Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WEEK 7: Buena Tierra and Independence from Spain

This week was full of more incredible learning experiences that will enlighten our understanding of Mexican culture and ultimately expand our understanding of social work. The event that impacted me the most was our trip to Buena Tierra, a school here in Cuernavaca. Before Buena Tierra existed, many children were not attending kindergarten because it was too expensive for some families to be able to afford. So when these children entered the free elementary school, they were academically behind those who did attend kindergarten, and eventually dropped out because of this gap. Buena Tierra was started to prepare these children for elementary school, and I could tell through the teachers’ interactions with the children that part of the school’s mission today is also to provide a caring and comfortable environment for the children to learn.

Today, the school has hopes that the children can one day have more opportunities and choices than their parents, because before the school was started, there could be seen in the neighborhood a vicious cycle of mothers and children not being educated. Ever since the school has opened, however, there has been a great sense of community between these families, as their children are able to receive the education they never had.

Seeing this school was a huge inspiration to me, knowing that efforts to improve the cycle of poverty can be made on such small levels, and yet make such a huge difference in the community. The leader of the school said that they have been able to educate the community through the children, even through teaching basics like personal hygiene and manners. It was adorable for me to see this played out when the three to five year olds “nos saludaban”, or greeted us, by giving us all a kiss on the cheek when we arrived, which is a common custom for many Mexicans.

I know that this experience will stay with all of us future social workers when we are working in the United States or elsewhere. While this excursion was directly related to our Policy and Social Work classes, we also had an enriching week within our Mexican Historical Context course. We learned about many aspects of Mexico’s history, the most significant to me being Mexico’s Independence from Spain. The war started in 1810 and lasted 11 years, finally ending in independence in 1821.
The gift that France gave Mexico in 1910, celebrating the centennial of independence – a beautiful statue called the Angel of Independence, which is in Mexico City.

I truly think it is important for us as social workers and as students to learn about this and all aspects of Mexican history and culture. It will be vital when we are eventually working with people from this amazing country. It will help us to understand where Mexicans are coming from, and to realize similarities and differences in our histories, which have inevitably influenced our different cultures. I can only say I am excited to further this understanding in the future weeks of this program, and I know the other students are as well.

At the base of the Angel of Independence are some of the important heroes of Mexico’s War of Independence, including Miguel Hidalgo.
--By Whitney Boyer

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

WEEK 6: Experiences With Mexican Traditions

This week we moved in with our home stay families. All of us, except for those with internships, live in Colonia Lagunilla. In this first week of staying with a family, I have learned a lot about culture, family and women’s roles here in Mexico. The house that I am staying in consists of the mom, dad and their son. In the upstairs apartment lives my home stay mom’s mom, brother and sister. They often come downstairs to talk, eat or watch tv with us.

The day that we moved in was the birthday of their colony. A parade of Chinelos and members of the neighborhood danced up the main road to celebrate its founding. The Chinelos originated in Morelos and while they are native to this state, they are extending to other states as well. They dress up as the Spanish conquerors, and are, a way, making fun of them. Because their dance consists solely of jumping, it is called el brinco (jump) de los Chinelos. Whenever there is a party in Morelos, they end it with the music of the Chinelos.

Students dancing along
with los Chinelos.

My home stay family took me to see a Quinceanera for the first time. This is a traditional event in Mexico, that occurs on a girl’s 15th birthday, when she becomes a woman. It was beautiful to see. I was told that girls look forward to their Quinceanera for two or more years before they turn 15. My host grandmother told me that “It is a girl’s dream to have her Quinceanera. Her Quinceanera and her wedding.”

I have talked to both my host mom and her mother about the roles of women here in Mexico. They have both mentioned that women generally get married in their early 20’s, even though it is somewhat changing now. My host grandmother mentioned that there was a cutoff age for getting married because if women did not get married before they turned 30, it will be difficult to have children. She also mentioned that it is not the same to adopt children, or marry someone with children, as having your own. I have learned a lot about women’s roles here in Mexico, and how women are seen from staying with a family.

A Young Mexican Woman at Her Quinceañera

--By Kay Hockeiser

Friday, March 6, 2009

WEEK 5: Preparation For Urban Homestay with Mexican Families

What a whirlwind week! Day-to-day life, as usual for college students, was full to the brim. Besides focusing on our Spanish finals and trying to enjoy our time together as a large group living under one roof, we were also trying to prepare for our homestays: a transition back into family-life and more immediate contact with Mexican culture.
Spanish Class at Universal
Students buckled down for Spanish finals at Universal. There was lots of studying, lots of talking, and lots of review. But our class also made a special trip out to Bons Café for a celebratory lunch with our professor! After it was all said and done, Universal hosted a pool-side barbeque party for the students and staff on Friday afternoon. It was a nice way to wrap up the time spent in the classroom, and now students are a little more prepared to engage in their field placements, family homestays, and the Cuernavaca community. Getting ready to present topics in class.
On Tuesday there was an orientation session to prepare for the transition into the four-week urban homestays. The homestay coordinator described some of the history of the area where 12 of the 17 social work students would be living. The students who are not living near us have been placed in areas close to their fieldwork placements, and still are not far from reach. During the discussion we divided into groups, and each focused on a different topic (i.e. roles in the family) to aid the transition. Then one student from each of the four groups represented the topics as a member of the “Panel of Experts” where the information was dispersed and questions were fielded. The picture above shows some of the students on break, about to present in the panel.

Lab group this week provided time to learn about the history of immigration policy in the United States of America. Each student shared their own immigration story of their family by writing a small summary and placing it appropriately on a timeline of important dates in American immigration history. Besides recognizing our commonality as children of immigrants, we observed U.S. policy trends and became more aware of the urgency in addressing fair legislation and immigration policy reform. This is important to keep in mind as some of the host-families have family members living in the U.S.A.
Students taking a peak at a timeline
of the history of immigration in the U.S.A.
Finally on Saturday, we met our new host-families. Over breakfast we shared the basics of our background and expectations and hopes for the experience. Packed into the dining room of Casa Cemal were 17 new families, and yet all together one large family of social workers in Cuernavaca! While nerves may have been heightened as we embarked on a new part of this journey, enthusiasm was even higher! Each student was warmly received by their new family, who expressed their desire for us to be comfortable, happy, and to learn and EAT a lot.

More than anything, I feel this week has truly been about living in the present, and living life to the fullest. Our history is important; it bears onto reality of today and the decisions for a better tomorrow. However, life is happening presently, and being in Mexico is a wonderful environment for us, as students, to practice the delicate balance that is the dance of life. We are challenged to be present to our studies, to our families at home, to each other as a cohort, to our new families in Mexico, and to the greater culture here. While sometimes it can feel as though we are spread thin, in taking account of the many opportunities and experiences we have as individuals and as a group, I conclude that we are truly blessed to have such rich and full lives.
--By Alysson Riutta