Cultural Heritage: An Introduction
After the last post on What happens when we lose cultural heritage I decided it was time to address this issue thoroughtly, but first, an introduction.
Chinese new year celebrations in Mexico City
This will be a bit theoretical... here we go...
Heritage means what is worth preserving and leave as a legacy to the next generation, De la Peña (2011) argues that:
"The universalist international discourse, promoted in the last decades by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) reinforced in the public policies of local governments created the conception of cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, in which aspects, as varied as landscapes, vernacular architecture, handicrafts, rituals and indigenous languages, are included" (De la Peña 2011: 14).
This was how the heritage, being the inherited set of tangible and intangible assets, was patrimonialized, that is, it became an appropriation by official institutions that added an extra value, which can benefit the State and the tourism industry as a value of potential consumption that generates income and reinforces the values of a collective identity.
In 1972, during the UNESCO world convention, the idea of cultural heritage began to be discussed and what it meant: "cultural heritage as a support for a knowledge, a practice and a set of collective representations that gave identity to peoples" (Millán 2004: 59-60).
It was then that cultural heritage started to include the uses, expressions and representations of human groups. The idea that all cultures of the world are different is a feature that has strengthen in the Third World, since it allows many local, regional or national cultures to claim their right to existence or their difference.
The heritage has a symbolic value that is part of a cultural identity. Little by little more localities with patrimonial value, through their politicians, aim to be validated by the State and/or legitimized by UNESCO. The communities see the opportunity presented by their cultural and natural manifestations as an economic value, which can be exploited especially in the tourism industry.
“Then, the State and UNESCO confer the patrimony character to representative symbols of a small dominant group in economic and ideological terms due to its capacity to point out what has value. This conferred character is adopted by the State, who disseminates these symbols as an example of successful commodities in the context of globalization, as well as a factor of unity and national identity” (Hernández 2009: 64)
That is why, cultural heritage has been used as a tool to strengthen national identities. The idea of cultural heritage allows nationals to take pride in their country, to join the collectivity of identity imaginaries to which they may belong and value.
Cultural Heritage is central to the conceptions of identity. Stay tuned for more discussions about this topic and more!
De la Peña, Guillermo (coordinador) 2011 La antropología y el patrimonio cultural de México. Vol. 3. Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, México, D.F.
Hernández, José de Jesús 2009 Tequila: centro mágico, pueblo tradicional. ¿Patrimonialización o privatización? Adamios 6(12):41-67.
Millán, Saúl 2004 Cultura y patrimonio intangible: contribuciones de la antropología. En Patrimonio cultural oral y material, la discusión está abierta. Patrimonio cultural y turismo 9. Editado por Bruno Aceves, pp.57-72. Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, México, D.F.