CAREM to open new museum in Tecate

Today's San Diego Union Tribune ran a great story on the efforts of CAREM, Hernán & Zella Ibáñez, Mike Wilken, and others to open a new historical museum about the indigenous Kumeyaay population of northern Baja California. CAREM has been instrumental in promoting both the history of the native population and of saving historical missions and buildings in Baja California. Personally I love the history of Baja and as friends of Zella and Hernán, I hope you help support CAREM's good work. For more information, take a look at their website:

Here's the article:

Hubbell design rounds out Indian museum

Round shapes were prominent in local indigenous cultures.

Acorns were a food staple. Bowls were woven to carry food and other artifacts. Some of the people lived in circular huts.

So when noted San Diego artist and designer James Hubbell was chosen to envision a new museum to preserve the Indian culture on Mexico’s side of the border, he designed a round building with doors and windows in the shape of pointed arches.

“You want it to be tied to the past but that people also think the future is exciting,” said Hubbell, explaining his thought process for the curvy structure. “I wanted to create something they would be proud of.”

The building on the grounds of the Tecate cultural center is set to be the first museum dedicated to Indian culture in northern Baja California. The 613-square-foot facility will be surrounded by a garden with plants and trees that the Indians use in such diverse ways as making medicine and making weapons.

Laura Cota can’t wait to bring some of the dozens of children she helps care for in an orphanage. She already helped establish classes to teach the Kumeyaay culture, spelled Kumiai in Mexico, to children in a meeting room at the city’s cultural center next door.

On a sunny day in May, she brought six children to learn traditional Indian songs. The class was canceled, but the children were still able to soak up some culture by playing with traditional artifacts, including a bow and arrow, and trying a game played with a stick and a ball, similar to hockey.

“We have been searching for an opportunity to display our culture so people can get to know us,” said Cota, one of about 12 Indians actively involved with the project. “This seems to be an ideal place for that.”

Unlike some of their relatives in the United States, the estimated 1,200 Indians who live in Tecate and the five villages that surround it do not have the benefit of casino revenues.

They relied on about $42,000 in contributions to pay for the architectural drawings and to begin acquiring exhibits, said Michael Wilken, an anthropologist who has studied indigenous cultures in Baja California for decades.

A grant of about $112,000 from Baja California’s state tourism office paid for the building’s construction.

The museum is scheduled to open this summer, as soon as enough funds are raised to pay for exhibits and operating expenses, said Wilken, who will be the curator.

The project is unique in that most museums in Mexico are operated by the government.

“In this space, we shall prioritize the Kumiai language,” Wilken said during a recent tour of the empty building. “As much as possible, we want them to do the explaining.”

The Kumeyaay band, whose local roots extend 1,300 years, stretched from San Diego County into northern Baja California until the border was created in 1848. Slowly, as enforcement increased, cousins, aunts and uncles were separated and distinct cultures developed on each side, explaining the different spelling in Mexico.

Casinos have been beneficial both economically and culturally for Indians in San Diego County: There are three museums on the Barona, Rincon and Pala reservations.

In Mexico, many Indians have left their mountain villages to work in urban areas. This process has eroded their rich culture, said Wilken, who also teaches classes at San Diego State University. The anthropologist hopes the museum will help reverse the trend.

A nonprofit group called CAREM, which is dedicated to preserving the area’s culture, will operate the museum. The plan is to create two more museums nearby focused on the ranches in the area and the modern history of Tecate.

“We have a great interest in preserving the history and the culture of the region,” said Hernan Ibañez Bracamontes, a rancher and president of CAREM. “We have already lost too much of our culture.”

Kumeyaay Indians in San Diego County support the museum, including a $5,000 donation from the Barona tribe.

“It’s a good project to help preserve the Kumeyaay culture on both sides of the border,” said Louie Guassac, executive director of the Kumeyaay Border Task Force.

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