Jakarta. Indonesia and Mexico have long fostered diplomatic relations, but cultural diplomacy can be the recipe for long-lasting ties.
“[Cultural diplomacy] enables cultural exchange that leads the way to find similarities between countries to create long-lasting ties. When you find similarities, it is easier to get familiarized with the other country,” Lizett Aceves, the cultural attaché at the Mexican Embassy in Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe in an interview, not long ago.
“Indonesia and Mexico are both cultural powers because of how rich and diverse our cultures are. We could benefit from it through cultural diplomacy,” she said.
According to Lizett, cultural diplomacy provides various facets of a country that can break down national stereotypes. The diplomat finds combating the misconception of Mexico to be the greatest challenge in promoting her culture in another land. When people think of “Mexico”, the four things that first come to mind are oftentimes cactuses, the iconic wide-brimmed hat sombrero, tacos, and tequila.
“But Mexican culture is as diverse and as rich as the Indonesian culture. We are much more than that,” Lizett said.
To this end, the embassy is currently trying to nurture better understanding of Mexican culture among the Indonesian public. They are in full swing with their cultural promotions starting from working alongside local art community Salihara to using social media to share history on prominent Mexican artists.
The embassy is also holding a questionnaire to find out what aspects of Mexican culture are Indonesians most interested in for a tailor-made approach.
“We are trying to intensify Mexico’s cultural diplomacy in this beautiful country. We believe the knowledge of culture should be accessible to the widest audience possible. That is why it is important for us to diversify our media of promotions, which include social networks," Lizett said.
Honoring the Dead
According to Lizett, finding the similarities in both cultures that many people tend to miss out would spark more genuine interests.The attaché pointed out how the funerary rites carried out by the Toraja tribe in South Sulawesi bear a resemblance to the Mexican Day of the Dead.
“[The Torajan funerary rites] have caught our attention because it shows that we have a similar conception about death and how we honor our beloved ones who have passed away,” she said.
“In some movies, people wrongly believe the Mexican Day of the Dead is some kind of Halloween. But here, we celebrate the life of the people who passed away. It is an act of love,” Lizett said.
Unesco has listed Day of the Dead as an intangible cultural heritage on humanity. Celebrated every November 1-2, the indigenous festivity commemorates the transitory return of the deceased loved ones. People would place the departed’s favorite foods on top of the marigold-decorated home altar or ofrendas.
A well-known Torajan death ritual is the ma'nene ritual of exhuming and grooming the bodies of the deceased. The Torajan people would dress the deceased in new clothes. The triennial ritual reflects the importance of nurturing strong ties with family members.
When Two Foodies Meet
During the interview, Lizett described Indonesians and Mexicans as “foodies”. Both Indonesian and Mexican cuisines have strong tastes and spiciness that suit Indonesians' palate and vise versa.
In this regard, food or gastrodiplomacy becomes part of the embassy's main agenda in Indonesia. Promoting authentic Mexican cuisine, however, has its own hurdles, Lizett said.
"One of the challenges here in Indonesia, and I dare to say around the world, is the misconception of Mexican culture, including gastronomy. [...] When you think about Mexican cuisine, you will always think about burritos and tacos. Normally, you would think tacos to have a crunchy shell, but that is not [Mexican] taco. [Mexican] tacos use soft corn tortillas. That [crunchy] variant of taco is Tex-Mex."