The museum's emphasis on history reflects Parra's own personal interest. "And," he says, "I want the people to be always reminded of their history. We live in a border town, so it would be easy to be influenced by the culture of another country. So I started this museum with Mexican historic figures to remind the people that this is the country where we live, and these were the people that gave us this country. Otherwise, it's easy for the Mexican people who live on the border to forget that."
The historical emphasis also accounts for a large portion of Parra's customers: school kids on field trips. "Even from San Diego and from Chula Vista," he says. "They come over on buses from the U.S. Not only Mexican-Americans but many schools of Anglo people -- blond hair and blue eyes. Sometimes, when I get here in the morning, there are 10 or 12 school buses full of kids already here."
In the hall outside the political room, the Ayatollah Khomeini sits alone in his own alcove facing a mediocre likeness of Pope John Paul II, who shares his space with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and a blond, blue-eyed David. "A few times I've seen people kneel here to pray," Parra says. "Maybe it's because of the Pope's cross. It's a replica of the one the Pope carries made by the same artisan."
Past the Pope is a room full of mid- and late-20th-century international political figures. Gandhi, Vicente Fox, and Fidel Castro figures are very good likenesses. The Mother Teresa is not. Nor is the John F. Kennedy. Mikhail Gorbachev is a B-grade effort, but the grinning Bill Clinton gets a C to D, depending on what angle you view it from. "Sometimes, you place a figure," Parra says, "and you move it a tiny bit and you lose some of the parecido, the likeness. Light from a certain angle might bring out the likeness. Light from a different angle might take it away. Even from the same angle, light of a strong intensity might bring out more likeness than low-intensity light. It's my job to figure that out. It's an artistic job. Sometimes you put in a light bulb, take a look and say, 'It's okay, but it could be better.' Then you change it for another, and maybe you like the first one better. And everybody around has an opinion: 'That one looks great....' 'No, the other one was better....' 'The light is fine, but move it a quarter turn to the left.' Many opinions. So I have to be alone with the figure. If I still can't get it right, I put a black hood over it and forget about it. A week later I'll come back and try again."
And some faces, Parra says, are not easy to copy in wax. "Princess Diana is very difficult. Marilyn Monroe, for some reason, is very difficult. They are both very beautiful, but the form of their faces isn't well defined."
Faces that are easy to memorialize in wax, Parra says, "are well-defined with distinctive marks. Whoopi Goldberg is easy because her face is muy marcado, very defined."
Down the hall in the Hollywood room, Goldberg -- in her nun costume from Sister Act -- looks very real. In the same room, a caricature-like Stallone figure -- clad in a Planet Hollywood sweatshirt -- stands behind a seated Wesley Snipes who looks something like Buckwheat from The Little Rascals. He is accompanied by Mel Gibson, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Cosby. Across the room, a passable Marilyn Monroe, shares an alcove with a near-miss Princess Diana and a figure of Julia Roberts that is very lifelike, albeit with a frizzy hairstyle and pantsuit she hasn't worn since the late 1980s. With the exception of the late princess, Marilyn Monroe, and Laurel and Hardy — El Gordo y El Flaco in Spanish — the room is full of stars who peaked between 1988 and 1993. Parra says immortalizing figures of fleeting fame in wax is a perpetual problem. "I survey my customers," he explains, "about who they'd like to see in the museum. The problem is, many times they say, 'We want to see Britney Spears,' for example. But Britney Spears is not established enough as a star. She's famous right now, but next year she might not be interesting. So I try to make it a requirement that the star is consolidated, someone like Frank Sinatra."
Parra's historical/cultural bent is evident even in the squeaky-floored House of Horrors section of the museum. Along with Freddy Krueger, a werewolf, and Jack the Ripper -- El Distripador -- the area also has an exhibit of a curandera or medicine woman, brewing an elixir in a big kettle. "You still find them in small towns all over Mexico," Parra says. "And here is La Llorona." He stops in front of a haggard woman in a tattered nightgown. "This is a legend from Mexico City. She's a lady who appears to you at night. The story comes from a real fact. She was not home, and two or three of her children died because the house burned up. Ever after, she has appeared at night crying and shouting, 'Oh, my children, my children!' "
In a room full of famous Mexican artists and performers are painter Frida Kahlo, pop singer Luis Miguel, and Pedro Infante, who was the Gene Autry of Mexico. Down the hall is an exhibit of international performers. The Elvis Presley is a dead ringer for actor Ray Liotta.
In his office after the tour, Parra holds the head of his latest acquisition, rock guitarist Carlos Santana. It's a good likeness of Santana when he was younger and had fewer wrinkles. "He's going to go over there," Parra says, "by the Ayatollah Khomeini."