Monday, March 30, 2009

Once Upon a Time in Laredo

...excerpted from National Geographic.

They're having a ball in this South Texas town. But as the border between the U.S. and Mexico tightens, life will never be the same.

The Society of Martha Washington Pageant and Ball in Laredo, Texas began in 1898 as a simple celebration of George Washington's birthday, meant to infuse the border town's largely Mexican population with American patriotism. It has evolved into a month-long celebration with dozens of events.

In a highly political and fierce competition, those few chosen debutantes, perfect as porcelain dolls, and their escorts are presented to 1,500 paying guests at the Laredo Civic Center, in a ritual designed to preserve the established social order. Those chosen are expected to take on the expense of their own gowns, averaging $38,000.

The Society of Martha Washington, sponsor of the gala, urges debutantes to select a platonic partner; the ones chosen are usually the sons of society members.

It would be easy to make fun of Laredo and its pageant. In these days of war, famine, global warming, and the ever growing divide between rich and poor, an elaborate tribute to Martha Washington by debs wearing gowns that weigh 85 pounds and cost in the neighborhood of $30,000 is something of an easy target. Recently, however, change has come to the region—in the form of drug violence across the border and, emanating from Washington, battles over immigration—threatening a way of life that has persisted here since the first Spanish settlers arrived in the 1700s. This year, despite the jeweled gowns and effusive abrazos at the celebration, it was natural to wonder whether Laredo's oldest families were honoring the past or clinging to it. And that didn't seem funny at all.

I find this entire event remarkable and fascinating, somewhat amusing, and very beautiful. Read more about it at National Geographic - and look at more pictures of the participants by clicking on the gallery link at the top of the page.

When I was a teen, we had a yearly event in our town (I grew up in Bucks County, PA) which was a very democratic sort of debutante ball. It was a large formal affair and called the Bucks County Cotillion. We would be forced (if you were a guy you were forced LOL) into a tuxedo and had to escort (and present) a girl who was assigned to you. Probably the girls weren't forced into their gowns - I'm pretty sure they loved it. Though I'm also fairly certain that none of the girls' gowns were hand-beaded and jewel encrusted $38k gowns! I call it more democratic because you weren't selected by jury who poured over your parents' position, lineage, and social status. You were selected because your parents forced you to take ballroom dancing and etiquette lessons for two years. Believe it or not, almost everybody back then participated!

They no longer have the Bucks County Cotillion. I don't know when exactly it ended. I know that it was in a bizarre transition period when I participated as a teenager (that was the late '60's). They could make us wear these silly suits; they could make us learn the box step, the waltz, and the cha-cha; they could make us hold chairs and open doors for the girls; they could not make us cut our hair or stop saying "groovy!" Looking back, I realize what a disreputable bunch we must have looked! - and really we were all respectable middle class kids!

Okay, GO MAKE SOMETHING - or I'll get you! and your little dog, too!
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥

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