Brownsville is often on lists of the poorest towns in this nation, and many people who knew I was going there asked, “Why are you going to the Rio Grande Valley?” Poor Brownsville is trying to improve its image. The SpaceX South Texas Launch Site and The Mitte Cultural District are part of its image-changing plans. The former was not planned. SpaceX announced its choice of a near-Brownsville location in 2014. The Mitte Cultural District was planned. In fact, this complex has been developing for almost 10 years and contains Brownsville’s biggest tourist attraction, the Gladys Porter Zoo. Ruth and I found a worthwhile, very unheralded attraction here, the Costumes of the Americas Museum that isn’t getting a lot of attention either locally or nationally.
As near as I can tell, Costumes of the Americas (CAM) opened when the Mitte Cultural Education Center did in 2005. Many locals don’t know anything about it, so we had the fun of introducing them to an attraction they were suddenly interested in. The growing CAM accumulation began with Bessie Kirkland Johnson’s collected Mexican costumes and handicrafts, and it already contains more than 500 original native costumes from the nations and cultures of the Americas. Ruth & I saw a 3-part show that included a Guatemalan market scene and many colorful Mexican designs that reminded us of Mexico City’s fantastic Museo Nacional de Antropologia.
Karen Ray, my contact person, indirectly told me that what was on view would be changing in March or April, and “Costumes, Passion, & Community” is now on display to celebrates the bicultural uniqueness of this border city. This show sounds ideal for Brownsville and will, I assume, be up until next March or April. The Costumes of the Americas Museum is with the Children’s Museum of Brownsville, and they share a unique gift shop.
Roy Mitte grew up in Brownsville. As a young man he joined the army, became a teacher and basketball coach, and married Joann Cole. After teaching for a while Roy entered the insurance industry and built one of the largest agencies in the United States, got into real estate, and made a fortune. The Mittes established a charitable foundation in 1994, and the cultural district benefitting bedraggled Brownsville resulted in the 21st century.
CAM deserves a look. Not only does this country have an increasingly important Hispanic population, this relatively new museum deals with an interesting subject that is part of its mission statement: CAM plans to exhibit “authentic indigenous dress and costumes, jewelry and accessories of the Americas, with emphasis on Mexico” our increasingly important neighbor.