What happens when we lose Cultural Heritage?
Some weeks ago, we -as humanity- lost another emblematic site part of our cultural heritage. As we saw the flames tearing down Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, I could only think about one thing: This is terrible.
As the day passed by, and the memes and the opinions of different people started to spread in social media, I started to question all these opinions emerging.
What happens when we lose cultural heritage? I guess I was annoyed by the way people were reacting to the news, some of them posting pictures of themselves remembering the site before its terrible fate, some others criticizing this actions and calling out for solidarity with other main disasters that have destroyed other cultural heritage in other parts of the world… but the bottom line is, I got a general feeling that we seem to be confused about what it means to lose cultural heritage.
What happens when we lose cultural heritage? My academic brain kicked in and avoided answering back to some really disappointing comments on social media. Instead, I wrote this piece and let it stay on my computer for a couple of weeks until today that I'm publishing it.
When we lose tangible and intangible cultural heritage, we lose a part of our humanity.
Have you ever heard a phrase that goes something like: “you can´t know where you are going unless you know when you came from?” Well, when talking about cultural heritage this phrase also applies. It really doesn´t matter if the site was in a country that was a coloniser, it doesn´t matter that the site was built in a white western world, it doesn't matter if there are lots of people donating for its reconstruction... We all lose a part of us.
Let’s be clear about something, every time we lose a site, as I said, a tangible, oral and intangible feature of cultural heritage, regardless of where it is from, we lose a part of history that should be passed on from generation to generation. We lost a part of ourselves last year when the Rio de Janeiro National Museum also was lost to the flames. We lost a part of us when earthquakes stroke Nepal, Japan and Mexico. We lose a part of ourselves when cities in the Middle East are destroyed, we lose a part of ourselves with every ecocide and genocide in this crazy world.
Cultural heritage is valuable because it represents a part in the history of the world, and my claim here is that we should stop seeing cultural heritage as exclusive of only a country or an identity. Yes, it represents a great loss for people who feel a strong connection to the sites, but maybe it’s time for everyone to stop disregarding the ‘Other’ and embracing empathy.
I somewhat agree with the critics on the reconstruction of Notre Dame, in comparison to the little interest in the reconstruction of some other major sites and cultures, the interest should be shared across the world. We have, of course, to question the dynamics of power that are still present in the binary conception of the coloniser and colonised. But I invite you, reader, to stop the hypocrisy and acknowledge that no matter the place or the site, the culture or the identity when we lose cultural heritage, we lose a chapter in our history.
If we can learn anything from the generosity of the world towards the reconstruction of Notre Damme, is that we should spread that generosity. With the rising critics on the lack of interest of other sites that have suffered a terrible fate, we should encourage knowledge.
But especially, remember that we live in liquid times not limited by boundaries and established identities, your cultural heritage is as valuable as mine because it’s part of this world and all the amazing beauties within it.
Wandering in beautiful Cultural heritage city of Kotor, Montenegro.
Just a heads-up, I´ll probably continue to talk about this, as we say in Mexico, “es mi mero mole”, meaning, this is exactly my area of expertise.
I hope you enjoy this little introductory reflection and hopefully, I will spark some interesting thoughts, don´t hesitate to comment and share your ideas, I can´t wait to hear them.