Latinos make up approximately 17% of the total US population. While their history within this country’s borders predates the nation’s founding, many Latinos experience the United States as newcomers. A new exhibition explores immigration and urbanization through an ancient lens and connects modern-day Latinos with what is for some their ancestral culture. In the first half of the first millennium, Teotihuacan, located in the Valley of Mexico, was the cultural, political, economic, and religious center of ancient Mesoamerica. The art and architecture its citizens left behind have been objects of fascination at least since the time of the Aztecs and continue to be admired and studied by scholars and visitors from around the world.
Teotihuacan’s success for several centuries as the largest city in the Western Hemisphere teaches us how multicultural migrant populations are integrated into urban life, not only in the ancient world but also for Americans today. It also demonstrates the strategies for uniting a diverse citizenry through shared visual vocabulary, religion, and ideology. Neighborhoods in major US cities housing Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and others are modern examples of places where migrants strive to maintain both distinct and common rituals, cultures, and symbolism while incorporating themselves into the national fabric under a single flag.
The exhibition Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire is on view at the de Young museum September 30, 2017–February 11, 2018.