Northeast L.A. students take a walk in the past lane

Ranchero-era fashion statement Sophia Aguilar and Natalia Romero  | Brenda Rees

Ranchero-era fashion statement Sophia Aguilar and Natalia Romero | Brenda Rees


HIGHLAND PARK — At Ramona Hall next to Sycamore Grove Park, eighth graders from Arroyo Seco Museum Science Magnet School were practicing their lines and testing their delivering.  After all, show time was only days away. While costumes and props were in place, some adrenal jitters needed to be worked out during this rehearsal. The upcoming show, however, was not a theatrical performance, but rather a shared educational experience.

These students spent months researching and learning about 19th century California Rancho life and will present their discoveries to visitors at the Historic Southwest Museum as part of the Museums of the Arroyo Day (MOTA) on Sunday, May 17.

“They got a chance to really explore what they are interested in and use that to create activities to present,” says eighth grade teacher Laura Griffith.“ Being able to teach something to a wide audience is an amazing skill to have.”

At the rehearsal, eighth graders dispersed into various stations and shared their cultural knowledge to younger students who served as “test audiences,”  asking questions and trying out the hands-on activities. They could make adobe bricks, create a cattle “brand,” design a diseño (hand-drawn map) of a rancho and decorate cascarón (confetti eggs). Elsewhere, eighth graders were discussing historical elements at series of SoCal timeline stations. The most popular station: playing “MOTA-mon,” a Pokémon-like game that uses rancho character trading cards.

The Autry National Center of the American West, which owns the Southwest Museum, provided resource materials and coordinated speakers (like members of the Tongva nation) who gave classroom presentations. Students also talked via phone with experts in the area of their research. “This is very exciting to see them so invested in their projects,” said Griffith of the students.

Playing a role as a wealthy ranchero woman “Juanita” is eighth grader Sophia Aguilar who is among other costumed students wandering and sharing their historical stories. “I spend most of the days supervising the household workers and in my leisure time, I knit, crochet and play beautiful instruments,” she says in character.

Aguilar later explains that fashion was indeed a statement back in the rancho days. “Both upper and lower class had similar clothing and both had embroidery – but the upper class had more elaborate embroidery that set them apart.”

“People back then worked so hard and labored hard, especially carrying 50-60 pound bricks around,” says Anahi Tzul who will be manning the adobe station. “Adobe was important back then because often the Spanish would come and burn down wooden buildings. It would take one year to build one adobe room, so you had a lot of people living in one small room.”

Eighth grader Malik Gay’s role will be to welcome guests on MOTA Day. “We took everything we learned and tied it into the big event,” he said. “I want everyone to enjoy the overall experience and see how much effort we put into this. It’s been a lot of fun. ”

Museums of the Arroyo (MOTA) Day takes place noon – 5pm, with last museum entrance at 4pm, on Sunday May 17. More information at MuseumsOfTheArroyo.com.  Five other institutions will also be open on MOTA Day offering free admission and activities (including free shuttle service); the Gamble House, Heritage Square, Los Angeles Police Museum, Lummis Home and the Pasadena Museum of History.

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

Aaron, Nathan, Gibson  preparing for MOTA Day | Brenda Rees

Aaron, Nathan, Gibson preparing for MOTA Day | Brenda Rees

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One comment

  1. Awesome. Nice to see there are still some kids of today sticking with their roots.

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