Las Marthas

Las Marthas

  • BY Cristina Ibarras and Erin Ploss-Campoamor | IN Race & Ethnicity
    Premiered February 17, 2014

About the Film

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. MORE

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.

Laurita is the thirteenth young woman in her family to debut. Her legacy dates back to the original Spanish land grantees in Laredo. As she reminds us, South Texas used to be part of Mexico: “We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us.” But Laurita constantly wavers between embracing and questioning the ritual.

Rosario, on the other hand, is the first in her family to debut. Raised in Mexico, yet educated in the U.S., Rosario is one of only two “guests” invited to present at this year’s Ball. She represents Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — the other half of “the Two Laredos.” With conflict and crime dominating discourse about the border, Rosario’s inclusion reflects the Society’s desire to stitch together the communities. Yet despite Rosario’s previous success as a beauty queen, she remains a Society outsider.

A year in the making, each girl’s dress can weigh up to one hundred pounds and cost up to $30,000 — nearly the median family income of Laredo. Many of these spectacular creations are made by highly coveted dressmaker Linda Leyendecker Gutierrez, an oil heiress who designs her dresses with “heavenly inspiration from God.”

Las Marthas 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.

The Filmmaker

Cristina Ibarras, Director/Producer

Cristina Ibarra is an award-winning Chicana filmmaker from the U.S.-Mexico border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Her critically-acclaimed documentaryThe Last Conquistador had a national broadcast on PBS’s P.O.V. Her short narrative film, Dirty Laundry: A Homemade Telenovela, won multiple awards at festivals and was broadcast nationwide on the PBS series ColorVision. Ibarra wrote and directed the narrative mini-film Wheels of Change for the New York International Latino Film Festival to play before every feature film screening. Latino Public Broadcasting funded her comedic interstitial Grandma’s Hip Hop. She is a founding member of Fulana, a Latina interdisciplinary collective, where she created award-winning satirical shorts. Ibarra is the recipient of numerous fellowships from, among others, the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, CPB/PBS Producer’s Academy, NALIP’s Latino Producers Academy, and Creative Capital. She is also the writer/director of a feature film in-development, Love & Monster Trucks.

Erin Ploss-Campoamor, Producer

Erin Ploss-Campoamor is an award-winning filmmaker, with experience in both documentary and narrative, the director of several shorts and the producer of a feature film, Dark Mirror (IFC Films). She wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical short film La Americanita (The American Girl), which won two Best Short Film awards, as well as the short film April in the Morning. Erin is the producer and co-writer of Love & Monster Trucks, a feature length narrative film, in development, for which she was recently a semifinalist for the Sundance Institute's Creative Producing Fellowship and the Sundance Writer’s Institute. Ploss-Campoamor was born in Canada to American parents and raised all over North America in an extended multicultural family, speaking English, Spanish, and French. LESS

Film Credits

A Film by
Cristina Ibarra

Produced by
Cristina Ibarra
Erin Ploss-Campoamor

Director of Photography
Edwin Martinez

Craig Marsden
Natalia Almada
Ray Santisteban

Carla Gutierrez
Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez

Music by
David Mazjlin

Additional Editing
Cristina Ibarra
Marta Masferrer
Ann Husaini

Additional Camera
Cristina Ibarra
Nerina Penzhorn

Post Production Coordinator
Omar Gonzalez

Post Production Assistants
Tatiana Lam
Tiffany Peckosh

Production Coordinator
Susan Jasso

Office Production Assistants
Dora Peña
Jean Moylan

John Titus
Ivan Reyes
Madeline Mindling

On-line Editor
Sandy Patch

On-line Facility
Final Frame

Graphics Designer
Prashant Bhargava

Sound Design and Re-recording Mix
Ruy Garcia

Dialogue Editor
Roland Vajs

Sound Studio Facility
C5 Sound

Production Sound
Gustavo Aguilar

Archival Images and Footage Courtesy of
Joyce N. Boghosian
E.H. Borchers
Laura Garza Hovel
George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum
Richard Gonzales
John H. Keck
Laredo Morning Times
Linda Leyendecker Gutierrez
Jenny Reed
T3 Media
Alfredo Vichlis
Webb County Heritage Museum

Radio Clips Provided by
Danny Guerra

Linda Leyendecker Gutierrez
Rosario Reyes
Laura Garza Hovel
Dr. Norma Cantú
Dr. Josefina Saldaña-Portillo

Film Advisors
Albert Maysles
Firelight Media
Paul Taylor

Fernando Ramirez
Karen Shatzkin

Ann Kafesjian
Yuri Klarvit

Moxie Bookkeeping

Historical Advisors
Dr. Stanley Green
Dr. Elliot Young
Dr. Minita Ramirez

Special Thanks
Jorge Aguirre
Celina Alvarado
Alex Avila
Cecilia Avila
Teresa Basilio
Keiko Deguchi
Carmen Dickinson
Dr. Bridget Drinka
Iris Eloiza
Hortensia and Carlos Enriquez
Margie Garza
Karla and Bobby Gonzalez
Robert and Carmen Gonzalez
Mable Haddock
Alicia and Ildefonso Ibarra
Julio Jr. Ibarra
Alfonso Ibarra
Laredo Public Library
Roland Legiardi-Laura
Jiah Lim
Jim Mendiola
José Ollervides
Lisa Morales
Roseanne Palacios
Richard Pauza
Dr. Francisco Peña
Pablo Proenza
Dr. Carmen Ramirez-Rathmell
Rafael Ramirez
Alex Rivera
Andrea Thome
Raquel Valle-Sentíes
Ana "Niti" Volpe
Chi-hui Yang
José Cruz Zúniga

Fiscal Sponsors
Women Make Movies

Executive Producer for ITVS
Sally Jo Fifer

Funding was provided by
The Jerome Foundation
Tribeca Film Institute Latin America Media Arts Fund VOCES Grant
Humanities Texas

Las Marthas is a co-production of Undocumented Films, Inc and the
Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB),
with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Las Marthas was produced by Undocumented Films, Inc
which is solely responsible for its content

© 2013 Undocumented Films, Inc. All rights reserved.

How connected is your community to the past, both its own and America’s? Do you think debutante balls still have a place in modern culture?


How connected is your community to the past, both its own and America’s? Do you think debutante balls still have a place in modern culture?