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