Why Mexico?


mexico bandera

When I tell my peers and family about the Social Work with Latinos Certificate, and our trip to Mexico, it does not always stir the type of reaction that I would hope about the depth or importance of our travel experience. It seems there is an exoticism about traveling, and it has become more clear to me that many people do not view an immersion experience in Mexico as Cool or Challenging or near on the level as traveling to countries less known and farther away than Mexico. It feels like in order to have a meaningful cultural and learning experience, that you have to cross an ocean.

I feel there are many problematic assumptions about this way of thinking. Far away countries such as China and Africa and even Antarctica (yes, I have friends that have traveled to Antarctica) or even southern reaches of South America are important places to visit, this is not about diminishing that importance. What it is about is highlighting the critical importance of our closest neighbor, a country of which we are influenced by every day, people with whom we constantly interact, and that makes up one out of only three countries in the North American continent.

-What are your immediate thoughts when you hear that someone is traveling to Mexico? A beach vacation? Margaritas, tequila and Corona on the beach?
For what reason(s) do you and your friends travel from the United States to Mexico? For a getaway from the daily grind of work and school? Spring Break in Cabo?
Perhaps many of us may have traveled down to the border to help build houses or participate in acts of service?

None of the above reasons are wrong reasons to travel to Mexico. I believe that everyone should travel to Mexico. But the greater aspect at play is that we, in the United States, are missing the full diverse, complex, tragic and beautiful realities that all coexist in this country. There is so much more to Mexico than border cities, farms, drug cartels and beaches, and the plague of stereotypes truly limit the capacity for U.S. citizens to understand our next-door neighbor. Do not let its close proximity fool you into thinking that we have this place figured out. It has been my greatest joy and greatest source of learning, inquisition and growth to have lived for a short time in Mexico, and now to return.
Puebla Catedral
The Cathedral in Puebla, Mexico. Although common throughout Mexico, it is not the image we typically think of.
Puebla Streets
The colorful, colonial, cobblestone streets of Puebla, Mexico
Why are us social workers in Mexico?
I believe the heart of the reason, as Paulo Friere would say in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is to have dialogue with the people whom we encounter, the teachers and experts of various social movements, as well as with one another in our social work practice in the United States and possibly abroad. Our goal is to encounter the culture with openness, and evaluation of ourselves and of the people and systems around us.

Many of the social workers here are clinical social workers that are examining the barriers to services, specific cultural meanings with individuals, the mental health and family structures that exist and how the culture interacts with them.
As a community social worker, I can’t help myself but examine the larger political, national, international and inter-country forces at play. We don’t live separate from one another, but rather we are constantly interacting, and with the rapid globalization led by the USA, it is impossible to differentiate exactly how we differ and how we are alike, because our relationship is so closely knit together. At this point in history, it seems impossible to view Mexico as entirely separate from the United States, nor the United States in a vacuum from Mexico.

Without judgment of this phenomenon, I will merely end by saying that it makes me thirsty. We as a group of social workers are thirsting to know how these interactions play out in the lives of individuals, communities and families, and we are thirsting for social justice. We are thirsting to know ourselves and our identities better, as well as to dialogue and learn from others.

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