Autry Museum of Western Heritage

Los Angeles, California

(213) 667-2000


Culture y Cultura: How the U.S.-Mexican War Shaped the West


On Feb. 2, 1848, a treaty was signed that literally changed the shape of the territory now known as the West and, overnight, made 100,000 Mexican citizens living in the region the nation's first generation of Mexican Americans. Yet, this historic date marking the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalao, which officially ended two years of war between the United States and Mexico, is often overlooked. Not, however, by the Autry Museum of Western Heritage -- from May 2 through Sept. 7, 1998, the museum presents Culture y Cultura: How the U.S.-Mexican War Shaped the West, the only major U.S. exhibition of its kind.

The first in the museum's series of four exhibitions commemorating California's sesquicentennial Culture y Cultura examines the historical, social and cultural forces of the war, the signing of the peace treaty and the legacy that continues to affect Mexican American communities and people of the American West even today. Curated by Theresa R. Gonzalez, assistant curator at the Autry Museum, the exhibit addresses the impact from both sides of what has become the present border.

Culture y Cultura is made possible through the generosity of AT&T, with additional support provided by KMEX-TV Channel 34, La Opini6n and Para Ti. "The war has been of enormous importance, in a wide variety of ways," said Gonzalez , "and its effects resonate today. The purpose of this exhibition is not simply to review the historic events, but to give visitors a sense of how those events have continued to shape our communities and our lives."


Community scholars and organizations

Community scholars and organizations have been working with museum staff to develop and implement the bilingual exhibition, accompanying public programs and a major publication. Christina Ochoa of Self-Help Graphics, an East Los Angeles-based community arts organization, is co-curating the exhibit's contemporary art section. Contributors to the book, Culture y Cultura: Consequences of the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848, are noted Mexican journalist and writer Elena Poniatowska, Richard Griswold del Castillo, Ph.D., a historian at the University of San Diego, and Iris H. Wilson Engstrand, Ph.D., a professor at San Diego State University. "It has been extremely valuable to have the additional scholarly, artistic and, most important, community-based participation" Gonzalez said.

"While the exhibit by necessity reviews history -- the events leading up to, during and immediately following the U.S.-Mexico War--it is not essentially about war. Our objective is to explore the forces that created and shaped a unique cultural identity.

"One special artifact that will he on view is the signature page of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, bearing the endorsements of President James K. Polk and Secretary of State James Buchanan. On loan from the National Archives, the fragile page will be traveling to Southern California for the first time ever. In addition, a range of artwork, other artifacts and archival materials will be included in Culture y Cultura, including contemporary and historical paintings, photographs, maps, clothing, home furnishings and military dress. The Autry Museum has commissioned Chicano artist Andy Ledesma to create a 6' x 8' gallery mural incorporating and interpreting exhibit themes.


Innovative, interactive programs

The innovative, interactive gallery elements for which the Autry Museum is so well-known play an important role within the exhibition. The interior of an early 1800s Santa Fe-style adobe home will be recreated for visitors to explore. Artifacts such as a trastero (cupboard) and Rio Grande-style rugs will be displayed near historical replicas that can be touched and examined. Children and adults can learn "hands-on" how families prepared meals by using the cooking utensils found next to the fireplace. Within a trunk, children can find toys and games with which to play.

Museum teachers will read books in Spanish and English to audiences in the gallery each week. In the exhibition's contemporary art section, a discussion area allows for artists, writers and poets to engage in dialogue with museum audiences about their work on Mexican American identity and culture. A wide variety of music and dance performances-including a special concert by Lalo Guerrero, the "Father of Chicano Music"-- workshops, lectures, film series and other family activities are being organized in association with Culture y Cultura.. For a detailed schedule of activities, please contact Xavier Sibaja at (213) 667-2000, ext. 327.


Background on the treaty

Beginning in 1846, the United States and the Mexican Republic waged war for nearly two years. When the treaty was signed in 1848, Mexico lost the northern frontier, which amounted to half of its territory. Mexican residents in the region faced the challenges of preserving their communities within a dramatically different culture.

Communities in Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona/Sonora developed in much the same ways as Spanish towns, but the distance from Spain and its government inevitably affected them, too. The communities continued to grow after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821.

Between 1820 and the mid-1840s, American citizens had begun entering Mexico in significant numbers, creating a natural exchange of commerce and culture. Many traded with Mexicans and married and assimilated into Mexican culture.

Regional tensions soon led to national conflict, which resulted in military hostilities. Declaring war in 1846, the United States began a three-pronged approach against Mexico -- south from Texas into northern Mexico, west from Kansas through New Mexico and into California and from Veracruz into Mexico City. After Americans occupied Mexico City, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war.

"Mexican American communities faced immense challenges with the establishment of a new government, new laws, a different language and economic changes," Gonzalez noted. "Over the past 150 years, social, economic and political power shifts have continued to evolve, and the culture of Mexican American communities has become an intrinsic part of the nation's character. These are some of the central issues we hope to address in Culture y Cultura."

From top to bottom: Daniel DeSiga. Campesino, 1976. Oil on canvas; 50 1/2 x 58 1/2 inches. Part of the special exhibition Culture y Cultura: How the U.S.-Mexican War Shaped the West. Painting from the collection of Alfredo Aragon. Photograph courtesy of UCLA at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Los Angeles; Don Teodoro de Croix, was the first governor of the Internal Provinces of New Spain. Reporting directly to the King of Spain, de Croix controlled the northern region including California, New Mexico and Texas. Oil on canvas painted ca. 1790 by M. L. Ynchaustegui. Autry Museum of Western Heritage. Photography by Susan Einstein; El Paso. William Hemsley Emory (1818-1887). Notes of a military reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth, in Missouri to San Diego, in California, including part of the Arkansas, Del Norte and Gila rivers. Detail from the book. Washington, Wendell and Van Benthuysen, publishers, 1848. Autry Museum of Western Heritage; Map of Mexico: including Yucatan & Upper California, exhibiting the chief cities and towns, and principal traveling routes. Published by S. Augustus Mitchell, 1847. Autry Museum of Western Heritage. Photography by Susan Einstein.


rev. 11/26/10

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