Latin American Nationalist Narratives in Transition: Museums of Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica Open Access

Brannen, Laura M. (2007)

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The national museums of Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica offer insight into Latin American initiatives for creating unified nations from diverse populations. Mexico has allocated substantial sums for the construction of numerous national museums to promote an Aztec identity for all Mexicans, even though very few people in Mexico can claim ancestry to the Aztecs and the majority of remaining indigenous people in the country descend from enemies of the Aztecs. Perhaps a faux Aztec façade has been easier to provide for a public image than a solution to the poverty and disenfranchisement of most Mexicans and especially of native groups. In contrast, Guatemala's governments vacillate between progressive and conservative, and advances at its national museums are evident only during progressive administrations. In both, however, the viewpoints of the Maya, half the population, are essentially overlooked. Alternatively, university- and private-run museums in Guatemala involve Maya in exhibition planning, perhaps offering a more viable answer to uniting the divided nation. In contradistinction to both Mexico and Guatemala, Costa Rica's image as a peaceful, democratic, tropical paradise is well known to tourists. Unfortunately, the intended image is obscured through outdated displays at the National Museum. Meanwhile, through newer, more interactive exhibits, the Gold Museum and the Jade Museum in Costa Rica provide fresh perspective on Costa Rica's ancient cultures. However, no Costa Rican institution presents a clear image of reality there, a reality of government controlled primarily by agro-industrial elite, of seemingly unstoppable destruction of the environment and ancient tombs, and of the growing presence of international corporations and First World immigrants. The public narratives of the national museums of these three Latin American countries are stories of questionable veracity, which aim to unite groups who otherwise might protest. These narratives are but thin nationalist veneers under which social tensions remain.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The History of Museums and Their Use in Nation-Building

3. The Case of Mexico

3a. The Gallery of History (Museo del Caracol)

3b. The National Museum of Anthropology

4. The Case of Guatemala

4a. The National Museum of Modern Art

4b. The National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

4c. The National Museum of Natural History

4d. The National Palace

4e. Site Museums

4f. The Ixchel Museum

4g. The Popul Vuh Museum

4h. The Children's Museum

4i. The Lake Museum at Lake Atitln

4j. The Textile Museum of Santiago Atitln

5. The Case of Costa Rica

5a. The National Museum of Costa Rica

5b. The Gold Museum

5c. The Jade Museum

5d. The Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture: The National Gallery, The National Auditorium, and The Children's Museum

5e. Boruca Museum

6. Conclusion

7. List of Sources

8. Figures

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