responses to WBCA the non-MLK holiday

  1. Ed says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve been in Laredo for a bit over 14 years. My family and I attended our first and ONLY parade in 1997. It felt like a slap in the face then as it does every year. Tradition??? Why do WE keep making the same mistakes for the sake of tradition? The WBCA began as a means of robbing us of our culture and I feel it continues to do so. Laredo was part of Mexico when it won its independence from Spain. George Washington never did anything for Laredo yet he is honored more than Tomas Sanchez birthday or the founding date of Laredo. The whole celebration is meant to remind us “brownies” who is the BOSS. Oh wait, they’ve allowed us to participate with the “Jalapeno” Festival (they might as well have called it BEANER FEST) and allowed our people to participate in the regalia with the Princess Pocahontas Pageant. Are you serious??? Really??? The native had passed many years before Laredo was founded, never even visited the region, WTH??? But, alas, we must be grateful to her for sharing her level of melanin with us. Unless the advent of spray tans puts US out of this event. I don’t know, Q. F., how can WE get OUR community to regain OUR dignity??? How do WE get them to understand and honor Dr. King??? Many of OUR people are unaware that he fought and gave his life for OUR civil rights. Keep up the great work and let me know how I can help.

  2. ___Marta c. says:

    ___don’t be a GWBC hater, just go along and enjoy

  3. BT Blues says:

    Very nice post, QF. Very informative indeed.

    Much to the chagrin of my Bordertown brethren, I have never been a fan of the WBCA and its components. Young’s article, to which you provided the link, and scores of others, from National Geographicto Texas Monthly have all been very critical of the festivities. Critical not in the sense that they are down to poop on the party and parade atmosphere, but critical in the ostentatious display of class discrepancies in a town whose median income–as per those two magazines–hovers around the cost of one of those gowns.

    Yet, it will continue to ramble on because it is “tradition.” And it is good to highlight the absurdity in that “tradition” every now and then.

  4. rick78 says:

    Hey those debs do resemble the belles of old ,except for the nopal on the forehead but just minor details the northern states will not notice =).

  5. ___Jorge y Martha, 1776 says:

    ___i nominate QF and BTB to portrayjorge y marta next year, that should stop your whinning . . .

  6. RGallegos says:

    I’m not a big fan of the whole WBCA but two things. Anything to get people interested in AMERICAN history is okat with me. Second, instead of complaining that the Hispanic culture/history is not being celebrated what are you (complainers) doing to build up that part of Laredo history?

    • Que Fregados says:

      Well, I am writing a blog :P.

      Just kidding R. I know we differ politically – the post was not about complaining it was about a look at what academics say and also recognizing the efforts recently done by those wanting to honor MLK. The reading of the Letter from Birmingham Jail was an effort to get those in Laredo to know a bit more about American history. Glad it created some discussion. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Poncho1950 says:

    The WBCA is undoubtedly rooted in an attempt — futile, as it turns out — to deny the realities of Laredo’s history and thus the social and political forces that shaped its present. The same could be said of other traditions: the moros vs. cristianos folkloric dances of Mexico, which vastly oversimplify the history of Spain by demonizing one side and ignoring the glaring faults of the other; and even the writings consciously glorifying Ruy Díaz, El Cid, in the interests of forging a national identity for Spain. The same could be said of those comic books on film that we (Baby Boomers) were fed during our youth, with simplistic, naive or outright falsifications about the U.S. and the forces and people that built it. That said, WBCA has acquired a life of its own and offers many teaching moments about local history as well as the history of two nations. I take it with a few grains of salt (and lime and un tequila añejo), and don’t expect it to change much, or to have any great impact on what people think about the U.S. or Mexico. The way to learn about that is by reading a book, not by going to a parade.

  8. rick78 says:

    AMERICAN history you state but it includes countries from Canada to Brazil . All AMERICAN countries. When did it solely became the USA are the only AMERICANS ? Mexico is in the AMERICAN continent so in essence they are AMERICANS too ! So stop being so ethnocentric AMERICANS not only exist in the USA but the whole AMERICAN continent. Yes Laredo needs to embrace it’s AMERICAN roots ,,,,, Aztec , Mayan MEXICAN culture not WBC where those white ARISTOCRATIC societies had no plans to have minorities factored in their culture.

    • Poncho1950 says:

      The argument is nonsensical, it being that “America” stands for “The United States of America,” a country and not a continent, and virtually everybody in the world refers to the people of this nation as “Americans” for that very same reason.

      When the term is more expansively used, it is usually accompanied by an adjective — “North,” “Central” or “South” — in order to indicate which continent or general area one hails from. But that is a geographical, not political, affiliation.

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