Friday, April 22, 2011

Luz y Libertad

By: Chelsae Crivello 
Augsburg College   

    The social work and migration and globalization groups went Luz y Libertad, a Christian Based Community. Luz y Libertad is a group of women in Cuernavaca that work to make the religion of God a reality, which is justice, liberty, respect, truth, solidarity and care.  They explained that a Christian Based Community is “a church in the movement, not a movement in the church”.  We had the privilege of talking with five women who helped run this group.  These strong women were very inspiring and not only have they worked hard to create this group but they have also been verbally assaulted from husbands and other members of their church.
       These women started meeting once a week just to reflect on the work of God and over time they realized that they needed to do more.  They created three groups within Luz y Libertad, a nutrition workshop, craft workshop, and a self-esteem workshop.  The nutrition workshop teaches women how to nourish themselves inexpensively.  They teach women how to cook with soy and they also teach them how to make bread and pastries so they can sell them if they need the money.  The craft workshop teaches women how to make crafts to sell so they can start to financially support themselves without their husbands.  The self-esteem workshop creates a space where women can engage together and become aware of social cultural conditions.  All of these groups teach women to become less dependent on their husbands because sexism is deeply rooted in the Mexican culture.  For example, the women explained that after 25 years of working it is almost impossible to find a job so these groups teach women how to financially support themselves and not have to rely on the husbands for money.
      Other than all the wonderful programs and community building they have done within Cuernavaca, Luz y Libertad was also able to go to a conference in Canada.  One woman said, “Although we didn’t speak the same language, we still spoke the same language”.  They felt very privileged to go to a conference to share the same passions other people had around the world. 
      After talking with the women of Luz y Libertad the students got the chance to eat their delicious food and reflect on the conversation.  It was very inspiring listening to the women of Luz y Libertad. They are all very strong women and work hard to better their community, as one woman put it, “If everyone put their grain of sand in we would have a different future”.  For me as a social work student, it was an honor listening to these women.  They have been through a lot, they have been attacked by people who do not agree, and have not been rightfully acknowledged for all of their work but they still keep on going. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Social Work students visit Creseo de Atacholoaya

Creseo de Atacholoaya
By: Carissa Rein
Winona State University

Social Work students received a tour of the Creseo de Atlacholoaya. The Creseo de Atlacholoaya is one of the main prisons in the state of Morelos. The Creseo consists of two prisons; one for women and one for men. The men’s prison contains 2,000 men. The women’s prison contains 200 women.  In each prison there are two different living quarters. One of the living quarters is for the inmates who have received their sentencing and the other is for inmates who are waiting to receive their sentence.

At Creseo there are many social workers that are available to work with the inmates, but of course there are not enough. The social workers job consists of working with the inmates and their families. While working with the inmates the social worker serves as a counselor. They help them while they are living in the prison because many of the inmates have a hard time transitioning to life in prison.

The social workers organize workshops that the inmates can participate in. The workshops available to the inmates consist of learning to work with yarn, fabric, wood, metals and more. After the inmates complete these workshops they create objects to sell. The inmates also have the option to work in a Maqilladora that is onsite at the prison. In this Maquilladora they make masks and hats for hospital personnel. Participating in the workshops and working around the prison will reduce the inmates’ sentencing time.

The social workers also, help the inmates enroll in school. The inmates have the ability to graduate from high school and even attend college while in the prison. Elementary and middle school education are free, but when they would like to attend high school, they are charged the same amount that they would be charged if they were going to a high school in the city.

This experience for me was very beneficial and informational. I have never really known what goes on inside a prison. Many people end up in prison because they were once mixed up in something that they shouldn’t have been. I believe society has shaped our view on the people we call “criminals” who occupy our jails and prisons. Some people have committed crimes in their life but that doesn’t mean that they are bad people.  People make mistakes, and I am the first one to agree with that.

It is amazing to me that the Cereos gives the inmates the opportunity to start their life over and create it how they would like. Whether that is creating objects to sell or graduating from high school. Both of these can be very beneficial to the life of the inmate once their sentence has ended.

From this experience I have began to think of a variety of different questions. For example, what beliefs do I/you hold about people who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to time in prison? What does society have to do with how we view criminals? What do you think about the services offered to the inmates?

Friday, April 8, 2011

US Embassy

By: Whitney Traut
St. Olaf College

While in Mexico City, our group had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Embassy—an experience that touched on some of the most sensitive issues surrounding immigration, human rights, international relations, and United States foreign policy. After going through fairly stringent security to enter the building, we were greeted by a panel of United States representatives who covered issues such as immigrant and non-immigrant visas, economic relations, environmental issues, and gangs and drug trafficking. While all of these issues are of immediate relevance to the social work profession, the discussion of the extremely difficult, selective, and tedious process for visa applications was of particular interest to many in our group. 

Before even discussing U.S. policy towards Mexican immigration—a controversial and often heated political and social issue—one representative prefaced that immigration reform is up to Congress and not the people in the embassy, and that the embassy has no jurisdiction in immigration laws. Thus, the employees of the embassy simply carry out the decisions made by the government. Nevertheless, the embassy described to us the application process in which those applying for non-immigrant (temporary) visas have to pay exuberant fees, prove family and social ties to Mexico—which basically comes down to possession of large amounts of accumulated wealth, property and capital—a high level of education, and a “good” job. In the “worst-case” scenario, the representative commented that the applicant navigates through the long and complicated process for up to 15 years, pays hundreds of dollars, and ultimately doesn’t qualify. Moreover, in addition to the objective criteria, many of us were startled to hear that admittance was basically subjective —one representative commented that they relied basically on a “gut-feeling” and decided within the first two minutes of an interview whether the applicant was worthy of a visa. For immigrant (permanent) visas, the process is even more complicated and selective, with a back-log of 15 years.

As social workers, we are challenged to view such policies with a critical lens and, moreover, serve as advocates for those whose voices are often silenced under layers of bureaucracy: how do we support individuals entrenched in a process that presents such extreme obstacles and challenges to issues such as family reunification and employment opportunities? In a process described by the agency itself as “subjective,” how can we help advocate for applicants and prevent discrimination based on race and class?
Social Work student in front of  "El Monumento de la Revolucion"

Friday, April 1, 2011

Not All Maquiladoras are the Same

By: Teal Inzunza
Fordham University

Last Friday we had the great opportunity to visit a maquiladora.  For all those who are unsure, a maquiladora is basically like a factory and in Mexico it is usually a factory that specializes in making some sort of clothing.  I have heard horror stories about maquiladoras when I was in the US.  Human Rights groups spewed stories of sweatshop conditions, low pay, and practically slave master owners of these places.  In fact, Mexican maquiladoras are fairly notorious in the US for being terrible places to work.  Many US companies, especially clothing companies, come to Mexico to set up shop because of the cheap labor.  This has gotten a lot of press within the US because of the unethical and illegal low wages that they pay the workers and the terrible conditions that many of these factories have. We learned that the minimum wage in Mexico is around $57 pesos per day about roughly $5 dollars per day. The Mexican minimum wage, like the US minimum wage, is far from a living wage and we have seen how hard it really is to live on a salary here in Mexico. We are beginning to see how Mexico’s huge gap between the rich and the poor affects the country.  This gap, which is caused corruption and monopolies in government and business, makes it so that “40 percent of Mexicans live in poverty, while roughly 28 percent live in extreme poverty” (Edmonds-Poli & Shirk, 2009, p. 271).  When more than 30 million people are living in extreme poverty in a country, you begin to see how these policies and businesses affect real people. 

Knowing all of the things I just said, I was expecting something much different than what I saw.  Although I had been to a maquiladora last semester, this one was very different.  When we arrived, the staff greeted us enthusiastically and we were ushered into a large room with all of the workers.  This visit was completely different from the maquiladora I had visited before.  The workers were not wearing a uniform, and if fact because we had visited on a Friday, many looked ready to enjoy the weekend and were wearing high heels.  The workers were listening to their own music and were joking and laughing around with each other. This particular maquiladora specialized in making swimsuits, and I took a peak at one of the tags and it was for a very know company in the US.  One of the administrators told us that they were like a family there, and the crazy thing is that I believe him.  He also told us that they didn’t need a union because they had him and that they trusted him to take up their issues when they had them.  We learned that this is one of the better maquiladoras in the country and in fact it was winning an award for how well it treated its employees. I guess the moral of this story is that not all maquiladoras are the same.  

Edmonds-Poli, E., & Shirk, D.A. (2009).  Contemporary Mexican politics.  Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.