LAREDO, TX – 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 124th 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 Natalie Hernandez. “The powerful gesture of an abrazo between the officials from both the United States and Mexico embraces our traditions and demonstrates the unity of our Sister Cities.”
The 2021 – 2022 Abrazo Children, representing the United States, are Olivia Madison Palumbo and Michael Anthony Villalon. The children representing Mexico are Valentina Gonzalez de Anda and Joaquin Barragan Garza. The official announcement of the selection was made during a special ceremony on Friday, August 13, 2021, 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.
Olivia Madison Palumbo is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Joseph Palumbo, Jr. Olivia attends C.L. Milton Elementary where her accomplishments include Honor Roll, Perfect Attendance, Distinguished Student Award and Principal’s Award. Olivia also enjoys representing her school in various sports. She has been a member of the flag football and basketball team. Olivia was a member of the C.L. Milton Mini Unicorn Cheerleading Team. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time involving herself with extracurricular activities. Olivia has performed in numerous dance recitals and dance competitions as an All-Star member of Diana Rendon Dance Academy for the past three years, studying various styles of dance and cheerleading. Among other things, she also enjoys swimming, arts & crafts, and spending time with her family and friends.
Olivia’s mom Vanessa Medina Palumbo has been a volunteer with WBCA since 2016 and a Board Member since 2019. Since her mom’s involvement with WBCA, Olivia has always enjoyed attending the festivities; her favorites include the Dual Parades, Carnival and Air Show. Most recently, Olivia was a participant in the Youth Song & Dance Festival with her school’s cheerleading team. Olivia’s brother, William Joseph Palumbo III, was also an Abrazo child in 2017. She is excited to carry on the family tradition of participating in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association.
Michael Anthony Villalon is the son of Mr. Arnoldo Villalon Jr. and Mrs. Gloria Teresa Salinas, married to Albert Salinas, EdD, U.S. Navy Veteran. Michael has an older brother, Arnoldo Daniel Villalon and one baby sister, Eveleia Angelina Salinas. He is a student at Lamar Middle School and enjoys hunting, fishing, baseball, basketball, bike riding, running, dancing and listening to music especially The Beatles, Queen, and Journey. At school, Michael has been awarded The Bob Cat Whiz Kid Award in Math and Science, Student of The Month, and Perfect Attendance.
Michael is an active volunteer with WBCA, assisting in various events and serves our community by donating his time and items to the Holding Institute, Laredo Regional Food Bank, and Habitat for Humanity.
Michael has over 74 volunteer hours with WBCA.
Albert (Ed.D.) and Mrs. Gloria Salinas have been active WBCA members since 2017 and both serve on the WBCA Board of Directors having chaired and co-chaired several WBCA Events. Both have been awarded the WBCA President’s Award for their contributions to the WBCA Celebrations.
Michael is honored and excited to follow in their foot-steps and represent the City of Laredo and the United States as the 2021 & 2022 Abrazo Child.
Valentina Gonzalez De Anda is the daughter of Reynol González Galván and Alejandra De Anda López, is the youngest of three sisters. Valentina is a student at United Day School. As a UDS Patriot, she has earned and received various academic awards, has maintained being an “A” Honor Roll student, and has been selected by her teachers not only as Citizen of the Month for the Pillars of Caring and Respect, but also the prestigious “All-Around Citizen” multiple times. Valentina is a dedicated member in her school’s volleyball and basketball teams and has helped her team become City Champs for two years in a row. In addition to her extracurricular activities, she is an active member in St. Patrick’s Church “Buen Pastor” program and “Grupo Net”. She has also participated for several years in Teleton USA events.
Valentina loves to play outdoors with her sisters and five dogs, ride her bike, read, paint with acrylics, and socialize with her friends.
Joaquín Barragán Garza will also represent Mexico as an Abrazo Child. Joaquín is the son of Mario Alberto Barragán and Mirthala Garza de Barragán He is a Honor Roll student attending United Day School. He is part of the fourth-grade basketball and flag football team and a member of the United States Tennis Association (USTA). Joaquín takes tennis very seriously. He has placed 1st and 2nd in the last USTA tournaments and has advanced to the Green Dot Ball category! He aspires to play either basketball or tennis professionally when he is older and hopes to play better than Michael Jordan or Roger Federer! Besides sports, Joaquín is part of the “Buen Pastor” program from Saint Patrick’s Church and trains at Blackout. During his free time, he likes to ride his bike, read, and play Roblox with his friends. Joaquín also takes pleasure in going to the ranch with his grandfather and spending time with his siblings and cousins.
La Posada Hotel, the official host hotel of the Washington’s Birthday Celebration, is the proud sponsor of the International Bridge Ceremony for the 124th Celebration.
The symbolic meeting of the two countries that form 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 19, 2022 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.
For additional information, visit www.wbcalaredo.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, contact the WBCA office at (956) 722-0589, or stop by the office located on 1819 E. Hillside Road in Laredo, TX. Also, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.