Mexican intellectual, writer, friend to the Amir D. Aczel Foundation, diplomat Andrès Roemer now has a street in Ramat Gan, Israel, named after him. According to the city’s mayor Shama-Hacohen, the renaming of the street was in recognition of his ‘contributions to the state of Israel.’ Roemer holds a special place in our hearts. Last May we traveled to San Francisco to present him the inaugural Amir D. Aczel Foundation Prize in 2019 for his contributions to ongoing dialogue in science and humanities. He has recently accepted our invitation to join the Foundation’s newly forming Board of Directors.
Roemer speaks his mind and follows his conscience. As the newly-appointed Mexican ambassador to UNESCO, he made headlines when he walked out of a meeting to avoid casting his government’s vote in favor of the 2016 Occupied Palestine Resolution, which would have denied historical Jewish ties to Jerusalem. As a result, he was removed from his post and sent packing. Mexico later rescinded support for the controversial Resolution and changed their vote to “no.”
At the October ceremony for the formal renaming of the street, Andrès addressed residents saying: ‘Dear residents, it has been the greatest privilege of my life to be a part of your honorable place. This is a simple and symbolic present to always remind you of my eternal gratitude and love.” He presented each of the residents on the street with a small gift basket to show his appreciation.
His action in defiance of a government’s order speaks volumes about the character of Roemer—he doesn’t shy away from doing what he believes is the “right thing” even when the costs to him may be great.
Andrès and Amir first met in 2008 when Andres invited Aczel to speak at his newly conceived Ted-style mega event in Puebla, Mexico, called La Ciudad de las Ideas or The City of Ideas, also called the Festival of Brilliant Minds. Amir had written a compact book called Chance that explored the role probability plays in everything in our lives from the stock market to who we marry. That first year of La Ciudad was stunning—an incredible gathering of speakers in every discipline imaginable, debating, explaining, challenging our preconceptions on a wide range of topics in religion, anthropology, arts, science, psychology, artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship, entertainment.
Andres founded the festival along with Ricardo Salinas Pliego, telecommunications mogul, to introduce Mexicans—and audiences beyond as all talks are widely televised to Latin America and freely available online–to what he refers to as “dangerous” ideas. His goal is to make us think and question our long-held beliefs and assumptions. The audience is typically young, as most attendees are between 18-25 years old. Well-known Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, a past participant, said that the events have “all the razzle-dazzle and popular appeal of the TED Conferences,” which attract an A-list crowd of entrepreneurs and tech gurus. But “Roemer invites thousands of ordinary Mexican citizens – most notably, high school students – to ‘Ciudad de Las Ideas.’ ”
Like Ted, talks are short, and there is time for participants to meet the speakers or other attendees and continue debates or discussions outside the spectacular Puebla convention hall. This November 8-10, La Ciudad de las Ideas will hold its 12th festival. It has become one of the most important gatherings of ideas in Latin America, and through the arms of television and internet reaches 14 million people worldwide.
So who IS Andres Roemer? He is that rare combination of brilliant intellect, passion for ideas, passion for “doing the right thing,” exceptional courage, tireless promoter of Mexico. Roemer is currently UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Societal Change and the Free Flow of Knowledge—a long title that sums up beautifully what he cares about. UNESCO said that he was selected for this position due to his “commitment to promoting free and pluralistic societies as a contribution to peace and human rights. It also recognizes his support for the sciences, culture and sustainable development, and his dedication to the ideals and aims of the Organization.”
Roemer was formerly Consul General of Mexico in San Francisco, He still runs La Ciudad. His resume is nearly unbelievable. At the Aczel Foundation’s reception in Roemer’s honor last May, John Diaz, Editorial Page Editor for the San Francisco Chronical called him “a most unconventional consul general…but also extremely effective. He said that having interacted with many consuls general—from many countries in addition to Mexico— was the most effective in his 23 years at the Chronicle.” Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has said of him “I know no other person that has done as much for education and culture by building bridges as Andrés Roemer.” Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle describes his wide-ranging interests and accomplishments and says that “there’s been one common thread – an energetic, endless search for the ‘dangerous ideas’ that catapult change.
Roemer in describing what motivates his boundless energy to tackle the toughest problems humanity faces says: “If we really want to finish with racism and intolerance, it’s not through walls or wars, through weapons or drones,” Roemer said. “It is through critical thinking.”
We offer many congratulations to Andrès Roemer on this new honor and are proud of our association with him. He inspires us all.