The border's most famed extravaganza, the Washington's Birthday Celebration, can now take its place on the nation's history shelves. Dr. Stanley Green, Texas A&M International University professor of history, has penned an exhaustive history of the Celebration.
A History of the Washington's Birthday Celebration is a 275-page journey through 100 years of Celebrations from 1898 to 1998 and includes 150 photos, drawings and illustrations.
Dr. Green's effort will be celebrated with a Book Signing and Reception at the Laredo Center for the Arts on Sunday, Sept. 19 from 3-5 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Webb County Heritage Foundation, the Washington's Birthday Celebration Association and Southwestern Bell.
Dr. Green said his three years of research and writing revealed a Celebration that is consistent in its offering, but much changed from its original intent.
"Quite simply, what began in 1898 as one thing, after a century of cultural twists and turns, has become quite something else. Laredo's Washington Birthday Celebration has evolved into an expression of what the border is, a contradictory mix of cultural pieces from two nations that defy easy labels, " Dr. Green offered.
Green said that reviewing the WBC's history provides a fascinating opportunity to see how much the border region, its peoples, its hopes and dreams, have changed.
" To read the 100 year story of the WBC is to pass through a century of border history, from the days when the WBC was a one day affair with rustic diversions, fit for a society of farmers and ranchers -- plus a few merchants -- to the dawn of the new millennium where there is an attempt to have something for everyone," he observed.
He noted the history of the WBC is fraught with near annual challenges to its presentation.
"There were hardly any decades when some national or international crisis did not mount a challenge to the WBC. The 1910s was the decade of great military conflicts, but paradoxically the WBC was able to weather the nearby Mexican Revolution of 1910, while the more distant Great War of 1914-1918 with its creed of self sacrifice nearly ended the celebration.
"In the 1920s, there was the Indian attack on City Hall; in the early 1930s the full force of the Great Depression hit, but the WBC survived. Through hard times, the WBC grew, adding the Border Olympics in 1933 and the Society of Martha Washington in 1939. It became a political magnet in the 1950s and 1960s and added the Mr. South Texas Award in 1952," he said.
That growth continues to this day, he noted.
"The Youth Parade was added in 1972, the Sr. Internacional event in 1977, and the Jalapeno Festival and Princess Pocahontas Council in 1979. The Jalapeno Festival helped the Celebration explode into a mega-festival. The Celebration doubled and almost redoubled in a decade, from 4-5 days, to 7-8 days, and then to 12-13 days," Green said.
The Celebration has seen the famous....and the infamous, he said.
"For example, Nelson Rockefeller organized the publicity in 1942 as part of the wartime Pan American effort. Gene Autry was here in 1943 and in 1948 Leo Carrillo (Pancho on TV's "The Cisco Kid)" was almost ejected from the Noche Mexicana due to insobriety. Then there's President George Bush who was here as a relatively unknown representative of President Nixon in 1970," he explained.
Green said that while change has been the common element in the past 100 years of the Celebration, it is the Celebration's cultural underpinnings that have made its broad growth possible.
"What has made the WBC different isn't the scale or length of the fun making, but the cultural ingredients of the occasion. Despite initial efforts to Americanize it, it has always asserted the trappings of many cultures. Granted, it's the most unusual of the events honoring our first father, in languages and customs that might seem mismatched, but which were perfectly normal on the cultural guisado that is the Texas-Mexican border," he said.
In weaving together 100 years of files, 90 interviews and experiences that recounted everything from the high culture of opera to the zany gulping of chiles, have there been any major surprises?
Pausing to reflect, he notes that the celebration might have ended after its first offering.
"The Yaqui Tribe, also called the Red Men, apparently never intended the celebration to become annual, and there was no celebration in 1899, but public opinion insisted it be brought back in 1900," he revealed.
Green said he is most appreciative of a committee of assistants who helped him to research and proofread the text including Minerva Barrera, John Flanagan, Altagracia Azios Garcia, Jose L. (Pepe) Gonzalez, Emma Gonzalez, Joseph Green, Sam Johnson, Estela Kramer, Edward R. (Wayo) Leyendecker Jr., Tom Moore, Bob Nelson, Sue Nichols, Jennie Reed, Suzy
Schaffer, Ann Shanks, and Dotty Richter Wheat. The book design is by Clifford and Gloria Green. Chief researcher and researcher for the effort were Serge Henocque and Maggie Nething.
For additional information, please contact the Webb County Heritage Foundation at 727-0977.
Foundation office hours are from 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.