Independent Lens: Las Marthas

About This Episode


One of the largest celebrations of George Washington’s birthday in the world takes place in the border town of Laredo, Texas. This 116-year-old tradition has evolved into an entire month of inventive reenactments and bicultural celebrations, many of them involving their Mexican sister city, Nuevo Laredo. The most preeminent event of them all, however, is the invitation-only Colonial Ball hosted by the elite Society of Martha Washington.

Society daughters, most of them Mexican American, are invited to debut in elaborate Colonial gowns representing iconic figures from America’s revolutionary history, to reenact a ball thrown by America’s first First Lady. Las Marthas follows two of the young debutantes — one a prominent member of Laredo society and the other a newcomer from Mexico — as they prepare for this rite of passage.

The documentary unravels the origins of the celebration and explores why a town like Laredo, with such deep Mexican roots, feels such affinity for America’s Founding Father, and how against all odds the Washington’s Birthday Celebration has managed to persevere and even flourish, thanks to the Mexican American girls who continue to wear the gilded burden of tradition.