While stories of struggle and hardship are found throughout Mormon history, the experiences of the early Mexican saints have remained relatively unknown. To tell those stories is the goal of the Mexican Mormon History Museum in Provo.
That the museum even exists, is a story of the faith and determination of the Gomez family. The museum began when founder Fernando Gomez returned to Mexico in 1991 to reconnect with family members. During his trip to Mexico he found a small, humble collection that had to do with the beginnings of the LDS church in Mexico.
Collections of documents related to Mexican Mormon history came from Gomez’s aunt, Consuelo Gomez. Consuelo was a teacher and kept historical records that others did not.
After the missionaries converted her family in 1925, Consuelo taught the Book of Mormon to children and those who couldn’t read through a series of plays. The Mexican government banished missionaries from all religions in 1926 and Consuelo’s plays were the only way many could learn of the gospel. These plays, as well as her poems and dramas, are just a few of the documents that the museum now houses.
A fellow church member, Bernabe Parra, hired Consuelo to teach his two sons secular topics in a more spiritual environment. The two created the one of the first LDS school’s in Mexico. This pioneering endeavor was one of the first attempts to teach secular skills in a spiritual environment, similar to the Church Education System today.
Consuelo kept detailed notes on the school that were kept by her family. As Fernando talked with his family members and realized the importance of the documents Consuelo kept he decided that he needed to share and honor the history she left behind.
“That is our own individual mission,” said Fernando. “We felt that my Aunt left us a legacy and that we needed to preserve.”
Fernando was compelled to preserve the historical collection. He wanted to not only preserve the collection but also share it with the general public so that all could benefit from the rich history. The museum began in Mexico City, but later moved to Provo.
The move to the United States, and specifically Provo, was important because there are many historical ties to the area. Several of the first missionaries to teach in Mexico were from the Utah County area and there are many records here that pertain to Mexican Mormon history.
Moving the museum to Provo was a challenge. Fernando wanted to locate the museum close to BYU campus, but there weren’t any buildings for sale around the area within his price range. One day he received a call informing him that a building across from BYU campus was for sale. The building had experienced severe flood damage and needed to be completely remodeled. Fernando decided to take on the challenge and create the new museum.
After eight months of hard work and labor by Fernando, his family, and volunteers, the building was ready to become a museum.
“It really feels more like a home than a cold untouchable museum,” said Hannah Richey, a BYU student who visited the museum for her Spanish class.
The new museum became home to several rare artifacts in addition to Consuelo’s hand written documents. Early missionaries to Mexico from the United States translated small booklets with excerpts from the Book of Mormon to teach the gospel. There are only about a dozen of these booklets in existence. The Museum of Mormon Mexican History has two of only 15 existing booklets and is the only museum in the world that has them on display for the general public to see.
Census records and early editions of Spanish hymn books are also included in Fernando’s collection of artifacts.
“We want to preserve this history and help others know the struggles that took place in other countries,” Fernando said.
Mexican saints endured many trials and persecutions similar to those of the saints in the United States, including martyrdom.
Rafael Monroy was one such martyr in Mexico. Monroy and his family were baptized in 1913. Three months after his baptism the missionaries were pulled out of Mexico because of the Mexican Revolution. Monroy was ordained to be the first branch President in the San Marcos Hidalgo area to help keep the church going.
Monroy’s neighbors didn’t like that he was Mormon. When soldiers came to San Marcos Hidalgo his neighbors accused Monroy of withholding guns, though he didn’t have any. The soldiers demanded that he give them the guns. When the soldiers realized he had no guns they told Monroy they would spare his life if he renounced his religion. When he refused he was executed.
The museum will celebrate his legacy in June of this year, which will be the 100 year anniversary of his martyrdom.
Making Mexican Mormon history known is the focus of the museum. However, Fernando has been working with the Mormon History Association on a larger project for its annual conference this year. The conference will be held in Provo and Fernando hopes to have the project finished in time for the conference toward the end of May.
This project encompasses other countries in central and South America. The new exhibit will give a history of early missionary work in these countries. Most of the Latin American countries, with the exception of Argentina, didn’t receive the gospel until the 1950’s and 1960’s.
As an electrical engineer, Fernando had no training or experience as a museum curator.
“We are not historians,” Fernando said. “We don’t know anything about museums, but we did it.”
The focus on history is the main aim of the museum. For Fernando, it isn’t about the money. It is about sharing a rich cultural heritage in Mormon history that few know about. The ability to share his cultural history and its legacy is enough of a payment for Fernando.
It costs money to keep the museum open, but Fernando doesn’t have much else to do with his time and money.
“I have to give something back,” he said.
The museum gives him something to do in his old age and keeps his mind and body active. He doesn’t have much to do, but he has a lot of passion for the museum and what it represents. Many visitors have commented that they can feel a special spirit in the museum.
“Maybe all the spirits are sitting here watching us,” said Fernando Gomez.
The museum has had over 400 visitors so far this year. His goal is to average about 2,000 visitors a year. With the new exhibit for the Mormon History Association, he hopes the museum will gain more exposure.
“If 5 people come then I feel satisfied,” Fernando said.
He loves to share his history and heritage to visitors. The museum is located at 1501 N. Canyon Road in Provo, Utah. It is open to the public from 2-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Appointments to see the museum outside of open museum hours can be scheduled through Fernando by phone, 801-830-1468, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The creation of the museum, with its Mormon Mexican history, is a story of struggles and triumphs. In the end, Fernando says his ultimate goal of sharing his heritage has been met. According to the museum’s historical brochure “[We], with limited resources have brought to life a forgotten history.”
Potential additional quotes
“You can really see his heart and soul poured out into it.” Hannah
“I went back a few days later to ask more questions because it was just so fun and interesting” Hannah