“Chileans and Mexicans are meant to understand each other”
To Cecilia García-Huidobro, the cultural and historical heritage of a nation should not only be admired but also preserved. Born in Chile, she has been a determined advocate of initiatives to preserve historical buildings and public spaces. Here in Mexico, where she came to stay in 2009, she decided to pursue this work promoting projects with a Latin American scope.
“I am not a historian, I studied philosophy but love history.” This is how Cecilia García-Huidobro explains her passion for historical and cultural heritage, not only in her home country, Chile, but also in the whole of Latin America. This simple phrase explains why she has devoted over 15 years of her life to activities linked to the preservation of historical buildings, convinced that one of the main concerns of all nations should be the preservation of their architectural heritage, regardless of whether it is managed by a public or private entity.
In Chile, this passion led her to assume different responsibilities. She was in charge of Chile’s Cultural Heritage Corporation, presided over the Federation of Friends of Museums, was vice president of the Naval and Maritime Heritage Corporation and, a few months before she moved to Mexico, she founded the Chilean Association of Owners of Historic Houses and Parks, which she still chairs. Also, she has participated in several restoring projects for historical buildings.
In Mexico, it is such passion that has led Cecilia to discover a country she has always been fascinated by and has motivated her to participate in different projects related to the preservation of historical heritage, although this time through an ambitious “Latin American scope.”
Cecilia has focused on building a network of owners of historical buildings in Latin America and is currently involved in the creation in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador of similar associations to the ones she heads in Chile. Also, with the support of the Banamex Cultural Foundation, she is organizing a world meeting of associations of owners of historical buildings.
All this has a very clear goal: to strengthen the links between Latin American countries, from the shared interest of preserving the cultural and historical splendor reflected in their architecture.
While this version of Bolivar’s dream comes true, Cecilia is working to achieve this and at the same time is enjoying her life in Mexico, fascinated by the wonders of its culture, its people and its everyday life.
—How did you come to Mexico?
My arrival in Mexico was quite an accident. I came because the company my husband works for, a German company, offered him a new position in Mexico City. I have a passion for heritage and culture but the most important heritage of all is my family, so I decided to embrace the changes with a positive attitude and a great deal of optimism, as Mexico is a country I have always been fascinated with, like most Latin American people. And so I came to Mexico intending to find and enjoy the best of the country.
—How do you like your life here?
I love Mexico. I think that anywhere you go people is the most important element and Mexico has a fantastic human capital. There is an underlying charm, a fascinating sense of humor and a way to enjoy life. There is also a dose of madness that I find very appealing. It is almost surreal, the most unexpected can happen, things that may not seem a 100% reasonable but are part of the country’s enchantment.
Mexico’s problems are cyclical rather than structural. I insist, Mexico’s best asset is its people and I am sure its leading position will last, not just within the Latin American region.
I am only discovering this nation and I constantly get signals from everywhere. Currently I am only reading Mexican literature, especially essays, and I also try to watch as many Mexican films as I can.
—What are your best experiences in Mexico?
There are so many interesting people! I have learned a lot and I have made great friends. I have been nurtured by all the people I have met. Mexicans are very kind and the best hosts ever!
I am really enjoying myself. Mexico is a vibrant city. It is not the dangerous and chaotic place some people see from the outside.
I love going to the Centro Histórico. Sometimes I think “I am going to stroll down one street, only one street”… And it never ends! There is so much to see! Let alone zones like Colonia Roma!
Mexico’s heritage is alive, one that is constantly evolving, inspiring currents. It is there, intact.
When I walked into the house of Barragán, for instance, I nearly died. Seeing the work of such a genius in architecture was impressive. His proposal had a huge impact on me. It is not the same as just seeing it in books. Actually being there and understanding his vision of space and the vision of the man behind his architectural proposition.
And then there is the food… simply exquisite! Whatever I find, I have to taste it. I was in Yucatán and I tried dishes that even now I do not know what they were, but they tasted delicious.
—Do you miss Chile?
I keep very close to my country. I am part of the National Council for Culture and the Arts in Chile and therefore I travel home very often. Also, I keep very close ties with the Chilean Association of Owners of Historic Houses and Parks, which is an organization I helped found in order to build social networks amongst the owners of historical buildings who are interested in preserving this heritage. That also intends to create awareness in society about the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of the country.
Also, I think that the relation between Chileans and Mexicans, no matter how different we may be, works particularly well. Both Chileans and Mexicans are meant to understand each other and that is why we should work more in reinforcing communication and cooperation channels between our nations, because we really work great together.
As a Chilean woman in Mexico, I am trying to contribute to finding new cultural links between our nations. For instance, upon an invitation from the Ambassador of Chile to Mexico, I am currently involved in the organization of a literary encounter between Mexico and Chile, together with the Universidad Veracruzana.
—Could these ties be built from topics such as preservation of cultural heritage?
Of course. I am certain that we need a cultural and heritage initiative with a Latin American approach. This kind of initiatives make our nations come together.
—Do you think there is a solid ground to fuel an initiative of this sort?
Mexico’s architectural heritage is never ending. There are a lot of people who own properties with huge value and historical relevance who are currently doing very interesting work.
For example, the Banamex Cultural Foundation along with the Pedro and Elena Hernández Foundation, are doing excellent work in terms of restoring and preserving Yucatán's and other states' heritage. I would say it is a one-of-a-kind work in the world.
Also in Colonia Roma, in Mexico City, there are historical houses owned by private individuals who have been willing to preserve such heritage. It is wonderful to see them doing so.
What matters is that these efforts should not be isolated. That is why I am supporting the creation of an organization like the Chilean Association of Owners of Historic Houses and Parks in Mexico, integrated by private individuals but working systematically with the government, through the National Monuments Council. I think it is essential to understand that the preservation of heritage should not regard public and private sectors as rivals but as allies. The most intelligent thing to do is to work together and not as competitors.
This is a decade long system in Europe. The owners of historical buildings are a very well organized group, very well informed and perfectly coordinated with public officials.
The basic idea is to do the same in Latin America; hence it is very important to create an organization of this nature in Mexico. But it is equally as important in other countries, such as Peru and Ecuador, where we are also working.
My purpose is to plan an International meeting of such organizations in Mexico, in order to develop ties and exchange experiences. It is something I am currently working on with the support of the Banamex Cultural Foundation. The idea is to hold this meeting at the end of this year.
—What would be Mexico’s role in such an ambitious initiative?
Undoubtedly a project like this should be led by Mexico because of several reasons: the importance of its heritage, its history and the roots of its cultural heritage.
I think that if we move from here we may be able to boost a project with a Latin American reach. We have a lot in common and Mexico is an indisputable leader in Latin America, a longtime role model.