News: Ceremony brings sister cities together
Story by Pfc. Praxedis Pineda
LAREDO, Texas - A miniature George and Martha Washington meet with a Mexican cowboy and his wife on the Texas-Mexican border. The annual International Bridge Ceremony commences with the exchange of the “abrazo,” or hug, between four children; one couple portraying the first American president and his wife, and the other representing the people of Mexico.
For more than thirty years, the International Good Neighbor Council, in conjunction with the Washington Birthday Celebration Association of Laredo, Inc., has hosted the ceremony on the Lincoln-Juarez International Bridge in Laredo, Texas. This ceremony serves as the culmination to a month long event that celebrates the birthday of the first U.S. president. In this annual tradition, dignitaries from the sister cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, the states of Tamaulipas and Texas, and both countries, come together to exchange the Abrazo.
"Both countries have a similar cultural history,” said Carlos Garza, military liaison for the WBCA. "The only thing that has divided the United States and Mexico is a river."
Laredo was once a Mexican city, but after the Texas Annexation in 1845, it officially became a part of Texas and the U.S. Feeling like they belonged in Mexico, many families eventually returned across the river to found the city of Nuevo Laredo.
“They are related in business," said Garza. "They are related in family.”
The Bridge Ceremony is a century-old tradition, yet the abrazo has only been incorporated in the last 70 years. Ever since, the IGNC has invited Texas Military Forces and government officials to participate in this unique occasion.
According to Garza, Laredo has a long military history, which influences the local youth. The United South High School Marine Corps JROTC participated in this year’s Bridge Ceremony as the link between the two nations. Their sabers were raised over the representatives of each country as they walked onto a ceremonial red carpet in the middle of the international bridge. The Martin High School Army JROTC held the 50 U.S. state flags and the local Texas Army National Guard’s Color Guard presented the nation’s flag during the National Anthem.
Honored military guests included Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, former Texas Adjutant General; Brig. Gen. Charles A. Miller, Texas State Guard chief of staff; and Col. Donald Prince, commander of the 5th Air Wing Texas State Guard.
“Patriotism for the American flag is a top priority,” said Garza.
Along with the abrazo, dignitaries trade small American and Mexican flags to symbolize the countries’ support and good will toward each other. Honored guest, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Joseph R. Straus, exchanged flags with Monica Gonzales Garcia, representative of the state of Tamaulipas. Other government officials followed these delegates, to include the revered first U.S. President George Washington.
Francis Averill Jr. portrayed the first president of the United States and an actor playing Father Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexican Independence, served as his counter part. Both historical figures exchanged the Abrazo and traded their respective nation’s flags. This symbolic gesture ends the International Bridge Ceremony each year.
The deep Hispanic heritage embedded in the people of Laredo, helps build a unique relationship with Nuevo Laredo and its country.
“We are blessed to have a culture that is a mix of both American and Mexican,” explained Garza, “and it’s a great honor and privilege to be a part of these festivities.”