In 1978, when I first visited the science section of the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, D.C., and watched children testing the laws of Newton with pulleys and levers, I thought, "Why not let children 'play' with culture, the way they play with science? Could they learn how other people live in a fun way and, through this, gain an understanding of what culture is? -- how cultures are similar and different and that everyone has a culture?"
Soon thereafter, I met the director of the museum and she asked me what I would do with 7,000 square feet of exhibition space? Having just completed my doctoral research in a Mexican Indian village and knowing Mexico City very well, the answer came easily. Why not build a Mexican village in the museum, re-create a Mexico City subway station, a colonial kitchen, a market place and traditional houses from different regions? With a resounding "Yes!" I went to Mexico to curate my first exhibition. I knew intuitively that the process and results would be all the more meaningful when the very people whose cultures and homes we would present became involved in creating the exhibition. I sat for hours with my Oaxacan Zapotec compadres (my godson's parents) and Nahua Indians from Chachahuantla, Puebla, where I had done my doctoral research, made detailed drawings of their houses and endless lists of everything the children's museum's village would need. My acquisitions literally transported sections of the market, hardware store and lumber yard to make sure we had the right doors, roof, furniture, tiles, courtyard fence....half the village went into the truck we drove up to Washington!
Opening in 1979, visited by Mrs. Sadat and Mrs. Begin just after the signing of the first Camp David Accord, MEXICO! was closed in August, 2004. It was lovingly visited by hundreds of thousands of children for over twenty-five years.
Oaxaca Village, a smaller and only rural version of MEXICO! was curated expressly for the Children's Museum of Houston. It traveled to museums all over the US and was purchased as a permanent installation by the Worldways Children's Museum in St. Louis, MO.