Saturday, September 11, 2010

Home, Dulce Home

I blame the education system for making me feel like no academic event in my life is complete until I turn in a 2-page, double-spaced 12-font, Times New Roman, MLA format reflection on what I have learned, so I feel the need to reflect on what it means to come home to a world so different from the one I was in now that I've been back in the good ol' USA for a month.

My initial reaction was a confusion that I would like to describe as the Where-Are-All-The-Brown-People phenomenon. It was also weird to hear English from so many people. I was surrounded by it. I could understand everything I heard without intentionally processing it. I saw expensive packaged and processed food everywhere, and it looked really unappetizing. I'm still not sure why we subject ourselves to pepperoni pizza Hot Pockets, canned peaches in heavy syrup, and Diet Coke sweetened with Splenda. Does anyone actually really enjoy the taste of these things, or is it the high that they get from instant gratification that makes them think that what they are eating and drinking is actually "delicious"? For whatever we started processing all this food, it's too cheap now for those on a lower income to not struggle with making it a part of their daily diet. Boo.

While it was great to always be able to express myself to 100% satisfaction and at a normal speed in English, it was annoying to not have other bilingual people with me. It's so convenient to be able to switch into another language when you don't want people to understand you. I realize that sounds kind of rude, but if I wanted to surprise someone, it was handy. If I forgot someone's name, it was a heck of a lot less rude to ask the bilingual next to me than to have them understand that I couldn't remember them. It was also a way to have a private conversation in a public setting, but I realize these selfish reasons are something that most people deal with, and I'll just have to forgo it once again.

I recently moved into my apartment in Provo. As I was washing the dishes (by hand, because it really is faster than the dishwasher, and you don't end up with dried sanitized pieces of food to scrape off after the cycle is done), I saw a few lines of ants steadily climbing up and down our walls and counters. My first thought was, 'hmm, these are smaller than the ones in Mexico.' I then proceeded to spread the wet clean dishes across the counter to dry. My roommate came in and asked what the heck I was doing. We have a dishwasher. Although I did just mention a few phrases earlier that I prefer washing by hand, I didn't realize that's what I was doing until she said something. I felt silly. How could I forget we have a dishwasher? Isn't it easier? Isn't that why we pay hundreds of dollars for these devices? To make our lives easier? It just happened naturally. I saw some dishes, I got out the sponge and soap. I even rinsed them the same way I had done in Mexico, splashing the water with my hand onto the soapy dish. "At least dry them in the dishwasher if you're going make things so hard on yourself. We have no counter space." I thought about the irony of the situation: we cook everything in microwaves and eat everything out of cans. Why do we need all of this counter space anyway? Realizing that I was being weird, I looked for other things that should have struck me as strange in the kitchen. Excited to have noticed something, I exclaimed to my roommate, "we have ants!" It felt good to be aware of my culture again. "A lot?" she asked. I paused, I couldn't really remember what "a lot" of ants would look like. They were nothing compared to my village in Mexico. I just showed her, and she was pretty unhappy with the sight. "Great. We're going to have to complain to management again," she said, then she left the room.

I guess we do have a lot of ants. I just didn't think anything of it, because I haven't seen them in my food yet. I realize that regardless of whether or not they're in my food, I should probably get rid of them. It was just interesting to see how desensitized I had become to them.

Sometimes I have trouble talking. I'll be mid-sentence and pause because I know how to say what I want to say in Spanish, but I can't think of the word or how to phrase my thoughts in English. Example:

My roommate's bananas were going to go bad and I told my friend, "We need to make banana bread with those. A few more days and they aren't... they aren't..." I wanted to say, "no van a servir para nada," but you can't say, "they aren't going to serve for anything," in English. It just sounds weird. My friend who speaks Portuguese said he totally understands. It's been years and he still has the same problem. Rather than insufficient language acquisition, perhaps this is evidence of superior language acquisition; I have gotten so good at Spanish that I no longer organize thoughts by language but by meaning. Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better.

It is good to be back, though. I like being busy. I'm happy when I'm busy. It was nice to get away from schedules, though. Good to see how people manage their time differently. Definitely good to see friends and family. After Mexico, I think I want to be an immigration attorney. I want to minor in international development. I've just learned so much from what I saw and experienced, from the people and the culture, that I'm taking a new direction in academics. Talking to people, getting to know them and their families and why and how people migrate and how they feel about it gives me understanding for the people I wish to help some day. They are amazing people. The are a sharing people. They are a dancing and laughing people. They are a people I would like to spend my life working with.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

´´Adrianne, I think we just got saved.¨

Adrianne and I came into town to buy a cake for our friend´s birthday tomorrow, and I just HAD to write about this:

Before I begin, I would like to say that I am in no way trying to make fun of these people, but merely trying to explain what happened and how I felt. I´ll first explain the events that happened, and then I´ll follow up on my personal thoughts.

Adrianne and I were walking back from Santa Rosa to El Encino after our group meeting, and we passed an evangelical church that was under construction. I haven´t met anyone in these 4 ranchos that wasn´t Catholic, except one Jehovah´s Witness family, but I have heard the plan was for the evangelicals to build this church and then build it up with members later. As we were walking by, we saw a group of people roasting elotes over a fire next to the building. Just then, a boy yelled at us in English, ¨Hey! You guys want corn?¨ It´s pretty rare to hear English, especially in the ranchos, especially full sentences that are grammatically correct, and especially from kids. We said sure and went over to join them. They offered us some elotes with lemon and salt, and we started chatting. I talked to a man who was from Chiapas and had just moved here after 12 years in the States. His wife was from the area, and they had 2 kids who were born in the States, too, and spoke perfect English. Their kids had a weird mix of Cuban-Puerto Rican-Mexican accents, but I thought it was really cool. They had lived in Florida for a long time. It started raining and we retreated inside the building. There was no floor yet or electricity. Actually, there wasn´t anything but walls and a roof. They said construction takes a bit longer here, because it takes longer to raise the money to complete it.

The boy that spoke English walked up to his mom and showed her his hand. He had just eaten his first tuna, a fruit that grows on cacti and is covered in tiny, thin, clear spikes. He didn´t know, because he´d only been in Mexico for 5 days. I pulled out my tweezers and told him to come over (yeah, it was pretty random that I actually had those with me). I work on each hand about 15 minutes and got about 3/4 of them out. Little did I know, that this was their cue.

I wasn´t really paying attention to what Adrianne and the women were talking about, because I was craning my neck over the kid´s hands for about half an hour and talking to him about Florida and how he liked Mexico, but when they brought chewing gum for the boy to use to get the remaining thorns out, I looked up and realized what was happening. The women were holding up a Bible and telling Adrianne about a man we probably hadn´t heard of named Jesus. We needed him in our lives. We told them that we were Christians, too, and that we went to church. They asked what church and we told them we were Mormons. When they asked what that was, we told them we believed in the Bible but also in the Book of Mormon which is a story of Christians in the Americas. Then one of the women turned to the others and asked, ¨what are they talking about?¨ Another woman answered her and said, ¨oh, they believe in a different gospel.¨ And then, we didn´t get a chance to talk or explain the rest of the time we were there. Then they told us that no religion will save us, that only Jesus. They read some of the scriptures that say there is only one gospel. They told us we needed to confess that Jesus is our personal savior and he will take all of our sins away. The started quoting a lot of New Testament scriptures. It didn´t seem to matter to them that we already knew the scriptures or that we already believed in Christ. They told us that we needed to read the Bible and pray every day so that we could grow and go to church. We told them that we did read the Bible every day and pray every day and go to church every Sunday and they just stared at us, before continuing. Then Adrianne and I just decided to go along with it.

All the men and women came over and said we needed to pray. We were going to get saved. During the prayer if we had any feelings or anything we wanted to shout out to cry out. If we wanted to cry, then cry. We were supposed to repeat after the one leading the prayer and by the end Jesus and the Holy Spirit would come into our hearts and we would be happy. We said alright and let the praying begin. We stood in a circle with our eyes closed and a man began crying out a prayer that we repeated, asking for forgiveness from sins and the companionship of the Holy Spirit. Women were coming up and touching my head and shoulders. I heard people crying and yelling out hallelujahs and other exclamations. Then everyone stopped and came up and hugged us. Then they sang some songs in the loudest voices possible.

Another man proceeded to share his own spiritual insights. After about 20 minutes of him talking, I realized this was a full-out sermon, and took a seat. He asked us if we knew about the 3 kinds of love. I said, ¨yeah, there´s agape, it´s the highest.¨ Nobody said anything for a while, they just stared at me. Then after a pause he said, ¨that´s right,¨ and then he proceeded to teach us about filial, eros, and agape. He told us that eros was only between spouses. He really stessed this point. Then he told us that God loves us more than we can imagine. ¨That´s right! More than your boyfriend, whether you believe it or not!¨ He also told us that America is a sinful place and that more missionaries are being sent there than any other place. That the rich man in America can´t receive Christ. ¨Men go to the bars and bring their women! Isn´t that so?¨ We told him that that does happen but not everywhere and we don´t do that. Another pause while staring at us, and he continued on his America rant. We sang a few more songs, then one of the women came up to me and said, ¨when I saw you pulling the espinas out of his hand, I knew, I knew it was time. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, urged me, go, teach her! Now is the time!¨ That was really nice.

About 2 hours after we had arrived and the rain had stopped, it was getting dark, and they offered to drive us back to El Encino. We happily agreed. Some of them said they were from San Nicolás and I asked them if they knew someone, because he is in our ward and goes there every Sunday after church to visit family. They didn´t say anything at first, just looked at me, then said they know someone with that last name but not very well. They listened to Christian banda and norteño music as they drove us back and told us we were princesses of God now. We thanked them for their kindness when we arrived and waved goodbye. I turned to Adrianne and said, ¨Adrianne, I think we just got saved.¨

Ok, here´s how I felt. I felt a combination of things. On the one hand, I was very annoyed. It was hard not to laugh (WHICH I DIDN´T DO!) at times. Adrianne and I never looked at each other. I don´t think I would have been able to contain myself if we did. It seemed very stereotypical and one-sided to me at times. I felt like I knew what they were doing and that I could predict what they were going to say next. Any time I would quote a scripture with them and they would ignore me I got annoyed. I´m a convert, and as a child in my old church, I had to memorize ALL of the scriptures they read to me. I already knew these things. It was annoying when I would tell them we go to church, we pray, we read the Bible, we know who Christ is, I know what the 3 kinds of love are, they didn´t seem to like it. I felt like they just wanted to save us and not listen to us. It was annoying to feel like someone thought I knew nothing about Jesus, when He is the very reason I have any hope in this life! It was annoying when they told me no religion would save me (as if I thought this) but then told me I should come to THEIR church. It was especially hard to keep my cool when I listened to the man telling us that Americans are sinful when the things he was accusing them of are things that Latter-day Saints and many Christians, other religious people, and other good people abstain from. On the other hand, I knew that they were sincere in their efforts. I knew they were only trying to give me the greatest gift possible. I knew that they had a lot of faith and were good people. That is what kept me from grabbing Adrianne and saying let´s go. It is what helped me keep my patience. Also, I realized that I had never had an evangelical experience before and that I could really learn from this. For these reasons, I was able to actually enjoy my time with my brothers and sisters of another faith. No, I do not plan on joining the Assemblies of God any time soon, but I respect them for their faith and their desire for others to share in their happiness, and I salute them.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"This is why we have consent documents."

I FINALLY DID SOME INTERVIEWS! 28 in fact... in 4 hours. I was so drained, but at the same time, incredible relieved, pleased, and ready to analyze some data like the nerd I am.

So, Thursday, I walked to the secondary school from El Encino to Santa Rosa. It had rained all the day before, all night, and all morning, so instead of crossing a basin of rocks, I was actually crossing a quite large and running stream. It took some planning to decide which rocks I was going to jump on to get across. I arrived with a thick layer of mud on my sneakers, but relatively clean and dry, otherwise. I was feeling pretty antsy, so instead of going straight to school, I went over to the boys' host family's kitchen and ate some gorditas with a very spicy green salsa. Deciding I had no more time to waste, the 4 gringos headed up the hill to the school.

The other 3 came for a basketball rematch. Last time we played the middle schoolers in a pre-scheduled game, Mexico beat the US by a pretty good lead, so this time we had hopes of playing a bit more equally. Well, I actually had no intention of playing, and I didn't. I retreated to an empty classroom (since all the students were outside watching the game), and set up camp. After not too long though, it started raining, and the kids all retreated to different classrooms. I was worried the rain would come back and I'd have to deal with them being noisy, so I brought movies. I put in the 5th Harry Potter movie in one room and Mulan in the other. In Spanish of course. That kept them occupied and quiet. The teacher I had been working with most began sending over 3rd year students one at a time for me to interview. I went through the technical necessities before interviewing each student and then asked if it was ok to record the interview. Half said yes :) and half said no :/ It took some skill to get the hang of taking notes about what they were saying while still facilitating conversation, but I had it down pretty quickly. I think it's a really good skill to have if I want to do more research in the futuro.

I had some great interviews. I also had some rather mediocre ones, but I still got information and I think I'm going to be satisfied with what I have to work with in the post-field writing class. In case you're interested, here's the questions that I usually asked:

1. What are you going to do after graduation (usually work, or go to la prepa)?
2. Where will you work? With whom?
3. Why do you want to go to la prepa? What do you want to study? Do you want to go to college? Why or why not?
4. Do you think you'll study more English? Where? Why?
5. Do you think you'll use English in your future? How?
6. Do you know anyone who has gone to the U.S.? Who? How long? What did they do?
7. Do you want to go to an English-speaking country, or would you rather stay here? Why or why not?
8. Do you think it's important to learn English? Why?

During one interview, I got to question 6, and some trouble started a-brewin'. The student told me their father when to the States. When I asked for how long, they started to answer and then began crying. AHH! Yikes! I stopped the interview and apologized profusely. Then I asked if she wanted a sucker, and she laughed. We talked about some mindless things for a while, and then asked if she'd like to finish or go ahead and leave. She was a trooper and finished. This is why we have consent documents for them to sign beforehand.

Only 2 students told me they didn't have anyone in their family who has gone to the States, and all of the boys told me they planned on going just like their fathers, uncles, and brothers. A couple times, they told me this after I asked them the first question. A lot of the students who weren't going on to the prepa next year (which was most of them), said the prepa is expensive and they would just work with their families in the fields or at home or find a job in the city. For these ranchero youths, migration is a very real expectation.

I was talking to a 3rd-year teacher in the secondary school about what children do when they graduate. He said that of the 38 students about to graduate, only 8-10 will go on to the prepa. men will switch between working in the States and working in the fields here. Most girls will stay at home. A lot of times the students migrate or stay home because the family can't afford to send their child to high school. They want another set of hands to sow and harvest or wash and cook. He told me he's had conversations with fathers who told him that "the profession is not the woman's place," then he went on to explain that the girls are expected to get married and do housework. They don't need to go to school. He said the rest of the students will go on to get jobs in the city. A lot of them will earn their keep illegally in the city as pick pockets. A lot of girls will dance on tables. I can't say how much truth there is to all his words. It all sounded pretty fatalistic to me to be honest, but I did see some truth to it. I think the expectations and financial situations of families deeply influence, if not govern, these kids' futures. I suppose you could make the same argument for any culture, but I had never given it much thought until I came to these ranchos.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Hay que morir para vivir." -Experiences at a funeral in rural Mexico

I came back on the bus to El Encino Sunday, and my host mom told me there had been a death. It turns out, the dad of the girl that I walk to the secondary school with every Tuesday and Thursday passed away suddenly that morning. My host mom (who we will call Sandra) said she was going to the velorio, and asked if I wanted to come, and I said yes. It was dark. I saw some cars parked in the dirt clearing that is often used as a baseball field. I assumed people from Aldama and Irapuato had traveled to pay their respects. I could see the glow of lights and hear the chatter of villagers as we approached. A velorio is the equivalent of a wake in the ranchos. Sandra told me that in the cities, many people us funeral homes and hire morticians, but there are no such things in the ranchos. Thus, when someone dies, the velorio is held in the house that day (or the next if the death occurs very late), and the funeral mass and burial are the day following. It has to be fast. The body isn't being preserved in any way.
We got to the house and walked down some steps next to a room that was lit. At the bottom of the steps was a crowd of people sitting under plastic tarps that were being used as a canopy to shield guests from the rain. Most people were sitting talking quietly. I could see several of the children of the family sitting farther away from everyone. The man had 13 children, ranging from 6 years to a son in his mid-20s. There were lots of familiar faces. Kids from the primary school came with their older siblings or parent. Inside the room that was lit, people periodically would go in to visit with the deceased's wife and others inside. I didn't go in, but as I left that night I saw from the window a closed silver casket covered in flowers. Later, the village minister came to lead the rosary. The minister in El Encino is the youngest one in the Irapuato Diocese. Only 20, and he's held this position for 2 years already. He seems to be very well respected, which I suppose you would have to be for the town to nominate you. He read some rezos from the catechism. I recognized some of the prayers to Mary from once when I was younger and went to mass with my grandmother and she led the rosary. The minister would lead one prayer, then everyone else would say another one together. Then they would switch who said what prayer. In between rezos, a woman inside the room would sing a short cántico and others would join in towards the end. This all went on for about 20 minutes. Sandra told me that the family and others who wish to will say the rosary every night for nine days for the deceased.
After the rosary, Sandra and I went back and drank atole. That's when we heard the men singing dirges. Evidently people from Comederito, La Estancia, Comedero, and Pañuelas had arrived. We listened for a while, then we decided to head back over. When we got there, Sandra told me to listen to the words the men were singing. They were verses from the Old Testament about sorrow and pain. I looked around. The women who had arrived were brewing coffee and passing it out in styrofoam cups along with roscas of bread. It's tradition for those who travel to the funeral to the velorio to bring food and drink. There isn't much time for the family to take care of such issues, especially when they live far from the city. After the men stopped singing, we headed back home and went to bed.
Then next morning, after teaching English in the Primary school, I walked over to the chapel for the funeral mass. It was packed. People who couldn't fit in the chapel stood on the pavement in front of the door or sat on rocks in the shade. Lots of school kids came during their lunch break, still in their uniforms, and didn't go back to class. The dress was a bit more casual than would be expected in the states. Some women wore dresses and some people wore slacks and dressy shirts, but a lot of people were wearing jeans. Very few wore t-shirts, though. The padre spoke about how life is only temporary, but those of us who are in the Church (I'm assuming Catholics) have hope of a new life. I found this interesting, because all the people I've talked to in the ranchos about religion (and they're all Catholic) have told me that, yes, they believe in their religion, but they believe that good people who are of other faiths or of no faith will go to Heaven, as well. It made me wonder if Catholic doctrine states that only Catholics go to Heaven. Maybe they believe others do as well, but they don't feel free to judge who else will in addition to themselves. I don't know, I haven't studied much about Catholicism, but there seemed to be some kind of popular belief, at least in these ranchos, that good faith and good works overrule different interpretations.
Between prayers and scriptures, we sang many hymns. I remember singing, "Hay que morir para vivir." It means, more or less, "one must die in order to live." I really liked this phrase. It was simple and comforting. It reinforced what the padre said about how death comes to us all. It is a necessary part of life. It is the portal between mortality and glory. Ok, that last one was kind of my own interpretation, but more or less, that is what he talked about. The only time everyone kneeled was when he was blessing the eucharist. I thought it was really interesting how even during a funeral mass, they make it a priority to partake of the Lord's Supper. Even thought I don't think the literal body of Christ is there, personally, I think it shows that following Jesus is a priority to them. Whether it is a normal mass, a funeral mass, a wedding mass, or a graduation mass, they will always partake of this sacrament that reminds them of Christ's sacrifice.
The minister read some scripture, as well. I wasn't really sure why he chose the story about Ahab killing Naboth for his vineyard, but he did. I guess it talks about death. I can't remember the story well enough to know if it talks about grieving for Naboth's death or how his righteousness was rewarded in the next life, but maybe it did.
After the mass, everyone piled on to a bus. There was hardly any standing room left. Several people with trucks drove truckfuls of people to the cemetery, too. The panteón was in Aldama. It took about half an hour to get there. Once we got there, we followed those carrying the casket to a spot between the walls where people were slid into their resting places. A woman led another rezo, and the minister helped, too. This went on for about 20 minutes. "Santo, santo, santo, es el Señor, Dios de los Ejércitos," was repeated more times than I can count. It means, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, God of Hosts."
It seems to me that more time was spent worshipping during this funeral than the ones I've been to in the States. I find that significant. I wonder if maybe the mindset is that pleasing God with worship will encourage Him to send comfort and blessings. Or maybe it is comforting to praise God, believing that the deceased one is in His presence now. Maybe it is just as comforting to praise God, since He is the one that gave life to those who have died in the first place. Very likely, I have no idea. If you asked me why we do many traditional things in the United States, my response would simply be, "because it's tradition." I imagine I would get the same response here. BUT, once again, I could be wrong.
After the rezo, everyone was silent for a moment, and then, the lifted up the casket onto the scaffolding. The scaffolding rose up to a vacant square hole. The casket was slid inside, and 2 men began laying down mortar and cement blocks. As the first block was placed, I heard a girl cry out. It was the first sobbing I had heard either in the velorio or today. It was the girl I walk to school with in the morning. With each block, I could hear more people sobbing. I felt that it was my time to slide away outside the panteón, while those who really knew the man grieved. I sat with a little girl I teach at school and often play with, and we shared a soft drink until the bus came to take us back to El Encino. It was crowded again. I stood and talked to 2 girls my age who said they were his nieces. He was the tortilla winner for the family. Most of his kids were still in school, or had jobs that earned meager wages. They imagine that some of the sons will have to travel to the States next year. Be kind. You never know people's motivations for working in the States. Perhaps it will be a 17-year-old who doesn't know anyone, speak any English, and is only there because his father died and he needs to earn money for his mother and 12 siblings. I guarantee you, most people do not want to make that kind of journey.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Quote: No [teacher] of [English] in [rural Mexico] is cagey, crafty [Señorita Schultheis]. Un-quote. Close paragraph."

Well, week five was a success. In addition to going to the telesecundaria in Santa Rosa twice a week to observe/teach English classes, I got to teach 3 times this week in the primaria in El Encino. The kids are great. A little shy, but that will change with time. They were really eager to learn English. So were the teachers, since they will have to teach it next year and know about as much as the kids. I felt my personality come out for the first time when I was teaching the 4-6 graders. I made jokes in Spanish. They made jokes back at me. They had excellent pronunciation. It wasn't hard to keep them engaged. I really like this age. I'm going to be going to the 1-3 grade classroom MWF from 12-1 and to the 4-6 grade classroom on MWF 9:30-10:30. That's plenty of time for me go to back and eat some fruit with Liset, one of the 6th graders, while preparing for my next class before 12. It's really great experience, too. This is what I want to do with adults some day. Here I am, in another country, where the teachers almost beg me to come teach. It wouldn't happen in the States. We have forms to fill out. Liabilities to worry about. Kids parents to sign forms. Consultations with teacher and principals. I understand why we have that in the States, but it also borders psychotic in comparison to the ease of the system in these ranchos. 2 completely different worlds. When I went back to the 1-3 grade class the 2nd time, I brought candy for anyone who could say their numbers 1-10 by memory. I had asked Karina in advance what kind to buy, and she told me fruit-flavored caramels. I did it outside the classroom, one at a time, that way nobody would be embarrassed if they messed up. Several of them did it no problem. More than half needed a little help. A couple clearly had no idea, but saw the piña fruit taffy and decided to give it a go. It was good. I got to know a lot of kids names and talk to them each for a bit. They waited for me by the gate after school and tried to get me to give them more candy. They were hilarious. I told them if they could count to 20 they could have more. Since they couldn't, I told them I'd just have to bring more candy next time for anyone who could. They didn't seem so sad.
I realize that teaching kids how to count in English when there is a tangible reward is much different from my goal of some day teaching immigrants English to help them in the supermarket, to find their way to a job interview, or to talk to a doctor when their child is sick. But, through my experiences teaching these kids the alphabet and how to say please and thank you, I am being reassured that I love what I am doing. I love teaching people to understand one another. I love that moment when a child who has been struggling to translate a phrase suddenly "gets it." You can see the lightbulb go off in their head, and you're so proud of them when they rattle off every possible use of this newly acquired vocabulary. The brain is a wonderful thing. Truly.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"I wouldn't bring up [socialized education] if I were you. It's poor salesmanship."

Ok, sorry for being a bit melodramatic in my last post. I just feel really strongly that our legislators should "think twice before [they] cut" on illegal immigration issues. You're not just getting a "pest" out of your country. You're putting a whole family at risk who is depending on them. And, there I go again. Someone stop me.

This week, we'll say the theme was education. I walked into the primary school in El Encino on Wednesday morning and asked if I could teach a bit of English each week. Both teachers are giving me 3 hours a week now. My host mom, who is the village kindergarten teacher, also wants me to come teach English this week. At first, I thought it was because all the kids keep asking me to come teach, and I still think that's part of it. BUT I found out this week that next year ALL primary and kindergarten teachers are going to be required to teach English, as well and the secondary school teachers. YIKES! Can you imagine being a teacher in the United States, not having ANY foreign language background and being told that if you want to keep your job, you're going to teach German next year?! I talked to the secondary school teacher who already has to teach English. He said that to graduate from college and be certified to teach, one only needs to specialize in Spanish, math, and one other subject. He also said that there are no teacher training workshops, so if teachers don't know much about a subject, they better study that government-issued textbook hard before teaching class. Terrifying. Remind me never to become a teacher in Mexico. I don't have the guts. One of the primary school teachers showed me some software that the government gave to all the primary school teachers to teach some basics in English. He said that a lot of primary schools don't use it, though, because it's not required and because the teachers don't know English. But these programs don't really teach the language. Just some vocab. Students could learn to point to things and say words, but they aren't learning to speak.

To be honest, the books I've seen that the government has issued to all secondary students are horrible. They're grammatically, syntactically, and semantically incorrect. Several errors a page. I read a sentence that said "You're going to have to work hard to get your purposes." It took me a minute to understand that they were trying to say "to achieve your goals." A lot of sentences are direct translations from Spanish, and it's just not how we say it in English. When asked if a student likes to do something, the book teaches students to say, "Yes, I like." Another problem that is quite frequent is the difference between "in" and "on." In Spanish, the word "en" covers both of these (think how difficult "por" and "para" are for Spanish learners since we use "for" for both of these in English). "In" and "on" are often used incorrectly. Also, I was reading one paragraph about endangered species. Evidently, there is a species of "beer" we should be working hard to protect. I'm going to assume that was supposed to be "bear." TONS more errors, but I don't have time. What baffles me is why the government wouldn't have a native speaker proofread the book. It wouldn't have been expensive or difficult. DO. NOT. COMPREHEND.

Also, I've decided I'm not a fan of socialized education. Yes, Mom and Dad, I might be pro-immigration, but you can sleep safely knowing that socialized education is not pleasing to me. A lot of the conversations in the book went as follows:

Teacher: What do you want to be when you grow up, Israel?
Israel: Well, my dad's a carpenter, and sometimes I help him in his shop. I don't want to study more. I want to become a carpenter, like my father.
Teacher: Well, that's a decent job, but you should really study to get a profession. Think about it.

Or this:

Alicia: After I graduate from secondary school, I'm going to high school.
Daniela: Me too! How about you, Sandra?
Sandra: I'm getting married.
Alicia and Daniela: Seriously?
Sandra: Yes, I've thought about it for a long time. I'm sure.
Daniela: Well, congratulations, but you shouldn't do it.

I'm just not a fan of indoctrinating statements in my children's textbooks, whether they're right or not. I'd rather my children learn to think for themselves, instead of having the government tell them how to think.

Something else we talked to the secondary school teacher about was the challenges of teaching in a rural community. He asked if I had seen October Sky. I actually had in my pre-calc class junior year of high school. It's about the struggles of a few determined students in a coal-mining community in the United States in the '50s or '60s. Ironically, I had compared American coal-mining communities to Mexican migrant-dominant communities in a paper I wrote last semester. The kids in October Sky were expected to graduate and spend the rest of their lives mining coal. 75% of the men in these ranchos have migrated to the US at least once. The secondary school teacher assumed that the community in October Sky was the American parallel to these ranchos. I disagree, since the setting of that movie was about half a century ago, and these kind of communities aren't common at all anymore in the United States, but he did say some interesting things. He mentioned that after it rains, a lot of times students will ask permission to go sow in the fields. They can't miss a certain number of days or they'll lose scholarships. He usually lets them go. It's how their family survives. He said a lot of the boys are the "jefes de la casa," or "bosses of the house." Personally, I think this is another reason socialized education doesn't work and why I'm a fan of how each state in the United States has it's own education standards. Mexico and the United States are both big countries. The people in the mountains have different needs than the people on the beach. They have varying cultures, issues, and histories. They need to teach different things. Education should be tailored to the people. Not people to education.

Ok, so in conclusion: Immigration = good. Socialized education = bad. Mexican people = awesome.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Oh, [El Encino]'s just like any other rancho, only more so."

Wow. Mexico. So close to the United States, but couldn't be more different.

It was another week of building rapport amongst the villagers. I came across a few realizations along the way.

1. Life is different when you're the minority. I've never been the minority before in my life. I've never really been a foreigner before in my life. Once when I went to Greece and Italy for 2 weeks, but you don't get much of a cultural experience when you're busy being a tourist, shopping and looking at the world around you through a camera lens. Before I even open my mouth, everyone knows me as a güera. I already have a stereotype. Then when I do open my mouth, my accent adds to it, even if I'm speaking competently. It's not always a bad thing. It usually helps strike up interesting conversations, but it would certainly be different if I had cinnamon skin and a Mexican accent. I think, as humans, we don't like it when we don't understand something, so we make assumptions about other people. He's begging, so he's probably too lazy to find a job. She goes to a university so she must have worked hard to get there. They go to church every Sunday, so they must be a good family. We want to make sense of the world around us, so when someone looks different, we assume there is something different about their nature. We naturally stereotype people.

2. I had a really great conversation with a woman (we'll call her Maribel) for 2 hours. The most interesting part of the conversation came when we talked about illegal immigration. They live in the desert, but they majority of villagers depend on crops for survival. It's what their families have done for generations. They have homes that have existed for over 150 years. They know everyone in their town. It is their life. When the rains don't come, they can't just move. All they know to do is farm. They need money. They are experts at repairing their homes, sowing in the fields, picking crops, and herding animals. Their kind is a dying breed in the United States. They can get paid to do that there. If they go, their families won't starve. They can't wait a couple years for their papers to get in and be completely legal if they want to make sure their pregnant wife gives birth in a few months. They have to go. What struck me most was when Maribel said, "we aren't bad people." My heart melted. I know they aren't bad people. They welcome the gringos into their home. They feed us. They are eager to show us how to make goat cheese and sow in the fields. They ask us about our families and congratulate us when I tell them that my sister is engaged and ask about the wedding and how proud my parents must be. Their children come and greet me. They order a 20 gallon tank of water for me to keep in my room. They ARE good people. But they know that there is a stereotype in the United States against them. She told me about all her family members who are in the States right now and how she misses them. But there are no jobs in the ranchos. There are few more in the city which is an hour bus ride away. I think unemployment is worse here from what I've heard. My host mom, (we'll call her Salina), told me that her husband was out of work for 5 years, but always looking, and he was very qualified.
Now, I'm betting you're assuming Maribel's family members in the States immigrated illegally. You would be wrong. She told me how proud she was that they all had their papers. But, at the same time, she would be proud of them if they didn't have them. It's a dangerous voyage. I think most families would prefer it if they didn't have to go. But how couldn't they? How do you change the economy of an entire culture without irreparably changing the culture itself? You don't. It's impossible.

3. I went to Santa Rosa with my classmate (we'll call her Diana) on Wednesday. While we were waiting for another BYU student (we'll call him Carson) to arrive for our weekly group meeting, Diana, another student/our facilitator (we'll call him Max), and I were working on taking the paint off the roof of a casita so that they could add more cement on top to keep it from leaking during the "rainy" season. It was the middle of the day. Summer. The desert. Hot. We were banging on the roof with insufficient metal tools for a long time just to get a few square inches of paint chipped away. I got blisters. I laughed. I was an American in Mexico, doing the work that Mexicans stereotypically do in America. I pointed this out, and Max laughed and said he was thinking the same thing the day before. He said he understood now why so many Mexicans do this kind of work in the States. I did, too. They are good at it, because it's what they do at home. The difference is that in the States, we give them something better than a giant chisel or sickle to work with. No wonder Americans don't want to do this job. It's hard, especially if you don't have experience.

I suppose you could call this my rant on why I think we should respect our immigrants in the U.S. more. It probably won't be the last.