Colombia

Reflecting on the Festival Experience

Presenting at the Colombia Program:
Contributing to Cultural Exchange

by Silvia Serrano

Silvia Serrano

Juan César Bonilla, tagua craftsman, Silvia Serrano, interpreter and presenter, and álvaro Suesca, director of El Pueblo Canta. Photo by Carolina Satamaría

Colombia: the Nature of Culture program was a wonderful space where people from different parts of Colombia had the opportunity to share their practices and knowledge with the world. The Programa del Festival took place in a country that welcomes countless of immigrants from different countries; and in a city, Washington D.C., that is also characteristically diverse. Furthermore, the broader Folklife Festival brought together people from different parts of the U.S. through the Rhythm and Blues program and from the world over through the Peace Corps program.

The festival facilitated an exchange of knowledge between participants and visitors. As people observed, met, and spoke with one another, they learned about their cultural differences and similarities. I had the pleasure to interpret a conversation between María Florinda Coy, a basket weaver from the highlands, and a woman from the U.S. who also weaves with natural fibers. Even without my translation, the two women were able to communicate as María Florinda “talked” with her hands and gestured her meanings. The other woman concluded: “She and I speak the same language.”

What’s more, the Festival put a human and personal face on Colombian culture. Colombia, for many visitors, is no longer simply an abstract point on the map, related only to drug trafficking or coffee and flower trading. Now, for them, Colombia is also the face of Enrique Hernández, his balsa wood fishes, and the Caquetá river where the fishes that inspire him live. Colombia is also the face of Juan César Bonilla, who artfully “discovers” and crafts objects from the seed of the tagua palm.

Thus, through the Festival, people from many different parts of the world had the opportunity to encounter and get to know a different face of Colombian culture. Meanwhile, Colombian people were able to explore their differences from and similarities with people from other parts of the world, and they learned more about the different cultures that comprise their own country. I think the Festival provided an invaluable experience for everyone involved. It is a wonderful event that contributes to increasing knowledge and understanding between different cultures.

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Silvia Serrano received her master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University. Her thesis analyzed carranguera music lyrics as a space of cultural resistance over the traditional representations of campesinos from the Cundiboyancense highlands. She served as a presenter and interpreter at the 2011 Folklife Festival Colombia program.