texasmonthly.com: How did this story about debutantes in Laredo end up being a feature for the magazine? Was it your idea? What attracted you to this story?
Pamela Colloff: I first heard about the Society of Martha Washington Pageant and Ball a few years ago, and I always thought it would make an interesting story. I think I had the same reaction that most people do when they hear that Laredo has a huge annual celebration of George Washington, which is “Why Laredo?” I wanted to understand what it was all about. The fact that it involved debutantes and fancy dresses that take nearly a year to make only made the story seem more interesting.
texasmonthly.com: Were you at all familiar with the world of debutantes before you started working on this story?
PC: Not at all! But that’s true of most things I write about; I have to learn a lot about a subculture very fast.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this feature?
PC: The way that Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are interconnected was fascinating to me. The border city that I’ve spent the most time in is McAllen, and it’s very different. McAllen and Reynosa [the city directly south of the Rio Grande] just aren’t bound together in all the different ways that Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are. Before the violence broke out, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo really functioned as one.
texasmonthly.com: Did you get the sense that the debutantes in Laredo were any different than debutantes in the rest of Texas? Why or why not?
PC: Not at all. They aren’t any different than your average upper-middle-class teenage girls in Dallas or Houston. The only difference is that almost all of them are bilingual.
texasmonthly.com: Why did you decide to include the recent violence in Nuevo Laredo in your story?
PC: When I first started working on this story, I thought I would just be writing an article about Laredo and the ball. But the longer I spent there, the stranger it seemed to be ignoring the biggest news event that was happening in that part