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Going Beyond Stereotypes: Mexican Indigenous Dress and Musical Instruments

Going Beyond Stereotypes: Mexican Indigenous Dress and Musical Instruments

By: Lisa Falk, Head of Community Engagement, Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona

The Smithsonian’s Learning Lab collections are rich resources that can bring the world into your classroom. The collections can be used to unpack stereotypes.

Use the Learning Lab to introduce your students to some real Mexican indigenous costume traditions by asking them, “What would Frida Kahlo wear?” And then delve into why. This questioning helps students reflect on how stereotypes are developed and how to go beyond them to understand cultural traditions.

Textile Traditions

The artist Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacan, Mexico, on July 6, 1907. Throughout her life, Frida was a fierce nationalist and a vocal socialist. As a reflection of her beliefs, Frida often wore the indigenous clothing of Mexico, which can be seen both in photographs of her and in her paintings. Frida completed 143 paintings during her lifetime, 55 of which are self-portraits. Many of these self-portraits are among her most famous works.  

Most of the costumes Frida wears were hand-woven, as well as hand embroidered and stitched. The colors and many of the symbols used in her work are influenced by Mexican indigenous material culture. Using the Learning Lab collection, you can print a Frida Kahlo paper doll.

Have your students view actual huipils and quechquemitls and then dress her in one. Additional photographs of Mexican textiles and textile weavers are also available for sharing. Students can also design their own inspired by these indigenous textile masterpieces, or better yet, inspired by their own culture or identity.

Use this activity to jump start student thinking about what influences what they wear and what messages they present with their adornment. Another resource in our collection is a link to a multi-part lesson plan about just this. This lesson also addresses cultural appropriation, which might be an apt conversation to have while the students are designing clothes for their paper dolls.

Yaqui Instruments

Mexico is rich with indigenous culture. One tribe from the borderlands region, which includes northern Mexico and southern Arizona, are the Yaqui. Using one of Arizona State Museum’s Learning Lab collections, you can introduce your students to some Yaqui and Spanish words and traditional musical instruments.

This collection provides all the cards for playing a version of Lotería (a form of bingo) focused on instruments played by the Yaqui at their ceremonies.

Lotería arrived in Mexico in the last half of the 18th century. It began as a Spanish colonial card game played for amusement by the social elite but eventually by all social classes. Unlike bingo, the Lotería board is filled with colorful illustrations. Instead of an announcer drawing numbers, he selects a card with corresponding images from a stack. In yet another twist, the announcer does not simply say the name of the image, traditionally he recites a poem or phrase to hint at what the card depicts before revealing it by name.

Feeling inspired? Create your own version of Lotería to teach something else. The students will love it! Or let them create it.

By sharing resources from museums, your students can go below the surface and learn about cultural traditions. By being exposed to the real thing, they may start to question stereotypes. 


Image: Huipil.
Ojitlan, Oaxaca, Mexico
Donald and Dorothy Cordry Collection
Arizona State Museum, The University of Arizona