By Yi Whan-woo
From bananas sold at subway stations to Spam cans to hamburger buns at fast food restaurant chains, many Mexican products here go unnoticed.
This is why social and cultural interactions between the two countries are critical on top of economic cooperation to enhance bilateral relations, according to Mexican Ambassador to Korea Bruno Figueroa Fischer.
“My goal is to increase Mexico’s footprint in Korea and help to increase Korea’s footprint in Mexico,” he told The Korea Times at the embassy on Sept. 12.
“We know how much Korea invests in Mexico and we want more Korean investment. But it’s less known that Mexican companies are also investing in Korea,” he added, pointing out that Mexico-Korea trade volume surpassed $191 billion in 2017.
The ambassador said the affinity and curiosity triggered by Mexico’s advance to the 2018 FIFA World Cup knockout stage with help from Korea were positive signs to bring the two sides closer emotionally.
Figueroa has been pushing a promotion campaign for culture and tourism since he took office in April 2017.
This year’s campaign began with screening of “Coco,” a Disney-Pixar animated film about a 12-year-old aspiring musician’s journey to the Land of the Dead during Dia de Muertos, a traditional Mexican holiday.
From May to July, the embassy hosted the inaugural “Mexico, a world of its own” photo contest to share young Koreans’ travel experiences in Mexico.
There were more than 150 entries from students, professors and other faculty members at Korean universities.
Twenty winning images are on display at a month-long exhibition, also called “Mexico, a world of its own,” at the embassy from Sept. 12.
“They (the youth) have their own eye toward other countries, especially Mexico, and this is valuable to us to see precisely the pictures that participated in the contest,” the ambassador said.
“The students today will become adults soon and will have important positions in private sectors and government and the fact that we can already have them know, appreciate and even love Mexico is important.”
The envoy referred to the contest and exhibition as part of steps to increase knowledge between the two countries.
“If you start early, this will have a larger impact,” he said.
The exhibition is a part of the “Month of Mexico in Korea,” the embassy’s cultural project in September to celebrate the 208th anniversary of Mexico’s independence and its 56 years of diplomatic relations with Korea.
The project includes “The Flavors of Mexico,” a gastronomic festival from Sept. 13 to 22 at Cafe 395 restaurant at the Millennium Seoul Hilton hotel in Jung-gu, central Seoul.
It features Mexican cuisine from chef Daniel Gonzalez of Fonda Mayora Restaurant in Mexico City.
A group of Mexican representatives joined the Latin American Festival at the Seongbuk Global Center on Sept. 15, while the Mariachi Real Juvenil band performed at the Nami Island Cultural Festival from Sept. 15 to 16.
On Sept. 21, Mexican flautist Horacio Franco and Mexican-Korean pianist K.L. Joon will jointly host a concert at the National Gugak Center in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul.
“This is all about soft power, all about presenting our best cultural assets, the same way that Korea does,” the ambassador said. “That’s what attracts millions of people all around the world today …. We expect Koreans to love Mexico, to learn more about Mexico so that we can be closer.”
Figueroa encouraged Korea to capitalize on Mexico’s media network to help promote K-pop, which has rapidly spread to Latin America.
“Mexico, with Brazil, has the largest TV and media outlets of Latin America,” he said. “We have great influence in the region, particularly in Central America. So, I can imagine very well that through Mexican TV and media, there is penetration of K-pop to the region.”
Aeromexico, Mexico’s flag carrier, began direct flight between Incheon and Mexico City in July 2017.
The number of Korean travelers to Mexico is expected to reach 100,000 for the first time, according to the ambassador.
The envoy said he still wanted to draw more Korean tourists by targeting ethnic Koreans in the United States and Canada and by cooperating with Seoul’s leading travel agencies such as Hana Tour and Mode Tour.
“We have seen tourism to Mexico by Koreans living in North America is also very strong,” he said. “We also work together with large Korean travel agencies, targeting product and destinations.”
He stressed that working with Korean TV broadcast stations and introducing tourist attractions through reality shows, such as “The Return of Superman,” and “Law of the Jungle,” could also be effective.
|Mexican Ambassador to Korea Bruno Figueroa Fischer, front, sings with other dignitaries during a reception to commemorate the 208th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence Day at the Millennium Seoul Hilton hotel in Jung-gu, central Seoul, Sept. 14. / Embassy of Mexico|
To facilitate Korea’s economic cooperation with Latin American countries, Mexico is working with its regional neighbors to open a Latin American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul within this year.
“The Latin American presence is still very discreet in this country,” the ambassador said. “So this chamber will have very important role in having a greater voice for Latin America.”
He said signing a trade agreement between Mexico and Korea would help consolidate the economic partnership and alliance as members of MIKTA, an acronym named after first alphabet of the five middle powers — Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia.
Asked about his memorable moments in Korea, he picked the peace movement between the two Koreas this year, his participation as a PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Torch Relay runner, and watching the two Koreas marching under a unified flag at the PyeongChang Olympics opening ceremony.
During a reception at the Millennium Seoul Hilton hotel on Sept. 14 to mark Mexico’s Independence Day, he wished success for the third North-South Korea summit in Pyongyang, starting on Sept. 18.
“My government fully supports the Republic of Korea’s endeavors to achieve complete denuclearization and to establish a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, and wishes great success to the third summit between President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un,” he said.