July 12, 2018

Photo Essay: The Myths, Legends, Heroes, and Terrors of Tijuana... In Wax

Once I get something in my head, it can be nearly impossible to get rid of it.

And I had it in my head that I was desperate to visit the wax museum in Tijuana.

It's not just that wax museums are a dying breed (at least, those that aren't Madame Tussaud's)...

...but also that Tijuana is changing so rapidly that maybe such an outmoded cultural institution might give way to a local craft brewery or artisanal screenprinting shop.

By nature, most independent wax museums are somewhat alarming—and this one in Tijuana was no exception, having posted a warning for anyone with medical issues to proceed with caution (especially as the first diorama in wax is a depiction of an Aztec human sacrifice).

But I suppose much of history itself is alarming.

And to be true to Mexico's history, you've got to include Aztec warriors (like Cuauhtémoc), explorers (Cristóbal Colón a.k.a. Christopher Columbus) and their colonial financiers, and conquistadors like Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo.

There are the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence (from Spain), like El Pípila (a.k.a. Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro)...

...and Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla...

...and other revolutionaries like Venustiano Carranza, and even Pancho Villa.

Of course, you'd expect to see more recent Mexican presidents like Vicente Fox...

...though former U.S. President JFK was not nearly as recognizable as the wax rendition of Clinton or Obama (even though Barack, one of the newest additions to the collection, looked more like a political cartoon version of him).

Funny enough, many of the world leaders at the Museum of Wax in Tijuana look like they're posing for a mugshot—not only Mikhail Gorbachev but also Fidel Castro. The Ayatollah Khomeini looked surprisingly at home. (And it turns out I've got some brushing up to do on Iran's historical presence in Mexico.)

And let's not forget about religious figures, such as padre Junípero Serra and even Papa Juan Pablo II (a.k.a Pope John Paul II).

Only a fraction of these figures would you ever see in any other wax museum—including the mother of Tijuana herself, Tia Juana (or "Aunt Jane"), who may or may not have actually existed and who may or may not have been the proprietress of a local rancho.

Of mythic proportions is also, of course, the legend of Juan Soldado (a.k.a. Juan Castillo Morales, a soldier in the Mexican army)—the patron saint of border crossings, if there ever was one. (And his likeness in wax is a faithful tribute to how he is honored in shrines elsewhere.)

Mexican folklore is brought to life in an even more epic way in the museum's Hall of Terrors, where you'll find Freddy Krueger, a werewolf (or "The Werewolf," perhaps)...


...La Llorona (whose cries for her lost children you must beware)...

...a sorceress...

...The Crypt-Keeper or at least a distant cousin, and other less fortunate souls who have found themselves trapped in a Mexican dungeon with the creakiest floors you've ever heard.

It's a fine place to spend an hour or so, as long as you pay attention to how it tells the story of Mexico... and not how the wax figure of Madonna (the "La Isla Bonita" one, not the Virgin of Guadalupe) doesn't look a bit like her.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: America's First Black History Wax Museum
Photo Essay: Hollywood in Wax
Photo Essay: Curiosity Crawl at Dapper Cadaver
A Warm Welcome Back to Mexico (Bienvenida a México)

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