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Houston museums looking to cater to growing Latino population

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For Leticia Puebla, this December will be the first time she will set foot inside a museum.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science will be showcasing a special exhibition this winter featuring the story of “Juan Diego” and “La Virgen de Guadalupe” with artifacts and images brought from Mexico City and museums along the southwest region of the U.S.

Puebla, a mother of two, is looking forward to bringing her children to the exhibit to catch a glimpse of the history of their religion.

“I have been Catholic follower all my life and I find it very special for a museum to highlight how my country feels for the Virgin Mary,” Puebla said. “Being a housewife, a mom, and having two jobs usually leaves me out of events like this, but I promised myself I would take my family.”

Within the last 20 years, museums across the country have seen attendance rates drop among their traditional audiences, according to a report by the American Museum Association. The shift in demographics in communities across the United States is driving museums to increase exhibitions that appeals to minority communities.

The Latino population is projected to grow from 17 percent to 30 percent across the nation by 2050, according to the U.S. Census. In Houston, the number is expected to rise from 37 percent to 55 percent, according to a report published by the Hobby Center for Public Policy.

“African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and others, including those who identity as a multiracial, will collectively become the new majority in the United States,” said Elizabeth Merrit, founding director of Centers for the Future of Museums.

In order for museums to succeed, Merit said that museums must develop new strategies to engage with more diverse audiences.

For over a year now, Dirk Van Tuerenhout, anthropology curator for the Houston Museum of Natural Science has been working closely with museums from Mexico and Arizona to create a one-of-a-kind exhibition that will celebrate the culture and faith of one of Latin America’s most beloved saints–the Virgin of Guadalupe.

“I want to present a show in a way takes you back to where Catholicism came from, meaning Spain then to Juan Diego, who grew up in an environment predominantly controlled by another culture, the Aztecs, and how the new world and the old world came together,” Tuerenhout said.

According to AAM’s report, minority groups are more likely to visit exhibitions where their heritage is celebrated.

“My mother would pray to her when any of us would get sick. She would thank her when a blessing came by,” Puebla said. “When I lived in Mexico, all of our neighborhood would come together in a celebration to commemorate her as the mother of Jesus.”

Reverend Miguel Solorzano’s church, St. Charles Barromeo in north Houston, is one the many churches that takes part in the celebrations for El Dia de La Virgen De Guadalupe. Solorzano said he’s glad that the museum decided to exhibit the “Guadalupano” event from a historical point of view and not just as a legend or a tradition.

“I think this will be a good opportunity for Latinos to see the story and see how it has developed,” Solorzano said. “I hope the exhibit will be respectful, balanced, be a good resemblance of what Christians and Catholics believe in and that it encourages others to learn about our story and our identity.”

Although Puebla hasn’t taken a day off in over two years, she is already saving up money to take the day off and treat her family to the special event.

“I’ve never been to the museum. I hope my children and I enjoy it. Maybe now I’ll try to visit it more frequent, we’ll see,” Puebla said.

La Virgen De Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas exhibit is set to open just one day before thousands of Catholics celebrate day of the Virgin of Guadalupe across the world.



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