Thursday, February 26, 2009

Week 4: Progress or Conquest? : The Importance of Perception

This week we’ve mostly just focused on Spanish classes, but the few speakers and events we have had have been very thought-provoking. On Wednesday Betty Ramos returned to speak to us about more concepts from her book The Geo-Context. One of the key concepts she discusses in her book is how people from one culture perceive people of the other culture. The example she gave for our discussion was that Mexicans generally place more value on praise or support, while those from the U.S. often place more value on criticism. Due to this difference in values, if people from the U.S. offer constructive criticism to people from Mexico, Mexicans may find them rude and may disregard their advice[1]. On the other hand, if a Mexican were to offer undeserved praise to a person from the U.S., he or she may think that that person is lying and won’t take them seriously[2]. Therefore perception plays an important role in the interaction between Mexico and the U.S., and between any other divergent cultures.
Betty Ramos Talking to the Class about Cultural Differences

The differences in perception were emphasized further on Sunday with a trip to a largely indigenous village in the municipality of Tepotzlan in Morelos. There we spoke with Benjamin[3], who serves as the secretary of commerce for the village and also works with members of other indigenous communities. Benjamin told us much of the history of the village, most of which is considered a story of conquest. This history began with the Aztecs, who brought the god of war, followed by the Spanish who brought disease and greed, and continues with U.S. corporations under the guise of NAFTA[4]. Benjamin emphasized that though NAFTA is purported to be beneficial for everyone, he said Mexican farmers can’t compete with the U.S. “when we…don’t have access to education, a working health system and dignified housing and when some women and children only eat tortillas with salt.”[5] Benjamin said that the people of the village have written to the state to ask for loans to buy a tractor, but the state insists on helping in other ways. For instance, the government wanted to start a fish farm in the village, a village that is largely without water for five months of the year. When the people in the village and other similar communities point out the impracticality of these projects, the government officials or businessmen claim they don’t want to develop.[6] Where one group envisions development and progress, the other suffers the familiarity of imposition and conquest.

Walking to the base of a mountain as part of our introduction to the village and its cultural and spiritual history
It is hard to know how our presence in Cuernavaca and Mexico in general has been perceived. In some cases we are welcomed with open arms and tables laden with food. At other times we are told through words or actions that our presence is undesirable. We hope that our presence will be perceived as beneficial for all, rather than a repetition of the systemic inequality within Mexico.
Ending of an ancient Nahuat ceremony
by hugging each person around the circle

By Meg Hennessy

[1] Betty Ramos, experienced cultural intermediary and author of The Geo-Context; presentation on February 18, 2009 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Name was changed at speaker’s request.
[4] Benjamin, secretary of commerce for indigenous village, member of Nahuat people and defender of indigenous rights; conversation on February 22, 2009 in Morelos, Mexico.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WEEK 3: Visit to Mexico City

Here are a few of the members of both the Social Work
and Globalization and Migration groups getting excited for Spanish classes!

For our third week of the program, we returned to Cuernavaca from Ixtilico and the Hacienda, although the trip was amazing and very educational, I know a lot of us were ‘homesick’ for Cuernavaca. Not only did we finally get to unpack our things and fully move into our rooms, but most of us were eager to begin our intense Spanish classes that will continue for 3 weeks at Universal. Since I’m only in the beginner course, it will be nice to be able to acquire a decent foundation and basis of the language so that ordering meals and shopping in the Z√≥colo (downtown) will be easier.

This first week of Spanish classes were days filled with tons of new information and vocabulary for the beginners or days of review for the more advanced group members. Either way though, when Friday came we were all excited to go to MEXICO CITY!! The group left shortly after Spanish classes ended at noon and after we were able to make some sandwiches for the road, we all piled into the CGE vans and headed off to the big city.

This is a statue along the main street in Mexico City

When we got there we went directly to the US Embassy where we were going to be talking to members of the Vice-Consul, Press-Secretary, Political Counselor, Economic Counselor and the Counselor of Agriculture. Most of the discussion, and then the questions that we asked in response to their presentation, were related to the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico. There were also many questions asked that addressed the citizens of Mexico and how they were being affected by certain policies and practices.

One of the speakers, who was the Vice-Consul, spent some time talking about his position and what his job entailed. I was appreciative of his interpretation and explanation of his position because he said that he enjoyed meeting and talking to new people everyday and hearing their diverse stories. He appeared very aware and enthusiastic about the diversity and individualism of each person that applies for a visa. He mentioned how ‘refreshing’ it was to meet a variety of people and hear their different stories.

I think the reason that I appreciated this was because over the past few weeks we have had the privilege to hear the voices of those who aren’t always given the opportunity to speak and one of the most significant aspects of those speeches and stories that I have taken from them is that everyone has a story that represents their life and their struggles and nobody has the same story. From the beginning to the end, their stories are all different, and it’s important to remember that when meeting a new person and also when reading an article or a report about immigration.

After the Embassy, a few of us decided to stick around Mexico City for another day and do some exploring and sight-seeing. On Saturday a group of us headed off to San Juan Teotihuacan to see the famous “Teotihuacan Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon”. And of course, we had to climb at least one of them which took about 30 minutes (and that included the frequent rest stops.)
Here is a picture taken of the "Moon" Pyramid
from the top of the "Sun" Pyramid
--By Jessica Larson

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WEEK 2: Rural Homestay

This is the group at our rural homestay in Ixtlilco el Grande. We are pictured with Raul and Avilio who were our guides and directors for the week

This past week we spent four days and three nights in a rural town called Ixtlilco el Grande in the state of Morelos. Here we were partnered with another person in our class and assigned to a home. There were a wide variety of homes that students were placed in. Some lived with just grandparents, some lived with three generations of family, and others lived with only one person. Students had to become accustomed to many things including bucket bathing, lots of animals and bugs, less privacy, and eating all the time.

This week we focused on the topic of migration in the rural communities as well as how it has affected these communities. We heard many personal stories from many different generations including young men, older adults, and even families. They told of their struggles getting to the United States and then how they survived being there. Most went illegally using coyotes but others went on monthly work visas.

We visited sugar cane and fig fields as well as tomato greenhouses. We learned how the government has helped support these greenhouses to better the community. We also went to the local satellite junior high, the health clinic, and learned about helping programs in the community. We got tours of each place and were able to ask all sorts of questions.
Here is the group in front of the Satellite Junior High with the school director.

This is the group while on our
tour of the Sugar Cane Fields

We traveled to Tepalcingo, where the head of the Municipality is located. We were able to meet with people on the public works committee. They help with getting people passports to the U.S. if someone is sick or for a special occasion or vice versa. They also are involved in a lot of federally funded programs including ones for education, single mothers, and older adults.

We then traveled to an ex-Hacienda (former plantation) called Santa Cruz where we got to debrief about our time in Ixtlilco, as well as reflect on the things we learned. We discussed immigration with an activity where we were split into groups and had to create a web of either the consequences or causes of immigration. Surprisingly there were many similarities between the consequences and causes of immigration, like support for family.

During our stay at the ex-Hacienda we got to go see the Xochicalco pyramid ruins where we saw an observatory and many temples. The biggest temple we saw featured in the picture was called the Quetzalcoatl Pyramid or The Feathered Serpent. This temple was disassembled a hundred years ago piece by piece to look for an underground tunnel. None were found so it was then reassembled but they couldn’t quite put it all back together the same way they took it apart. It was built by the Olmeca-Xicallanca which was a small group of Mayan traders back in 620 A.D. We learned about sweat lodges, temples and how this group was so advanced in many areas of science.

This picture was taken on the Quetzalcoatl Pyramid
(The Temple of the Feathered Serpent)

After we returned to the ex-Hacienda from the ruins we had a bonfire where we made s’mores, sang songs, and told ghost stories. We packed up and left the Hacienda on Friday where we had a free weekend to do whatever we pleased.
Here are the roommates in our room at the ex-Hacienda before heading out to the bonfire to make s'mores

--By Anna Leafblad

WEEK 1: Getting Settled In

This was our first week here in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. There are seventeen people in the social work program and six in the globalization and migration program. We all live in the same house together: Casa Verde. There is about four people in each room and we have to share bathrooms as well.

We have spent a lot of time getting to know one another through activities, get-to-know-you games, ice-breakers and open discussions. Not only did the students partake in these activities, but the staff did as well. It gave us a chance to get to know everyone better and become more comfortable with one another.
One activity that we did as a group was called “Ladders of Inference.” We discussed how making inferences is like climbing a ladder. The more and more we assume about others, the further apart we become and separate ourselves from them. For me personally I am glad that we learned this and became aware of this concept, especially since we all come from different walks of life and have different life experiences.

Katie, Ty, Katelyn, Amber:
From Augsburg to Mexico!

We have even had time to explore the city a bit this week. We went to El Mercado and did a survey to see the costs comparative to the United States. We also have gone out to some clubs and bars to experience the night life of the city. I really enjoyed the bar Los Arcos, because there is live music and salsa dancing.

This week we also had several speakers explaining and sharing their thoughts and experiences on the Mexican culture and migration to the United States. One speaker we had come in also happens to be the author of one of our textbooks. We discussed the difference between low and high context cultures. It was interesting to hear her stories on the differences and to learn how these opposite contexts can interact and/or conflict with each other. I found it rather interesting that I see myself as fitting into the high context culture better (which happens to be the Mexican/Latin American culture).

We got a good start on looking into these topics and they helped prepare us for Ixtlilco el Grande, where our rural homestay is next week. We had several meetings about our trip to Ixtlilco; we discussed the possibility of bucket bathing, scorpions, lack of privacy, cultural barriers and much more. It will be an interesting experience for me; especially since I am a city boy at heart.

View From Behind Casa CEMAL (The House Where We Eat)

Throughout this week, we have learned that there are going to be times when we may be uncomfortable in a situation, but it is a part of the culture shock we face being in an environment different than our own. As we prepare for our trip to Ixtlilco, we have been reminded to observe the differences; we don't have to embrace them or like them. It's all a part of the experience.
--By Ty Dahlke