The institutional framework for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in Mexico is coordinated by the Comisión Nacional del Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial (CNPCI, National Commission for the Intangible Cultural Heritage), established in 2010, whose objective is to strengthen the strategies and mechanisms for safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage of the country. The Commission is made up of representatives of the leading bodies responsible for implementing the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage: the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA, National Council for Culture and the Arts), a unit of the Ministry of Public Education that coordinates national cultural policies; the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH, National Institute of Anthropology and History), which deals with research and safeguarding and the diffusion of activities related to some aspects of intangible cultural heritage as well as professional training and documentation; the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA, National Institute of Fine Arts), which has a role in stimulating, creating and promoting music, plastic arts, dramatic arts and dance and undertakes professional training in these fields; the Dirección General de Culturas Populares (DGCP, General Directorate of Popular Cultures), which promotes the safeguarding, diffusion and development of the popular and indigenous cultures of Mexico and works with 20 Popular Culture units located in 17 states; the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CDI, National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples), which governs federal policies for the development and safeguarding of indigenous communities, giving importance to indigenous identity issues, collective rights, respect for indigenous languages and heritage, inter-cultural dialogue, traditional medicine within the health system and gender issues; and the Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (INALI, National Institute of Indigenous Languages), which promotes public policies for indigenous languages, multilingualism and language rights and undertakes fundamental and applied research. Other commission members with fewer implementation responsibilities include the Dirección General de Vinculación Cultural (General Directorate of Cultural Relations) and the Instituto Nacional del Derecho de Autor (INDA, National Copyright Institute).
The CNPCI has as its objectives to: (1) contribute to the definition of public policies and the implementation of the programmes of national and regional scope for the recognition, safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage, based on the social participation and the recognition of the intellectual property copyright of the creative groups and individuals and bearers of this heritage; (2) carry out actions directed at articulating the intangible cultural heritage programmes, projects and activities carried out by diverse public and private bodies; (3) concentrate, systematize and diffuse information about intangible cultural heritage at the national level to make this information available to all Mexicans; (4) consider and provide follow-up agreements, international programmes and the experiences of other countries on intangible cultural heritage; (5) follow up on the 2003 Convention. It gives priority to public policies that recognize the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity and the social participation of creators and bearers of intangible cultural heritage.
These various bodies are involved in professional training (capacity building) for the management of intangible cultural heritage, with the addition of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM, National Autonomous University of Mexico). UNAM created a BA degree in Development and Intercultural Management in 2007 to train professionals capable of establishing channels of communication and designing agreements for coexistence between different cultures, social groups and institutions. Their future careers will include cultural heritage management and they will be well-prepared to address issues that arise over intangible cultural heritage, such as conflicts between culturally different groups. With regard to capacity building within communities, the state-level representatives of the DGCP train and maintain a network of cultural agents whose main task is to provide courses to the communities with the aim of raising awareness and promoting the recognition, identification and registration of their own intangible cultural heritage.
Similarly, these same bodies carry out documentation activities, with the addition of the Centro de Información y Documentación Alberto Beltrán (Alberto Beltrán Centre for Information and Documentation) and a non-governmental organization, the Centro Daniel Rubín de la Borbolla, A.C. (Daniel Rubin de la Borbolla Centre). Most of these institutions are public in character and their information and documentation resources are available to the public for free consultation.
The first efforts to inventory intangible cultural heritage were made in 2006 by the Working Group for the Promotion and the Protection of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mexico (which later became the CNPCI), which focused its attention on intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding. From 2008, this body was tasked with designing the Inventario del Patrimonio Cultural Inmaterial (Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage). The inventory is organized according to the five domains set out in the 2003 Convention, elaborated and adapted to the situation of Mexico; specific criteria for inclusion of intangible cultural heritage are being defined for each domain. The 248 registration forms collected to date were elaborated by investigators and specialists in the different domains of intangible cultural heritage, based on direct field work with the bearers and practitioners of the manifestations and so, to this extent, also reflect their views. Existing files are available online through the website of CONACULTA, http://sic.conaculta.gob.mx/index.php?table=frpintangible.
In terms of national cultural policy, one of the seven ‘pillars’ of the National Culture Programme of 2007-2012 is ‘Heritage and cultural diversity’, whereby recognition of cultural diversity is a central element in Mexican identity. The Programme also respects the local specificities of intangible cultural heritage in the implementation of its guidelines. Other safeguarding efforts focus on raising awareness of intangible cultural heritage in general and led to the development of a relationship between the State organs and local communities. For example, Encounters of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mexico are held annually, during which a space of coexistence and exchange of experiences between bearers, practitioners and government instances and citizens is created.
Education in intangible cultural heritage is occurring at all levels and in a variety of ways. UNESCO’s ‘World Heritage in Young Hands’ course is being taught in 505 elementary, secondary and high schools in the country. National meetings and contests are periodically held between school students from different States with the aim of developing links and exchange experiences on their particular experiences in terms of their local cultural heritage. Workshops on intangible cultural heritage have also been held for the 7-15 year age group aimed at sensitizing participants about their intangible cultural heritage and its importance. Although the uses, customs and traditions continue to be transmitted in the family environment as an everyday action, youth transmission has become weak in some cases. In addressing this issue through non-formal education efforts, the specificity of each intangible cultural heritage element is emphasized and the transmission processes adopted largely depend on the characteristic dynamics of each element.
As far as bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation is concerned, Mexico has been active in including intangible cultural heritage in cultural exchange agreements and in organizing exchanges of experience and competent experts in the management and safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, following extensive consultation with Mexican specialists. Mexico has also encouraged debate and the exchange of experiences regarding the implementation of the 2003 Convention by hosting a series of international meetings (six between 2007 and 2011), mainly with regional States but also some from Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Bilateral cooperation in the form of the exchange of experts and the organization of workshops, conferences and other meetings has been undertaken with Venezuela, Viet Nam, Abu Dhabi and Colombia.
Mexico reports here on six elements on the Representative List: the indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead (incorporated in 2008, having previously been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003); the places of memory and living traditions of the Otomí-Chichimecas people of Tolimán: the Peña de Bernal, guardian of a sacred territory (2009); the ritual ceremony of the Voladores (2009); Parachicos in the traditional January feast of Chiapa de Corzo (2010); Pirekua, the traditional song of the P’urhépecha (2010); and Traditional Mexican cuisine – ancestral, ongoing community culture, the Michoacán paradigm (2010).
Although most inscribed elements relate primarily to indigenous heritage, promoting their importance for the bearer communities also has a significant impact at the national level. For example, the festivity of the dead holds different meanings for different ethnic groups while also being a cultural practice deeply rooted in Mexican society and with a symbolic significance for Mexican national identity. In the cases of the Voladores and Pirekua, inscription has provided a platform for the use of community radio to disseminate activities around the symbolic meaning of their intangible cultural heritage to the community and, in particular, to young people. Generally, the inscribed elements continue to be viable and have strong community bases and modes of transmission, usually within the family context, and having a common language and/or shared practices or spaces supports this. Some of these elements have been used as the basis for teaching elementary school children the value of intangible cultural heritage as a source of identity, as with the festivity of the dead. This has been taken further with the Voladores element where the practitioner community established a ‘Children’s Volador School’ with the aim of transmitting and teaching the symbolic value of this cultural manifestation to the new generations. Attempts have also been made to combine safeguarding with community development, as with the Programme of Support to the Municipal and Communitarian Cultures (PACMYC) (2007-2011) that regards people and groupings as direct agents for the development of culture and provides economic support to initiatives and projects presented by non-governmental organizations and popular and indigenous creators.