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Texas Matters: ¡Viva George! Why Does Laredo Go Gaga For Washington?

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Laredo, Texas sits on the Rio Grande across the border from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The two cities share many connections, so much so that they have been called Los Dos Laredos.

And the two cities have an annual celebration where the bond is re-affirmed with the Abrazos — a symbolic ceremony where dignitaries from both sides of the river meet in the middle of the international bridge and exchange a heartful “abrazo,” or hug — which symbolizes the continued goodwill and cooperation that the two cities depend on in order to prosper through international trade.

Other events for the Washington Birthday Celebration include a pageant where the participants dress of elaborate costumes inspired by colonial fashion, a Princess Pocahontas Pageant debutant ball, parades, a carnival, concerts, fireworks and more.

All of this in honor of George Washington, who never set foot in Laredo or never even knew there was a Laredo.

What’s really going on here beneath the surface? Laredo is an American city and has every right to celebrate the nation’s first president and hero of the American Revolution. But the perceived incongruity of it — does that tell us more about Laredo or the people who scratch their heads in wonder?

These are questions pursued in the new book “Viva George: Celebrating Washington’s Birthday at the U.S. Mexico Border. The author is a professor of American Studies at George Washington University Elaine Pena — and she is a Laredo native. It's published by The University of Texas Press.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi