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.