Museo Mayachen needs to be improved

By Joe Olvera

© 2011

Watch me put my big foot in my big mouth in this, my column, about El Museo Mayachen, a long-needed venue where

Joe Olvera is a long-time journalist whose latest book is - Chicano Sin Fin: Memoirs of a Chicano Journalist

Chicanos who live in the Heart of El Paso, could see exhibits that would bring them closer to their roots, including samples depicting the struggles not only of La Mujer Obrera, but of Chicano workers everywhere, including Farah Manufacturing Company.

While I agree that the effort is there, what worries me is that the traffic is not what we envisioned when we first started working on getting a building where we could do this. Mexican products from throughout the Aztec Republic, and even beyond, are sold in a market-like atmosphere, but not enough people are traipsing through the stalls where these products are sold.

In fact, many of the earlier stalls are now shut down, perhaps because not enough people are getting the chance to see them and to purchase the products. Why, I even ate grasshopper tacos at the restaurant there, tacos that are a specialty in Oaxaca, Mexico. I’ll tell you true, they weren’t great shakes as far as that goes, but perhaps someone with a more venturesome spirit would enjoy them.

El Museo is the brainchild of Guillermo Glenn, Carlos Marentes, Pedro Villagrana, Julieta Olvera, yours truly and others whose names escape me for the moment. The intent was to create a museum that would present Chicano history in a viable form so that young people could begin to understand some of their own history. While this is happening, with what seem to be permanent exhibits of some of the trials and tribulations faced by Chicanos and Chicanas in El Paso, I don’t think the scope is large enough to continue attracting visitors. I mean, you’ve seen the exhibits once, but, what’s in store for your next visit? Same old, same old just won’t do it.

Located at the corner of Myrtle and Willow, the museum is in danger of having to shut down because another entity wants to use the very attractive building for its own worthwhile purposes. Anyway, this is what Guillermo Glenn told me recently.

I would hate to see such a venue as this close down for whatever reason. But, improvements must be made. For example, the El Paso Museum of Art has a number of shows and exhibits, throughout the year, changing the vision from time to time. One can view a Monet or a Rodin, but never on a permanent basis. The Museo Mayachen, however, seems to be stuck in space, stuck in a time that’s long past, stuck in events that happened many moons ago.

Sure, the Farah strike was important, and photographs show Chicanos and Chicanas fighting for their equal rights. And sure, Los Tres were important in their day in protesting what they considered unfair city policies and politics aimed against Chicanos and Chicanas.

Nosotros Magazine was important as an early-day account of what was happening in our communities. But, is that all that’s happened in our long and glorious history? I don’t think so. We’ve had a Chicano astronaut from El Paso take flight into space — do we ever see evidence of this? We’ve got one of the greatest actors in America in Edward James Olmos, but do we ever see any evidence of that? Do we ever see posters of Olmos as Gregorio Cortez, or in his beloved Zoot Suit? Couldn’t we put the sewing machines that were used at Farah in mothballs for the moment and come up with new, interesting ideas that will attract more people? We can always recycle some of the old materials, but, they don’t have to be permanent.

One of the stalls contains Chicano Literature, which sells such great books as David Romo’s “Ringside Seat to a Revolution,” Rodolfo Acuna’s “Occupied America,” and others of equal importance. But, where is “Canto y Grito Mi Liberacion” by Ricardo Sanchez, or where is Abelardo’s “Letters to Louise,” or Estela Portillo Trambley’s “Rain of Scorpions,” or where is Dr. Tomas Rivera’s “Y no se lo trago la tierra?” or Carlos Morton’s powerful dramas, or Juan Contrera’s many books, some of them self-produced. Talk about historical? These books are historical, because they mark a period when Chicanos were barely coming into their own as writers. They struggled, they suffered, but they achieved against very heavy odds. This is what visitors need to see, not the same tired exhibits that have been pinned to walls forever.

Perhaps it’s nobody’s fault, certainly not Guillermo Glenn’s – he’s trying, but with the time he splits between the Museo and Café Mayapan, he just doesn’t have enough time to work on improvements. So, how about training some of the young people — those who are a constant source and willing volunteers, to become docents.

They could take visitors, once they know the history of the exhibits themselves, on tours to explain what they’re seeing. This is what the Museo needs. Sure, we’re proud of some of the battles we fought to get where we are. But, that’s passé, old hat. Instead, let’s concentrate on other elements that have helped us to succeed. We are now doctors, lawyers, astronauts, actors, elected officials, writers, you name it — we have achieved. So, yes, let’s work on improving the Museo, before it’s closed down. It behooves us.

Sin Fin

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