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Celebrate Washington’s Birthday, Las Marthas’ Style

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Of all of the unique and unusual ways to mark George Washington’s Birthday, the Mexican-American debutantes of Laredo, Texas have one of the longest-standing, most colorful and liveliest. This year marks the 116th annual Las Marthas celebration, where young women don elegant colonial-era ball gowns for a coming out party that would surely make old George himself smile. This celebration forms the centerpiece of the new film, Las Marthas, which debuts on PBS February 17 – just in time for the official if not actual birthday of the nation’s first president.

Filmmaker Christina Ibarra’s coverage of this bright, cheerful, almost story-book gala is delightfully entertaining, but it is about more than just pretty young girls in beautiful dresses –custom dresses than can cost up to $30,000 to make. This is also a story of power and privilege, of old traditions and even older money, and of a little-known but century-plus-long effort to bind together the communities and traditions on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border.

Las Marthas is part of the Independent Lens series and will premiere on most PBS stations at 10 pm Eastern Time on Monday, February 17.

Las Marthas is also more than just a documentary about a celebration. It is also the story of two young women, Laurita and Rosario, who are thrust into the maelstrom that is the Colonial Ball hosted by the elite Society of Martha Washington. Laurita, of old Spanish grandee descent, is the 13th young woman in her family to participate in the grand ball, yet is also a modern woman, uncomfortable with many of the trappings of wealth and privilege that the gathering represents. Rosario, young Mexican woman educated in the United States, is also a beauty queen and the first in her family to be invited to participate. For her it is all about learning the rules and trying to fit in, while still holding on to her own culture and traditions.

Las Marthas is part of the Independent Lens series and will premiere on most PBS stations at 10 pm Eastern Time on Monday, February 17. CPTV has not yet scheduled an airing of Las Marthas, but viewers in Connecticut who can tune in to PBS stations in New York and Massachusetts will be able to catch Las Marthas when it debuts.

Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at
…or his blog at
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at
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