Remarks by Arturo Sarukhan, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States of America,
at the ceremony for the bestowal of the Decoration of the Aztec Eagle
Washington, DC, November 19th, 2007
Mrs. Laura Bush,
We are gathered here tonight to celebrate the life and contributions of four extraordinary individuals. All of them have greatly advanced the knowledge and the prestige of Mexico in the United States, no small feat given that much of Mexico’s international standing and reputation is built on a unique strength: it’s cultural and artistic vitality.
Ours is a culture that spans over 3,000 years of uninterrupted artistic splendor. From the great Pre-Hispanic ceremonial centers and magnificent colonial cathedrals to the architecture of Enrique Norten; from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes; from Buñuel to Cuarón, González Iñárritu and Del Toro; from Chávez and Revueltas to Lavista; from Frida Kahlo to Graciela Iturbide; from José Clemente Orozco to Gabriel Orozco; from folk art to conceptual art, Mexico today is on the cusp of a new cultural reinvention of itself.
The Government of President Felipe Calderón believes that cultural interaction and educational exchange are key elements in our international relations, a powerful tool that will help us build a stronger and more relevant Mexico on the world stage. Today, we know that Mexico’s strength resides precisely in its diversity. Tolerance and plurality are replacing censure and uniformity. And it is for this reason that the consolidation of democracy is so important for Mexico’s cultural diplomacy. This new cultural diplomacy should not only recognize criticism and diverse opinions, but also give them room for expression. We as a nation must open ourselves to the world without fear, both to understand it and for it in turn to perceive and understand us for what we truly are.
Mexican cultural diplomacy must continue to break new ground by seeking to establish new links between government and business, between artists and cultural institutions, as Adair Margo well knows. But the work of Government and institutions is never enough: today, as always, we need committed individuals on both sides of our border, individuals willing to fight against stereotypes and willing to step-up and challenge the forces of isolation and xenophobia which are sadly poisoning our relationship. This is why tonight we celebrate the contributions of four individuals doing precisely that.
Though many today would challenge R.W. Emerson, claiming that the history of mankind is not the history of great men, the history of culture and of cultural exchange is doubtlessly the work of great individuals, individuals that often work against the grain, in isolation, breaking new ground, showing us what’s there but cannot be seen. It is fitting tonight that in the company of these four great Americans, I refer briefly to one such individual: Rene d’Harnoncourt, Anne’s father. He lived in Mexico from 1925 to 1933 and he befriended the great Mexican artists of the time, developing a lifelong passion for Mexican folk art. In 1930 he curated the first great show of Mexican art for the Met in New York, a show that then traveled throughout the US for the following years. In 1940 he collaborated with Miguel Covarrubias in the spectacular Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art presented at New York’s MoMA. It was in no small measure thanks to that exhibition, and to Rene d’Harnoncourt, that in the 30’s the great Mexican muralists painted in the United States, that Frida and Alvarez Bravo had their first solo exhibitions in New York, and that Vanity Fair ran a cover story with the title “The enormous vogue of all things Mexican”.
Few people could imagine that this was not a fad, but the reinforcing of a permanent link that has shaped the culture of both our nations ever since. Both Rusty Powell and Anne d’Harnoncourt have played a large role in ensuring that many such exhibitions continue taking place.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are no two countries in the world today that are more important to each other than Mexico and the United States. Our societies increasingly understand that they are stakeholders in a deep and broad relationship upon which the future well-being and prosperity of both our nations depends. The intensity and complexity of this relationship is not surprising: we share a long border, key values, and a transnational community with roots on both sides of the Rio Grande. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto has argued in favour of a culture that is geographically neither here nor there, but alive in countless transborder communities.
Every country has its unique advantages. Ours is the extraordinary vitality of Mexican culture, understood in its broadest sense. Culture and the arts, along with our rich historical heritage, are perhaps our greatest comparative advantage in this globalised world. Our culture certainly allows Mexico to punch above its weight, not only in the US but throughout the world. And the four friends of Mexico gathered here tonight are certainly among our best heavy-weight champions.
In representation of President Felipe Calderón, and as Mexican Ambassador to the United States, it is a distinct honour and privilege to bestow upon you the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest decoration with which my nation distinguishes foreign nationals. I feel doubly honoured that the Fist Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush, herself a champion and promoter of the quiet diplomacy of cultural and educational ties between our two peoples, would join us here tonight for this ceremony.
Anne d’Harnoncourt: please step forward.
A few years ago, when Anne had taken a group of museum directors to Mexico City, she was asked at a press conference when her love affair with Mexico began, and she responded: “before I was born”. And she has proven this point throughout her personal and professional live. Her friendship with Octavio Paz and countless other Mexican artists and intellectuals has given her a privileged knowledge of our culture that has helped her to foster a long-standing commitment to the art and culture of Mexico.
Anne d’Harnoncourt is the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1982. From that position Miss d’Harnoncourt made possible two exhibitions presented last year: Tesoros: The Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820 and Mexico and Modern Printmaking: A Revolution in the Graphic Arts, 1920-1950. In celebration of the centennial of Frida Kahlo’s birth, the Philadelphia Museum will present the touring exhibition of her work in February. The Museum is also planning the first U.S. exhibition devoted to Juan Soriano. Previously the Museum presented Eyes on Mexico: Photographs from the Collection; Gabriel Orozco: Photogravity; and Images of the Spirit: Graciela Iturbide. During her tenure the Museum has enriched its holdings of Mexican art by artists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Graciela Iturbide, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Gabriel Orozco. Ms. d’Harnoncourt has also made personal donations of Mexican art to several US institutions including a vast collection of Mexican photography to the University of Texas at Austin.
Ms. Anne d’Harnoncourt: For the great services you have performed in deepening and fostering understanding between our two nations, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Insignia of the Aztec Eagle.
Mrs. Adair Margo: please step forward.
During my first weeks in Washington I was constantly asked whether I had yet met with Adair Margo, and whenever I said no, I was severely scolded. Agendas being what they are in this town, we finally managed to sit down for lunch. Of the cuff I asked her, “so, Adair, what are we going to do next”, to which she responded “everything and more”. She certainly meant it and over these past months has proven time and again her commitment to a truly bi-national cultural agenda. Adair is a true cultural ambassador and has been a long-standing and enthusiastic champion in strengthening crossborder cultural relationships.
Arising from her life on the U.S.-Mexico border, Adair Margo has made cultural diplomacy with Mexico, personally and professionally, one of her deepest interests and commitments. As owner of the Adair Margo Gallery in El Paso, Texas, Adair shares her passion for seeing other cultures through the eyes of artists. She recently co-edited the book “Jose Cisneros, Immigrant Artist,” on the life of this extraordinary Mexican-American artist and National Humanities Medalist. From the start of her tenure as Chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Committee, has emphasized expanding cultural relations with Mexico, and spearheaded two Joint Communiqués on Cultural Understanding that focus on cross-border leadership in the sustainability of cultural, natural and historic resources.
Mrs. Adair Margo: For the great services you have performed in deepening and fostering understanding between our two nations, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Insignia of the Aztec Eagle.
Mr. Earl A. Powell III: please step forward
Earl A. Powell is one of the most formidable museum directors in the United States. In a country that can be proud of such great cultural institutions, Rusty Powell stands out as a generous, trailblazing, and imaginative leader, serving in the boards of countless institutions and contributing to some of the most relevant cultural initiatives taking shape in the US today. He has always understood the transformative power that art has in binding us together in a new consciousness, without having to resort to gimmicks or cheap tricks.
Rusty has been director of the National Gallery of Art since 1992 and is an expert in 19th and 20th century European and American art. Mr. Powell’s relationship with Mexico has spanned more than two decades with many distinguished exhibitions devoted to Mexican art and culture to his credit, including Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, which he presented when he was Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. At the National Gallery, he presented Olmecs, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya and Diego Rivera: the Cubist Still Lives and Portraits. Under the leadership of Rusty, the National Gallery has generously sent to Mexico important exhibitions including Treasures of the National Gallery, exhibited at the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology, and Mark Rothko, presented at the Mexican Museum of Modern Art.
Mr. Earl A. Powell III: For the great services you have performed in deepening and fostering understanding between our two nations, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Insignia of the Aztec Eagle.
Dr. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto: please step forward
It is not easy to describe Tomás Ybarra-Frausto as a fighting man. He is discreet and understated, his manner is quiet and agreeable, and yet he has had to fight for his entire life against ingrained prejudices on both sides of our border. And he has done so with intelligence and courage. When Mexican-American culture was neglected in the US and looked down upon by Mexican cultural elites, when many denied that such a culture even existed, Tomás showed us all that the Mexican communities in the US had a culture very much their own and that their culture is as much a product of Mexico as it is of the United States, and that it enriches both our countries and our societies. Earlier this year I was very happy to learn that Tomás was going to be recognized earlier with the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Legacy Award, but I can now openly confess that I was also disappointed: I wanted Mexico to celebrate his incredible contributions first. But it really doesn’t matter who got to him first: what is certainly just is that both our counties recognize in Tomás the symbol of our intertwined cultures.
Tomás Ybarra-Frausto is a distinguished scholar noted for establishing the historical, intellectual and artistic heritage of Mexico as a base for the development of Mexican American Studies. He served as Chair of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco and the Smithsonian Council, and has written and published extensively on Latin American and U.S. Latino arts and culture. Tomás was formerly the Associate Director for Creativity and Culture at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he developed the U.S.-Mexico Fund for Culture, a bi-national initiative that over a period of 10 years awarded over 10 million dollars to support individual artists, humanities scholars and institutions creating new paradigms for mutual understanding, cooperation and reciprocal knowledge-sharing between Mexico and the United States.
Dr. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto: For the great services you have performed in deepening and fostering understanding between our two nations, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Insignia of the Aztec Eagle.
END OF THE CEREMONY