Institute of Texan Cultures hosts oral history, Dia de los Muertos exhibits

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Photo courtesy of Otis Aultman Collection, El Paso Public Library, "A mother and her child flee the Mexican Revolution," circa 1910-1920

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(Nov. 3, 2010)--The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will present the exhibit, "Leaving Home, Finding Home: Texas Families Remember the Mexican Revolution." Driven by powerful oral histories, it's an exhibit with no artifacts because the families that escaped the Mexican Revolution often fled with only the clothes on their backs. On display from Nov. 6 to May 1, the exhibit looks at family triumphs, challenges and achievements.

In honor of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) commemorations, there will be an accompanying exhibit, "Soldadera: Mociuaquetzque de la Revolucion Mexicana (Valiant Women of the Mexican Revolution)," featuring an altar created by San Antonio artist Frances Marie Herrera.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910 set in motion dramatic changes for many families, both in Mexico and Texas. "Leaving Home, Finding Home" explores the turmoil and social upheaval that caused thousands of Mexicans to flee their homeland and seek a new life in Texas.

Coordinated by Lupita Barrera, ITC director of education and interpretation, the exhibit includes seven video screens featuring interviews. Texans whose families immigrated during the revolution and through its aftermath share stories passed down via photos, objects and oral histories. Family members explain in their own words the difficulties and achievements as they blended their Mexican heritage into their new Texas home.

"Several generations have passed since the revolution," said Rhett Rushing, ITC oral history program coordinator. "The memories may have faded, but these stories that latch on to our emotions are the ones we can't forget."

Over the summer, Rushing and UTSA faculty and graduate students identified families across the state whose ancestors fled the revolution. Some descendants are prominent government officials, business professionals and philanthropists, and others come from everyday families -- but all are united by the events of the revolution.

"Soldadera: Mociuaquetzque de la Revolucion Mexicana (Valiant Women of the Mexican Revolution)" features an altar with photographs and three-dimensional objects selected by the artist and curated by Arturo Almeida, art specialist and curator of the UTSA Art Collection.

According to Almeida, the Dia de los Muertos commemorations Nov. 1-2 honor the memory of revered ancestors and are rooted in ancient traditions. Among some Mesoamerica cultures, life and death were each viewed as one aspect of a sacred duality that structured the universe. Modern celebrations coincide with the Roman Catholic Church feasts of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Altars built in memory of the dead often are adorned with food, flowers and candles and perfumed with incense.

"The ancestral thread connecting us to our past continues to be spun in the present," said artist Herrera. "By acknowledging who we have been, we pay homage to these venerated ancestors. The altar honors the brave women of the Mexican Revolution and the goddess mythology of our pre-conquest roots. The seeds sown by these valiant women emboldened a generation of political and social activism enabling our women to became leaders and agents of change for peace and justice.

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The Institute of Texan Cultures is on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 801 E. Durango 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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Frances Marie Herrera was born and raised in San Antonio and is a mixed-media artist who specializes in Day of the Dead altars (altares). Venues for her work include Galeria de La Raza, San Francisco, and these venues in San Antonio: Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, Upstart Gallery (Jump-Start Theatre), Centro Cultural Aztlan, Frida Kahlo Gallery (Instituto de Mexico) and Casa Margarita.

Herrera has been a member of several Aztec dance groups: Grupo Xitlalli, resident company, Mission Cultural Center; Grupo Xipe Totec, San Francisco; Grupo Huehuecoyotl, San Antonio. She has collaborated with artist Diana Rodriguez-Gil on performance pieces for Jump-Start Theatre and author Sandra Cisneros at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center.

Herrera has been a licensed attorney and counselor at law for 27 years and recently was appointed county magistrate judge.