Traveling Exhibition

Telling Stories of Mexican California: Real Life and Myth Making

The exhibition draws extensively from the California Historical Society’s collections and consists of ten to eleven free-standing pop-up banners that will be displayed at various locations in California as managed by our exhibition partner, Exhibit Envoy. Read on to learn more.

Telling Stories of Mexican California: Real Life and Myth Making

In the second half of the nineteenth century, after the United States had wrested control of California from Mexico, a desire emerged to tell the state’s story. Tremendous change had come rapidly—in the span of eight decades, California had been the territory of Native Americans, Spain, Mexico, and ultimately the United States. People from different backgrounds sought to record and disseminate their accounts of California’s past. Of course, the creators of books, plays, promotional campaigns, family albums, and other media viewed California’s history through the lenses of their own experiences and chose to present narratives that suited their purposes.

This traveling exhibition broadly outlines California’s history leading up to statehood as a backdrop to the factual and fictional stories that emerged after the US takeover. It considers individuals and families of Spanish Mexican descent who told their stories, and looks at some of the early narratives that helped create an enduring California mythos.

Exhibition dates and locations:

Please check directly with these institutions to confirm viewing days and hours.

April 7, 2024 – June 2, 2024 Tuolumne County Historical Society, Sonora, CA
June 23, 2024 – August 18, 2024 Santa Monica History Museum, Santa Monica, CA
September 8, 2024 – November 3, 2024 Petaluma Historical Library and Museum, Petaluma, CA

For the full exhibition schedule and availability, visit Exhibit Envoy.

In the media:

‘Stories of Mexican California’ exhibit to debut at Tuolumne County Museum //The Union Democrat
Museum exhibit challenges myths, highlights real narratives of Mexican-era California // The Modesto Bee

To learn more, please read:

  • Beebe, Rose Marie, and Robert M. Senkewicz, eds. Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.
  • Brown-Coronel, Margie. “Beyond the Rancho: Four Generations of del Valle Women in Southern California, 1830–1940.” PhD diss., University of California, Irvine, 2011.
  • Brown-Coronel, Margie. “‘Born a Leading Lady’: The Political Trajectory of Lucretia del Valle.” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 19 (2020): 623–33.
  • Brown-Coronel, Margie. “Intimacy and Family in the California Borderlands: The Letters of Josefa del Valle Forster, 1876–1896.” Pacific Historical Review 89, no. 1, (2020): 74–96.
  • DeLyser, Dydia. Ramona Memories: Tourism and the Shaping of Southern California. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
  • Deverell, William Francis. Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
  • Kropp, Phoebe S. California vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Sánchez, Rosaura, and Beatrice Pita. “María Amparo Ruiz de Burton and the Power of Her Pen.” In Latina Legacies: Identity, Biography, and Community, edited by Vicki L. Ruiz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, 72–83. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 
  • Vallejo, Mariano Guadalupe. Recuerdos: Historical and Personal Remembrances Relating to Alta California, 1769–1849. Edited and translated by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2023.


Telling Stories of Mexican California: Real Life and Myth Making was organized by the California Historical Society and tours through Exhibit Envoy thanks to the generosity of the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation.

Erin Garcia, California Historical Society

Jessica Hough, Thought Projects
Debra Kaufman, California Historical Society

Carole Jeung

The Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation

Rose Marie Beebe, University of Santa Clara
Margie Brown-Coronel, California State University, Fullerton
Bill Deverell, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West
Robert Senkewicz, University of Santa Clara
Marie Silva, California Judicial Center Library