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LA History Museum exhibition tells story of Juana Briones


Briones

Juana Briones’ story feels modern, but she was born in 1802, when California was a colony of Spain.

The survivor of spousal abuse and the death of her four children in epidemics, the resourceful Briones was a successful entrepreneur who purchased a ranch in what became parts of Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto. Yet as a healer and advocate, she always took time to help others in need.

That’s the story the Los Altos History Museum is poised to tell when it opens the exhibition “Inspired by Juana: La Doña de la Frontera” Oct. 18. The display, set to run through March 31, is the first bilingual exhibition the museum has offered, as well as the first incorporating student projects.

“Juana Briones’ story is part of a larger story of many people and relationships, ranging from Bolinas to Monterey,” said Perlita Dicochea, Ph.D., co-curator of the exhibition. “We hope to draw visitors from near and far to the exhibition, which opens the narrative of the complexity and diversity of our history, embracing all aspects.”

Dicochea earned her doctorate in comparative ethnic studies from UC Berkeley.

“From the perspective of a Chicano studies teacher, I hope the Latino youth will walk away from this exhibition feeling a stronger sense of community identity,” she said.

Co-curator Halimah Van Tuyl, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher specializing in history, said she was “grabbed” by Juana Briones’ life and story when she first started teaching at Juana Briones Elementary School in Palo Alto in 1988.

“When today’s events seem troubling or challenging, it helps to look back in history and find people who faced similar daunting obstacles,” Van Tuyl said. “Juana certainly inspired me in that way.”

With a passion for creating hands-on experiences in history, Van Tuyl was motivated to find high school students to help tell Briones’ story. Over the summer, the Los Altos History Museum held a two-week workshop led by Van Tuyl and Dicochea with guest presenters, where students learned about Briones and how to curate an exhibition. “Inspired by Juana” features the students’ poetry, art and a video re-enactment.

The exhibition will immerse visitors in historical artifacts, colorful displays and original artwork focusing on Briones as advocate, matriarch, entrepreneur and traditional healer.

Supplemental programs

Programming in support of the exhibition includes the following events, scheduled at the museum unless otherwise noted.

• 4-7 p.m. Oct. 21: The exhibition’s opening fiesta will feature folklorico dancers and a vaquero-inspired menu.

• 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 27: A Dia de los Muertos event will include paper flower making and decorating a shrine for Briones.

• 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 10: Dicochea will lead a storytelling and corn husk doll making workshop for children.

• 7 p.m. Nov. 19: A geneaology panel discussion at the Los Altos main library, “Family Roots and Personal Identity,” will include descendants of the Briones family. Attendees will learn techniques for tracing family roots.

• 4-6 p.m. Dec. 8: A tamale cooking demonstration and a “Savory to Sweet Tamale Tasting” will feature CasaQ Hispanic lifestyle expert Darlene Tenes.

The Los Altos History Museum is located at 51 S. San Antonio Road. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is free. For more information, visit losaltoshistory.org.

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