Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Immersion in Amatlan de Quetzalcoatl

What an incredible week it has been! Our group has had the opportunity to experience a rural home stay in the indigenous town of Amatlán. There we met amazing people, experienced traditions and different lifestyles with our host families, and embarked on an adventure of fabulous food, beautiful sights, and memorable ceremonies and speakers. This week was filled with visits to a government agency, elementary and high school, medical center, and speakers ranging from recipients of government programs to natural healers to documented and undocumented immigrants. We went on excursions and listened to speakers that helped us not only to better understand Mexico and its many cultures, but also to immerse ourselves in these differences by living with a rural family in the community.

The first day that we arrived in Amatlán we were able to partake in an indigenous ceremony at the foot of the mountains that surrounded us. This was lead by Nacho, a spiritual leader in the community, who taught us about the traditions of his ancestors like listening to nature and speaking of peace. It was a beautiful experience and so wonderful to be able to learn more about the culture in Amatlán.

At the base of the mountains in Amatlan
Another opportunity that we had was speaking with Laura*, who is a natural healer in the community of Amatlán. She comes from a family of generations of natural healers, and she learned from her grandmother about what plants were medicinal and how to respect Mother Nature. I found it neat to see the similarity in her culture compared to mine how traditions and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation.  She spoke of the indigenous cosmovision, or worldview, which emphasizes interconnectedness between human beings and nature. In her culture, there is great respect for nature and thanks is given when using plants for medicinal or food purposes.

Laura also spoke of how corn is a very sacred plant and that they celebrate and give thanks throughout the entire process including; picking seeds to plant, planting, taking care as it grows, and collecting the corn again. This is such a vital part of their culture and it was wonderful being able to hear about their traditions and their way of viewing the world. It was really interesting for me to notice the differences in the U.S. dominant culture regarding nature and the sacredness of corn. In the U.S. it seems that corn and other plants are looked at with dollar signs and not so much the love and respect that people in Amatlán give to nature.

CGE Mexico students (and a favorite dog) at a group bonfire and reflection
Overall, this week was an incredible learning experience and I had such a great time meeting new people, learning about a new culture, and discovering and embracing the similarities and differences that I shared with the community and my host family. I will remember this week forever!

-- Rebecca Collins

*Name changed for privacy purposes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Indigenous towns and delicious sopes

Wow! What an amazing adventure this has already been, and we’re only a few weeks in. I think we are starting to get used to our new town, new home, friends and staff here in Cuernavaca. Our days are filled with classes and many excursions.  We were educated on two different indigenous villages this week that show signs of poverty in each village. The week started out with Susan Smith, a guest speaker from Atzin who spoke to us about the organization she has worked in for 17 years. Atzin has helped bring community education, health services and other mind and body building exercises into the village of Tlamacazapa in Guerrero, Mexico. 

We had the honor to visit the indigenous town of Amatlán on Tuesday. We were welcomed with a great meal of sopes, and then had a talk with Nacho, a community leader who spoke to us about his life living in the village.

Students in Amatlan

We had good company with friends and staff members and Nacho’s words of the past had a learning impact on all of us. He taught us about many aspects of the village, Mexican history, and indigenous cosmovision. Communal, ejidal and private property are the three types of land tenure that he spoke about.  Communal land is referred to as land that was never touched by the Spanish. Ejidal land is former hacienda land that was restituted to the people after the Mexican Revolution. He spoke in depth about private property and how it was an invention of oppression, which was another from of the reconquest. “We aren’t owners of the land, we are of the earth,” said Nacho. Being educated on the three types of land really gave us students a good lesson and different view on what it means to “own land,” which can also be tied in with human rights of the indigenous communities.

Nacho also told us that “the tortilla is the Eucharist we eat everyday, so that is why we sit in a circle to converse and share our stories.” Hearing him say this let helped me understand communication in a different way. Sitting in a circle is a way that represents the Christ and communality they have pride in. Nacho was a wonderful speaker and helped me understand the ways of indigenous villages in a different perspective.

Me with a sope!

The sopes we were served was a huge hit for the group. A sope is a corn tortilla with ridges topped with cheese, beans, and salsa. Many of us were exposed to them for the first time and think we can all agree that they are on the #1 list of foods we have tried while here in Mexico. The hospitality that we were presented with was wonderful and I think we all had a great experience.

-- Darian Peterson 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Welcome from visiting professor Rosemarie


My name is Rosemarie Merrigan and I have the extraordinary opportunity to be the visiting social work instructor this semester.

Our semester started off with a whirlwind of activities that introduced all of us to life in Cuernavaca as well as starting courses. There were many ‘Get to know Cuernavaca” and “Get to know you” types of activities with students and staff. One activity had students going to the market and buying items that people use every day. The initial impression was that they were fairly inexpensive to purchase. The next day we learned the actual cost of these items - how much people are paid and how many hours they need to work to purchase these items. We were astonished by this reality.

We spent time talking our “cultural selves”, how much of how we make sense of the world is based in our culture and all of the factors that influence this. We learned about national cultural patterns and some of the contrasts between Mexican national cultural patterns and USA national cultural patterns. 

There were introductions to all the courses.  And of course we are eating wonderful food. 

At the end of the week we had an all day session at Ann’s home (Director of CGE Mexico) ending with a barbecue and swimming.  Then to top off the week, on Saturday we went to Teotihuacan - an ancient holy city - where we saw the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. Many of the students hiked up both of the pyramids.

Here is a link to read more about this historical site:

It was an amazing week.