A Close Look at the Cultural Diplomacy between Mexico and Germany

An Interview with the Director of the Mexican Culture Institute.

September 24th, 2019
Christina Vassell, News from Berlin
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On the 10th of September, a member of Berlin Global had the honour of visiting the Embassy of Mexico, Berlin, to interview Susana Garduño, Director of the Mexican Culture Institute.

1. In your many years in service, how have you observed culture—including the media and arts— to shape society and politics?
I think the influence of the media is big, it's not unheard of that [media] has been called the fourth power in any given country. Media has largely overtaken various factors of life and it's only through the media that we learn news and current affairs, and we learn about what we also think is truth. So, where traditional media has always played a very important role, particularly with specialising in [topics] like in art you have a magazine that is very well trusted for architectural critics or in terms of international relations, I think everybody trusts [the media’s] point of that. However, the media that we are seeing today like social networking and social media is even more powerful than traditional [media] because for one, it allows world governments to communicate [more] directly.We can communicate through direct messaging or we communicate a call for a given exhibition. The way that everybody interacts is very similar but there is a different time frame for everything so we have to really have a message to convey and convey it in the best way for people to replicate it or otherwise your news will be lost in the ocean of news [out there]. Still, the way that media has overtaken every factor of life has overwhelmed governments; we have [had] to adapt in the recent decade.

2. And how does the Embassy [of México] here in Berlin, help to strengthen relations through culture?
In particularly, the Mexican embassy [here] in Germany has been active for more than a decade. To start with, we have this beautiful building, which is the only Mexican embassy that has a [native] Mexican architect behind it, which allows it to be a signature of our culture and of [Mexico’s] idiosyncrasies, and talents in architecture. Then, we have the space to allow for exhibitions to showcase and be a voice for those Mexican artists in Germany or in Europe who are willing to convey a message – a massage that aligns with our foreign policy. The cultural institute, here at the embassy, was recently created and was the result of many years of successful exhibitions and initiatives, and one particularly one was between 2016 and 2017, where Mexico and Germany made a mutual effort to showcase their cultural manifestations in each country; Germany made an effort in Mexico City and we did the same here in Germany. After this successful initiative, the Mexican government decided to make the cultural section at the embassy because of the available space that we have to exhibit literature, visual arts and cinema. On the national day of Mexican cinema, we tried to portray the importance of indigenous languages in Mexico. In Mexico,  there are 63 ingenious groups and [2019] is the year that the United Nations marked as the year of indigenous languages, so we combined all of that [in the exhibitions] and that is how you create cultural diplomacy through culture plus our objectives in foreign policy.

3. Mrs. Garduño, you are the Director of the Institute, so what does your role entail?
Well, the role entails to engage with the Mexican community, and the creative or artistic community in Germany as well as Europe, and in Mexico. It is also entails the understanding that our foreign policy is also adapting to current events. So, again, this year, aside from being the year of indigenous languages, in September the UM will set a new topic for 2020, and we will see what it is and will showcase  something here at the embassy at the Cultural Institute. So, I engage with the community, with artists, I engage with colleagues from cultural institutions here in Germany such as museums, associations or authorities. Right now, we are currently doing an exhibition with Humboldt [university] on America. These are the same exhibitions that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany are showcasing through its cultural institutes across the various capitals of Latin America to better portray the long lasting links between Germany and Latin America.

4. And how important is cultural exchange amongst students and tourism?
It is very important. I always say that people who decide to live abroad for many different reasons either work or marriage, those people become ambassadors of their country abroad. So, in terms of that, in capitals such as Berlin or London, where you have such an important array of tourists coming into the city you also the opportunity to showcase a part of your country when you interact with [tourists]. We have people coming to the embassy to see [our] exhibitions and it turns out that they have come from Eastern Europe, so it might give them the idea to travel to Mexico because they saw something that they had liked.[at the embassy]. Gastronomy also has an important role in tourism – you can't go to a city and not find a Mexican restaurant. In other ways, it is also the way that [Mexico] thinks. Mexico has always been a peopled country, which effects law and is a central to part to international concerts. Our day of the dead of course is a part of traditions that are very special and original, and is a major attraction to people who want to visit [the country].

Student exchange is a broad scope. We have an academic section here at the embassy that primarily deals with that but what I will say is that Germany is a very attractive destination to Mexican students for their postgraduate degrees, currently there are roughly 5,000 students coming who all carry their cultural baggage and help us to promote cultural affairs within their own circles.

5. The term cultural diplomacy is a relatively new concept, and therefore has there been any challenges that you have faced when attempting to implement particular strategies or policies?
I think that sometimes the concept comes before the event or the event precedes the concept. So, I think that in the case of cultural diplomacy, Mexico has been engaging and putting together policies without necessarily calling it “cultural diplomacy”. However, Mexico has always been cultural and we have engaged through many initiatives. For example, Mexico hosted the Olympics back in 1968 and it was the first time that a specific design had been made [for the games]. Since then, the Mexican government has been really pushing the [nation’s] brand in the international arena. Cultural diplomacy as we know it today, focuses on the rich cultures of each country to better portray the current affairs of a country or to open the doors to different sectors. I think that Mexico has been doing that very successfully for the past four decades but until recently we have underpinned a particular cultural strategy that is apart of [Mexico’s] administration and has seven axises, one of which is the cultural management to better use our resources. Another is to portray a more unified presence abroad and we are also using our important network of cultural community to cooperate and collaborate because our traditions and our family values are so strong that we showcase them abroad. We have also included urban art and the indigenous communities, and to start translating [indigenous] celebrations to relay abroad such as the cinema. We also have our migrant culture that is particularly strong in the US. But we also want to include foreign artists that have now resided in Mexico. At the same time, we don’t want our [cultural] diplomacy to be stereotyped such as through tequila.

6. Mrs. Garduño, you briefly mentioned culture in terms of nation branding, and so what do you think is Mexico’s brand within a global context?
About a decade ago, Mexico embarked to design a national brand and within the brand there are several symbols that reflect what we are. The brand contains letters that are very colourful and references indigenous communities, the happiness of its people to name a few. But we have been successful in putting the name of our country in a strong image that I think compromises everything that Mexico wants to show abroad and the brand itself is doing well according to the index, and is valued at the top 15 brands for countries in the world.

7. And how does the Mexico more largely, find a balance in promoting its rich cultural heritage and modern developments to its culture?
Well, thankfully, the artists back in Mexico are really taking into consideration a range of indigenous people and our traditions. While it has been an important part of the government’s policy to balance our range of traditions, we also have creative minds that are doing their part and even within gastronomy there have been a lot of examples internationally that are incorporating traditional ways of cooking into their fashionable restaurants so its great that people are now learning about [traditions] through their current manifestation of their art.

8. As this interview draws to an end, do you have any final comments on what you anticipate the future of German-Mexico relations to be in the coming years?
I think that Germany is one of the countries that are more heavily investing in their culture and education in the past five years. In the next few years, Berlin is expecting to upgrade their current infrastructures such as the Pergamon Museum, or they are creating new places to interact such as the Humboldt forum.The Humboldt forum is going to be an important partner because part of the permanent collection will be objects from people such as Alexander Humbodlt and other explorers from the eighteenth century and nineteenth century, of course Germany at that time was known as Prussia but there is also a collection on pieces of pre-Hispanic art from the territory of Mexico that will also be apart of the collection at the forum. So, there is already a lot of exchange that is going on as well as more planned exhibitions for the next few years. However, Humboldt does not want to solely exhibit objects but to rather tell stories and bring stories to a current audience. Mexico is also on the verge of signing a new agreement in terms of Mexican-German film production, as Germany has its own stance against solely premiering Hollywood films and the same is happening in Mexico. Mexico has an important film industry, which has flourished recently due to relations to the US but in finding common ground with Germany, both countries want to premier their language and culture through film. So, we have a lot of common history and a lot of exchange that we have yet to discover and to showcase, so I envision that [cultural relations] will become more diverse.

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