Elizabeth Baquedano loves what she does and likes to do it well. After several decades of studying her native Mexico, the prestigious researcher, author, and professor has proven that it takes a lifetime to understand a nation. The award-winning ambassador of Mexican culture and history is passionate about presenting information in a palatable way. She is driven by inquisitiveness, inclusion, and the desire to look at Aztec life from a systematic perspective. The Ohtli Award recipient, credited with changing people’s perceptions of Mexico all over the globe, scrapes beyond the surface in her writing and teaching. Her lectures and literature range from ancient instruments to the cultural significance of death. By focusing on the minute details, Baquedano provides a comprehensive overview of her country. However, it is her poetic, philosophical way of drawing parallels that separate her from other professors. The walking encyclopedia weaves together decades of knowledge to create a complex portrait of Mexico for the general public.
Why do you think that we know other cultures when we really don’t?
EB: We label cultures by saying the Germans are punctual, the Italians love their fashion or every Brit is obsessed with their gardens. While certain aspects can be true, they are generally superficial observations. Yet, we know very little about other countries, which makes me wonder if we did how much would our perception change? I want to lend a bigger picture to what goes on in different parts of the world beyond the historical labels. Only when people start digging deeply can they really start falling in love with other countries.
At what point in your career did you feel like you were an expert?
EB: Expertise takes a lifetime. In my case, I like to think I know a little bit about a lot within the Mexican culture and history. One is never really an expert but rather tries to be thorough and be up to date. The only way to do this is to learn as many languages as possible and read the work of scholars in the native language. When I was given the Ohtli Award, which is equivalent to a national prize, I was beautifully surprised. My country obviously thinks I have done enough to promote Mexico and enhance its understanding abroad. It’s a wonderful feeling that the British have trusted me enough to have carte blanche in regards to what I teach about my country’s history. They allow me to do my job without questioning it, which has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.
This interview is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Word of Mouth: London Conversations