The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth is curating and developing a new multi-gallery exhibition titled Soldaderas to Amazonas: Escaramuzas Charras, funded in part by a grant from Humanities Texas. The exhibition will highlight the unique cultural origins and traditions of Mexican cowgirl charreada, or rodeo, competitors. This exhibition will be on display and open to the public from through December 2024.

In March 2024, members of our grants team spoke with Diana Vela, associate executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, about the organization's work in the humanities and their upcoming exhibition.

Interview with Diana Vela, associate executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

How do you see the humanities as being essential?
I think humanities education is essential for a lot of reasons, certainly cultural understanding and the ability to make connections across fields. This can lead to problem solving and innovation and increases your understanding of history so you can make informed decisions about the future. I also think a humanities education helps with ethical and moral development, especially as it relates to cultural understanding.

What is the most important thing people should know about your work?
We are the only museum in the nation dedicated to these women, who history sometimes forgets. Particularly in the West, there is a very male-mythic [focus], and oftentimes the mothers, daughters, and sisters are left out. They might be a fun fact on the side of a book, but our mission is critical to elevating incredible women who made a difference through generations, not only within the country but also within their communities and their own families. 

Who/what makes your work possible?
Grants from Humanities Texas, along with generous involvement from not only the community in Fort Worth but our board of directors and the museum members.

What are you finding enjoyable about the work you are doing?
One very personal aspect of the [Soldaderas to Amazonas] exhibition that I'm enjoying is that it has allowed me to connect with my roots. My father was Hispanic and, at the time that he was growing up, to be successful, you really needed to pass as white. He was born in 1934. . . . Even though his entire family and extended family spoke Spanish, he tried hard to distance himself from that. Later in life, he started to embrace it. [He became] a bilingual interpreter for Habitat for Humanity, would read books for the blind in Spanish, and do translations. As a culture, we have become more understanding and begun to celebrate other cultures, and, yes, there's work to do there, but he began to feel like, "This is who I am." It has been nice reclaiming this part of my history and heritage.

I can also do what I love, which is elevate women and tell these stories of these amazing women that typically don't get told. It dovetails nicely with my own job here and my responsibilities and my passion and the very personal—"Hey, this is where I come from, too."

What are some of your upcoming programs?
We are so excited to have received a grant from Humanities Texas that allows us to do this important work. We're working on a multi-gallery exhibition titled Soldaderas to Amazonas: Escaramuzas Charras. We specifically traced the lineage of the soldaderas who gave their lives for Mexico and the Mexican Revolution and how those traditions and the spirit is kept alive by the modern day escaramuzas charras. These are a team of eight women who ride side-saddle executing intricate, synchronized moves at a gallop, wearing beautiful dresses. It's a part of any charrería (Mexican rodeo) and is the only female sanctioned sport, at present, in the charrería.

In one gallery we have all the textiles—themed dresses, china poblana, adelitas—which the escaramuzas modified to make their competitive outfits. We have artisans from Mexico who created items just for this exhibition, which are truly stunning and hand-made.

Then, we also have portraits. We commissioned Constance Jaeggi, and she travelled to several different states in the U.S. and took photographs of teams and individuals as they were performing and as they were just living out their lives.

Constance, in turn, commissioned two poets who created original works to go with her portraits. One of those poets is the 2023 Texas State Poet Laureate ire'ne lara silva. The other poet, Angelina Sáenz, is a writing project fellow at UCLA, and she also did a couple of individual poems to go along with the portraits.

We have so many programs and such a small staff. Along with the exhibition, we have planned an entire schematic of additional programming. We will have a podcast series that we will be releasing weekly. We will talk with people within the escaramuza charra community. We will have a lecture series with some of those same people. There will be community events that we will do here in Fort Worth celebrating the event and tying to the Hispanic community. We also have a digital platform, so we have an additional layer of information about the exhibition there.

[Soldaderas to Amazonas] will be up through December 2024. It was important to the museum not to have this exhibition just during Hispanic Heritage Month to check a box but to have this year-long. It's not just the one month and it's over. It's March right now and Women's History Month, and we're very popular right now. But we celebrate women seven days a week, every month, every year, not just in March.

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The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
Diana Vela, associate executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
Artifacts in the Soldaderas to Amazonas: Escaramuzas Charras exhibition.
Artifacts in the Soldaderas to Amazonas: Escaramuzas Charras exhibition.