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February 26, 2009

Still reliving the memories........

Even after 2 weeks at home, i'm reliving the memories of this "trip of a lifetime" to learn about Mexican culture. I'm very appreciative of the Augsburg staff who really set the tone for a trip that was truly an educational and life changing experience. I think often of our home stay family. I think Rosi and I learned that we can actually communicate quite well even without language. Our home family really helped me become more sensitive and "tuned into" family culture and how similar it is to my own. We are all much more alike than we are different. I still feel emotional remembering their parting comments that "when you are in Cuernavaca, our home is your home". Just a small amount of time spent with people can be very meaningful. We did spend small times with so many aspects of the history and culture of Mexico but indeed it was so meaningful and applicable to our work. I know that in coming weeks I will continue to be impacted by those experiences with my new experiences as I work with Latino families in SWMN.

February 25, 2009

Family Communication

I learned so much through our Mexico travels!! I was fascinated by Mexican history, architecture, and interacting with the people we met! I especially enjoyed the home stay experience, as we found the communication process to be so rewarding! I was able to practice my Spanish skills, and was actively involved in verbal and nonverbal communication....quite an experience. Our host family was so kind in helping us to communicate. Through the communication process, we laughed a lot, asked many questions and learned so much from eachother!!! We were even invited back for Christmas and any other time we would travel to Mexico. I learned the importance of communicating even if language might be a challenge, as we have so much in common! My travel experiences were so rewarding and fun! I will certainly look at everything differently in my professional and personal life. I hope to find further opportunities to practice my Spanish, llearn more about the culture, and find ways to share education.

February 23, 2009

A country so close but yet far away

Fourteen years ago I had the blessing of being part of the FD European Family Study Tour. Now I can add a uniquely different FD study tour to the resume. Both have enriched me greatly. This recent experience immersed me in a culture with an ancient history on the same continent that I'd not spent any 'quality time' in (a 2-day visit to Ensinada on the Baja 38 years ago hardly counts). I learned so much about recognizing the richness of the indiginous people and their melding with those that came from other lands. When I reviewed some of the printed materials we received prior to the trip, I know I didn't truly understand the meaning of 'liberation theology' prior to the experience. I know there's much more to learn but I'm beginning to understand what that is about. And it will be important to keep that in mind personally and professionally, when I work with a group who has newly migrated here. I'm also trying to find a personal life application of this awareness, probably through my faith community which reaches out to a large Latino population.

The Mexican Adventure

The study group to Mexico was an experience that I am very thankful for. The opportunities were so rich and I feel like I have learned so much. The structure of the learning process was very well thought out. Spending the first 2 days soaking up the history of the indigenous peoples and Cultures of Mexico prepared us for the day spent with Nacho, the spirtual leader at Amatlan. Hearing him talk about the the priorties of that Culture and the blend of the old with new religion was very helpful in understanding the importance of tradition, family, and community for many Mexican people. The shopping tour day was a great learning experience for me, both from the view point of not knowing language, money rate, or where I was going ; and also from the work we did in our groups of breaking down the true cost. To really understand the number of hours worked to buy basic food items was very helpful in understanding why so many immigrants leave family and risk breaking the law to come to America. Our session on the nutrition research project the Nutrition Center, and the Health presentation at Camel, told us so much about
issues of health and nutrition in Mexico. Lack of information, lack of insurance, and no school lunch are just a few of their concerns. I hope that we can use what we have learned about the Mexician culture and issues to make stronger connections with our immigrant community here in Mn.

February 20, 2009

Mary's entry

There has been so much written about the study tour and all that we learned. For me what we learned at the convent on the importance of the Virgen de Guadalupe to the Hispance people was very interesting and timely. As a Catholic, I had not heard of the Virgin Mary being seen in Mexico by an Indigenous person so many years ago. At the convent we learned a great deal about the significance of Mary showing herself to an indigeneous person, rather than a Spanierd, and all the symbolism pertaining to the picture we saw. We have a large Hispanic population in my community of Cold Spring. For a number of years, the Catholic church has had a type of community center for the Hispanic people in the area called Casa Guadalupe. I am making the leap that the name of the community center is tied to the Virgen de Gaudalupe.

Previously, the NEA has had some type of programming with the Hispanic youth at Casa Guadalupe. I would like to explore with the NEA possible nutrition education opportununities with the Hispanic adults in the community and possible summer programming with the youth. I also plan to provide training to the NEAs on what I learned on the study tour. The information shared with the NEAs should have a postitive impact on how they relate and provide education to the Hispanic people in our region.

February 17, 2009

What a life-changing experience!

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Mexico in the way that we did. I did not see the touristy side of things but rather the reality of things. That is so much better. I realize how little I know of the world and I definitely want to see more. Thanks for the memories!

Liberation theology and the Indigenous people

One learning that fascinated me and took me by surprise is the whole notion of liberation theology. While originally, liberation theology began with church members who were aghast at the treatment of the indigenous people and poor rural and urban populations, liberation theology (bringing justice to the poor, the oppressed through activism) appears to have permeated the collective consciousness of the Mexican people. We saw this in Diego Rivera's paintings and at the history museum, heard about it from Nacho the spiritual leader at Amatlan, from the sisters of Guadalupe (even in the story of Maria de Guadalupe), from taxi drivers to our home stay families. It was interesting how values of collective activism or solidarity as key to social justice was discussed over and over.

I am not sure yet how this will figure into my work...but I am definitely wearing a new lens (at least a much clearer lens) when exploring cultural issues and interpreting data from Latino families!

History... then and now

I was blown away by the pervasive sense of history I felt throughout Mexico. Starting with the ancient civilizations and their complex and fantastic societies to the stark, cruel colonial brutality. One of my favorite parts of the trip was seeing the Diego murals. They depicted a glorious and a terrible past that every Mexican carries with them. Mexican history parellels U.S. history in some ways, but our history is so much younger. I feel like the Guadalupe symbol is a thread that reaches through Mexican history that people can take with them wherever they are. It gives them hope. Now that I am back in Minnesota, I am taking notice of where I see this symbol. I learned about a shrine in Lacrosse, Wisconsin that I would like to visit sometime.

February 16, 2009


I think my most important learning from the Mexico Study Tour is about the complexity of the country, the people, the families and the culture. From my family's business and from working in Worthington and other communities, I had learned some things about the people, culture and immigration issues. I found many of those things either confirmed in preparation for or actually on the study tour. But, I also learned just how complex the issues are. I knew little about how history has influenced the Mexico of today. As we work in MN Extension, this means Hispanic families come from many kinds of backgrounds. We cannot assume their experiences are all alike. For example, how immigrants from a rural area approach things might be quite different from those who may have come from the cities.

Immigration is so complex. Although the immigrant panel members's experiences were about crossing the physical border, there are other ways to come to the US. Who comes here and why is also complex influencing what Family Development does. Do we need to have discussions about who we target? Is it recent immigrants and what does that mean? Or, do we also look at working more with families who have been here longer but are still marginalized?

Besides the complexity, I also realized how very little I know. I plan to learn more about different kinds of visas. I plan to visit the US Embassy website. I hope to learn more about NAFTA to sort out the varying viewpoints we heard. I plan to take more time to talk with Mexican Americans in my work. Some of these areas are not things that I directly work with via Family Relations, but I think due to the complexiity, I need to look at it as a package. All things are connected and that makes a difference for how we work with families. I have way more questions than answers right now.

February 13, 2009

Women's Cooperative

On Thursday, February 5, a group went to the Women's Cooperative. This was a powerful experience, as we learned about the Light and Liberty classes held for women with the support of their church. A group of about five women formed the cooperative about fifteen years ago, and provided non-formal education in nutrition, self-esteem, craft-making and bible study. The classes reminded me of the grass-roots educational programming done by the University of Minnesota Extension. They also served a meal as part of our presentation. They served foods they prepared in their nutrition classes on low cost protein sources. We were served tuna extended with TVP, a soy protein salad, gluten (it looked a lot like liver), and a dessert. Again, this reminded me of the work we do with the nutrition education programs in Minnesota.

Sara's key learning & follow up step

One key learning that I had was really a reminder that it is so important to spend time to get to know people individually to learn their story and history; and not to make assumptions or generalizations about groups of people. One individual follow up step that I plan on doing as a result of my participation --- in a big way is yet to be determined. I will definitely do my work through different lenses. I am a part of a group that is reviewing Antonio's "Accessing Higher Education" materials -- & I now have a greater understanding of where folks come from ... so am slightly more informed that I had been several weeks ago.

My Favorite Meal

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I love to try new foods, so one of the highlights of the trip was the chance to learn about and eat some pretty exciting dishes. Whether is was the fresh papaya on cereal at desayuno (breakfast), the incredibly sweet mangoes straight from the mercado, or the various dishes that involved the beloved tortilla, I was in heaven! The picture here is from our wonderful meal on the patio in Atmalan, an indigenous community not far (or maybe far... in many respects) from Mexico City. One of my goals, now that I'm back in West Central Minnesota, is to explore La Tienda, the Latino supermarket on the main street of Morris. I've been there before, but now I have foods in mind to look for: hominy (the size of popped popcorn!), green salsas, and a mixed breakfast cereal that contains a mixture of seeds and grains I've never seen before (I'll know it when I see it!)...

The Lesson of the Oven

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This is Maria Elena and Miguel, my homestay family in the colonia Alta Vista of Cuernavaca. It isn't the fanciest picture, but it does, I think, say something about this couple, who've raised four children in a small space over 40 years. Family is everything, and working together is the key. Meals at Emilio Raban #14 were simple, balanced and delicious, and every meal ended with "Gracias Adios" (Thanks to God).
I feel most comfortable visiting in kitchens, and our visits were always held there. Talking around the kitchen table must be universal! As we visited one day, I sat facing the oven and noticed that Maria Elena uses it to store her kitchen towels, all neatly folded and visible through the glass door in front. The experience was similar to other home visits I've done over the years as a dietitian, reminding me once more how much I learn about eating habits and nutritional needs just by observing people in their environment. It strengthened my belief in the importance of not assuming what our clients may need from us. In this case, we can't assume just because someone has an oven, that they use it to cook food! To BE in our clients' environments and to ask what they truly need is the key to success.

February 12, 2009

A close view of the countryside

Our trip to Amatlan was a journey farther than a 45 minute ride. Cobblestone or dirt roads to dirt yards, small homes the size of sheds in America, and dish washing outdoor stands with goldfish swimming in the holding tank. Horses were in the pastures contained by fences less extensive than Civil War era fencing in the NE states. Families cooked in what we would know as a "summer kitchen" on the farm.

Regardless, families seemed to work together. Several generations were involved, and extended families provided support to the enterprise. Children held a major role in the work, having jobs to do. I was surprised that one of the men was serving dishes of food, as that seemed odd in a renouned "macho" environment.

The sounds of the small village included roosters crowing, children laughing, men working and saws buzzing. Small bus' (vans) picked up mother's and bablies at the street corners to take them somewhere. And as everywhere in Mexico, homes and yards were surrounded by walls and gates.

Senora Naty and granddaughter Tania

Our gracious hostess Senora Natividad and her grand-daughter, Tania at the central plaza in Taxco, Mexico.

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So Much to Learn, So Little Time

It's hard to just list one thing that I learned on this study tour. A couple of thing that I discovered (that I know will directly impact our work we do) is:
*Many (or most) of the Latino individuals we will come into contact with do not intend to stay ("settle down") in Minnesota (or even the U.S.). Many of our programs (preparing for the future, etc.) would not be applicable to this population.
*The independent attitude (or "volunteer spirit" as one Latino staff member referred to it) does not come naturally to Mexicans (or Latinos); there's an ingrained belief that it is the government's (vs. their) responsibility to correct community/national problems. This is something to keep in mind when a program is focused on "self-efficacy" or behavior change; we may first need to clarify what is/is not the govenment's responsibility.
*The familial and community unit appears to be much stronger than we typically see in the U.S. We will have little success creating programs and waiting for Mexicans to come and participate. We first need to have a presence in their community/family (attending their community centers, church, fiestas, etc.) which means we need more staff at the local level if this is really our goal. Regional-based staff will have a hard time having a big impact because their regions are large and their free time is little.

One personal action step that I will take is discuss these learnings with Karen and the FD Leadership Team. If one of our initiatives is to better reach Latino audiences we need to most likely restructure how FD generally approaches the work. I will look for clarification for what this means for website, brochures, and other communication pieces as well as our curriculum materials.


Host Family Stays

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Here is a photo of Kelly and Shelley with Rosario and her daughter America, Tere and Rosalba. Unfortunately Antonio and his son Antonio were at work.

Shelley, Kelly and I had the good fortune of staying with a wonderful family who had a fascinating history. Tere and Antonio are in their late 60’s and have 8 adult children. They are quite politically active around working for indigenous rights. They were leaders in fighting for land rights and establishing their colonia or neighborhood in Cuernavaca. I struggled to speak a little Spanish and Shelley did an incredible job translating so that we could hear the story of the hard work they had done to build their homes, school and community center. Tere took us around the neighborhood pointing out the various sites and described the early work that had been done. Later we shared pictures and talked about our families.

Their son Antonio lives with them and works in one of the family owned jewelry and watch repair shops. We also met their daughters Rosalba and Rosario and their children, Mexli, America and Marcus. Rosalba and Rosario both work and an international language school, Universal teaching Spanish. They have one daughter who lives in Georgia. They were so welcoming and gracious. Tere and Rosalba were wonderful cooks and each meal or snack we had was delicious!
By Sue Letourneau

I would classify my homestay family as a middle income entrepreneurial family from a Mexican standard of living. They had an automatic washer which Mercedes (the mom- age 54) used for personal use and took in laundry for income; the family has a 4 bedroom home in which they currently have one room rented out for $4000 pesos per month ($400 American dollars); the room we stayed in was used by their youngest son, but you could tell it had twin beds in it and was ready to be rented or used for homestays at any time. They also had a small apartment upstairs that was used by a family member, so they did not get rent for this property. They had another apartment on the other half of the upstairs that was rented out. While we stayed in the home Alejandro the youngest son (age 13) stayed in the same room as his parents. They were building another room onto a lower level bedroom of their home to accomodate their 23 year old son's work as a silk screen artist. Their two older children both migrated to the U.S., their only daughter and granddaughter they haven't seen for 10 years, they also have two new grandchildren they have never seen. The son from the U.S. sent them a van around Christmas time. They miss their children and grandchildren very much! Bertin (the father- age 59) had a job that involved climbing up high towers. When he worked he would be gone from the family for extended periods of time. This job took him throughout the country of Mexico. He's had the job for 3 years and I gathered it was a good job. In his earlier years he was a migrant worker in Canada. He has a green thumb, their small yard was filled with fruit trees, flowering plants, cactus, an avacado tree, and shrubs, plus on the roof of their home he had geraniums and other sun loving flowers. I was amazed that he could get that many plants in the small yard he had. He noted that in the summer months they have so much fresh fruit and produce they give it away to friends, family and neighbors. He was very proud of his yard and had every reason to be. Food was another thing that stood out, I don't even know what everything we ate was named, but it was fresh and delicious. We had two types of freshly made tortillas (one made with white corn and one made with blue corn). Very tastey! Their home was purple inside and outside, well kept and filled with so much love it just warmed my heart. I will think of this family for a very long time!
By Cindy Peterson

I had a wonderful home stay experience. My family, Maria Elena and Miquel, live in the “colonia? Alta Vista of Cuernavaca. Miquel, as far as I could tell from diplomas/recognitions on the wall, is a retired professional, working either in the government or a large business. He and his wife have four grown children and eight grandchildren. Two of his children live in California, and return to Mexico for holidays. The other two children live and work in Cuernavaca. One daughter is a psychologist. Maria Elena and Miquel are quiet, respectful people who enjoy talking about their church and their beautiful flower gardens. Their patio area is full of bougainvillea, roses and azaleas. Their house is small, clean and very uncluttered, with an open living room/dining room/kitchen on the first floor, and several bedrooms upstairs. Our meals were excellent, with breakfasts being my favorite (huevos, jamon, salsa, toast and coffee). The kitchen included an oven, refrigerator and microwave. I thought it was interesting that Maria Elena used her oven space to store her kitchen towels, which tells me the stovetop only may be used. Meals ended by Maria Elena and Miquel saying “Gracias Adios? (Thanks to God). Miquel took Becky and I by city bus to the Mercado on Saturday. We also toured the cathedral grounds. Miquel never failed to give pesos to any street beggar that we may have seen. He and Maria Elena are generous, kind people. Even with our limited Spanish language speaking abilities, we were able to communicate fairly well. We (Becky and I) were told by Maria Elena that “you are my daughters?, and we were invited back for Navidad. We were truly blessed by the experience.
By Connie Burns

The family Jean and I stayed with was a retired couple in their late sixties, Nelida and Mariano. They will celebrate their 50th anniversary in July 2009. In addition, there is a wedding coming up. Gustavo David, their 22 year old grandson who lives with them, will be getting married March 7. Two granddaughters were also there but we were unclear if they live with the grandparents all of the time or were just there on the weekends. The couple had their own car which was parked in front of the house behind the locked gate. There was a side patio which led into the house. The yard included two huge beautiful trees, and lots of flowering plants including bird of paradise, roses, geraniums, and bougainvillea. There were also lots of succulents and cactus. We only saw one tomato plant but there may be more vegetables raised in the rainy season. On the other side of yard against the wall, Mariano had a shop area where he stored lots of tools and supplies. He had been a carpenter/electrician/handyman as far as we could tell. His grandson is also an electrician. He showed us a map of where he had worked. We gathered he is probably gone for days or weeks at a time working in places like the Baja and Cancun areas. The room we stayed in had twin beds and the closet had lots of "girl" things in it. We think the girls may have given up their room for us but there was another bedroom they used while we were there. Altogether, the house had a small kitchen, living and dining room altogether, bathroom and three bedrooms. It was a mix of old and new (not unlike older couples in the U.S.) with the newer being the appliances, TV and sound equipment. The house continued on into an area for the grandson and his future wife. Sometimes, it is typical for sons to move into their parents' home when they get married. In this family, the grandson and his wife will live with the grandparents. It was fun to see grandfather and grandson work on the new kitchen. The installed a sink and cabinet while we were there and were doing electrical work. Nelida is very talented at embroidery and crocheting. She was making the tortilla covers for the upcoming wedding. She is a great cook. For lunch we had chicken mole. She made us American style breakfasts of pancakes, which everyone ate, and ham/eggs, which was just for us. We saw a pressure canner used for cooking beans and also earthenware pots used on the stove. I felt very sad when it was time to leave. I will think of the family often.
By Colleen Gengler

Gabby & I stayed with Ofelia, a 45 year old woman who has entered the states without documents several times to earn money. She is currently caring for her mother. Her brothers and sisters and many nieces and nephews live nearby. Ofelia does not have a paying job currently. We understood that her siblings help out with expenses. The home was small, neat and clean, with a small kitchen, dining room with large table, living room, tiny bathroom and two small bedrooms. There was a sort of center courtyard that branched off to her siblings homes. Ofelia was a very gracious host.
By Sara Croymans

February 11, 2009

Hot tamales!

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We ate hot tamales with our hosts at CEMAL before going out for the home stays

Jan & Mary introduce their hosts

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Antonio introduces host mother

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Antonio introduced his host mother to the group

Speaker on healthcare system

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Sandra Trevino provided an overview of the healthcare system in Mexico. She described how the regions of the country are different -- with the north being more developed, with higher incomes and educational levels, as well as better access to health services, resulting in better health. The center part of the nation has medium development, medium income and mixed educational levels. The southern part of the nation has low levels of development, lower incomes and lower levels of education.

Sandra described the differences between private and public health care.

She described the following relevant health issues
Cardovascular diseases
road traffic accidents
gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases
conception prevention
pregnancy in adolescents
cesarean practices
women's health
maternal & child deaths
nutritional health
tobacco usage
deaths caused by violence
domestic violence
aging process & experiences
health promotion issues

Dry toilets at CEMA

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Yes, I needed to upload a photo of the dry toilets. Several of the toilets at CEMAL were 'dry toilets' ... they functioned similar to a port-a-potty, and were much more environmentally friendly than the flush toilets. All toilet paper (for both types of toilets) was deposited into the garbage placed near the toilet, rather than in the toilets.

photo of Virgen de Guadalupe

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We learned about he significance of the Virgen de Guadalupe and the symbolism of all of the pieces of the original painting of the Virgen

Visit with guadalupananas for platica

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We visited the Guadalupanas for platica on Catholicism and the importance of the Virgen de Guadalupe

typical meal at CEMAL

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Here is a photo of a typical meal we had at CEMAL -- greens salad, rice & beans

Even more beautiful flowers

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Principal of Secondary School

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Kathy Olson brought a 'flat Stanley" from Carol Schwartau's elementary classroom (Chuck Schwartau's wife). Here flat Stanley is pictured with the principal of the secondary school. He talked about how the school has so many students that they run two shifts; the first being in the early morning until approx. 1 or 2 in the afternoon. The later shift ran from approx. 3-10 pm. We saw many children in the market in the early morning -- so it seemed that many children were putting in several hours of work before going to school.

septic system at secondary school

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The community group worked with the science teacher at the school & with the help of an organization in Canada they put in a septic system or sorts into the school, so that all of the waste was processed, minimizing the pollution into the river. The waste drained into a concrete chamber & then sifted through a total of 4 chambers and then a final area, where the water was clean enough to wash your hands in, but not drink.

students at secondary school

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secondary school

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We visited a secondary school to learn about their septic system project. When we arrived some of the girls were practicing marching in the center court area of the school for an upcoming parade.


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We walked up and down many steps to visit the small waterfalls on the river. The guide talked about the pollution and how their grass roots group was working to minimize the impact of the pollution. He spoke about working with the city and how the relationship was challenging sometimes. At one point the city wanted to put a landfill in one of their ravines, but they refused to let that happen. This decision also impacted grant dollars that they then needed to decline from the city.

more beautiful flowers

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small church near CEMAL

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This was a small church near CEMAL that we plassed while on the environmental/eco walking tour. It was definitely much simpler than the Cathedral!

children at elementary school - 3

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Environmental Walking tour - recycling center

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Eco-Tour of Ravine with Rescatando las Barrancas community education project. This was one of the recycling center site.

children at elementary school - 2

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children at elementary school - 1

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On the environmental walking tour we passed a fenced in area of an elementary school. The students were singing & playing games. An elderly man played the key board for the teacher & group.

Stephanie with son

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Stephanie, a staff person at CEMAL, traveled to the US Embassy with us. Here she is pictured with her son at CEMAL.


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basket artisan

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W MET WITH Artesanos Unidos in CEMAL, a cooperative created by local artisans as an economic alternative

cooks of the wonderful meal at Nacho's place

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Ancient indigenous Sacred site

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We walked to this ancient indigenous sacred site and participated in an abbreviated Nahua ceremony and had a discussion of Nahua cosmvosion and attitudes toward the environment

Nacho Torres Ramirez

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Talk on indigenous rights, culture, and the history of conquest (past and present) with Nacho Torres Ramirez, representative of Amatian's Community Land Council

elderly woman at market

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young child at market

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meat at market

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produce at market - 2

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citrus fruit at market


frijoles at market

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produce at market

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bread being sold at market

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Fred Rosen

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Fred Rosen spoke on the current economic, political and social situation in Mexico.

Tour guide at Pyramids of Teotihuacan - Archeologist Jesus Torres Peralta, UNAM

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Mariachi band member - 4

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Mariachi band member - 3

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Mariachi band member - 2

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Mariachi band member - 1

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mime near the Museum

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tastey looking food

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This food was being sold outside the Museum of Anthropology ... it looked very good.

pole dancers near the Museum of Antropology

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It was really neat watching the traditional pole dancing near the Museum of Anthropology. Can you hear the music?

stone craftsmanship at Museum of Antropology

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Dancing in traditional costume + cleansing ceremonies

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We saw several individuals in traditional dance doing cleansing ceremonies of some sort near the National Palace and again outside the Museum of Antropology.

school children at the National Palace

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Even though it was Sunday there were many school children at the National Palace. Many were carrying notebooks around and completing assignments for their classes.

murals at National Palace

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There were many beautiful murals at the Palacio Nacional, depicting the country's rich history.

Beautiful yellow flowers

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Palacio Nacional in downtown Mexico

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This photo shows one of the walkways inside the National Palace

Alter inside the Cathedral in Mexico City

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This photo shows one of the beautiful alters in the Cathedral in Mexico City.

Mexico City

Mexico City was a eye opening beginning for the study tour. It is a city filled with contrasts. It is the place that the indigenous culture considered the geographic center of their world which extended from Nicaragua on the south to Lake Michigan (many fishes) on the north. When the Spaniards came to Mexico in the 1500s, they destroyed many indigenous structures and built a cathedral and palace on top of the pyramid ruins. Excavation within the city now shows some remnants of the two worlds of the past. A visit to the Anthropology Museum highlighted many indigenous groups in the Americas and gave us the first chance to taste cactus.

February 7, 2009

Anticipation! Viernes 6 February

We are filled with excitement and anticipation to meet our host families. Our first session, led by Laura, encouraged us to think about fears, insights and what we will bring to our family stay. People mentioned curiousity, phrase books, open minds, patience, our own histories, open hearts and minds as things that we will bring. We hope to learn more about Mexican families, their life expriences and realities while we are spending time in their homes.

After lunch, we listened to Sandra Trevino Siller, an anthropologist from the National Institute of Public Health talk about the Mexican health care system. She mentioned economic and racial disparities were prevalent in this country that has a 50% poverty rate. However, public campaigns about using seatbelts, not smoking and breastfeeding are impactful. Sandra gave an impassioned and interesting talk and I found her to be very enjoyable and interesting.

A panel of Mexicanos who have been impacted by immigration to the U.S. told stories of difficulties crossing the boarder and discrimination in the U.S. Nabor and Ofelia had beneficial experiences in the 1990s. Nabor stayed 1.5 years and sent home $300 per week. He had connections and a job when he arrived and a wife who managed money well, so he now has a nice home from his earnings. More recently, crossing has become precarious and conditions are more difficult and expensive. Nearly everyone we meet has family that is or has worked in the U.S.

We finally met our homestay families! We enjoyed icebreaking activities and dined on tamales together before heading off to our homes. I hope to hear from others about their stay. This is an exhilarating, exhausting, overwhelming and absolutely fantastico experience. It is multiplied by the fact that colleagues share this journey together. I appreciate all that the Center for Global Education is doing for us here. We will bring home so much learning and experience to our jobs.

February 6, 2009

Laura & Marisela photo

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What an experience!

I am experiencing a once in a life time opportunity! I am so grateful for this. The beauty, the people, our group, so many things to reflect upon. The women we met at the Nutrition site once again made me realize that we are so much alike no matter where we live. A smile and a warm heart are accepted every where.

Fred Rosen Talk

On February 2 after arriving at Cemal in Cuernavaca, Fred Rosen presented a very interesting talk on current economic, political and social issues in Mexico. It is estimated that 25 billion dollars in remittences are sent home annually from migrant people working in the US. These remittences may be sent directly to the family or to communities for projects such as building schools. Land is owned communally or privately in Mexico. Communal land is owned by indigenous communities.

The minimum wage is 4 US dollars or 45 pesos. A family must earn 4 to 5 minimum wages to get out of extreme poverty. One half the workforce is in the informal economy. Those that work in the formal economy pay taxes. Mexico does have Social Security and health care. Those that don´t qualify for Social Sucurity may take part in a program called Opportunital (? sp.) which provides basic health care such as immunizations.

The Energy of the People

On Thursday our group went in different directions. Half went on an ecology walk and the other half visited a group of women who were providing education and encouragement to other women in the community through a center they established at their church. In both cases, these projects were from the heart of the people. They came about because of the needs in the community. To find a way to recycle and to increase the heatlh, wealth and self esteem of poor women.
This energy is not from large grants or government programs. It comes from responding to needs and figuring out how to organize the skills of the community. I felt a bond with these efforts and saw a similarity to the work we do in Extension with our train the trainer programs, Study Circles, Master Gardeners and other initiatives. By sharing knowledge and connecting people we can accomplish so much.

February 5, 2009

National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca


On Wednesday afternoon, February 2nd, while the larger group took the bus back to Mexico City, a smaller group of us, mostly from Health and Nutrition, visited the Instituto Nacional de Salud Publico in order to meet with Dr. Simon Barquerra and some of his staff. The visit was very good and the information we received was very relevant to the work we are doing with Mexican immigrant families in Minnesota. We were particularly interested in the national beverage study they´ve recently completed and the resultant recommendations on sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption. Upon return to the the U of MN we will share with Dr. Barquerra more of what some of the nutrition and public health faculty, such as Dr. Marla Reicks and Dr. Mary Story, are doing in this same area. We will also look for opportunities to share what we learned on the work being done in Mexico, with our colleagues in Minnesota.

Diego Rivera Mural

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This is a shared domain photo downloaded from a public site. It is was the third of the three panels we saw while in Mexico City last Sunday before leaving for Cuernavaca.

Tied to the Land

Today we spent much of the day in Amatlan, a small village about 45 minutes from Cuernavaca. Amatlan is communal land, meaning that it legally belongs to the people who work the land (in this case, direct descendants from Aztecs). We talked in depth to a community leader in Amatlan, Nacho Torres Ramirez. Nacho gave us an in depth history of his people, the ties to the land, and the past and current challenges of indegenous groups in Mexico. Through our follow-up questions we were able to hear how U.S. policies (like NAFTA, border patrol, and the war on drug) has both a macro and micro effect in Mexico. When asked specifically about migration, Nacho was able to confirm the challenges that families face when being forced to move and/or part to find work but that it can also have a positve affect by bringing money into the village. After our talk with Nacho he led us on a walking tour through his village´s lands to a holy place of his people. He gave us the opportunity to personally experience a Nahua ceremony so that we could have a better appreciation for the indegenous peoples connection between history, food, the land, the calendar and lunar cycles, and their religion. After returning to Cuernavaca we met with Aretesanos Unidos, a artist cooperative which aims to allow Mexican artists to use their artistic talents to improve their economic situation. After visiting with them, seeing their handiwork, and purchasing way too many gifts to take home with us, we concluded the day be reflecting all that we saw, heard, felt, and thought about the last couple of days. We started to discuss what we personally plan on doing back in Minnesota based on our experiences. We were also challenged to start thinking and discussing about priveledges that we personally have felt in Mexico (because of our country of origin, skin color, gender, economic class, educational attainment, etc.) and what that means in terms of the families we are trying to serve back in Minnesota. I think I speak for all fellow staff members on this trip when I say that today, in particular, we have been overwhelmed at the challenges families face in Mexico and how little we really knew about Mexico (and Mexicans) before this study tour. In the past couple of days we have seen some of the poverty, barriers, and anger that exists but today gave us an understanding of the hope that also exists within Mexicans. Nacho asked us all to join him in working for equality of his people and all people. I think all study tour members have made a personal committment to themselves not to let Nacho down...

February 4, 2009



Daily Blog from 2 Mary´s, a Fay, a Jo, and a Pat....

Today is Tuesday, or Martes, the day of Mars. We started the day with a Market Basket survey and Curenavaca Quest. We were broken up into small ´family´ groups of 4 or 5 and were given 100 pesos per groupo, which is the equivalent of about $7.00, or days of pay for two average adult working Mexicans earning minimum. We were also given a shopping list and a map to get to the Market (el Mercado Lopez Mateos), with several options for transportation, including a suggested ´short cut´ that wound down and around the upward and downward back alleys of a ravine behind the center for global education. The marketplace was a colorful, interesting, exciting, sensory excursion into the unknown, especially for those of us with limited Spanish proficiency. Jo saw live roosters crowing. Hogs heads were hanging about as pork was being chopped. Everything from little bags of coal for cooking, to Huggies for the babies, and Colgate for oral hygiene, was available at the marketplace.

Upon our return to CEMAL (Centro de Educacion de Mundial something something in Spansh) we debriefed. What we learned was dramatic. After doing the conversions and calculations using comparable minimun wage for the USA, we realized it would take 4 hours worth of work at $6.50 per hour in the US to buy a kilo of avacodoes! The exercise assisted us in gauging the actual cost of living for Mexican workers.

In the afternoon, a large group took their bag lunches, and boarded the bus ride back to Mexico City to visit the US Embassy. After going through security, and being welcomed by the US Embassy field officials, there was a panel presentation with the following speakers, Mr. Jonothan Austin (Duluth native and of UMN graduate), Economic Officer, Mr. Charles V. Barclay, Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs, Mr. David Connell, Ass´t Cultural Affairs Officer, Ms. Elizabeth Detter, Ass´t Info Officer, Mr. Eric Kuss, Agricultural Attache´, and Kate Skarsten, Vice-Counsul.

Several things surprised us...for example, four of the 6 panel members of the panel looked to be in their late 20´s. Boy, did we feel old! Also, while we felt they rarely strayed from their politic-speak, they seemed genuinely passionate about their work as well as about improving relations with the Mexican people. By the end of our one and a half hour conversation with the Embassy representatives, we learned that...

the Mexican embassy is the largest in the world ...with 800 employees in the Embassy and 2,000 employees countrywide...38 agencies across Mexico...especially the tourist areas.

The embassy has 6 major divisions (represented above). The Cultural affairs office deals with the exchange of culture between Mexico and the US...bringing arts, dance, theater, musicians, etc. to Mexico. They will be busy in February as they are brining black history month festivities to Mexico. The Information Center deal with press issues both in Mexico about US policies and news and US press about US...Mexico relations. The Consular section is the largest division and focus on visa and passport issues as well as helping American citizens in trouble. The Political sector helps our own government better understand Mexican policies, politics, and how US policies will effect the Mexican people. The Foreign Ag service provides ag based intelligence and trade policy ramifications to our government as well as promote US ag products. the Econ sector deals with all issues related telecommunication and transportation.

they are awaiting Obama´s appointment of a new ambassador, but felt their core work will not change with the new administration.

An interesting discussion occurred around illegal immigration...they feel that every country has a sovereign duty and right to protect its borders. They understand that the Mexican people feel that it is more of a human rights issue. But Mexico has tight security restrictions for the Guatamalans entering their country. Ultimately, the Embassy position is that flow of goods and people across borders is good for both countries.

The Embassy reps obviously care about MEXICO and its people...and sometimes they are accused of having ¨gone native¨ which means they begin to advocate more for Mexican interests. We believe that is why American workers at the embassy has about a 2 years turnover.

Overall, they were very positive about the effects of NAFTA...which they felt had greatly increased trade across the border, with the US exporting meat, wheat, etc. and Mexico exporting fruits, veggies, etc.

Other states...about 30% of corn in Mexico come from the US. Approximately 15 million Mexicans live in the US, 90% of all tourists in Mexico come from the US, WalMart is the largest private employer in Mexico.

It was fascinating to observe in a small way, the inner workings of the Embassy. Well worth a visit!

February 3, 2009

Intersection and Blending of old and new

In the shadow of the cathedral people are being cleansed by a ritual with incense, plants of the earth, and other items. The blending of ancient and more current customs and culture are blended on a continuum that seems to have no right or left axis.

Not all is as it seems

Listen, Learn and Reflect Blogging Begins

We have arrived in Cuernavaca and our adventure continues. We have divided into 7 groups and each group is responsible for posting a reflection on one day of the study tour. Discuss the day´s activities and determine who will post to the blog. All of you are welcome to make comments. Enjoy!