Cultural Diversity in Bogota
Colombia was one of the first nations in the New World to receive a large wave of colonizing immigrants from Europe during the early 1500’s and into the 1600s, who were arriving mostly from Spain, Germany, Denmark and Italy.
The city of Barranquilla, Colombia’s largest port-city situated on the Caribbean coast –and the Magdalena River delta, served for centuries as Colombia’s “Golden Gate” for European immigrants searching for a better life. Many of these immigrants would then embark upon the up-stream voyage, navigating the Magdalena River to later make their way up-hill to Bogota. Though Bogota did not receive the massive immigration from Europe that New York and Buenos Aires received during the 19th and 20th Centuries, the impact of European immigration into Bogota has certainly helped in the creation of Colombia, both past and present. As for tomorrow, Bogota Brilliance is certain that a new and exciting epoch of greater diversity and culture has arrived for the whole of Colombia.
NOTE: Distinctively different from other nations in North, Central or South America, it is important to understand that Colombia, with its very hospitable population and adherence to democracy –truly welcomed all immigrants.
Following is a summation of the history of the various groups of people who have made Colombia a nation of great cultural diversity:
Afro-Colombian …Information soon to arrive.
Though several Austrian immigrants would deserve special mention, we point-out most notably, the anthropologist Gerardo Reichei-Dolmatoff and the prolific violoncellist Wolfgang Schneider, and the accomplished pianist, Hilde Aider.
Bogota Brilliance is also happy to point out that as of 2007 an organization was founded in Bogota called the Corporación Panafricana de Colombia (KONI) to celebrate and promote African Culture.
Though thousands of Argentines have immigrated to Colombia, few persons have transcended cultural symbiosis as historically as two Argentine women have.
The names of Argentine-born Marta Trava and Fanny Mickey who wholeheartedly adopted their new Colombian homeland have become synonymous with the epitome of Colombian culture.
Marta Trava, the unrivaled art-critic of the 1950s and 1960s, was also a writer, but most importantly, the founder of the Museum of Modern Art of Bogota (MAMBO).
Then, there is Fanny Mickey, for whom words are insufficient to describe her singular tour de force personality. This Argentinean actress who became an impassioned lover of Colombia, founded several theatre projects, but most importantly, along with Ramiro Osorio, created a theatre festival that would become the largest and most important theatre event in the world, the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota.
Cubans have been immigrating to Colombia since the Colonial period. Initially led by Jewish immigrants who had fled Spain –but landed in Cuba at first, seeking the freedoms offered by the Colombian Republic (as Cuba remained under the Spanish yoke into the 20th Century). In recent decades, Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s dictatorship fled to Colombia where they have found a welcoming home. More poignantly, there is the drama of the thousands of Cuban Doctors that were sent by the Cuban government to assist the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez, many of whom have managed to flee to Colombia, where they have been given residency, homes, and jobs. But it would be remiss not to mention the brilliant, world-acclaimed Cuban actor and singer, Jorge Cao, who has so happily made Colombia his adopted home.
Denmark …Information soon to arrive.
French influence in the history of Colombia merits special mention. Not only did French explorers arrive in Colombia along with the Spaniards, but the French, through heroic figures such as Atanasio Girardot also helped the nation obtain its independence from Spain.
With the independence won, Napoleon’s scouts were quickly dispatched as he set his site on re-conquering this new Republic for his expansionist schemes. In this manner more French citizens would come to discover the exotic appeal of Colombia, with important scientists and engineers such as Jean-Baptiste Boussingault and François Désiré Roulin. They were followed by another key group of French immigrants who became the key developers and scientific protagonists of Colombia’s powerful mining industry. In 1855, the Count Adolphe De Gaisne de Bourmont, Paul de Bedout, Augustin de Colleville, Henri Bréche and Eugéne Lutz arrived in Colombia and stayed.
And the immigration of highly educated French citizens continued, with more architects and engineers arriving at the end of the 19th Century. Particularly significant was the arrival of architect Gastón Lelarge, who would initiate work of Colombia’s now highly acclaimed National Capitol Building, the Liévano Palace (Bogota’s Mayoral Palace), the Echeverri Palace and many other important buildings throughout Colombia.
Another French immigrant, Rogelio Salmona, so loved Colombia that even after the Bogotazo (riots of 1948) compelled him to return to Paris to conclude his studies of architecture (under the tutelage of Le Corbusier amongst others), he quickly returned to Bogota where he became one of the most influential architects of Latin America.
The arts in Colombia have been further enriched by the presence of great literary figures from France such as Phillippe Soupault and Andres Maurois (member of the Académie Française), who was so enthralled upon his arrival to Bogota in 1947 that he exclaimed “Bogota is Poetry!”
Today, the most important French cultural center to be erected in recent years is being built in Bogota, and it will bear his name.
But even athletics have been influenced by French immigrants, such as Olympic cycling champion José Beyaert, who in 1951 was invited to inaugurate Bogota’s Velodrome, and as so many others had done before him, decided to stay.
Of course, the gastronomic contribution by French immigrants has been significant. Please see our Dining section for more details.
Today, the French community is particularly active and thriving in Bogota, as throughout Colombia. Whether working for French companies such as Louis Vuitton, L’Oréal, Carrefour, Renault, Citroën, or many of the hundreds of others, many Frenchmen/women who arrive in Bogota oftentimes decide to remain living in Colombia. Not only will you find French immigrants living in the most fashionable districts of Bogota, but you will also find them in the Bohemian enclaves of the city such as La Candelaria and La Soledad. Given the great cross-pollination of French and Colombian cultures so dynamically occurring in Bogota (yet unknown to most of the world), it is no wonder that the Lycée Française of Bogota is reputed to be one of the best schools in the entire world.
Similarly, the French Colombian Alliance (Alianza Colombo Francesa) is one of the oldest and most active in the world. Not only is there a presence throughout various Colombian cities, but in Bogota alone there are three large locations. Additionally, there are a plethora of French organizations and associations, commercial and cultural, such as the French Colombian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Club Concorde.
Lastly, we bring special attention to two great French actors who have chosen Colombia as their home. Both the charming Claude Pimont and the dashing Patrick Delmas have offered great contributions to Colombian Theatre, Television and Cinema during their prolific careers.
For further information, please visit:
German explorers such as Nicolas Federmann arrived in Bogota even before the city’s official foundation in 1538. Years later, after the triumphant expedition which commenced in 1799 by one the most important scientists that ever explored the New World, the Baron Alexander von Humboldt, many notable German immigrants would continue to achieve significant successes in Colombia, including industrialists such as Adolfo Held, William Wolf, Reginaldo Paschke, Geo von Legerke and the beer magnate Leo S. Kopp, who in 1889 founded one of Colombia’s premier beer companies that would come to be known as Bavaria. Bavaria would become the world’s 10th largest beer company before merging with SABMiller in 2006.
In 1920, German aviator Helmuth von Kron, enamored with Colombia, would help to establish the aviation industry of the country. As one of the first important pilots in the world, in 1920 his Junker aircraft would be one of the first in the fleet of the newly founded airline SCADTA –today better known as Avianca, which was the first airline in the New World (and second in the world after KLM). Similarly, von Kron and other German immigrants collaborated with Colombian aviators to found the Colombian Air Force, also one of the oldest in the world, which played a key role in the successful defense of Colombia after it was attacked by Peru in 1932.
Colombian culture has been further advanced by the historian Gerhard Mazur, the pedagogue Fritz Karsen and the physicists Franz L. Mehr and Juan Herkath, along with celebrated artists such as Guillermo Wiedemann, Leopoldo Richter and Edwin Graus.
A helpful link to the great integration of German culture and business with Colombia can be found at the website of Bogota’s Goethe Institut:
Much like the history of Jewish immigration to Colombia, Gypsies were forced to flee Europe during the colonial period and into the Second World War. In particular, Colombia has received a large number of Gypsies from the Balkan countries, Hungary, Spain, Romania, Poland and France.
Indigenous …Information soon to arrive.
Italy …Information soon to arrive.
Jewish immigration to Colombia commenced as far back as the early 1500s, as the persecution of the Spanish Inquisition forced many to emigrate from Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sephardic Jews and others established colonies throughout Colombia’s Caribbean urban centers, but principally in the larger cities of Medellin, Cali, and of course Bogota. The period between and after the First and Second World Wars further catalyzed Jewish immigration to Colombia, and the Yiddish language could even be heard spoken throughout the country, especially in Barranquilla, and Bogota’s old Jewish neighborhood called Santa Fe.
Some notable Jewish immigrants to Colombia were writer Simon Guberek, architects Ernesto Blumenthal and Leopoldo Rother –who in 1936 brought the beauty of the Bauhaus movement to Colombia, and Paris-born, Rogelio Salmona, perhaps Colombia’s greatest architect.
The achievements of other Jewish immigrants to Colombia, such as Isaac Yanovich, ex-CEO of Ecopetrol, Polish-born Salomon Brainski, founder of Café Sherman which became famous for its artistic salons catering to the Bogota’s Jews, as well as Morris Harf and others have consistently strengthened Colombia’s economy and culture.
All in all, despite the efforts of some anti-Semitic local politicians during the 1940s, Jewish immigrants to Colombia have always found a true refuge.
Soon Bogota Brilliance will present two historic interviews documenting the experience of Jewish émigrés to Colombia.
Many Japanese people became enamored with this far-away romantic land after La Maria, perhaps the most famous Colombian novel, was translated into their language and read widely. Colombia began to see its first wave of immigrants from Japan in the early 1900s (the Japanese government began to allow its citizens to emigrate in 1868), followed by refugees which arrived before and after the Second World War.
Immigration from Japan, as from China and South Korea, has steadily increased in recent years, as these Asian nations notice the enormous commercial and cultural potential that Colombia has to offer.
A large number of immigrants from nations such as Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan have been arriving in Colombia for well over a century. While many immigrants originally fled the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire, many others continued to arrive in an effort to join their families happily living in Colombia. Many of these immigrants became important restaurateurs, merchants of textiles, objets d’art, clothing and rugs. In fact, a large number of immigrants from the Middle East continue to arrive today into Colombia.
Their assimilation and contribution to Colombian society is so vast that it would be impossible to accurately portray here. However, it should be noted that two important figures of Lebanese descent emerged to make historic contributions to Colombia. Julio César Turbay Ayala became President of Colombia in 1978, and the highly popular Colombian singer Shakira, has achieved unprecedented international recognition.
Nevertheless, the only exception to the overall assimilation of immigrants in Colombia can be found in the town of Maicao, located in Colombia’s Guajira Department where the residents have created a multi-generational Islamic community that values its traditional customs. Islamic schools and the second largest Mosque in Latin America have been established in Maicao.
Spain …Information soon to arrive.
Perhaps the largest immigration to Colombia per nation-of-origin-capita, apart from Spain, was from Switzerland.
When Swiss voyagers in the 1800s saw the splendor of Bogota’s savanna which resembled their native Alpine landscape, a love affair with Colombia, especially with Bogota, began. In 1945 Max Bazinguer and Walter Goggel founded Alpina, which would become one of the best and largest producers of lactose products in the world. No less important, the art of chocolate making, upholstering and watch-making have also been notable contributions of Swiss immigrants to Colombia.
Today, Bogota probably still boasts more Swiss restaurants than any other city in the New World.
But the most significant modern contribution from Switzerland is the beautiful, world famous mezzo soprano, Martha Senn, who after premiering in La Scala, collaborating with Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavorotti among others, has made Colombia her home country over many years.
United Kingdom …Information soon to arrive.
United States …Information soon to arrive.
Despite a great lull in immigration which commenced during the 1970s, and lasted through about 2002, Colombia has regained its status as an ideal nation for immigration. The new Colombian Constitution of 1999 further codified the rights of immigrants to Colombia –most of who had happily integrated into Colombian society, in one of the rare countries on Earth where prejudice or xenophobia has not taken root.
One recent wave of immigrants arrived from the Balkan nations. With Colombia’s participation within the United Nations peace-keeping forces, some Colombian soldiers married women from the region and brought them back to Colombia. Others in the Balkan countries were made aware of how wonderful life actually is in Colombia which thereby spurred further immigration.
Foreigners often arrive on vacation and discover such a wonderful nation and quality of life that many decide to return or overstay their legally allotted days. In fact, given how warmly Colombians receive foreigners, few know that there are actually many illegal aliens living in Colombia; mainly from the United States, France, Venezuela, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Canada. And (legal) resident-visa immigration numbers further confirm the trend. Today, immigration to Colombia from throughout the world is exploding, and in 2007 the first French-African Colombian Association was founded. But it is mainly citizens from the United States, Venezuela and China who are leading the way, into the wonderful land of freedom and happiness called Colombia.
Moreover, the new Constitution (of 1999) further buttressed Colombian jurisprudence, to further codify a more inclusive, diverse Colombian society, as it paved the way for same sex couples to obtain the first equal rights legislation in Latin America.
It is a well known fact in Colombia that many ambassadors from throughout the world actually lobby their governments to be given posts in Colombia. But more importantly, many foreign diplomats who have lived around the world, and who know the actual beauty of the Colombian reality (as opposed to just the negative press about Colombia) actually choose to make Colombia their retirement choice!
With the eyes of the world finally beginning to focus on Colombia, Bogota Brilliance is hopeful that Colombia will soon become the unexpected beacon for a better life, an unexpected light, not just for Colombia and its countless new immigrants, but for the world.