Thursday, February 25, 2010

Week 4: Visit to Rural Indigenous Village

By Amanda Terwey
Bemidji State University

On Tuesday, February 16 we visited Amatlán de Quetzalcoatl. This is the village where the half-human, half-god Toltec Emperor Quetzalcoatl was born. Arriving there we met with a shaman, an indigenous spiritual leader. He is also a member of the Community Land Council. We began our day with a talk explaining the town of Amatlán. History of the town dates back between 4,000 and 7,000 years based on archeological findings in the mountains.

Where the Ancient Drawings Are

It is a small community with about one thousand inhabitants. The people are at risk, states the indigenous leader, of losing their Nahua language due to outside influences. The community is about fifteen minutes from Tepoztlan, a tourist area. This is just one of the issues the talk brought about. Other issues included land and healthcare.

As a veterinarian the indigenous leader is educated in the area of health. He says through traditions health is a gift, but now healthcare is business. It puts a price on a person’s health. Along with health their land has a price. The idea of communal land is something that needs to be recognized. The indigenous spiritual leader made an excellent point by stating that a person can put a few stones in their pocket but can never pick up and move the land. There is the belief that land is not meant to be bought and sold.

Land is not meant to be bought or sold

As for outside influences coming and moving into the community, that is another issue. They are not against investment, but they are against exploitation. He mentioned of two instances where people have come to live in the community of Amatlan. One was a hotel that had lied of their intentions. They did not involve the people of the community, and were dishonest about the use they would make of the land. The other instance was of a doctor that came to meetings, contributed to the community, and had many community members working in the hospital.

There is a difference between joining a community and contributing to it and “joining” a community and using it for your own greedy purposes.

What was evident of our day with this indigenous leader was his passion. The quote from that day that spoke the most to me was when he was speaking of the Spanish during their conquest of Mexico. Paraphrasing, this is what he said, “When torturing an emperor to discover where the treasure was, the emperor said (before he died) that the greatest treasure was in the heads and hearts of the people.

Walk to sacred site

From the little time we were able to spend in Amatlán we could feel a sense of community and passion of the people. We were fortunate enough to eat comida (lunch), which consisted of sopes (tortillas with beans, cheese, onions and salsa on top) and then hike to a sacred ground with the indigenous leader as our guide. We were able to experience a partial indigenous spiritual ceremony. We learned of many things during our time in Amatlán, and from listening to a wise passionate man.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Week 5: Students Go on Excursion to a Palace!

By Alex Peterson
Bethel University

This past week we had the opportunity to visit and view a mural depicting, the history of Morelos, the conquest, and the revolution, portrayed by Diego Rivera. Diego Rivera was a famous painter throughout the world who established his name by painting murals in places such as: Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. The particular mural that we saw at the Palacio de Cortes (Cortes´Palace) in downtown Cuernavaca was based off of the battle between the Aztecs and the Spanish. We spent about an hour analyzing the mural, which wrapped around an entire upper room of the museum.

Indigenous slaves under the Spanish rule

There was quite a lot to be said about Rivera’s depiction of this major historical event. Before getting to the museum we had a brief lecture by one of our teachers refreshing our minds of what had happened during the conquest of Mexico. As we spent the day discussing this event I came to realize that primary and secondary education in the United States of America did not clearly and concisely depict everything that the Spanish put the indigenous people through.
Another part of Diego´s mural

The mural painted by Rivera showed the absolute control that Hernan Cortes (a Spanish conqueror of Mexico) took over the Aztecs and indigenous people. Rivera´s depiction of Cortes throughout the mural was of someone who stood above the rest. He was illustrated standing above indigenous Aztec people who were being tortured in very inhumane ways, such as the pulling or stretching of the body or the scalping of the heads.

Also portrayed was Cortes’ infamous translator, advisor, and mistress La Malinche, who was an important indigenous woman, caught between the two worlds. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the relationship between these two, and for some she has become the symbol of betrayal in Mexico. Hernan Cortes´ and La Malinche’s son was considered the first-born “Mestizo”. Mestizos are people that share both European and Indigenous Mexican ancestors.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Week 3: My Values in Mexico as a Foreigner

By Christina Olson
CGE-Mexico Intern
Do you "dress to impress?" I know that I do NOT! I used to just throw on jeans and a T-shirt. Now, I think a little bit more about "looking good," whatever that means. Is it because I am getting older? Probably not. Is it because people look at me strangely. No, I don´t think that is it either. So, WHY do I care more about how I dress?
In Mexico, class is a big issue. Betty Ramos[1], an interculturalist who presented to us her knowledge and experience with inter-cultural issues said that "there are a lot of ways to show respect." One of them is "dress to impress." How I dress (look) defines the class that I come from (even if it is just an assumption). Dress is important--shoes, shirts, jewelry.
Betty Ramos and some of the students after her presentation
Now, there are two sides for me, a white, foreign, heterosexual, middle-class girl from EEUU (Estados Unidos=USA). One is that I can dress however I want and that won´t affect how people define the class that I come from. Why is that? PRIVILEGE. I have power, and I have privilege just by being white and coming from EEUU. I don´t have to worry about how I dress.
BUT...that is now why I think a little bit more about "looking good." It is not because I have to. It is because I now know that if I dress up a little bit (actually iron my shirts...) I can show respect to others when they: invite me over; when at church; just walking downtown in a city that is not mine. In this way I can show respect without abusing my privilege. That is the other side.
One student role-playing a presentation in two different pretend cultural settings
I have heard Betty Ramos speak a few times now, and the information that she presents never ceases to show me that the negative or uncomfortable interactions that I have had with friends in Mexico have a lot to do with cultural values and the ways that we each have been raised in a different community and country. Neither is bad.
It is very important to learn about cultural differences and values. Especially as a Social Worker in EEUU. Example: Instead of thinking that a client is too dependent on his/her family, I should stop myself and think "maybe being independent is a cultural value that I hold, but that isn´t true for everyone."
Have you had any inter-cultural experiences that were uncomfortable? Do you think they might have been due to cultural differences? For social work students: what should you do when there is a cultural clash with a client?
As Betty Ramos says, "Listen to your intuitions; Listen to your heart."
[1] Betty Ramos, interculturalist, experienced cultural intermediary, and author of THE GEO-CONTEXT; presentation on February 12, 2010 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Social Work Semester in Mexico Begins Again!

By Christina Olson
CGE-Mexico Intern

It has been 8 months since the last year´s Social Work students left Cuernavaca, México. They went home and/or back to their colleges and universities, enriched by all the travels and people they met here. Now that they have gone and continued their work elsewhere (yet many keeping in touch with each other), it is time for this new group of 11 Social Work students to embark on their studies in Mexico, together with their fellow "Migration and Globablization" semester students.
The Ex-Hacienda Santa Cruz Where We had an Orientation "Retreat" Overnight!

The first week is full of orienting the students to Cuernavaca, and also to another culture and context. We all went to the Xochicalco pyramids and to a beautiful historic ex-hacienda (former sugar cane plantation) and spent two days getting to know each other better and doing activities and interactive sessions. One session was called the "Fish Bowl." In this session four people sat in the middle of a circle of about 10 others. The four in the middle had to discuss the article for this particular session.

Social Work and Migration/Globalization Students Doing the "Fish Bowl"

"The "Fish Bowl" was the perfect activity to use to discuss the controversial article "To Hell With Good Intentions" in which Ivan Illich told a group of volunteers from the U.S.A. NOT to come to Mexico to impose themselves on Mexicans since they couldn't help but be cultural imperialists for the middle-class U.S. way of life. As you can imagine, the article generated a lot of good reflection. Have you read the article? If so, what do you think of what Illich says? (If you haven't, you can look it up on line.) What do you think the appropriate role of foreigners is when it comes to trying to "help" others? In what ways do people need to be careful about not imposing our own cultural values or reinscribing stereotypes?

While at the Ex-Hacienda, we also talked about Peggy McIntosh's famous article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," as well as articles on the privileges awarded us as U.S. citizens and heterosexual privilege. Have you reflected upon your own privileges much? Perhaps the most inspiring article was "The Complexity of Identity: 'Who Am I'?"" by Beverly Tatum, in which she concludes:

"To the extent that one can draw on one's own experience of subordination - as a young person, as a person with a disability, as someone who grew up poor, as a woman - it may be easier to make meaning of another targeted group's experience. For those readers who are targeted by racism and are angered by the obliviousness of Whites, it may be useful to attend to your experience of dominance where you may find it - as a heterosexual, as an able-bodied person, as a Christian, as a man - and consider what systems of privilege you may be overlooking. The task of resisting our own oppression does not relieve us of the responsibility of acknowledging our complicity in the oppression of others. Our ongoing examination of who we are in our full humanity, embracing all of our identities, creates the possibility of building alliances that may ultimately free us all."

Do you agree with Tatum? Why or why not? What do you find helpful or unhelpful in what she says and in the article by McIntosh? We look forward to hearing from you as we embark on our new semester in Mexico!