Cooperation and cultural diplomacy of Mexico in the United States.

Photo: Chicago Latino Theater Alliance

By Cristina Vázquez

Some 38.5 million people of Mexican origin reside in the United States, according to demographic figures compiled by the Government of Mexico through the National Population Council, dating from 2018. Given these figures that reflect the influence and economical, political and social power of these inhabitants it is vital to address the cooperation and cultural diplomacy that Mexico practices in the US.

From the governmental sphere there is a network of more than 32 consulates with an area of culture, a task that is divided among the entire consular office, since a six-year term ago the figure of cultural attaché ceased to exist. The Mexican cultural institutes located in New York, Washington, San Antonio, New Orleans and Miami are part of this network, which work to promote and disseminate the richness and diversity of art, history, gastronomy and traditions of the country, in addition to generating collaborative actions with US agencies, institutions, projects and organizations for the development and understanding of both communities.

A fundamental role in this cultural endeavor is performed by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which in the last edition of the QS World University Rankings placed 103rd, since it has six study centers in the United States. It was in 1944, before the end of World War II, that UNAM opened its first center in San Antonio, Texas. In these spaces, also located in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Tucson and Boston, it offers not only the teaching of the Spanish language, but also academic exchange programs. It has exhibition and multipurpose rooms for talks and seminars on Mexican culture, academic but also for local artistic action. However, it lacks a specific budget for production with Mexican and American artists in the US and not even among the schools in the US does it generate artistic exchange projects.

To these two governmental examples is added a third public institution which is the University of Guadalajara, one of the most renowned in Mexico and recognized in Latin America for being the generator of the Guadalajara International Book Fair, the second most important in the world and the largest in the Ibero-American universe. UDG has a study center in Los Angeles under the name University of Guadalajara Foundation US. It promotes a program of Cultural Cooperation for Development, as well as the legacy of Pyrrha Gladys Grodman, an American artist, who left a trust to the UDG to promote Mexican art in the United States, specifically through Jalisco artists, grants scholarships and works with other cultural agents in California.

Another important activity that the UDG has carried out on US soil in recent years is the LéaLA Literary Festival, which since 2011 began with the FIL Guadalajara to serve Spanish-speaking audiences. The connection that exists in the US with Latin American literature is

very deep, from the Boom to the present day. Lacking local networks, the festival did not survive and in 2015 it suspended its edition, resuming it in 2019 with a less ambitious format and with greater proximity to the community. The lesson learned is the necessity to know in depth both the public and the already existing offer, otherwise the initiative does not have the support of their own beneficiaries.

Throughout the US territory we can find houses that represent the Mexican states, some even paid for by their governments. Among them those of Michoacán, Guanajuato, Jalisco and Zacatecas stand out. In Illinois, where I reside, 36% of immigrants are of Mexican origin, and these state residences serve as interlocutors for immigrants between Mexican public institutions and some American public and private organizations. As is the case for Cultural Affairs and Special Events Chicago. They also create networks with the Mexican Consulate, UNAM or with associations from other Latin American countries: the Cervantes Institute, La Casa Central de Puerto Rico and the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, among others. The latter was created at the initiative of the director of the Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, a non-governmental organization that emerged in 1982, being the only Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Unfortunately it is not a space for artistic meeting or reflection to generate productions, although it seeks to be a cultural center. In addition, its offer lacks balanced programming.

Some Mexican organizations maintain strong ties with the great artistic and cultural creators of Illinois, an important example is the Chicago Symphony Center and its program to promote the culture of various Latin American countries through orchestral music while interacting with the community, especially the Mexican community. The problem, once again, is that the guest artists do not address the inclusion and diversity of Latinxs.

In the artistic field, what should be prioritized are exchange residencies between American and Mexican creators, especially through universities. This would allow both communities a greater learning between the two cultures, a permanent flow between institutions, in addition to managing greater resources from foundations in the United States. Despite being neighbors, the difference in the artistic and cultural production field is enormous, it is worth sitting down to analyze it in depth and look for new routes of links and permanent actions.

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