Heritage as national identity?
If there is something that sometimes is hard to explain, especially for children of globalisation like me… is the homeland.
At Chichen Itza, one of the most famous symbols of Mexican Cultural Heritage and World Wonder.
I, for example, identify myself as a Mexican, because I was born and raised Mexican, but I also hold a dual citizenship that -especially when I travel- I use as my means of identity (becomes very handy when your traditional motherland is full of stereotypes that make crossing borders a bit complicated).
But I sometimes wonder why my mum didn´t teach me her mother tongue, as she was born and raised Mexican but home educated German-Belgian why would she only pass on to us some of her traditions. Don´t get me wrong (I know my mum is reading this, Hola Chiefa!) I love celebrating Christmas and Easter like she did when she was younger, but today I´m sometimes confused when trying to explain my family´s history. Even with a Belgian Passport I still refer to Mexico as my motherland. And yes, I do feel nostalgic when I hear Mariachi, or get defensive when someone wrongs my Mexico, but weirdly enough I will feel the same way about Belgium, or Germany for that matter!
How is the homeland created? How was I taught to shiver when I hear mariachi, how did tacos got so embedded in my cravings, or why do I feel at ease when I’m surrounded by Mexico City street sounds? Why am I addicted to chocolate and enjoy beer?
I wasn´t only born in Mexico, I was raised there. I guess that’s why my mum has been very ¨Mexican about it¨, because she was raised there too. Homeland goes beyond to what we get from our parents and family, its taught at school and subliminally in everyday discourses.
National governments have been using these discourses to build identity and nationalism with a claim that cultural heritage must be an essential part of culture and history. This is taught in textbooks of basic education and is exposed in archaeological and historical monuments as national symbols. Nationality is conceived as a deep and horizontal fellowship that generates fraternity despite the social inequalities that exist in the country, despite the fact that nationality is limited by borders and roads, and instilled in the minds of all its inhabitants in the image and likeness of the State (Anderson 1993: 25).
Maya L. Pérez states that:
¨Government institutions generally perceive cultural heritage as an element associated with the defence of the national State, so they have been concerned with building a national discourse that relies on the recovery of cultural assets, past and present, so that they contribute to providing an image of unity and national identity¨ (translated by me, Pérez 2004: 16).
This discourse on the recovery of the "heritage of all" (which we find reflected in the tourism industry and international institutions) is presented as neutral and depoliticized; historical ruptures, conflicts and contradictions between cultural groups and social classes are not recognized. The heritage, from the traditions which are selected, works to disguise the interests of dominant groups, regardless of the violent reality that the country is going through (crime, drug trafficking, social inequality, unemployment, poverty, bad education, famine); all this in a globalised context where cultural goods become an exclusive product for tourism, in which local realities and their community uses are excluded; in the end, the cultural reality itself is excluded.
Enrique Leff (2004) argues that there is a discursive strategy that legitimizes the appropriation of resources, in the case of tourism, environmental and cultural, that have been integrated into the economic system. Within this process there is a symbolic reconfiguration where "biodiversity is defined as common heritage of humanity, third world communities as a human capital and their knowledge as patentable resources by a regime of intellectual property rights" (translated by me, Leff 2004: 108 -109). These resources are administered by international bodies totally immersed in the current economic system in a global manner; thus, regional development programs through tourism respond not only to national policies but also to the interests of the international agendas.
Have you ever thought about this? How does your government represent your national heritage in their tourism industry and how is it used on international ads about your country? Do you feel your identity is subtly stereotyped by the tourism industry?
Cultural heritage is a main factor of homeland ideals, but when you are living abroad, how do you reproduce your cultural heritage? Does living abroad makes you wonder how your identity and nationality is perceived and conceived? Stay tuned to continue this discussion on the next entries!
Anderson, Benedict (1993) Comunidades imaginadas. Reflexiones sobre el origen y la difusión del nacionalismo. Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, D.F.
Leff, Enrique (2004) Racionalidad ambiental. La reapropiación social de la naturaleza. Siglo Veintiuno Editores, México, D.F.
Pérez, Maya L. (2004) Patrimonio material e inmaterial. Reflexiones para superar la dicotomía. En Patrimonio cultural oral y material, la discusión está abierta, antología de textos primera edición. Patrimonio cultural y turismo 9. Editado por Bruno Aceves, pp.13-28. Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, México, DF.