Thursday, March 18, 2010

SAF internship!

I'm no longer in Mexico, but talking to migrants in Mexico inspired me to get an internship with Student Action for Farmworkers, here in the U.S.

"Every time we sit at a table at night or in the morning to enjoy the fruits and grain and vegetables from our good earth, remember that they come from the work of men and women and children who have been exploited for generations."
-Cesar Chavez

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rant about Immigration, the World Bank, Bartolome de las Casas

Just got back from Mexico City, yet another time.
However, I can talk about that soon when I get back.
I´ve really learned a lot here. Some of it I´ve written about in papers for school. I haven´t touched on much of it here. I´ll put aside everything I now know about Spanish-language literature (from Spain, Cuba, Argentina, some from Mexico, etc.) and focus instead on current events.
Even that´s really too much to put in words, which is precisely the problem. Mexico is probably one of the most important countries for people in the U.S. to understand. Out of fear, people in the U.S. would rather ignore it, or if that doesn´t work, build a wall that can be seen from outer-space (the Chinese will still say theirs is prettier as it isn´t made from used airplane parts, but it makes very little difference from outer-space).
To me, the people who shout ¨stop the illegals¨ (as though being ¨legal¨ or ¨illegal¨ was something permanent, or making legal migration simple was out of the question) ignore all the real issues on both sides of the border.
It would be like saying the solution to Child Labor abuses and/or a rise in crimes by minors would be to stop having children. People almost never target the harder-targets: The corporations who hire the ¨illegals.¨ In the case of crime along the border I would also have to include many people on our side who sell guns and buy drugs. There´s a reason why here, farther away from the border things are often more calm.

There´s other things the ¨anti-illegals¨ people I have yet to hear anyone mention Mexico´s debt crisis for instance, mostly because it would hurt the rather childish ¨patriotism,¨ that you hear in these debates. Most Mexicans I´ve talked to know there´s a difference between loving one´s country and loving the country´s government (almost no one I´ve met here likes Mexico´s government).

To paraphrase one on-line poster to a news article I read a week ago, ¨these people live next to one of the most generous countries on earth.¨ Exactly. We, (especially through the World Bank, whose head the United States appoints) lend money to countries, and then they have even more problems paying it back. Anyone wonder why Mexico can´t pay for decent public schools, research, etc.? True, Mexican education is good by Latin American standards, and many people are willing to stay farmers rather than go on to ¨better¨ things.
However, I am not stupid enough to believe that the World Bank loans money to countries so that they can be great economic powers to compete with the U.S. No one in the U.S. really wants that. Look at how we reacted to Japan in the 1980s, and China right now. It´s notable that although the U.S. can take some credit for Japan, China has largely avoided links to U.S.-dominated financial institutions, and has ¨globalized¨ largely on it´s own terms. I am admittedly not an expert on China, and I wouldn´t put it up as an example for other countries to follow. These issues are admittedly complex, and I´ve just brushed the surface.

(A surface largely based on the writings of former world bank president-turned critic Joseph E. Stiglitz, whose work I´ve read in class here at CEMAL. Some might say it´s not worthwhile to read a U.S. author in Mexico, but he uses Mexico as an example many times, and it´s better to see the country he uses as an example for ones´ self before judging what he says. It´s one of the many advantages of doing a U.S. program in Mexico).

Oh, and then there´s the other equally uninformed ¨side¨ of the immigration debate, which does little more than say ¨we are a nation of immigrants¨ as though we were always a nation of migrant workers who due to currency exchange rates found it to our advantage to work in the U.S. and return to our home countries. Are we ready to be a nation of migrants?
Not to mention Mexico´s own issues regarding its southern border, and the U.S. selling arms to Guatemala, the violence in the 1980s which brought many Guatemalans into the U.S. to escape a government that was being funded by the U.S., but far worse than anything we have ever allowed at home. (admittedly I´m rough on the U.S. here. It´s far more patriotic to try to change my country than try to tell some other country how it should act. My role model-here is possibly Bartolome de las Casas who...

You know what? I´ve already touched on way too many subjects to even begin to get into Spanish colonial history. CEMAL is great for learning about these things. I´ll just leave it at that for now. Any questions on the above?

Note: I will write part two of the Complete Idioto´s guide. Do not worry.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cuernavaca, The Complete Idioto´s Guide part 1

Cuernavaca: a city of ravines.¨Upper¨ and ¨lower¨ class is literal. Well, not always, but mostly.

Walk up certain hills, and you´ll see mansions and flowering trees.¨The city of eternal spring¨ is Cuernavaca´s motto, and there is nearly always some kind of flower in bloom.

The people in these fancy houses are often people who left Mexico City for bigger houses and courtyards, some imitating the tiled domes of Spain. Unlike Mexico City, we have enough water for some people to have swimming pools.The modern convent of the Guadalupanas del Cristo el Rey is here at the top as are some language schools.

It´s good ground to avoid earthquakes like the one that ripped Mexico City apart in the 80s. Granted, land at the very top of some of these hills is looser and cheaper judging from what my host mother Alicia told me.

Okay, time to go down to the middle ground where I am now. Here you find small-shopkeepers with painted signs, good for if you need anything.

Walk down a flight of stairs into a ravine. Available space, if it´s there, often gets used for chickens. People come here from the countryside. Many will wind up in the U.S. eventually. The ravines actually look kind of picturesque from a distance because of their greenery and general wildness compared to the rest of the city.

At far bottom you hit the rivers that carved out the ravines. The ravine-bottom is nice and shady, but you´ll get a headache if you stand down there for too long. Black rivers carry sewage that washes down from all the layers above. Usually the rivers flow with suds. Just imagine the combined fecal and garbage smell. I can´t show it. The worst of these ravines don´t even have roads at the bottom, meaning that the people who live there have to climb stairs.

Foreigners (except for me) avoid the ravines with the exception of the San Anton waterfall, which is awesome despite not being clean. It´s a bit different from other ravines in that it´s more or less one of the nicer parts of town.

The city as it stands now grew in a jumbled way out of Cuanahuac the pyramid site of the Tlahuica (meaning ¨They who work the land"). The Tlahuica were among Moctezuma´s loyal taxpayers. They built their temples near Cuernavaca's modern center. Cortez had slaves rip them apart to build a castle for himself. His castle still stands at the city's center.

The Palacio de Cortez as it's called has a mural inside of it by Diego Rivera. The mural shows Cortez invading, destroying Aztec Empire's class system, and installing himself and the Spaniards on top. It's beautiful in spite of showing the divides of wealth and race. Cuernavaca itself is much the same way.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Palm weaving

My relationship with the summer program is a little different from other students.I do go with them sometimes, but only when it´s something that I hadn´t done during the spring program, usually. One of our excursions last week was just down the street to visit some women from an indigenous village who were staying there to sell baskets and other woven goods in Cuernavaca. They taught us how to weave their style of palm baskets as well.

They talked a lot about life in their town and relationships with their husbands. I won´t go into that too much because I know this is a culturally sensitive subject, and I hate to be the white man criticizing the norms of indigenous society. I will say that they thought the location of houses in Cuernavaca next to the cemetery was problematic due to their own belief in ghosts.

For them, their artisan work is very much an art, because it requires time and effort, just as much in their opinion as painting or engraving (which we discussed) particularly with the harvesting of plants.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ex-hacienda de Temixco

Okay, so, on a lighter note...
Seriously, I won´t bring up the Burger King club again. It really had very bad music, I was sort of joking last time. All of my other reviews will be honest!

Despite saying earlier that this will not just be a tourist blog, I will sometimes review various tourist attractions in the area here. People may just want more information about these places. Some of them (certain museums for instance) have long histories associated with them, which can be revealing.

Old haciendas in modern Mexico have become any number of things. In central Mexico especially, many had to divide their lands under beloved President Lazaro Cardenas, while being allowed to keep their houses.This particular one is now a water park.

Yeah, you heard me right. A water park. The old walls and the house are now parking lots and a cafeteria (which was not open). The slides and pools are out in what was once the fields. We actually went as a class with the summer group, mostly just to see the style in which Haciendas are built. (This was actually our second class trip with the summer group so far. I´ll get to the first one with Universal in Mexico City later).

I slid down two slides, both fun and both tunnel slides. I coasted in the wave pool and swam in a pool which had some of the old arches still over it. It was a great chance to get to know the new students more too.

Most of the slides weren´t open though. They try to conserve water on week days, which are, for that reason, cheaper to get in. Some travel bloggers would tell you that this conservation is a bad thing. I disagree. Sure, I may have wanted to do more of the slides, but water is a precious resource here in central Mexico. For that reason, I´m not sure how I feel about us having so many water parks nearby.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some bad news

Okay, so I left my computer on a taxi. Sure it should have been a learning experience, but it seems like I should have already learned to keep track of my things. All I can do now is except what happened, and deal with using other computers. I think my ipod may have also been with it, but I hope not (ironically I kept it in the same case so as not to lose it).

However, I am planning on writing a novel loosely based on this. Look forward to seeing it. It will be from various points of view, with the computer changing hands various times in Mexico, and a young man´s quest through Mexico to find it. I´d been looking for this inspiration for quite some time. If only it wasn't so expensive!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Spanish Study Starts

Okay, so the summer program's beginning. New people are coming in. It's strange to be the one who actually knows things. I'm staying in Casa Cemal right now instead of Verde. Next week we switch to homestays.
Today we did the CEMAL orientation and went to the Zocalo, where a guy selling henna claimed that my name (Benjamin) meant something about plants. It actually means "favored son," I think, but I didn't care enough to tell him that.
I may wind up following this new program on some of the trips I've already been on. Doesn't hurt to do that, might wind up writing more in detail this time, but...don't count on it. Maybe just more posts like this one.