What are we doing in Latin America to preserve our heritage? The example from community television

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Por Marco Fidel Suárez Bedoya

At the risk of losing credibility, I think the way to tell this experience is in first person. I live in Jardín, a Colombian town, hidden in a small corner of the Andean Mountain range, which bases its economy on coffee and tourism and which is recognized as a Heritage Town for the beautiful colonial style of the facades of its houses, for its Indigenous Reserve and for its exuberant natural wealth in which endemic species stand out.  The Presidential Decree 1132 of 24th April 1985 declared the main park of this municipality as a National Monument. For its part, the community of Jardin has a set of Symbolic assets that are part of its heritage, wealth and identity, and which it considers patrimonial. 

 

In Jardín, while we enjoy such distinction, the local history museum, located in one of the oldest houses in the municipality, is falling apart and visitors are rarely allowed to enter. It is not a lack of will on the part of local governments, but rather in Colombia protecting heritage properties is a wearisome management, a challenge that many leaders give up on or that simply loses strength in each four-year period. Strategies to conserve heritage, at least from the public sector, are few or very bureaucratic. 

 

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In this context, and since my undergraduate years, I have asked myself the same question as the title: What are we doing to preserve our heritage?  Sometimes researchers and students forget the small details, we forget to look at the micro for those small actions that have a magnificent effect on the macro. Perhaps the answer to that question, which we share today, is right in front of our eyes: community initiatives that move quietly, carefully, often without being aware of their protective potential. This is the case of Antena 4, a small community television channel with a local reach which has been exalting the Jardineño’s heritage since its inception and without knowing it could be creating a communication and pedagogical tool of great value, a tool that could be effective for the public to understand the importance of cultural identity, after all, it is nothing more than our heritage in its various categories.

Antena 4 is a media channel that emits few programs due to its technical capacity, but creates a good number of its own contents based on three fundamental objectives:  to inform, entertain and educate. This means, as stated in its organizational mission, the objective of “helping in the recovery and construction of oral memory as well as the identity and cultural heritage of the municipality of Jardin and its inhabitants. 

Let us remember that the heritage of a human group is a set of cultural goods and manifestations that express its identity, that possess a symbolic character and that are inherited from one generation to the next. It is a matter that is socially constructed, we cannot ignore the power of communication to disseminate visions and representations in the world, therefore, of our heritage. Communication can be a social tool for the formation, dissemination and appropriation of heritage of a community, even a nation.  

Based on these premises, in 2016 I carried out an analysis of the contents broadcast during two months in Antena 4’s own programming, under a theoretical methodological approach that tried to combine the quantitative with the qualitative. This analysis showed that in only 41 programs there are a total of 282 direct allusions to the cultural heritage of Jardin, understood as images, sounds, characters, written texts and spoken texts. In them, the images of the municipality’s immovable heritage (45%) take precedence. In the qualitative side, it was found that most of the themes induced by the speakers, both presenters and guests, allude to the conservation of heritage and exalt, sometimes unconsciously the heritage elements of the locality, especially those belonging to the categories of living and intangible heritage. 

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Among those subjected to analysis, one called Memorias stands out, which enjoys a greater audience and the largest number of broadcasts and consists of the recovery of audiovisual content, usually interviews with older adults, in which every life is discussed and how it affects local history. Memorias turns the voice of our grandparents into heritage. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons why the Ministry of Culture supported the realization of the program during one of its seasons, in addition. The episodes of the program remain jealously guarded by the local history center. 

Today, Antena 4 continues with its work and Memorias is still on the air. We should ask ourselves about the influence of this communicative activity on viewers and to obtain an answer, an impact study is necessary to know for sure the role and influence of the media channel in the social construction of Jardin’s heritage. However, we have indications to believe that this relationship is of considerable importance.  

 

On the other hand, and as Néstor Garcia Canclini has explained, the media, whether large or small, make a mistake, or are at risk of making one, by presenting a vision of heritage that only appeals to its contemplation and turns it into a  driving force for tourism. It is imperative to go beyond this traditional perspective to reach a critical vision of what it really means to preserve our cultural identity, without ignoring the source of sustainable economy that heritage can mean. To do this, we need to train, educate and raise awareness of the populations about their patrimonial assets, not only the archaic but also the emerging ones, because being a social construct, there are many elements of the present that are worthy of becoming a heritage for both current and future generations. 

Finally, I dare to say that, involuntarily, we have discovered another way of conserving our heritage in Latin America, and we are doing it right now: talking, writing and reading about it, from the academic, the experiential and the everyday. 

 

Biography

García Canclini, N. (1999). Los usos sociales del patrimonio cultural. Patrimonio etnológico: nuevas perspectivas de estudio. Coord. por Aguilar Criado, E. ISBN 84-8266-093-4. Pp. 16-33.

Martín Serrano, M. (2004). La producción social de comunicación. Tercera Edición. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

Suárez Bedoya, M. F. (2016). El patrimonio en la televisión comunitaria. Análisis de contenidos del canal comunitario Antena 4 de Jardín, Antioquia. [Trabajo de Grado]. Universidad de Antioquia.

 


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