Spread the word: the Tooth Fairy is using the Museum as a secret drop spot for the teeth she collects. We even have it all on video. But what happens to the teeth lost in Latin America?
I think I lost my first tooth when I was about five. Growing up in Argentina, tradition told me that at bed time, I should put my very valuable tooth under my pillow because Ratoncito Perez would come and get it and leave money. I went to bed waiting to hear Ratoncito's tiny mouse steps but fell sound asleep without noticing. And indeed, the next morning I had several pesos under my pillow! This routine happened every time I lost a tooth and every time I had the same feeling of wonder... how did Ratoncito get into my room?
I grew up in a very small town, in the middle of the pampas in Argentina. In town, everyone knew each other and we all knew Ratoncito lived among us. All my older friends had been equally fascinated by Ratoncito stories and everyone awaited his presence without ever actually seeing him.
I now live in the United States and Ratoncito Perez has moved with us! My two sons, born here, know Ratoncito and they also know the Tooth Fairy. Along with many other children in the world, they are keeping the tradition of offering their teeth to a whimsical character.
Ratoncito Perez is the tooth fairy of the Hispanic American world. The tradition came from Spain in the late 1800s, passed through children's stories and folk tales. In the museum, I am working on the dynamic encounters that occur when people from different cultures connect. The world of the private and the public, the home and the "outside world" particularly resonate.
I can't help but think about how traditions are kept or transformed through the appropriations and exchange of particular cultural traditions. For one, I do not believe Ratoncito will disappear from homes and families that keep deep ties with their origins in Latin America; but also believe that Ratoncito might acquire some new traits. Will Ratoncito morph into something else? Will he spread glitter all around? Will the Tooth Fairy grow big front teeth like a mouse? If this ever happens, will we, as keepers of culture, be able to decipher what came from where and who is "authentic?"
In any case, the most important fact here is that museums, such as the National Museum of American History, keep all kinds objects in their collections that inspire the imagination and creativity of all who visit!
Magdalena Mieri is director of the museum’s Program in Latino History and Culture. When you lost teeth as a kid, what were you told? What do you tell the kids in your life? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook. Happy Tooth Fairy Day!