“Interculturalidad” – View on Interculturalism from Latin America


During my recent and incredibly learning- and success-filled trip to Colombia, a client asked me to do a short presentation on the state of intercultural competence in Latin America. Such a small request, right (asked wryly and facetiously)? I live in México, but after four years I sure don’t count myself a culture-specific expert, and I am surely not qualified to speak for over half the hemisphere! So, what to do? Turn to an esteemed colleague’s expertise, of course. In this case, I turned to Adriana Medina (and her co-author, John Sinnigen).

The beauty of the source article I used, “Interculturality vs. Intercultural Competencies in Latin America,” is that the authors introduce facts and history we all know, but they put them into a context in such a way that makes total sense and creates new meaning. At least for me.

For example, one of their points is how Latin Americans have lived interculturality for hundreds of years if not longer: wars, imperialism and commerce between the many distinct indigenous cultures, then conquistadores, colonialism, slavery and intercontinental commerce. Intercultural competence on this stage is not some new import during the current age of global economic interdependence. Rather, Latin America’s gold, silver, emeralds and such were important to European economies beginning centuries ago. The authors’ point is, one of the valuable contributions that Latin American interculturalidad can add to the largely northern and western-originated notions of intercultural communication or intercultural competence is this: power, specifically power imbalances.

“Interculturality, the preferred term in Latin America, refers to a historic condition, a radical restructuring of the historically uneven relations of wealth and power that have existed between Europeans and their descendants and indigenous and other subordinated groups during the last half millennium. The aim is decolonization of institutions and the sociocultural fabric of the country.”
— A. Medina-López-Portillo and John H. Sinnigen, “Interculturality vs. Intercultural Competencies in Latin America,” chapter 13 in Deardorff 2009, Sage Handbook of Intercultural Competence

In their article the authors present six strengths that Latin American interculturalidad can contribute to the intercultural communication and competence field. And, speaking for myself, our field is in huge need of hearing and incorporating these perspectives into our theory and practice! Contributions of interculturalidad, according to Medina and Sinnigen,  include that it:
  1. Is counter-hegemonic; focuses on the balance of power
  2. Starts with the needs of marginalized cultures (diverse indigenous movements from Mexico to Bolivia and Ecuador)
  3. Advocates mutual respect and economic and political equality rather than the acculturation of the oppressed
  4. Incorporates Andean/Amazonian concepts such as respect for Pachamama, good living, communitarian practices
  5. Multilingual integration
  6. Decades of dialogue leading to constitutional specificity

I want to thank this client for making this request of me, as it spurred me to learn more about a colleague’s work, and also to learn more about the work of Nestor García Canclini (more about his work in another blog post). I also want to thank Adri and John, whose work, I feel, is very important. I hope this might spur more of us to read, incorporate and build on their findings.

I have posted three PowerPoint slides summarizing this article, and you are welcome to download and use them if they might serve you. Please be sure to retain all source references, including the authors’ and Cultural Detective‘s. Together we can make a difference!

What do you think about the authors’ premises? How might we help the intercultural field to incorporate the Latin American perspective? How do you handle power differences in your work? I look forward to hearing from you!

Born and raised in Mexico City, Adriana Medina-López-Portillo is Assistant Professor of Intercultural Communication and Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages, Linguistics and Intercultural Communication at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She is an accomplished intercultural trainer, having designed and led workshops for higher education, not-for-profit, governmental, and corporate clients in the United States and abroad. Among her favorite appointments are training for The Scholar Ship, a transnational academic program housed on a passenger ship, and offering pre-departure and on site orientations for the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. John Sinnigen is Prof. of Spanish and Intercultural Communication at UMBC.  He is the co-editor of América para todos los americanos:  prácticas interculturales (Mexico: UNAM, 2012).

3 thoughts on ““Interculturalidad” – View on Interculturalism from Latin America

  1. Dianne muchas gracias por ir a la Universidad Sergio Arboleda, ya sabia lo que quería hacer pero no sabia que fuera posible y menos que había una organización que se encargaba de ello. muchas gracias, me encanta tu trabajo y espero poder seguir tus pasos.

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    • ¡Hola! Me da mucho gusto saber que te sirvió el taller! Gracias por ponerte en contacto. ¿Con quien tengo el gusto? El mundo necesita MUCHOS más profesionales interculturales con talento, entusiasmo y en particular una perspectiva Colombiana! Adelante!

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  2. Pingback: Free Resources, all in one place | Cultural Detective Blog

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