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Museo Casa de Juárez — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

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The modest colonial home where Benito Juárez lived from 1818 to 1828 has been restored and turned into this small museum. The story of Juárez’s life and his place in México’s history is an impressive one. He was born on March 21, 1806 in the small Zapotecan village of San Pablo Guelatao in the mountains north of the city of Oaxaca. His parents, who were poor peasants, died when he was only three years old. His grandparents took him in, but they both died soon after. He then went to live with an uncle and spent most of the rest of his preteen years working in the cornfields and as a shepherd.

And then, at the age of twelve, illiterate and speaking only Zapotecan, Juárez walked down out of the mountains and into the city of Oaxaca to live with his older sister, who was working for a family as a cook. He soon found work and residence with Antonio Salanueva, a bookbinder and lay Franciscan. Salanueva and a local teacher taught Juárez to read and write in Spanish, which he took to quickly. Impressed with Juárez’s intelligence, Salanueva, by then acting more as a benefactor and less as an employer, arranged for Juárez’s study in a seminary.

After graduating from the seminary in 1827, Juárez decided against becoming a priest, opting instead for law school. That fateful decision would put him on a path to becoming the nation's first indigenous president and the leader of the Liberal movement, which defeated the country’s Conservative forces in a protracted and bloody civil war, 1857–1861, and expelled the opportunistic French occupiers a few years later, 1861–1867.

With all that in mind, other than the modest colonial home of Antonio Salanueva — which, by the way, is nicely restored — there really isn’t much to see here. This may leave some visitors feeling disappointed, having expected so much more from a museum in Juárez’s name. (Indeed, that was this writer’s first reaction). But on further reflection, it’s clear that this simple museum was never meant to encompass or pay tribute to his entire life. Rather, it was meant to capture the period of time when he worked as a domestic servant and studied for the seminary, the period of his life when he transformed himself from an illiterate peasant boy into an educated young man who would go on to become the nation’s most important historical figure. And so, on second thought, maybe this simple museum gets it just about right.

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