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!


  1. Christina - What a great post. I expecially enjoy seeing the "from above" photo of the hacienda -- you had to climb to get that view!

  2. Thanks so much for keeping us in Minneapolis posted on your learning and adventures in social work in Mexico. Thought-provoking insights on privilege, too. I have found it helpful to identify my many sources of privilege (white, male, access to education and good work and benefits, heterosexual, health care insurance, English speaker, etc.) and use them to expand resources to others, advocate for more just allocation of resources, and join others in opposing injustice.

    Enjoy and savor your time. We'll try to keep in touch.

    Tony Bibus and SWK 316 Social Work Practice 2: With Families and Groups at Augsburg College in Minneapolis