I came to Colombia expecting to see museums that represented—and celebrated—the country’s tri-cultural (Indigenous, African, and European) history and identity in interesting ways, and we have certainly found such representations in abundance. From the Museo de la Caña de Azucar (Sugar Cane Museum) to the Museo del Caribe (Museum of the Caribbean), we have explored the intertwined histories of Indigenous, African, and European peoples and the contemporary mestizo identity that defines Colombia—and much of Latin America. I have also been struck, however, by the ways in which particular Indigenous and Afro-Colombian identities have been highlighted through museum exhibitions and other cultural events. This observation has raised the question of the relationship between the tri-cultural national identity and specific group identities. Furthermore, how does this balancing act compare with the dynamic tension between multiculturalism and racial/ethnic particularity in the United States? What are the similarities and differences between U.S. and Colombian paradigms of cultural representation? These are research questions that my students and I will be pursuing over the coming year.
Perhaps more important than developing these questions, however, has been the experience of cultural immersion in Colombia. The entirety of our trip—but especially our time in Cali—was a museum without walls. Dancing salsa, visiting a sugar cane factory, chatting with faculty and students, dining with many different people, shopping in all kinds of stores, and making arepas con huevos were all ways to experience aspects of Colombian society, sharpen our cultural competency, and heighten our connectedness to this wonderful country. Taken as a whole, this trip has been the best “museum” experience I can imagine.
~ Will Walker