Moving Latin America
2014 is a year of centenaries. Some are European anniversaries, such as the WWI centennial. Others are more important in Latin America and are culture-related, as the hundred years since Octavio Paz was born, whom many have defined as the father of Mexican literature.
Paz spent much of his life trying to understand the traditions and contradictions of Latin America. Many companies and organizations find some operative difficulties when trying to adapt to the culture of the continent. The reflections of Octavio Paz in relation to the region could help us solve the doubts that many entrepreneurs are experiencing. This helps understand, from a historical and cultural point of view, certain social, political and economic behaviors. These lines seek to encourage the reader to understand a reality with a profound respect towards the cultural and historical heritage that unites the continent. Instead of generating an antagonistic behavior, the objective is to “move Latin America” with the same spirit as Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, is moving his country trying to develop and transform a nation through reforms. All of this is done through a profound understanding of its historical and cultural reality.
Similarly, in the following lines, we will address the miscegenation and cultural fusion as a different path for success for enterprises and organizations. This time, from a cuisine point of view and through the combination of two examples like Nikkei in Peru or the fusion between tradition and modernity that the great chef Enrique Olvera has promoted in Mexico.
Let us start with Octavio Paz. His reflections on Latin America are three-way: tradition, modernity and Latin American “eccentricity”. Paz thought that “the Latin American independence did not particularly seek the establishment of a new social and economic order –something common in modern revolutions, as occurred in France and the U.S.–, but putting an end to Spanish tradition and the replacement of a colonial regime, absolutist and Catholic, for a republican, democratic and liberal government”. He defines the process as one of self-deception due to the absence of a bourgeoisie and an intellectual class that could have promoted constructive criticism of the system. The Latin American reality called for the independence of leaders and political creativity that would allow for a re-elaboration and re-creation of the democratic and liberal ideals.
The eagerness to modernize many of the social and economic elements of Latin America is marked by its colonial past
Instead, “they preferred to adopt the political philosophy of France, England and the U.S. It was natural for Latin American people to adhere to these ideas and seek to implement them in their countries: those were the ideas of an emerging modernity.
But adopting them was not enough in order to be modern: they had to be adapted”. Paz talks about a historical overlap. This can also be seen in the great number of business projects that, instead of trying to succeed by promoting a critical entrepreneurship and creativity, merely imported ideas through a “copycat” philosophy. But this situation is changing, and the traditional business sagas of the continent are being replaced by businessmen who seek a social transformation, expanding their territory of action beyond their national borders and make their legacy grow.
The eagerness to modernize many of the social and economic elements of Latin America is marked by its colonial past. The result of this are phenomena such as patrimonialism, through which those with highly political posts govern the State and nation as a mere extension of their private wealth, often leading to corruption, favoritism and arbitrariness. This situation is worsened, according to Paz, by the stillness and populism that has been so successful in Latin America. However, this is gradually changing as we become part of an increasingly globalized world in which societies –that now have technology and social media at their disposal– demand having a voice in the public debate and condemn behaviors that were previously silenced. Nowadays, Latin American modernity is mutating thanks to citizen empowerment.
Nikkei is the name used to define the Japanese immigrants and their descendants and also refers to the fusion between the Peruvian and Japanese cuisines. As always, it started out of necessity; the needs of Japanese immigrants in Peru to maintain their traditional cuisine but without the usual ingredients. This need entailed a fusion between local ingredients, as there were no imports in the past.
Thus, Carapulca (lomo saltado) was dressed with some Kyon, Japanese sillau, miso and sugar. All Japanese restaurant owners in Peru ate with their local employees, sharing with them the Japanese products and customs. Some people think that the Peruvian ceviche, the Peruvian pride as regards cuisine, is rests of sashimi and lemon. In this sense, many global businesses that seek to expand in the Latin American region find that the fusion between management cultures and leadership is a competitiveness factor. This requires a great vision and understanding by operational leaders, who need to embrace the local culture without forgetting their roots.
Certain U.S. multinational thought that sending an executive from “Kansas” to manage an assembly plant in Peru, Colombia or Mexico would ensure the survival of corporative “faith”. Nowadays, many U.S. subsidiaries in Latin America are headed by Ecuadorians, Chileans or Colombians. Many have crossed the borders of their respective countries. Two good examples are Ignacio Deschamps for BBVA or José Octavio Reyes for Coca Cola.
That attachment to the roots is precisely the main feature of one of the most distinguished chefs of Mexico, Enrique Olvera. Olvera says that his love for Mexico is the reason to draw on the traditions of his country and develop the most traditional dishes, such as mole. He has also recovered traditions like eating with your hands. It is another fusion, between tradition and modernity, marked by the historical and cultural past of a nation. Understanding such a rich and diverse region as Latin America implies understanding its traditions, both from a business and cultural point of view, and embracing them to evolve and create value.
This is the reason for which Latin America is moving, and quite rapidly, as one of the most dynamic regions worldwide, a region that innovates and finds in its roots a new form to conquer the world.