A fun-loving and vivacious woman, Florence Terry Griswold found life along the Mexican border a grand adventure. She spoke Spanish before she could speak English, she made friends on both sides of the border and learned to appreciate the Mexican culture and character. She also observed the hardship and hard realities the Mexican Revolution inflicted upon the women and children of Mexico. It was these life experiences and her philosphy of "Pan Americanism" that drove Mrs. Griswold to create the Pan American Round Table Movement in San Antonio in 1916. She modeled her movement after the Medieval Round Table, where everyone was an equal. Hence, the motto used by the Movement was, and still is today, "One for All and All for One". The Pan American Round Table was proclaimed by Mrs. Griswold to be non-political and non-sectarian and organized to help promote friendliness and understanding among the WOMEN of the Western Hemisphere. Before long, the Movement began to grow, and women in other Texas cities joined the bandwagon and organized their own Round Tables. Laredo and El Paso joined the Movement in 1921, and Austin followed suit in 1922. Also in 1922, a table was organized in Mexico City.
An honorary member of the Mexico City Round Table, Bessie Kirkland Johnson moved to Brownsville, Texas in the early 1930s. Much like Mrs. Griswold, Mrs. Johnson brought with her a love for Mexico, its people, its customs, its dress and many life experiences that helped promote the philosophy of Pan Americanism. She founded the 5th Table in Brownsville in 1932 - Pan American Round Table I (PART I).
When she moved to Brownsville, Mrs. Johnson brought with her a collection of authentic Mexican costumes and handicrafts. She had become one of Mexico's leading authorities on that country's folklore and native dress. Hence, Mrs. Johnson challenged each member of PART I to acquire a costume from her assigned country for she saw the acquisition of costumes from different parts of the Americas as a method of learning more about these countries and their women. The ladies took up Mrs. Johnson's challenge, and thus began one of the finest costume collections in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1997, PART I was approached by the Dean Porter Park Renovation Committee and was offered the opportunity to occupy part of the Mitte Cultural Education Center within Dean Porter Park. In order to protect the Table's collection, the Pan American Round Table I Costume Corporation, a recognized tax-exempt corporation, was formed. The Table transferred the entire collection to the Corporation for safekeeping and for the management of the museum. The Mitte Cultural Education Center opened its doors on May 6, 2005.
The collection of the Costumes of the Americas Museum has grown over the years - the result of acquisitions and gifts from those belonging to PART I and local Brownsville PART II members, from private collections, from friends of the Table, and from bequests such as that of Mrs. Johnson. It is now one of the largest collections of authentic North, Central, and South American costumes in the world. They hail from all reaches of the Western Hemisphere - from Alaska and Canada in the North to the southernmost regions of South America and even includes costumes from some of the Caribbean countries. Complete with petticoats, shoes, jewelry, headpieces and accessories, many of the costumes cannot be replaced at any price!
The Costumes of the Americas Museum is operated by Board Members and Friends of the Museum do all the work. They have taken care of this collection for more than 70 years and will continue to help preserve the art, culture, history, traditions, legends, folklore, and crafts of the people who make up the Americas for many years to come.
The Mission of the Costumes of the Americas Museum is to own, acquire, preserve, catalogue and administer the exhibiting of authentic indigenous dress and costumes, jewelry and accessories of the Americas, with emphasis on Mexico, for the enjoyment and education of the public and to foster the study, appreciation and preservation of the history and cultural heritage embodied by these costumes..
The Costumes of the Americas Museum retains a traveling collection in order to stage costume revues (for a fee) for local academic functions as well as for private viewings to organizations or other interested parties. Contact the Museum for details.
Ours is a history made up of bright colors and hand woven textiles, lace, velvets, cottons and leathers..
The original fiesta dress from the state of Chiapas had just one ruffle at the neck and another at the skirt's hemline. A favored story of how the beautiful, totally ruffled and embroidered version evolved claims it was made for a singer whose song "Las Chiapanecas" popularized the state throughout the Americas. It was soon adopted by the local ladies. Women of all ages promenade in these stunning costumes in a New Year's Parade at La Fiesta Grande de San Sebastian.