Mexican music and dance were enjoyed by many Americans, who found them exotic. Stage performances and feature films provided inspiration; beautifully-illustrated sheet music enabled people to play Mexican tunes in their own homes.
Children’s toys and collectibles sometimes featured traditional Mexican clothing styles. This 1944 set of paper dolls was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” foreign policy, which improved relations with Mexico and ensured its support for the Allies in World War Two. The cards showing Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) – both young and old – were included in late 19th century cigarette packages just as baseball cards are included with bubble gum today.
Americans were able to experience Mexico first-hand by attending one of many world’s fairs held in the United States. At the fairs, ordinary Mexicans demonstrated their culture and customs while living in recreated “authentic” village exhibits. Other exhibits portrayed Mexico’s long and colorful history, with an emphasis on its Aztec and Mayan roots. An entire Mayan temple was recreated for Mexico’s pavilion at the 1934 Chicago “Century of Progress” exhibition.
1. Silver gelatin print by Katherine Joseph, 1941. Katherine Joseph Collection, 1930s-1940s.
2. "Bull Fight Scenes, Mexico, 1903. Silver gelatin prints on album page. Van Tassell Photograph Albums, 1900-1956.
3. "The World's Greatest Silver Mining City, Guanajuato, Mexico." Stereograph by Keystone View Co., ca. 1900-1910. Division of Cultural History Lantern Slides and Stereographs, ca. 1887-1930.
4. Good Neighbor Paper Dolls doll house, 1944. Helen Popenoe Paper Dolls, 1942-1947.
5. Orrin Bros. & Nichol's Aztec Fair pamphlet. Warshaw Collection of Business Americana.
Editor's note: this blog post is the virtual version of an exhibit presented by the Archives Center in the National Museum of American History, Sept. 1-Nov. 30, 2010.
By Craig A. Orr, Acquisitions Archivist, Archives Center, National Museum of American History