viernes, 30 de abril de 2010

Environmental Issues In Our Own Backyard!

Although we all live in the colonia (neighborhood) San Anton, we are all so busy with daily life in Cuernavaca that it is not often when we take time to walk down the street and meet our neighbors or explore the ravines that make up our backyard. Last week the migration and globalization students had the opportunity to meet with two activists from the neighborhood who dedicate their freetime to cleaning up the ravines and educating the community about the importance of caring for the environment and being active participants in the maintenance of our physical world.

The panel of activists was put together by Professor Judy Shevelev as part of a joint effort with the program staff on the Earlham College study abroad program in Cuautla, Morelos, located an hour and a half from Cuernavaca. As a recent Earlham graduate and having studied abroad in Cuautla, the event was even more special for me as I got to reflect with the Earlham students about their experiences in Mexico and watch as the MG students were wonderful hosts and participants, actively engaged in the discussion generated by the panel. The event gave both groups of students the opportunity to spend time together as they learned more about the issues of water and trash collection systems that they have studied all semester long.

All in all, the panel proved to be very successful as students listened to the first hand accounts of those fighting for the restoration of clean rivers and the right to clean air and afterwords enjoyed each other´s company, taking the time to share stories, eat snacks and even participate in an impromptu game of fútbol! Hopefully, as they journey home in the coming month, the students will be able to take what they´ve learned from the event and implement it their own communities.

Photo: Students getting to know each other before the panel begins

jueves, 29 de abril de 2010

Gender Roles and Base Christian Communities

By Andy Chadwick,

Augsburg College

These past few weeks, the Migration and Globalization students have really settled in with their Mexican families. It has been an easy transition integrating into a Mexican family; they have been exceedingly welcoming and accommodating. There is so much to learn but at the same time we also have a lot in common with our families. It has been fascinating hearing the stories of our families, especially when they can relate to topics we are studying in class. It has been especially interesting to start to understand gender roles within Mexico and to have a dialogue with our families to hear their personal stories and philosophies related to this subject.

In addition to becoming settled in with our families, we, as well as the Social Work students, had the opportunity to hear two amazing women tell their personal stories regarding gender roles. These speakers put a face to the issues that we have previously learned about, regarding gender roles, from Irene Ortiz and others. They talked about the hardships they have faced in their lives due to unfair gender roles and expectations. They were treated horribly by their husbands and were not even allowed to leave the house most of the time. They each found their way to Base Christian Communities, (BCC´s) which changed their lives. They were taught to read and this allowed them to read the Bible for themselves. By studying the Bible, they realized that they shouldn't be treated this way, God created them equal to men. BCC´s, like the one these women are a part of, are autonomous religious groups based in liberation theology. Liberation theology is the idea that God is on the side of the poor and marginalized of the world. BCC´s, coupled with the influence of liberation theology, focus on material conditions and issues of class.

Our speakers opened my eyes to the hardships that women often face to achieve equality. They also showed me that there is hope for equality among the genders, that there is a way of achieving it through liberation theology and BCC´s. I kept asking myself questions like: how has being a male unfairly given me privilege or benefited me in my life to this point? How has my un-acknowledgment of this privilege furthered unfair gender roles and expectations? What can I do in the future to support women's rights without over-stepping my bounds as a male? These speakers were an eye-opening experience for all of us and this experience, I think, changed us for the better.

miércoles, 14 de abril de 2010

¡Social Movements: Tierra, Libertad, y Jugo Para Todos!

By Katy Jensen,

Emory University

This week was an exciting week for the MG students at CEMAL! Thursday, we packed our bags for a weekend travel-seminar. Destination: Mexico City and San Salvador de Atenco.

During our time in Mexico City, we had the unique opportunity to tour the Pascual factory, maker of the popular Mexican juice drink Boing! There, we learned about the workers who came together in solidarity to form this cooperative that is proud to be 100% Mexican-owned. Pascual is an important Mexican company because not only did the workers form it, but also because it supports other local social movements and co-ops. For me it was fascinating to hear about how workers came together to buy up the company and to have the ultimate say-so in how it is run. After hearing about the history, we got to tour the factory and watched as the juice was being made and bottled. It was such a sight to see as juice boxes whizzed by on the assembly lines.

Friday night and all day Saturday (April 9-10) we spent in San Salvador Atenco learning about the local solidarity movement against the government trying to seize local land to build an airport. In class, we watched a movie about the fight and imprisonment of the people of Atenco in 2006 during the struggle to protect their land. For me, it was interesting to see the real-life repercussions of this event that still endure almost four years later. In Atenco, we listened to the daily challenges that people face there as their family members and friends remain imprisoned.

Saturday, we had a chance to visit the actual fields on which the government wanted to build the airport on, and the Atenco land board explained that today the fight to protect the land continues. We noticed that while we were visiting the campo there were surveyors eager to acquire the land for a new project under the auspices of CONAGUA. Although this new project promises to make good use of the land, Atenco citizens are on edge, because this is similar to how the government went about acquiring land for their the airport project, under false pretenses. The people of Atenco will not back down in the fight to protect their land; they believe that “la lucha sigue!

All in all, this was a very didactic week. Through our field experience, we got to apply what we learned in class and make connection to real-life events. Ultimately, we learned the value of standing up for what you believe in, in order to preserve your identity, history, and autonomy. The people we encountered at both the Pascual factory and the city of Atenco were willing to do whatever it took to fight for their freedom. For the juice company, this meant group autonomy, thus working as a cooperative. Similarly, the people of Atenco continue their fight to protect their land and liberate their compañeros from prison. The spirit and unyielding strength of the people in Atenco was truly inspiring. Although four years have passed, they still have hope for the future.

We have a lot to learn about the power of perseverance and solidarity, especially from the people of Atenco. When we join together, anything is possible. Although we may continue to struggle alone, together we are victorious.

Looking back on this week, I wonder: What is it that I would fight for? What do I value most in life? Is there anything that I would stop at nothing to defend? These thoughts pervade my mind as I recall the stories from Atenco and the Pascual factory. What matters most in life? What are my priorities? It is interesting to put these things in perspective and apply these experiences to my own life.

Photos: At top, students pose with Profesor Judy Shevelev outside of the BOING! plant; at left, students pose in the campo in Atenco.

lunes, 29 de marzo de 2010

Exchange with students from la UNAM

This week, students had the opportunity to learn more indepth about what life is like for a Mexican university student, as all participated in a week long academic exchange with a group of students from the National School of Social Work at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Throughout the course of the week, students got to know each other both inside and outside of class, as they listened to speakers, gathered in small groups to discuss social policies both in Mexico and the United States and shared stories about their lives as they enjoyed some delicious tacos.

While the week was focused primarily on themes relating to social work and learning about the differences in the profession and the policies between both nations, the migration and globalization students found that they too could relate to some of the students. Many walked away feeling as though their experience here in Cuernavaca had been enriched for having met and heard the stories of the UNAM students, many of whom travel many hours and confront many obstacles in order to pursue their education and subsequently achieve their professional goals.

As one of the UNAM students put it so eloquently when discussing the challenges of discrimination, as social workers they are determined to acknowledge the inequalities present in society and work positively to change them. Listening to her words, many of the students felt that they could relate to such a sentiment in their own efforts to combat the injustices faced by those forced to migrate in the hopes of finding a better life for themselves and for their families.

Overall, it was a wonderful week shared by all, as new friends were made and a new consciousness was gained about the experiences of university students here in Mexico.

Photo: The group poses together at the conclusion of the week-long exchange

miércoles, 17 de marzo de 2010

Globalization and Its Effects on Women in Mexico

By Martha Clarke,
Bowdoin College

This week we delved further into issues of globalization and migration as we heard from Irene Ortiz, a local feminist and community activist, about the feminization of poverty. As she began her talk, Ms. Ortiz told us that she would be presenting the point of view of real women, “mujeres de carne y hueso.” The main theme of the talk was the idea that even though globalization has brought much economic advancement to Mexico, women (in Mexico and elsewhere) are still very much second class citizens. Ms. Ortiz agued that globalization as a whole is a economic process that promotes mass impoverishment and funnels capital out of the pockets of the many into the hands of the few. She asserted that globalization has complicated matters for Mexican women in particular as they are forced into the workplace.

As we have seen throughout the course of the semester, NAFTA and neoliberal economics have made basic survival very difficult for Mexicans. We have learned that it takes four to five minimum wages for a Mexican family to buy just basic food products. Because of this, Mexican women are forced out of the home to work. While to many Americans this may seem like a liberating experience, Ms. Ortiz explained that this move into the formal workplace is simply a consequence of bad economic and political policies. Additionally, women are exposed to very poor working conditions; as in the United States, they don’t receive the same pay as men; in fact, 45% of working women receive 10% less pay than men for the same amount of work. Ms. Ortiz also explained that in cases where men and women do earn the same salary this is not because women’s salaries were raised to match men’s, it is because men’s salaries were dropped due to the Structural Adjustment Policies.

Beyond this, Latina women are subjected to harsh labor conditions in maquiladoras and other places of employment. Ms. Ortiz relayed an anecdote about a maquila in Guatemala in which the women employed there were encouraged to work triple shifts (18 hours straight). Because the factory was located so far away from the city center, women had to sleep on the floor in the hallways of the maquila in order to be on time for their next shift. Because of occurrences like this, Irene Ortiz explained that work has simply become another form of oppression for Mexican women, not an avenue towards economic independence as it is in the United States.

She furthered this argument by examining gender roles in the home. She explained that when they entered the workplace, women were forced to work a “double shift.” In addition to all their workplace responsibilities, they were also still responsible for cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children. Men are not expected to share in the work of the household. Furthermore, there is a huge emphasis on motherhood in Mexico. In order to truly fulfill one’s femininity, it is necessary for a woman to bear children. In many cases, both women and men see the inherent value of a woman as necessarily tied to her position as a mother or housewife. Unmarried women are looked down upon and discriminated against. Mexican women often have children very young and miss out on other social and economic opportunities. Because Mexico is a heavily Catholic country, there is little information available about family planning. In this way, Ms. Ortiz viewed motherhood (and the overemphasis on motherhood) as a type of forced repression. While the matriarch may be a powerful figure in the home, this power does not extend beyond self-sacrifice and caring for others and certainly does not extend into the public sphere.

Ms. Ortiz concluded her talk on a more positive note. She asserted that while the situation may look grim, great strides have been made. The internet and the media have drawn the world’s attention to the plight of women in developing nations. While the feminist movements of each country differ in many ways, people are beginning to mobilize and join together in the fight to promote women’s rights. This talk led me to several questions: What can we, as US citizens, do about the plight of women in Latin America? What are the struggles of minority women (particularly Latinas) living and working I the United States? How does migration affect gender roles?

Photo: Students pose with Irene Ortiz

miércoles, 10 de marzo de 2010

Immigration Issues in Amatlan

By Meira Sondov-Gold,
Drake University

Throughout the first half of this semester, we have been learning about Mexican immigration to the United States and the effect it has on family members who remain in Mexico. To further our understanding, we went to Amatlan for a four day rural home stay. We listened to an immigration panel, with three men from the community that had immigrated to the United States. Each panelist was able to share his story describing why he chose to go to the United States and for how long he was there. Of the three panelists, two were in the United States undocumented, and the third received a work visa to work in the tobacco fields in the summers. All three of the men worked in the United States to support their families back home in Amatlan. After our panel discussion, our host families from the community came to pick up their students and participate in small group discussions on immigration and how it has impacted their lives. In my small group discussion, three women talked to us. All three were directly impacted by immigration as their husband, child, or father had gone to the United States illegally and then returned. One of the women has most of her family living in the United States, and does not get to see them often because of their undocumented status. All of the women know at least one person living in the United States undocumented. I felt it was an honor to have the opportunity to hear these men’s and women’s stories.

During our stay we also heard from the matriarch of the community, Doña Irene Ramirez. Doña Irene is a 74 year old lady who never married and still works in her own cornfields. She took our group, up into her corn fields, and gave a talk on the impact NAFTA has had on her farming and the struggles it has caused her each year. She does not truly own these cornfields, as they are communal land, but she is the one who takes care of the farming and maintenance of the land. In Amatlan, there is no private property but rather communal land. This is due to the belief that land cannot be picked up and moved; instead the whole community shares the land. The NAFTA treaty called for all the farmers to pay a fee each year to farm their land, and in return they would receive help from the government for farming. Doña Irene has never paid the fee to farm her land and is very proud of that. She also told us that she has tried growing genetically modified corn, but found that the corn is not as rich and good as the natural corn she grows in her fields. Also because of NAFTA, she can not sell her crops because of the inflation of prices and how much she has to sell it for to make a profit.

The trip to Amatlan was a great learning experience and really opened my eyes to the struggles and the impact on families caused by immigration and the role of the NAFTA agreement in the community. The trip also caused me to think about certain questions such as: what should be done in Mexico to help the families that are forced to go to the United States? What can we learn from Doña Irene and her view on how NAFTA works with Mexican farmers?

Photo: Students enjoying their time in Amatlan

viernes, 26 de febrero de 2010

Lessons about Rural Communitites in Mexico

By Callan Elswick,
Davidson College

Through the help of Atzin, we traveled to Tlamacazapa and Amatlán last week in order to learn more about globalization’s effect on the environment, medicine, and indigenous cosmovision. Aztin is a non-profit organization that supports holistic community development in Tlamacazapa by providing clean water, investigating public health issues, and empowering women economically, socially, and politically. In addition to speaking with Susan Smith, the co-founder of Atzin, we also met with Agustin Perez Garcia*, a member of the Amatlan Communal Land Council, about community organizing and indigenous rights. Through our visits we experienced, albeit superficially, the poverty and the culture of both Amatlán and Tlamacazapa.

Amatlán is a small village that was founded 4,000 to 7,000 years ago. While it was the home to many illustrious revolutionaries and religious figures, it currently has 1,000 residents including Agustin. When we visited on Tuesday, Agustin spoke to us about pre-Colombian traditions and the indigenous struggle to protect these traditions from the Spanish conquest, economic imperialism, and globalization. He explained the importance of communal land to the indigenous population by recounting Mexican history and described how Emiliano Zapata’s demand for “Tierra y Libertad” under the Plan de Ayala became a reality in Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 by making indigenous communal lands inalienable and redistributing land into ejidos for the public. However, in order to appease its NAFTA partners, the Mexican government reformed Article 27 and permitted the privatization of ejido land without consulting the indigenous population or the campesinos.

Today, indigenous groups including the Amatlán Communal Land Council politically oppose and organize against the idea of private property which many feel is “just a tool that governments used to oppress people.”[1] While Amatlán has thwarted the development of many of the government’s megaprojects through community organizing, Agustin emphasizes that the point of this struggle is “to put tools in the hands of our peoples so that they may know their rights in the community” for “our land is also our capital because here lie the bones of our ancestors, here are our traditions.”

Tlamacazapa is another indigenous town, but unlike Amatlán, it has a population of 6,100, 40% of its children are not in school, and 50% of its young women are illiterate. Most of the community members are weavers who trade their art to vendors who, then, make a profit by selling them in places like Cuernavaca or Acapulco. Because villagers only make a few pesos per weaving, many are impoverished and living in shacks with dirt floors, rod walls, and tin roofs. As Susan said, “There’s nothing romantic about being poor.” In order to combat the poverty and health issues of Tlamacazapa, Atzin conducted research and brought the results to the community in order to foster a “culture of inquiry, not just a culture of development.” Susan emphasized, “The people impacted by the problem need to own the solution.” So, when Atzin discovered that Tlamacazapa’s water was contaminated with arsenic and lead, Susan and other volunteers aided the community in forming bridge activities or safe places where people could voice their opinions. They have also trained adolescent “promoters,” to be midwives or teachers in the Atzin-sponsored school. Additionally, they have set up a palm weaving co-op, a quilt-making co-op, and a women-run store. I believe that by placing economic, political, and social power in the hands of the community, Aztin has enacted real change.

After speaking to Agustin and Susan, we traveled to Tlamacazapa and visited community members. We saw wells full of trash and green algae. In addition to carrying water down rocky and slippery slopes, we attempted to make tortillas and weave baskets. Although I cannot even begin to understand the poverty, the malnourishment, and the culture of either Amatlán or Tlamacazapa, I feel informed and empowered to question U.S. and Mexican policy and lobby for change. How can indigenous cosmovision and culture be protected in this era of globalization? How can U.S. citizens be conscientious consumers?

Photo: A Well at Tlamacazapa

[1] Agustin Perez Garcia, personal interview, Amatlán, Mexico, February 16, 2010. *Name has been changed to protect identity.

viernes, 12 de febrero de 2010

Learning About Intercultural Understanding

Today we had the great opportunity to listen to a guest lecture by the Mexican interculturalist author, singer, song-writer Betty Ramos, who did an excellent job of helping us develop new understandings of some of the similarities and differences of the multiple cultures of Mexico and the United States.

Lic. Ramos is the author of several books, including Negltiating Cuoltural Barriers and The Geo-Context: A Guide to Intercultural Understanding Between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Rather than simply giving us a list of "dos" and "don'ts" that would have limited value, Lic. Ramos not only introduced key concepts and theoretical frameworks from the field of intercultural communication but also shared several of her own personal experiences living in Mexico, the United States, and Canada, where she has facilitated countless workshops on intercultural communication.

During our time in Mexico, it will be helpful to remember her stories and suggestions regarding saying THANK YOU as many times as possible in as many different ways as possible and "decorating the truth" by always trying to be as polite and simpático as possible. Thank you, Betty Ramos!

In What Ways Has Free Trade Been Good &/or Bad for Mexico?

This week we have been continuing our study of the high cost of living in Mexico (especially for the poor), and exploring the impacts of economic globalization and free trade on diverse sectors of Mexican society. Two of the books we've been reading are Globalization (Current Controversies), edited by Debra A. Miller (2007) and Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration & Criminalizes Immigrants by David Bacon (2008). The first explores opposing viewpoints on various aspects of economic globalization and the second one clearly takes a stance against neoliberal economic policies and makes links between them and migration, including undocumented migration to the United States.

It has been fascinating to read and hear a wide variety of viewpoints from different people, including a guest speaker named Andrés Santos, who talked to our group on Wednesday. What was especially interesting about Lic. Santos' talk is that he is a Mexican businessman who believes in free trade and is very articulate about the ways in which NAFTA benefitted his family business but also the ways in which economic globalization harmed it, as companies took their business to China. Rather than turning economic globalization into a simplistic "black and white" issue, he addressed the complexities of it and his opinion of the pros and cons of different aspects of the economic policies being implemented by the U.S. and Mexican governments, as well as others.

jueves, 4 de febrero de 2010

High Cost of Living in Mexico Makes It Hard to Support a Family

On Tuesday our class engaged in an experiential activity called the Market Basket Survey, which required us to split into small groups and go to the main market in Cuernavaca to purchase items from the basic food basket that most Mexican families need for survival. We were given money to purchase those items, which included beans, milk, tortillas, eggs, and cooking oil, among other things. It was a practical assignment since we later got to eat that food. However, we were also asked to check the prices of person items that we might consider "necessities," such as shampoo, toothpaste, tampons, and diapers (for those with children). It was a fun activity, as we got to walk to the huge main market that covers the span of several streat blocks and see rows and rows of beautifully arranged fruits and vegetables and other items and interact with the merchants in a meaningful way since we were buying their goods.

As we purchased items and checked the prices of others, we jotted down the prices in pesos. Afterwards, when we came back to our campus, we converted the prices to the dollar amounts, dividing the peso price by 13 since the current exchange rate is approximately 13 pesos to the dollar. In addition, we were asked to calculate the TIME COST for Mexican minimum wage earners - that is, the number of hours that a Mexican worker would have to work to purchase each item if s/he were earning minimum wage, which is approximately US $4.20/DAY, or slighlty over 50 cents per hour. Once we did that, we were shocked at the results, as we discovered that "necessity" items like tampons and diapers would take days of labor to purchase, and even the basic food basket exceeds what one earns on minimum wage! So what initially seemed to us like "cheap" prices when we simply converted peso prices to dollars are actually very expensive when we think about them in terms of wages. No wonder so many people feel pressure to go to the United States to find jobs where they can earn a lot more in one hour than they can in one day here!

In class we talked about the fact that in the cities most people earn more than minimum wage, whereas they often earn less than that in field labor in the countryside. Moreover, lots of people don't earn regular wages because, like taxi drivers and street vendors, they are self-employed and don't receive a paycheck, so earnings can vary from day to day. Obviously, the cost of living is a complex issue. Nonetheless, this exercise was extremely helpful to us in starting to get a sense of costs for the majority of the population here.
One simple example to illustrate the point of the high cost of living is the cost of a movie ticket - currnetly $46 pesos, which is only US $3.50. Seems cheap by U.S. standards, right? Well, if you earn Mexican minimum wage, you'd have to work for 6.7 hours in order to buy that movie ticket, and if you had 2 children to take to the movies, you'd have to work for 20.1 hours (nearly 3 days) just to buy the tickets, without including your bus fare to get to the movie theatre and back, much less popcorn or soda. So taking your kids to the movies is a luxury that Mexicans living on minimum wage could simply never afford. That really helped put things into perspective for me.

Do people who are strongly opposed to undocumented Mexicans working in the United States understand the economic challenges that they face here in Mexico? Also, what about minimum wages in different states of the U.S.A.? Can people really live on minimum wage in the U.S.? How much do you need to earn in the U.S. support yourself and/or a family with two children? I'd love to hear what you think! Please respond!

miércoles, 3 de febrero de 2010

Spring 2010 Semester Off to a Great Start!

“Migration & Globalization: Engaging Our Communities” is back, as this semester-long program occurs every spring in Cuernavaca, Mexico through the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College. We just began last week and are happy to report a fabulous new group of students from colleges as diverse as Augsburg, Bowdoin, Emory, Davidson, and Drake University. For the first half of the semester, we are also being accompanied by a recent graduate of Carleton College who is participating in many aspects of our program.

During the first week we spent a lot of time getting to know Cuernavaca and each other. We took Spanish pre-tests at the Universal Universal Center for Language and Social Communication, which is a highly respected Spanish school, where you can choose two of 17 different Spanish courses ranging from basic grammar and conversation courses to Contemporary Mexican Literature, Spanish for Heritage Speakers, and Mexican Art.

We also visited the ancient pyramids at Xochicalco in the southern part of the state of Morelos and learned about the cosmovision (worldview) of pre-Columbian peoples, whose spirituality emphasized unity, bipolar duality (as opposed to Western oppositional binary dualism), fluidity, interconnectedness, balance, and reciprocity.

At Xochicalco we saw the remains of magnificent temples built by the Nahua-speaking population that existed long before the Spanish conquest, as the construction there began approximately 200 years BCE, and the civilization flourished between 600 and 900 of this era. It is believed that the Toltec emperor Quetzalcoatl (known often as the “Mesoamerican Christ-figure”) studied astronomy in Xochicalco, whose principle temple is dedicated to the feathered-serpent God Quetzalcaotl. (Quetzal = the bird, & coatl = serpent in the Nahuatl language). As you can see in the picture of the pyramids both above and below, the carvings represent this great feathered serpent god who united the heavens and the earth. (In the picture below, his feathered heaad is in the upper far left corner and his serpent-like body winds around to the right.)

After visiting Xochicalco, we visited a nearby former sugarcane plantation called the Ex-Hacienda Santa Cruz. We learned about the history of the plantations that were established during the colonial period and the exploitation of both indigenous and African slaves who were forced to work on them.
We spent the night there and then spent the next day getting further acquainted with each other and talking about our roles as foreigners in Mexico. Our discussions included articles such as Ivan Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions” and several articles on power, privilege, and positionality. This is especially important because many of us will be conducting internships in Mexican organizations, as well as living with Mexican host families, and we want to be as sensitive as possible to this cultural context.

Have you ever been to Mexico? If so, did you visit ancient sacred sites such as Xochicalco? What have you learned about Mexican pre-Columbian civilizations and contemporary indigenous peopes? What are your thoughts about your/our responsibility as foreigners here? We’d love to hear your thoughts!