In an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look into one of the largest celebrations of George Washington’s birthday, a PBS documentary follows two young Mexican-American debutantes who make their debut during a month-long colonial reenactments and celebration in the border town of Laredo, Texas.
Directed by award winning Chicana filmmaker Cristina Ibarra, “Las Marthas” takes a look into exclusive border celebrations including the invitation-only Colonial Ball hosted by the elite Society of Martha Washington.
During the 116-year-old tradition, society daughters, most of whom are Mexican-American, are transformed into American Revolutionary debutantes. The young girls dress in gowns representing iconic figures during a recreation of a party hosted by Martha Washington, but this time the party is set on the U.S. –Mexican border, near Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
The gowns sometimes take a year to make, can weigh up to 100 pounds and cost up to $30,000, an astounding amount in the border town.
The documentary follows a young debutante from a prominent member of Laredo society and another who is the first in her family to debut.
Laurita, the 13th woman in her family to take part in the pageant, can trace her lineage back to the original Spanish land grantees, but is uncomfortable with the class system the ball emulates and sometimes questions the ritual. In the Washington’s Birthday Celebration, she reminds us that South Texas used to be part of Mexico: “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.”
On the other side of the border, Rosario is one of two debutants from south of the border to be invited to take part in this year’s ball. She will represent Nuevo Laredo, Mexico as the Society acts on its desire to connect the two Laredo communities often divided by the media.
Raised in Mexico, but educated in the United States, the documentary shows that despite her invitation, Rosario remains an outsider as she tries to understand the unspoken rules of the Society.
Las Marthas will debut on Independent Lens, an Emmy Award-winning weekly series, hosted by Stanley Tucci airing on PBS. The premiere is set in time for Washington’s Birthday on Feb. 17.
For more information or showtimes, visit www.itvs.com/films/las-marthas