Tag Archive | Latin American Culture

Object: Commemorative Plate

I-0564a (2)

Commemorative Plate
Wood & Son, England
ca. 1910
Materials: Porcelain

This object is a commemorative plate with the image of Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz with the Mexican flag in the background. Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz played important roles in Mexican history during the 1800s. Both came from backgrounds connected to Mexico’s indigenous population. They would find themselves at the top of Mexican politics and eventually served as Presidents during the nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries.

The Mexican-American War began in 1946 and marked the beginning of an aggressive campaign to expand the United States territory from coast to coast. Manifest Destiny had been a popular idea throughout the 19th century and was used in 1945 by John L. O’Sullivan, an editor for the Democratic Review. This idea was used to support the annexation of Texas and the acquisition of California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico by the United States . By 1948 the war was over and the United States now claimed a third of Mexican territory.

Benito Juarez was born 1806 in Oaxaca, Mexico. Despite his upbringing in a peasant Zapotec family, Juarez gained the education and connections needed to begin his participation in politics by 1831 as a lawyer and liberal politician. He participated in the denouncement of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and ex-President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Later he was also against the Mexican-American War. By 1957, Benito Juarez had gained the people’s support and was democratically elected as the President of Mexico where he served until his death in 1872.

Depiction of the Battle of Puebla

Depiction of the Battle of Puebla. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Porfirio Diaz was born in 1830 in a poor mestizo, or part Indian family. Diaz joined the Mexican-American War at 16 although he never saw combat. An avid supporter of Juarez, he was brought under him as a protégé after the Mexican-American War. He supported Juarez’s regime as a prominent member in the military. During the French Intervention, when France took over Mexico and installed Maximilian of Austria-Hungary as a monarch, Diaz continued to play an important part in the military push against the French. He was present as the Battle of Puebla in 1862 which successfully pushed back the French from advancing on Mexico City and is celebrated today as Cinco de Mayo.

Porfirio Diaz would go on to become President from 1877 to 1880. After his handpicked successor failed him, he ran for reelection in 1884 and would soon become the dictator of Mexico until 1911. At that point his administration was opposed militarily by Francisco Madero which pushed Diaz into exile in France where he died in 1915. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Garner, Paul H. Porfirio Díaz. Harlow, England: Longman, 2001.

Heidler, David Stephen, and Jeanne T Heidler. The Mexican War. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Miller, Robert Ryal. Arms across the Border: United States Aid to Juárez during the French Intervention in Mexico. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: American Philosophical Society, 1973.

Whepman, Dennis. Benito Juárez. New Haven, Connecticut: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.

Object: Clothing

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I-0226 c, e, & g
San Andres Chicahuaxtla, Oaxaca, Mexico
20th Century
Materials: Cloth

These three objects are clothing items from the Trique tribe of Oaxaca, Mexico. The first object is a belt called a soyate, the second is a tunic or shirt called a huipil, and the third is a wraparound skirt called an enredo. Each of these objects are handmade textiles from the village of San Andres Chicahuaxtla and have connections to past clothing traditions of the native peoples of Mexico. All together they create a complete outfit a young woman would wear.


Map via SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics).

There are five villages of Trique people in the mountainous region of southern Oaxaca, Mexico. The San Andres Chicahuaxtla, San Jose Xochixtlan, San Martin Itunyoso, Santo Domingo del Estado, and the San Juan Copala. Altogether, the population of the Trique is about 30,000-40,000 people. The Trique are descendants of native indigenous groups dating back thousands of years. Trique is not only their name but the name for the language which links the five villages together. Each village does have differences though and can be divided into the lowland and highland groups. The Trique continue to be a part of Oaxacan culture today.

The clothing items are from the San Andres Chicahuaxtla village. The huipil is the main item of clothing and has the biggest connection to the Trique cultural identity. Originally, the huipil and other clothing items would have been made of hand spun and dyed cotton. Because of the added work and materials needed for dyes, older huipils are mostly white in color. The main band of color was always present at chest level and went across the front and back of the huipil. The enredo is a knee-length skirt that would have been worn underneath the long, tunic-like huipil and held in place by the soyate. The soyate is wrapped at the top of the skirt and then tucked under itself to stay in place. Traditional dress also included brown wool shawls. The Trique women didn’t have foot or headwear though. Red, blue, white, black, and brown were the main colors used in their clothing.

Market Day in San Juan Copala

Market Day in San Juan Copala. Photo via SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics).

The Trique are still around today and continue to make their clothing. Despite technological advances, the Trique have managed to keep their traditional art of weaving while incorporating manufactured textiles. This has allowed there to be more intricate and colorful creations. Without having to lose their culture and traditions, the Trique have found a way to benefit from modern society while remaining true to their traditions. However, lately they have been facing problems. Clashes between individual villages and the government have led to unrest and some Trique have been removed from their homes. Today indigenous communities, are faced with the threat of modern day governments and big businesses. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Bacon, David. “Can the Triquis Go Home?” New America Media. January 19, 2012.

Cordry, Donald B., and Dorothy M. Cordry. Mexican India Costumes. Austin, Texas: University of TexasPress, 1968.

Fischer, Pedro Ernesto Lewin. Communicative Practices on Territoriality and Identity among Triqui Indians of Oaxaca, México. PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2004.

Gunzburger, Cecilia. Traditions and Transformations in Chicahuaxtla Trique Textiles. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 2004.

Object: Menu

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“El Chico”
El Chico Restaurant
Ca. 1960-1970
Materials: Paper

This item is an El Chico menu from the 1960’s. El Chico is a Mexican restaurant chain in the southern United States. The history of the El Chico restaurant begins with the Cuellar family in the late 1800’s. Adelaida Cuellar was born near Matehuala, Nuevo Leon, Mexico on May 30, 1871. In 1892, Adelaida moved to Texas with Marcario Cuellar, where the couple eventually married in Laredo, Texas. Speaking only Spanish, the couple worked on farms near Laredo, Lockhart, Rosebud and San Marcos . In 1913 Adelaida and Marcario relocated their 11 children to Kaufman, Texas where they found work as sharecroppers.

By 1926, they had 12 children that Adelaida needed to help support. In order to make extra money, she sold homemade tamales at the Kaufman County Fair. She was so successful that she did the same thing the next year. Other working-class Mexican immigrants also found they could make additional cash by selling food, often during festivals. In San Antonio during the 1880’s, vendors (often Mexican women) called “Chili Queens” would set up stalls in the city square. Some stalls would sell chili con carne with bread for only a dime. In the 1890’s tamale men would push their carts around town selling their wares. The city of San Antonio banned tamale men from certain neighborhoods around town. Eventually they allowed street vending in the 1940’s as long as they met certain criteria. These were not the only difficulties vendors of Mexican food encountered.

Mexican Selling Candy, ca. 1865-1880, San Antonio

Mexican Selling Candy, ca. 1865-1880, San Antonio

In Los Angeles, between 1900 and 1925 the city council tried to pass legislation barring tamale wagons. In 1903, vendors joined together to present the city council with a petition signed by 500 of their customers. The city council succeeded in banning them, but they continued to sell their food nonetheless. Those men came to be known as loncheras. Vendors were sometimes exceedingly popular, like the vendors at the San Antonio Chili Stand selling food at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

At first, some Americans viewed Mexican food as dangerous. Spicy foods were stigmatized and companies started to sell their own versions of canned Mexican food with ingredients advertised as better than the original. It wasn’t until the 20th century with the arrival of family restaurants that Mexican-Americans were able to redeem their culinary culture.

In 1928 two of Adelaida Cuellar’s adult children, Frank and Amos, borrowed $350 from her to open a restaurant in Kaufman (it closed after 2 years due to the onset of the Great Depression). Adelaida cooked for the restaurant. By the time their family restaurant opened, Mexican food had been in the United States for some time. The first business to offer Mexican food was San Antonio’s Original Mexican Restaurant in 1900.


Photo via Panoramio user ucuyorum

In 1933, Adelaida revived the family restaurant in Kaufman. Her sons opened several other restaurants in the 1930s but none enjoyed success until they opened El Charro, later known as El Chico, in 1940. Opened in Dallas, the restaurant featured air-conditioning, which allowed the restaurant to stay open during the summer when others in the area usually had to close. As they grew more successful, they expanded their restaurant chain and Adelaida’s sons earned the nickname “Mama’s Boys.” In 1955 the family entered into the frozen food business. By the time Adelaida died on April 13, 1969 in Dallas, El Chico Corporation had extended their interests into 20 different business ventures which ranged from restaurants to canning.

The food industry allowed a number of Mexican immigrants to find success in the United States, including Larry Cano of Los Angeles. He got his start as a dishwasher before eventually purchasing El Torito, a restaurant chain that popularized sit-down Mexican dining in America. The popularity of Mexican food increased so much that by the 1990’s, Mexican food became one of the top 3 varieties of ethnic foods in the United States. In 1991 Salsa replaced Ketchup as the top selling condiment in the U.S. Today, Mexican food has become an integral part to American culture. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Arellano, Gustavo. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. New York: Scribner, 2012

Counihan, Carole and Penny Van Esterik. Food and Culture: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012

Vargas, Luis Alberto. Food Culture in Mexico. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc, 2005.

Sneak Peek

We are in the final stretch of installing the new Los Tejanos exhibit for it’s big opening gala tonight. This exhibit explores the Tejano experience. It offering a glimpse of compelling Tejano stories from the early 18th century to the present day. It officially opens to the public tomorrow, but you can get a sneak peek of our progress below.

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Object: Mortar and pestle

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Prior to 1980
Materials: Stone

When dining at a Mexican restaurant a molcajete like the one pictured above is usually somewhere in sight. It is also commonly found in Mexican households, and is often passed down from generation to generation. In English a molcajete is called a mortar and tejolote, or pestle. The word molcajete comes from the Nahuatl word molcaxitl. Mortar and pestles are made of various materials. The most popular ones are made of ceramic, stone, hard wood, porcelain, basalt, brass, or glass. This object is most likely made of vesicular basalt, a type of volcanic rock. Although a mortar and pestle are also used for medicinal purposes the type pictured above is mostly used for food preparation.


Mango and avocado being mixed in a molcajete. Image via realfoodtraveler.com.

The origins of the molcajete can be traced back centuries. Many have been found in archeological sites including Aztec and Maya civilizations. Although similar to the tripod molcajete, the ones that have been found are called metates. However, they are used for the same purpose which is to process and prepare food. Two popular modern dishes that a molcajate is used for are salsa and guacamole. A traditional recipe for salsa made with a molcajete would call for tomatoes, red and green chilies of your choice, garlic cloves and salt. The tomatoes and chilies are heated on the stove and then crushed on the molcajete. There are many different varieties of salsa you can make using a molcajete, a simple Google search can get you on your way to enjoying tasty salsas.

Absorbing the flavors of every food prepared in it, the molcajete gets better with age. However, when first receiving a new molcajete you will have to do a few steps to prepare it for use, so no grit from the molcajete will end up in your salsa. This is called curing or seasoning the molcajete. People cure their molcajet’s in different ways but a common method is to soak the molcajete in water, then scrub it with a wire brush. After scrubbing, use the molcajete to grind rice until there is not grit inside, then the molcajete is ready to enjoy. However, beware of unauthentic molcajetes which will leave grit in your salsa no matter how many times you try to cure it.

Making an authentic a molcajete can take anywhere from 4-5 hours to complete. The first step in the process usually involves finding the basalt volcanic rock that is needed. Once the stone is found large pieces are cut usually with simple tools. The large stone is then cut into smaller pieces and taken back to where the artisan will work on it. Getting the stone to its final shape has to be done with precision. One wrong step or mistake can ruin the molcajete and the hours spent would have been wasted. The rock ends up with the traditional three legs and sometimes has the head of a pig or bull carved as well. The molcajete has been around for hundreds of years and will probably stick around for a hundred more. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

The following video shows how to make a molcajete:

Additional Resources:
Bray, Tamara L. 2003. The archaeology and politics of food and feasting in early states and empires. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10069617.

Late archaic across the borderlands: from foraging to farming. 2013. [S.l.]: Univ Of Texas Press. 

Tausend, Marilyn, and Ricardo Muñoz Zurita. 2012. La cocina mexicana: many cultures, one cuisine. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Object: Ring


Finger Ring
Mexican American
United States
Materials: Metal, rhinestones, synthetic emeralds

When visiting the San Antonio Riverwalk you might see the occasional teenage girl dressed in a ball gown. Usually she will be with other young boys and girls, also dressed in formal attire. Unless you happen to be visiting during prom season, you have likely stumbled into a celebration called a quinceañera, or a girl’s fifteenth birthday party. The birthday girl is also referred to as the quinceañera. During the quinceañera the young girl will usually wear a ball gown, a tiara, and other forms of jewelry. This object is a 10ct gold birthstone ring; it has 2 rhinestone and 5 synthetic emeralds.

A quinceañera is an elaborate celebration marking a girl’s 15th birthday. This birthday party is a milestone in the young girl’s life. The celebration involves a mass and an extravagant party afterwards. Throughout the mass and party different traditions are performed. The tradition of the quinceañera is practiced in the Mexican culture but also seen in Central and South America, as well as places like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The origin of the quinceañera is not known, but has been associated with ancient Aztec, Maya, and Toltec traditions. In the Aztec culture a girl turning 15 meant she was ready for marriage. During this time, different ceremonies were performed to ensure the young woman was prepared for her duties in society. When Maximilian I and Carlota occupied Mexico, it is said that the court atmosphere influenced the tradition of the quinceañera and aspects of a traditional European debutantecoming out” were incorporated into this coming of age event.

Qunice Gown

Just one type of dress that could be worn during a quincaenera. Image from merledress.com

In the Mexican culture a quinceañera is planned months in advance. Things like the reception hall, music, food, and decorations must be picked out early. The young girl and her mother will pick out the dress that she is to wear far in advance of the event, so that it can be specially tailored to the girl’s figure, if needed. The dress is typically a solid color ball gown. The color of the dress depends on the girl’s preference. The ball gown is supposed to be the first adult gown worn. However, in the modern world, most girls will have probably already worn adult style dresses.

The first event to take place on the day of the quinceañera is a Catholic mass in which friends and family accompany the girl to renew her baptismal vows. This is meant to show that the girl is committed to God by her own free will. During the mass she also takes a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin Mary and asks for guidance. A quinceañera mass has evolved over time. In earlier traditions the whole ceremony would only consist of the saying of the rosary, a prayer and meditation session.

There are other items the girl receives for her quinceañera. For example a birthstone ring like the one shown here is often given to the girl by padrinos (godfather) and madrinas (godmother) or sponsors. The birthstone ring symbolizes the girl’s commitment to her community and to God. The family of the girl anticipates the ring eventually being replaced by a wedding band during her next stage in life.

Quinceanera Sarah Doll in Black & Fuchsia

A Quincaenera Doll. Image from quinceanera-boutique.com

After the mass, a party or fiesta is held in honor of the young girl. During the party the girl has a first dance with her father, or a father figure. The girl also dances with her court of damas (dames) and chambelanes (chamberlains). A toast is made in honor of the young girl and her accomplishments up until this point in her life. The birthday girl also makes a small speech to thank everyone for accompanying her on the special day. Some traditional activities performed during the party involve the changing of the shoes. This is where the father gives the girl her first pair of high heels. In this event the father takes the girls flats off and replaces them with heels. Another tradition involves giving the quinceañera her last doll. The doll represents the girl leaving childhood and entering a new stage in her life, which is basically what the whole celebration is about.


Bullet ant “glove.” Image from odditycentral.com.

A quinceañera is one of many coming of age traditions practiced in different cultures. For example in the Jewish tradition a Bar and Bat Mitzvah is celebrated when a boy turns 13 and a girl 12. In this tradition a young man or woman demonstrates their commitment to their faith and recognize Jewish law. In places like the Brazilian Amazon the Satere-Mawe Tribe have a coming of age ritual in which a boy places his hands inside bullet ant lined mittens. This ritual is said to transform young boys into men. The young boy must leave his hands inside the mittens for 10 minutes and repeat the ritual a total of 20 times. The ant bite is said to be as painful as being shot by a gun, which is where the name bullet ant comes from. In Amish communities a period called Rumspringa is practiced. This is a time between the ages of 14-16 in which a young boy or girl are allowed certain freedoms. These freedoms vary by community, but often include being allowed to dress like a non-Amish person, going to the movies, or buying electronic devices. At the end of Rumspringa the young boy or girl must decide to either get baptized and stay in the Amish community, or leave the community altogether.

The celebration of a quinceañera has evolved and continues to evolve as the years go by. Many young girls who live in the United States have even changed the year and celebrate a “sweet sixteen” with the traditions of the quinceañera. For a young girl, her quinceañera is one of the most special events in her life and a day she will never forget. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Alvarez, Julia. 2007. Once upon a quinceañera: coming of age in the USA. New York: Viking.

Lopez, Adriana. 2007. Fifteen candles: 15 tales of taffeta, hairspray, drunk uncles, and other Quinceañera stories : an anthology. New York: Rayo.

Hilton, Michael. 2014. Bar mitzvah: a history.

Stevick, Richard A. 2007. Growing up Amish: the teenage years. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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