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Arts & Culture

Institute Of Texan Cultures Tells The Tale Of The Tejanos

The Institute of Texan Cultures opened up a major new exhibit last week. I was able to get a little preview, and speak to its two curators. First, LupitaBarrera.

“The new exhibit is called Los Tejanos. And it is the history, the story of our people, starting five hundred years ago. It covers the struggles that we’ve been through in order to get to where we are.”

And also Sarah Gould.

"For some people, maybe people who have recently arrived to Texas, Tejano might just mean music, or it might mean a kind of food. But in fact Tejanos have to their culture every aspect as any other culture. So everything from school teachers to construction workers to mayors and politicians and attorneys and judges and all sorts of things. Tejanos are present in Texas in pretty much every aspect of Texas life."

Ms. Barrera cites what may seem odd to some—the huge diversity of self concept amongst Tejanos.

"Within the cultures of Tejanos—and that is the people of Spanish, Mexican and indigenous roots. The encounters of those people created a Mestizo people, which is who we are. Within that culture we identify ourselves differently.  Some of us may call ourselves Tejanos. Some of us may call ourselves Mexicanos or Chicanos or Raza or Americanos. So we all identify ourselves differently."

The Tejanos exhibit had just more than two thousand square feet to explain their complex and highly nuanced history.  In it there is an emphasis on hands-on interactive displays rather than static ones. And instead of standard timeline storytelling, Ms. Barrera says they chose a themed approach.

"And so the themes we chose were like making a living—what do Tejanos do, and what kind of work has supported the Texan identity? And I want to stress that—it’s about Texan identity. Another one is struggles for inclusion—what are the kinds of fights and battles that our culture went through in order to get where they are today? Another one: Service to our country—the military. Thousands of Tejanos have served in the military. What wars? All of them. Ranching and the harvesting of water is another big theme that we follow here. These are things that have to do not with just Tejanos, but Texans in general."

I noted how the worlds came together in the kitchen.

"Yes, that is a favorite spot for all of us because it is about food, but it also really shows how different cultures come together, and how new things are created through those encounters."

Ms. Gould said having limited space for the exhibit meant enlisting technology to make the most of it. In this case, an over-large ipad-type contraption.

"Yeah, it’s called an iWall and it’s a 40-inch touch screen monitor mounted on rails. And as you move the monitor left and right you cover different periods of time. Again, before the Spanish arrived up to today. As you slide the monitor across the different timeline wall, different information pops up about different time periods. And so you can learn about the Shipwreck of La Belle. You can learn about Marlon Esparza becoming the first woman to win an Olympic bronze medal for the US in women’s boxing in 2012. Women’s boxing was first introduced to the Olympics. You can learn about Juan Seguin, Maria Berriozobal, all these things again, from before the Spanish arrived ‘til today."

Ms. Gould says water was extremely important. The indigenous peoples were good with water, but so were the Spanish settlers.

"The Spanish had learned how to find and manage water from the Moors. Acequia—something we have here in San Antonio—that word came from the Moors. So water traditions was something the Spanish brought with them and the Tejanos adapted that to their environment."

Ms Barrera says early on in the research she and Ms. Gould found a saying that was their guidepost in creating the exhibit.

Un pueblo sin historia no tiene dispino. A community without a story has no destiny.”

Some of the Tejano community’s stories are being told now at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

For more on the exhibit, go here