Los Tejanos Exhibit Comes to ITC

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This plaza scene is being recreated as a mural in the new Los Tejanos exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures.
© Carmen Lomas Garza

Los Tejanos

A classic Texas story gets updated for a new era

SAN ANTONIO – Institute of Texan Cultures exhibit developers had to figure out how to fit 500 years of history into 2,000 square feet - a space the size of a fast food lunchroom. Spanish, Mexican and indigenous peoples created a "mestizo," or mixed race, which would lead to the emergence of a new culture: the Tejanos. This culture would create a new way of life and shape the state of Texas as it is known today.
With research, artifact acquisition and fabrication near completion, the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures opens "Los Tejanos," on May 15.
Curators Lupita Barrera and Sarah Gould knew they had to do more than construct a timeline identifying key events and individuals. The exhibit had to cover 500 years of exploration, conquest, settlement, war and treaties, and the thousands of Tejanos that lived through these events. They also realized the Tejano story was bigger than "who" and "when." The exhibit focuses on how Tejanos lived, why certain events transpired, and how they shaped Texas.
"This is a thematic approach to storytelling," said Gould, also the museum’s lead curatorial researcher. "We studied peer institutions, consulted experts, talked with members of the public, and we determined the best way to present this story was thematically."
The exhibit examines the Tejano culture in five specific circumstances, matched to specific environments. A modern kitchen serves as the background for cultural encounters, where guests can learn how food ways from different cultures have come together to create Tejano cuisine. An 18th century ranch house is the setting for ranching and water, detailing how the Tejanos built the mold for an early Texan industry: cattle ranching.
In a 1940s classroom, guests can learn about the Tejano struggle for inclusion, as they scour though desks to find more about civil rights battles, revolutionaries, and activists who fought for equality. They will also find, in an attached enlistment office, how Tejanos often took a path through the military to secure education, advancement and equal rights.
A late 20th century doctor’s office shows how Tejanos made a living. This setting breaks stereotypes that Tejanos are unskilled laborers working in the fields or performing manual labor. The final section, a 1930s plaza, talks about cultural contributions in music, print and other media.
"We’re looking at periods of time and the social conditions of each era," said Barrera, also the director of education and interpretation at the museum. "It’s about how the culture defines itself and interacts with others through time. Culture, customs and traditions change. ‘Los Tejanos’ is about how this culture changed, how it interacted with others, how it influenced others, and how this culture emerged in today’s form."
The Institute of Texan Cultures is located on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. Regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults (ages 12-64); $7 for seniors (ages 65+); $6 for children (ages 3-11); free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification. For more information, call 210-458-2300 or visit TexanCultures.com.




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