lunes, 8 de junio de 2009

Welcome to the Last Blog Entry Spring 09!

The full MG group on the final day of the program, from left: Ben, Goose, Melissa, Vinnie, Julie (CGE intern), Kim, and Amina

By Melissa Strype

After living in Mexico and studying-abroad for the past four months, I am preparing to return home tomorrow. Reviewing in my mind everything that I have seen, learned, touched, been inspired by, discussed, and thought about here in Mexico, I came to thinking: “Why do we put ourselves through this experience of “studying abroad?””

Many of the final projects our classmates worked on dealt with this theme and sought to promote CGE’s study abroad programs, referencing their pedagogy of experiential learning and opportunities to acquire cultural competence. In order to formulate a response to the question of why we choose to study abroad, most people will say something along the lines of “Guys, listen, you have to study abroad, it’s amazing. You learn so much about other cultures. You integrate solid academic work with real-life experiences. You learn to broaden your perspective on the cultural history and current social and political struggles in the region through group travel experiences.” ( )

This is all absolutely true and I have experienced this alternative learning environment and grown from it significantly. However, it is impossible for me to deny the fact that studying abroad has truly been an intense rollercoaster of emotions:

Step 1: After finally feeling comfortable navigating classes and social lives at college, we packed up our suitcases, filled with what we thought we might need for the next four months, left everyone we knew and loved, and came to Mexico, alone, on a program with complete strangers.

Step 2: Then, we moved in with 20 other random college students from all over the country into one house, sharing rooms with 3-4 other people. We took classes, ate meals, and developed our social lives with these 20 people.

Step 3: We figured out how to “immerse ourselves” in this new culture by getting involved with various organizations, social groups, or routines outside of the program, while at the same time dealing with a desire to share our experiences with those who we left at home.

Throughout these four months, I have been coping with the best ways to accomplish step 3. Immersing myself in the culture here has meant establishing relationships with various people with whom I’ve met. It has meant sharing my interests, passions, goals, and opinions with new people in order to gain their trust. It has meant going far out of my comfort zone and making an effort to listen to new people and get to know them because upon arrival, we started with 0.00 social connections and had to build our own networks to fulfill ourselves.

As I pack up my bags to head home, I now have to face the ramifications of “immersing myself” in the culture, “being present” in my reality, and sharing myself with others. My last task is to say goodbye to those relationships in which I invested emotions and energy-- with people inside of the program and even more significantly, outside the program and around Mexico.

Upon saying goodbye to a co-worker from the human rights commission I worked for here, he said, “You know, we might never see each other again.” And right away, I said, “Oh don’t say that! That’s so sad and dramatic.” But he replied, “But it’s reality. And it can be a beautiful thing to have known someone, and be realistic about the fact that you may never see each other again, but that you are leaving knowing you have shared with one another.” He also shared with me the importance of saying everything you want to say to someone. It was an eye-opening conversation because it made me realize the fact that these last 2 days will be the last time I see many of these people with whom I have shared myself here. More importantly, however, it brought to my attention the importance of expressing to others whom I may never see again, how they have impacted me during this time and why I appreciate their fleeting friendship.

It would be easy to leave and not let myself reach into that emotional place inside myself where I now have pieces of each of the people I’ve met-- I wouldn’t worry about saying a formal goodbye. However, this emotional rollercoaster of being abroad has forced me to confront these emotions; I feel strongly about making sure when I say goodbye to each person I’ve shared with here, that I do so by taking into consideration my experiences with that person and really convey to them that what we’ve shared will be a part of me after I leave.

Many of the relationships I have built here are only momentary in the grand scheme of things. But the feelings I have developed for these people will continue to stay with me in whatever forms, even if we never speak again. Certainly I will remember our classes here and the beautiful city and the good food, but the memories and emotions fostered within relationships here are what I will carry with me to inform my daily life at home: I think this is why we have put ourselves into this experience in Mexico—it makes the whole rollercoaster of emotions worth it.

viernes, 8 de mayo de 2009

What exactly is development and what is my role in it?

There is hope for a better future. CGE student is illuminated by the sun at the underground observatory at the Xochicalco pyramid site.

By Amina Hassen

A couple of weeks ago our class was divided into two different groups and were told to come up with an answer to the question, “What is development?” We discussed how we thought that current development is generating unbalanced outcomes between and within countries and is excluding the people who most need increased access to resources. Our conception of development is an improvement of the quality of life for individuals by increasing their ability to be independent agents, making decisions about their life trajectories. It starts with meeting basic needs of people, including adequate food, shelter, clothing, safe drinking water, sanitation, health and development. Development is a transformation of existing systems of oppression based on sex, gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability, nationality, etc so that individuals have a wider range of choices.

To borrow from Paulo Freire, development includes whether or not a country is “being itself” in the political, economic and decision making is originating from within. I would extend that to say that development also means that a person is being his/her self and that their decision making is also originating from within.

I view that it is my responsibility to be a participant and ally to those who are carrying out responsible development. When I have the choice between a supermarket and a farmers market, I will choose the farmers market. It also means supporting democratically run organizations. So when I have the choice between Coca-Cola and Boing (a worker-owned and operated cooperative that makes very popular juices here in Mexico), I will choose Boing. And when I see that a hotel’s workers have gone on strike, I won’t patronize that hotel and I will try to prevent others from doing so as well. If I have the choice between taking my car and taking a bus/metro, I’ll take the metro, or better yet, I’ll take my bike. I will recycle all that I can, teach others around me that they can and should as well. I see it as my responsibility to change my consumption habits so that I am making more responsible choices.

However, I recognize that solely changing my consumptive patterns is not adequate and sometimes the alternatives that you would like to see simply do not exist. To really promote change in development I also need to actively advocate for this change. It is my duty as a citizen of a democracy to participate in electing officials who support responsible development and to protest if I feel that my elected officials aren’t making responsible choices. It means living out what I would like to see happen on a global scale by turning local personally, and supporting local initiatives internationally.

lunes, 20 de abril de 2009

Protest and Social Change in Mexico

By Kimberly Griffin

“In defense of water, land, and air” in a mural in Cuernavaca, Mexico, painted by a local youth activist group

A couple of weeks ago, we had a series of great speakers from different parts of Mexico, and one theme that I noticed across the talks was the different methods of protesting. Even though not all of the speakers identified themselves as activists, they were all actively working to see the change that they believed needed to happen. I used to only picture protest as a strike or a march on the capital lawn, but through these past two weeks, I’ve realized that protest comes in many different forms, and I think all different types are needed in order to make change happen.

One of the speakers, Dr. Rosalba Aida Hernandez Castillo, spoke about indigenous women and justice from her experiences working in a center for victims of abuse in Chiapas, a state with a high percentage of indigenous peoples. She worked actively to try to change the state of indigenous women in Southern Mexico by working directly with the women to try to determine what their needs were. Another speaker, Nadia Alvarado, is an Afro-Mexican from the state of Guerrero who has spent years researching the history of Afro-Mexicans in Mexico. She said that although she originally wanted to educate everyone about the prevalence of the African heritage in Mexico, she soon realized that it was most important to start with her own family. Now her activism is directed toward trying to encourage her family not to deny their black heritage. Her protest is not advocating for any specific policy, but rather just trying to change the way her family sees their own history.

We also spoke with a panel of speakers about sexual diversity. All three are involved in an activist group that works to promote LGBTTQI-friendly legislation and awareness. The group organizes a march in Mexico City and here in Cuernavaca every year, so that is obviously an important part of their protest. However, just living out their lives as they want is also a form of protest. One speaker was a lesbian woman, one a transgender female, and one a gay man. All three of those identities are highly stigmatized, so just living their lives as openly non-heterosexual is an important was of protesting heterosexism.

This theme of protest also continued while I was traveling over Holy Week. While walking through the streets of Oaxaca City, I walked past some graffiti on a wall that had several different protest elements. Written on it were things like “Meat = murder,” “Go vegan,” “Free your mind,” and “EZLN.” This type of protest also reminded me of several of the protest murals I have seen around the city of Cuernavaca. These are painted by an activist group here in Cuernavaca that works to build community solidarity around a variety of issues.

All of these things, from refusing to let your family deny their heritage, to living an openly non-heterosexual life, to tagging a wall with some political graffiti, are different types of protest. They are all inspired and sustained by a desire to see a change in your world. Because people vary so much, they are affected by different things, so these different methods of protest are all necessary if activists are going to be able to make the changes they want to see.

“Free your mind” and “Meat = murder” on awall in Oaxaca City, Mexico

Dirty Politics?

By Ben Pounds

We were going to see Cuernavaca’s new landfill. We had left the edge of the city and now saw cows grazing. Then we hit what could only be described as a homemade checkpoint. A barb wire fence stretched across the street. After a few residents serving as guards opened the gate and our van passed, I had no clue what to expect.

The farmer who owned the land was happy to show us around. He opened yet another fence and let us walk through.

So, without setting foot in the landfill itself, we saw it.

(All photos above courtesy of Kimberly Griffin)

The gate had not been meant to stop us from entering government property. It had been built to stop the government or its allies from coming in and coercing the residents out of their land.

I had not intended for this entry to be about politics primarily. Our partners, the bloggers in Thailand, had been writing about human rights and government accountability rather than environmental concerns. Politics here though is tricky as is politics everywhere. It may involve bribery, alliances, networks, and (if I am to believe what some people have told me with regards to the landfill) physical threats. In short it is like politics everywhere else. I would hate for what I write here to be misinterpreted as an insult to Mexican politics particularly. However, one can broadly say that the “perfect dictatorship” described during the years of one-party domination continues in some ways in today’s multi-party Mexico.

The landfill was itself an improvement on the previous open-air dump near an indigenous community. Not everyone has access to the services of the privatized, new garbage collection company, PASA (the privatization of garbage collection was a controversial move on the part of the government in recent years). The rivers in some ravines, already a place for dumping sewage, hold a great deal of garbage put there by the residents whose houses cannot be reached by garbage trucks. Studies say that the soil is too porous to protect the below-ground aquifers from possible leaching. Thus, the project deprives neighboring communities of the right to clean water as their water is now contaminated. The local government representatives that we met with countered by saying the lands do not contain very much fertile soil. They may not be very fertile although that does not stop people from raising corn, cattle, chickens, and (as I found out the hard way) bees. Despite the vocal opposition all the political parties are in favor of the landfill, including the “Ecological Green Party.” When they proposed other sites, government officials said “go research them yourselves.” Perhaps the greatest motivation for the current site is that the contamination that results from the landfill flows into smaller, poorer communities and doesn’t directly affect the city of Cuernavaca.

Some local citizens have found their own solution in setting up recycling centers and small-scale water-treatment plants. Despite, or possibly because of, their general distrust of the city government, these people have received some government support, including the filming of a public service announcement. Yet they remain cynical. When asked about the sewage treatment plants in Cuernavaca created directly by the government, the creator of a small scale plant at a local school was quick to point out that they did not work.

As I watch the local citizens in the Cuernavaca area so actively engaged in their communities, I remain aware of my role here as a foreigner. The last thing I want to be is another invader in this country, so my own involvement has limits. However, in learning about the struggles of this place and of the people here working for a more just world, I am convinced that my involvement back in the U.S. will always be affected and inspired by the activists of Mexico.

jueves, 12 de marzo de 2009

The Conquest Continues

By Vinnie Rodriguez

On a Sunday morning, we visited an indigenous community in the municipality of Tepoztlán, Mexico. As we met with one of the community leaders in his house, he shared with us why his piece of land and the general land is so important to his community. We talked a lot about how various laws and policies have led to the privatization of this land and the affects it has on the rights of the indigenous community. According to him, it is not viewed positively. He defined private property as “an invention of oppression that systems of power have made up”, and that oppression is unfortunately a part of the indigenous reality that they must face day-to-day. Here’s an explanation of what I mean.

When the Spanish first arrived in Mexico during the Spanish Conquest, they took over Mexico—especially, the land.

[This part of the mural in the Palacio de Cortez by Diego Rivera represents the Spanish Conquest and how the indigenous people are sometimes represented by animals in the image]

From then on, the Spanish considered the Mexican natives as animals and used them for forced labor for their own economic benefit. Because the natives/indigenous weren’t seen as people, they had no right to the land which they originally had inhabited, and Spanish were considered to be at the top of the class system while the indigenous were left at the bottom of the pit.

[This part of Diego Rivera’s mural depicts the obvious distinction of class and duty between the Spanish and the indigenous people.]

As a result, it has been a struggle for indigenous people to keep their land. Article 27 was one important step. It stated that communal and ejido land cannot be taken, bought, or sold. However, in 1990, President Carlos Salinas de Gordali reversed Article 27 in an effort to put NAFTA in place, which meant that constitutional rights to ejido and communal land were eliminated and land can now be privatized or sold.

Not only are foreign institutions developing without considering indigenous values, but their very own Mexican government has a history of not including the indigenous community in economic development. Sometimes, it’s because of a clash in cultural values as well. For example, Chiapas has 33% of its population without light, but provides 52% of the electric population in the country. Why? The community leader says it’s because they are considered an obstacle to the nation’s plan. The government says they don’t want to develop, but it’s because the plans don’t line up with the values of their society. For example, after receiving dozens of letters from the indigenous community leader, the government finally came to them with a development project idea to build fish farms, and they laughed and refused to allow it unless the government would bring sufficient water into their community first. The government used that as an excuse to say the indigenous didn’t want to develop. This miscommunication along with the clash of cultural principles is what causes so much trouble for the indigenous communities. When the Spanish took the ejido (communal) land, they paid gold in exchange, but they didn’t understand the significance of the land to the indigenous.

[This painting was done on one of the walls of the dorm where we stay here in Mexico. What does it make you think about privatization and globalization?]

Because of the examples above, it is very difficult for an indigenous community to have a say in their own land and their own rights when they have to deal with the obstacles of their very own government and the rapid pace of globalization fever of foreign investors to buy out land. It almost seems to me as though foreign corporations and investors perceive themselves to have more rights over the ejido (communal) land than the indigenous communities do. Privatization is benefitting big corporations and big government who have the (financial) power to make these transactions. From the surface, Mexico’s economy has historically boomed from NAFTA, which is all foreigners need to know to be convinced into investing, and small Mexican communities can thus be ignored. The real question is about cash flow: who does the money really go to? How can a small indigenous town become a voice and beneficiary in the global decision-making process? Do they have to change their beliefs and customs so to favor the government and thus then be included in decisions? Or do they stand their ground, protect their community, and risk resistance by the government and pressure from global corporations? If economic prosperity is measured by how much land one can buy, then will they ever be financially successful if they believe in keeping their land as a part of the community? However, we also need to look at the issue from another side. Would it necessarily be a good thing if the globalization/privatization process were reversed? Will that actually help the indigenous community or Mexico as a whole? Does Mexico need more or less foreign investment if it wants to “move up the ranks”?

jueves, 5 de marzo de 2009

The Effects of a US Presence in Mexico

What effect has NAFTA had on agricultural livelihoods in Mexico?

By Josiah Guzik

NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agreement was put into action January 1, 1994, allowing free (tariff free) trade between Mexico, US, and Canada. It gives Mexican farmers the chance to sell easily to US and Canadian consumers and vice versa. Thus, the US farmers who have heavily subsidized crops can sell their crops at extremely low prices by Mexican standards. Many would refer to the free trade agreement largely as a success; those people would mainly be big corporations that can afford to have long-distance customers. However, like almost all things, there is another side to this story. There are many people who would call NAFTA a complete flop. It has suppressed the poor and strengthened the rich.

As our group conversed with a panel at the US Embassy in Mexico City, I was shocked to find how credibly the diplomats could defend NAFTA. They overwhelmingly agreed that it was a success. Of course, they explained, there are always winners and losers in politics, and this time the winners definitely outnumbered the losers. They displayed impressive facts and explained how not only the “rich” are growing in number, but rather, the middle class is growing in Mexico. They argue that NAFTA is achieving equality in Mexico, rather than widening the gap between the rich and poor.

That was really the first place I had heard NAFTA presented in a positive light. It seems that everyone I have met here, whether they are professors or farmers would argue otherwise. The general consensus outside of the US Embassy is that NAFTA has done a lot more harm than good. The diplomats brought out convincing figures that highlighted how economically Mexico is winning from NAFTA. It is hard for me to know who to trust, but if I am to go with my gut, I can’t accept that NAFTA has more winners than losers. If I am to judge the situation by my own observation and experience, I have to say that I know a lot more losers than winners.

Raul Sanchez of Ixtlilco El Grande knows all about onions. They have been growing them in his pueblo for some time now, generally with much success. As we sat at the kitchen table during our homestay in Ixtlilco El Grande, he pointed proudly to and boasted humbly of the enormous cebollas (onions) hanging from a crossbeam in the roof, “those were grown here,” he stated. I would later learn that despite the impressive size and delicious taste of Ixtlilco onions, they won’t be selling the crop this year. Unfortunately, it is cheaper for them to let the onions rot in the ground than to pay the labor to harvest them and sell them in the market.

US farmers, due to advanced agricultural technology, can produce significantly more and significantly cheaper onions than Raul and the other farmers in Ixtlilco. As the cheap onions flood the Mexican market, consumers now expect onions to be cheaper than the local farmers can afford to sell. This reality has impacted me significantly more than the statistics of the US diplomats in Mexico City. For me, the effects of NAFTA are a perfect example of how globalization has affected specific people. I feel that I can easily tune out the affects of globalization while I am the US, but while I was in Ixtlilco I could not deny the traces of globalization on the small town. Through NAFTA’s affects on Ixtlilco, the political results of globalization have now become personal.

lunes, 9 de febrero de 2009

Introducing the students of CGE´s "Migration and Globalization" 2009!

(Clockwise from woman in grey shirt: Melissa, Amina, Goose, Vinnie, Kim and Ben)

Amina Hassen
Hi, I am a student at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio (close to Cleveland). I am pursuing a double major in Comparative American Studies and Visual Arts, with a minor in Gender and Women's studies. I am currently in Mexico studying Globalization and Migration and Spanish. I really hope to gain a working knowledge of Spanish while here and to gain a better understanding of the impact of Globalization and Migration on the country. I find this course of studies particularly a good complement to my studies at Oberlin, where I look at identity formation in the United States through the lenses of race, class, gender and sexuality. I am originally from Takoma Park, Maryland.

Ben Pounds:

At Warren Wilson College (in North Carolina) my major is Creative Writing. I´ve lived most of my life in East TN. This program does not obviously fit into my major, although I´m set up to receive literature credit for at least one class here. I view being here as my chance to study other things that interest me. I want to refresh my Spanish, but also to get a better sense of the world around me and the world to come (admittedly this is not my best writing).

Josiah Guzik (“Goose”)

Hello, I am a sophomore Spanish major from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. I love to speak spanish, to surf, and play the guitar. This is my first time in southern Mexico, so I am very excited to learn new things from this study abroad experience. So far it has been an amazing experience (apart from missing my girlfriend back home).

Hi! My name is Kimberly Griffin. I am a junior at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas (near Austin, Texas). My majors are Environmental Studies and Spanish, so I am obviously interested in environmental issues and learning Spanish, which is why this program in Mexico is perfect for me! The Environmental Studies program at my school is very interdisciplinary, so I am able to take classes across all disciplines, which is one of the reasons I really like it. I am really interested in environmental justice, race/gender/class/sexuality/ableness issues, global economics, economic development, activism, social change, history, philosophy, revolutions, grassroots organizing, Latin America, linguistics, art and art history, sustainable design, and a lot of other related things.

Hi! My name is Melissa Strype; I'm a junior at Skidmore College in New York and I'm currently studying in Cuernavaca, Mexico with the migration and globalization program. At Skidmore, I study Spanish, Women's Studies, and International Affairs, although I've taken classes in other disciplines, my favorites being: law, government, sociology, and anthropology. I'm very interested in women's issues, gender relations, reproductive rights, and political activism surrounding these topics. I also am passionate about theater, as I am a part of a sketch comedy group at my college with 8 other students. We write sketches, film them, and present them to people on campus for fun. I've also had some little, fun roles in different theatrical productions in the past few years at school, although I've been doing theater since I was 5! In terms of my family, my mother works for IBM, my father is a professor of film at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and my sister is currently a first year student at Sarah Lawrence. We are from New Jersey.

Hola! My name is Vinnie Rodriguez. I am a Junior majoring in Management at Wentworth Institute of Technology and was born and raised from Bronx, NY. I am a member of the Center for Global Education Migration and Globalization program in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I play piano, and love to dance! So far I am having an amazing time here. It feels so good being here knowing that I am learning things that will have an impact on my school, my community and members of the local Mexican community. We are learning about our identities and the interculturalism with others, practicing our Spanish skills through intensive classes and conversations with members of the Mexican community, and are learning about the impacts of the migration trail on Mexican inhabitants. We are about to embark on a 5-day rural homestay with Mexican families, and will hear the many stories of how globalization, the falling economy, political struggles, and cultural changes have affected them. So far, I have heard great speakers, had great conversations, and met great people, and am looking forward to the next few weeks as well.