The Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association (WBCA) along with the International Good Neighbor Council (IGNC) have announced their selection of the four bright young Abrazo Children who will represent the United States and Mexico during the 121st Celebration.
“The abrazo, or hug, given by our four beautiful Abrazo Children symbolizes the mutual admiration and respect that our two countries and cities have for one another,”
said WBCA President Jeffrey G. Puig. “The powerful gesture of an abrazo between the officials from both the United States and Mexico embraces our traditions and demonstrates our unity as border neighbors.”
The 2017 – 2018 Abrazo Children, representing the United States, are Sofia Gonzalez and Liam Anderson Haynes. The children representing Mexico are Yvette Garcia Bazan and Tomas Andres Villegas Tomko. The official announcement of the selection was made during a special ceremony on Thursday, August 10, 2017, at the San Agustin Ballroom at La Posada Hotel located at 1000 Zaragoza Street, the proud sponsor of the International Bridge Ceremony and the Official Hotel of the Washington’s Birthday Celebration.
Sofia Gonzalez, 9, is a fourth-grade student at Colonel Santos Benavides Elementary. She is the daughter of Juan Manuel Gonzalez Jr. and Rochelle Valdez de Gonzalez. Sofia is a member of the Volleyball Performance Academy, where she has competed in BGC TAFF volleyball invitational for the past three years in and out of the state of Texas.
Sofia is actively involved in her school by assisting with the collection of goods for the needy and veterans. Her volunteer work includes her participation in the Princess Pocahontas Pageant, cleaning up parks and animal shelters and helps at Bethany House with Project Cupcake. In addition, Sofia enjoys spending time involving herself with extracurricular activities. She is actively involved with her church and participates in community service events. Among other things, she also enjoys helping her grandparent’s bakery, cooking, outdoor activities and spending time with her family and friends. Her hobbies include dancing, volleyball and gymnastics.
Sofia’s older sister, Isabella Gonzalez, is a former Abrazo Child who represented the United States in 2014. Sofia is excited to carry on the family tradition of participating in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association.
Liam Anderson Haynes, 7, attends St. Augustine Elementary School in the second grade. He is the son of Christopher M. Haynes and Erika Garcia Haynes. Liam is an “A” Honor Roll Student and has been a member of his school’s basketball team for 2 years. In addition, he plays golf and tennis. When he is not in the field, Liam also enjoys swimming, dancing, fishing, hunting, 4-wheeling and going to the ranch with family and friends. Liam is also a classic car and modern car enthusiast who enjoys attending local and out of town car shows with his father.
His family’s involvement in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration spans three generations. Liam’s father has been a WBCA volunteer since 2002 and a WBCA Board Member since 2014. His mother has been a WBCA and IGNC member since 2014 and has choreographed the Abrazo Children presentation since 2011. She is also a former Abrazo Child who represented the United States in 1985. Liam’s grandfather, Richard E. “Dicky” Haynes, Sr. portrayed George Washington in 2005. Liam was preceded in the honor of serving as an Abrazo Child by his cousins Mercurio Martinez IV in 1997, Luis Emmanuel Guajardo in 2001 and Katarina Garcia in 2011. Liam looks forward to continuing the family tradition of participating in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration.
Yvette Garcia Bazan will represent Mexico as an Abrazo Child. Yvette, 9, attends the fourth grade at Mary Help of Christians School. She is the daughter of Jose Eduardo Garcia and Yvette Bazan de Garcia. Yvette has shown an interest in community service since a very early age, including bake sales, helping out the Mary Help of Christians missions, and organizing a yearly posada at Casa Douglas, an orphanage in Nuevo Laredo. She is a proud member of NET (Nueva Evangelizacion del Tercer Milenio), a Catholic organization focusing on spiritual growth and community service. At the academic level, she has participated in the UIL poetry contest and is a top honor student, consistently receiving high marks for her dedication to her school work.
Her extracurricular activities include flamenco, tennis and playing the piano. She enjoys building legos, reading and spending time with her family and friends.
Yvette’s parents have been members of WBCA since 2012. Yvette looks forward to represent Mexico as an Abrazo Child for the 121st Washington’s Birthday Celebration.
Tomas is 9 years old and a fourth grade student at United Day School. He is the son of Ramon Enrique Villegas Moreno and Nicole Tomko Villegas. As the middle child, he is a caring boy with a jovial personality and adores all facts and figures.
A lover of skyscrapers, Tomas is enthralled by big cities and loves to travel. He enjoys playing game boards and is an avid Pokémon card collector and enthusiast. Tomas is a very active boy who practices cross fit and has been in Taekwondo since first grade. However, his true passion is basketball. When he is not playing with his team or shooting hoops at home, he is watching live games or replays of his favorite team the San Antonio Spurs.
At school Tomas is in student council and basketball. In his free time, he enjoys swimming, playing golf, video games and his drums as well as spending time with his family and friends and watching all sports.
His parents have been involved with the Consejo Internacional de la Buena Vecindad since 2010. His father, Ramon E. Villegas Moreno, participated as Miguel Hidalgo at the International Bridge Ceremony in 2016, while his mother, Nicole Tomko Villegas, participated in the Princess Pocahontas Pageant in 1991 representing United High School. Tomas is excited to be representing Mexico as an Abrazo Child for the 121st Washington’s Birthday Celebration.
La Posada Hotel, the official host hotel of the Washington’s Birthday Celebration, is the proud sponsor of the International Bridge Ceremony for the 121st Celebration.
“The La Posada Hotel is honored to participate as a host of the announcement reception for the Abrazo Children who will participate in the upcoming WBCA/IGNC International Bridge Ceremony in February 2018,”
stated Norbert Dickman, General Manager of Fasken Oil and Ranch, Ltd., the operator of the La Posada Hotel.
“The Abrazo ceremony is always a focal point of the annual festivities, as well as a meaningful and touching symbol of the close relationship which exists between ‘Los Dos Laredos’ and among the United States and Mexico,”
The symbolic meeting of the two countries that is part of this Laredo Celebration was first established in 1898. It quickly evolved to include a ceremony where U.S. and Mexican local and military officials gathered to walk arm in arm into downtown Laredo, making it one of the longest-standing traditions of the Celebration still honored to date. In 1969, the WBCA and IGNC introduced the Abrazo Children to this symbolic event to further promote the greater awareness and understanding between the people of the Americas. The act of the four children meeting in the middle of the bridge and exchanging a heartfelt “abrazo” symbolizes friendship, goodwill, kindness and a mutual appreciation between the United States and Mexico.
After the children exchange these symbolic hugs or “abrazos,” the U.S. and Mexican dignitaries also meet their counterparts in the middle of the bridge and share the same “abrazo” gesture. This is the only time each year that an international bridge linking the two countries is formally closed to the public.
As official Ambassadors of the Washington’s Birthday Celebration, this year’s Abrazo Children will attend a number of WBCA events including the historic International Bridge Ceremony Sponsored by La Posada Hotel. The event will take place on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 7:30 a.m. on the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge.
Throughout the years, the Celebration has grown to be over a month long and consists of parades, dazzling pageants, fireworks, a carnival, an air show, a sizzling jalapeño festival and much more. Combined, WBCA events attract nearly 500,000 residents and visitors, and contributes an estimated $14 million every year to the local economy.
The Washington’s Birthday Celebration was recently ranked as one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association (ABA) because of the excellent entertainment value it offers to both tour groups and individual travelers from around the world.
The 121st Washington’s Birthday Celebration takes place January 18 – February 19. Tickets for events may be purchased in early February at the WBCA TIcket Kiosk inside Mall Del Norte.