A Cultural Look into the Faces of Mexican History

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Manuel de Elias, and Alfonso Garcia Robles have greatly inspired and sculpted Mexican cutlure and history.

By Christen Amico

Young girl impersonates Frida Kahlo

One of the least discussed topics for study in most American classrooms is the artistic and cultural accomplishments of the people of Mexico. However, it is important to highlight the achievements of Mexican artists, musicians, philosophers and leaders to help envelop a diverse and worldly education for our students. Frida Kahlo, who eventually married fellow artist Diego Rivera, was inspirational in her artistic triumphs from tragedy. Her surrealistic paintings are currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and she has definitely become the most famous female Mexican artist. Her former husband, Diego Rivera, who enjoyed fame and wealth throughout his lifetime, was one of the most famous Mexican muralists in the world. Successful musician, composer, and conductor, Manuel de Elias, is an award winning and highly notable contributor to Mexican history as well. Similiarly, Alfonso Garcia Robles changed Mexican history when he became the first person from Mexico to receive the Noble Peace Prize for his dedication to ending nuclear weaponry. Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Manuel de Elias, and Alfonso Garcia Robles are just a few of the many important people whose talents and perseverance have helped shape Mexican history and culture as it is seen today.

A Match Made in Art: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Born in 1907, Frida Kahlo led an incredibly tragic life and this tragedy was the focus of the majority of her paintings. Originally planning to become a doctor, Kahlo was drawn to art after a severe bus accident which left her bedridden for months. In her young life, Kahlo had been diagnosed with Polio and suffered an accident that left her unable to have children. Her devastation and depression inspired her art, which is filled with blood and sadness. Kahlo had been well educated and was a political activist in Mexico fighting for women’s rights.

In 1928, Kahlo fell in love with fellow artist, Diego Rivera, and the two had a tumultuous relationship which ultimately ended in divorce. Kahlo followed Rivera to San Francisco, California, but she did not find the same fame and fortune that he was able to experience. Rivera was well-known around the world, including Europe and in the United States, for painting politically symbolic, and often controversial, murals. Sadly, it was not until the 1970’s feminist movement, sixteen years after her death, that art critics began to recognize the talents and artistic importance of Kahlo’s works as similar to those of her ex-husband.

Mulit-talented Musician: Manuel de Elias

Manuel de Elias, born in Mexico City in 1939, is one of the most acclaimed and multi-faceted musicians. As a talented pianist, organist, composer, vocalist, conductor, director and teacher, de Elias has received numerous awards including the Medalla Mozart (1991) and the Premio Nacional de Ciencas y Artes (1992). In addition to achievements for musical composition, he is active in many other facets of society. During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s he founded and directed multiple orchestras, festivals, and even founded a musical institute at the University of Veracruz. De Elias’ contributions continued to profoundly affect the people of Mexico throughout the 1990's, as he has launched an academic reformation of the Conservatorio de las Rosas in 1990. De Elias has even been noted as one of the top ten Mexican musicians of all time.

Promoting Peace For All: Alfonso Garcia Robles

As the first person from Mexico to be granted the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1982, Alfonso Garcia Robles has spent the majority of his life protesting the use of nuclear weapons in Latin American countries. Garcia Robles was born in Mexico, in 1911, and spent his early years studying law. He soon became the Ambassador to Brazil and eventually held the position of State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He later went on to hold a permanent position as a representative with the United Nations. Garcia Robles is most known for successfully creating and implementing the Tlatelolco Agreement, which ultimately banned the use of nuclear arms in Latin America. He has continued to work for the United Nations, including attending sessions in Geneva, promoting world peace through general disarmament.

Over the past 100 years, there have been many Mexican men and women who have been politically and culturally active; contributing to the overall achievements of Mexico. In a whole-child approach to education, it is vital that we teach our students about these academic and artistic events throughout the school year. Although Mexican history is most typically taught in May, the notable contributions should be discussed as often as possible.

Other Lessons:

An Unlikely Match Lesson Plan

This is just one of many lesson plans and educational resources provided by PBS.org. Teachers can use this specific lesson plan to help students compare and contrast the life, experiences and artistic style of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. These materials are most appropriate for upper grade and middle school students due to the graphic nature of the paintings and tragic events in their lives.

Self-Portrait Lesson Plan

As one of a five lesson series, young artists can learn the necessary basic skills of creating a self-portrait in the style of Frida Kahlo. The overall goal of this lesson series is to help young children develop a sense of respect for the diversity among artists and create a life-long respect for all cultures. These self-portrait lessons are aligned to the North Carolina Content Standards.

Mexico Study Guide

In this two page worksheet, students will read about the culture, history and economics of Mexico. Students will complete a graphic organizer as well as answer open-ended questions about the reading. The passages and questions are at a fourth-fifth grade reading level.

Global Music Lesson Plan: Mexico and USA

Designed for young children, this musical activity students will teaches students how to reproduce the common rhythms of traditional folk music played in Mexico and now in the USA. Students will learn about instruments such as the cow bell and bongo drum. This lesson plan is full of useful background information and gives suggested songs and discussion questions that applicable for introducing elementary children to a variety of folk music inspired by the Mexican culture.