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Blogs from Oaxaca, Mexico 2017:

Education that is Multicultural


It Was Worth It!

Nancy Lopez Ramirez, The City College of New York, CUNY

In one country I’m a citizen and in another I’m a foreigner. It was a short time to get all the documents required to apply for the Advance Parole. Finals were around the corner and I was getting stressed out. I always wanted to travel abroad but I never knew the opportunity would arise so quickly. The fall semester was wrapping up and Obama was still the president of the United States. I would be going back to my home country for two weeks after 16 years.

Before heading to Oaxaca, someone asked me “Why are you going back to the country you were born in? Why didn’t you choose another country in Latin America?” All the responses were tumbling around my head but I couldn’t verbally express myself. All my answers started with because, because it was unexpected, because I had more financial help going to back to my country, because I have no recollecting of the stories my parents tell me, because both nations that I belong to are playing a game which makes me vulnerable. I was going back not only to make a political statement but it was also an opportunity to learn about myself personally and professionally.

It was my first time traveling abroad, learning how to ride a bike, visiting an indigenous community, learning about my culture, and the education system in Mexico. I meet my homestay mom via pictures and I am glad to say that her family gave me the warmest welcome I could have ever received in Oaxaca. Throughout the time I was there, there were so many highlights. My ability to be bilingual was tested when I was communicating in Spanish and could not find the correct translations for certain English words. We learned about the dedicated teachers that students have regardless of the lack of funding that exist in schools, the challenges that exist with language and having transnational students in classrooms. After speaking with students and teachers about the challenges they face, I told myself that one-day I want to return to make a change in the educational system along once acquiring a better understanding of the values and concerns of my people. We meet individuals who want to change things politically and socioeconomically as we witnessed how the rising gasoline prices affected food prices and public transportation costs.

Before leaving to John F. Kennedy airport, my parents told me that would I understand their reasons for leaving Mexico. Now, that a week has gone by since we came back, I know what they meant. I understand why they told my siblings and I to pursue higher education no matter the challenges. I understand the reasons for why my parents put an emphasis in embracing Spanish. I finally understand why we migrated to the United States. It’s because of my parents that I was able to talk about food, immigration, education, Mexican culture and traditions with Mama Irma and others. One of the teachers at a secundaria we visited told us “Hagan que los sacrificios de sus padres valguan la pena / Make sure your parents sacrifices are worth it” and that’s what I want to do as I continue to grow professionally and personally. Traveling with Advance Parole meant taking a risk and I am glad to say it was damn worth it.


Un Argentino en Oaxaca

Brian Aguilar Avila, The City College of New York, CUNY

My trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, was a life-changing one. Being undocumented in the United States has presented me with many challenges. Luckily with President Obama’s DACA Executive Action, I was able to obtain the necessary paperwork to obtain a driver’s license and a social security number allowing me to work. However, I was still “limited”, compared to my peers. I do not have the freedom to travel for leisure or to visit family, (which I haven’t seen in sixteen years), as many of my US Citizen/Permanent Resident friends have the privilege to do. Being an avid numismatic, I would ask my friends to bring me currency bills from the country they visited. Every time I got to add a new piece of money to my collection, I would get ecstatic and it was the closest I could get to actually going to a different nation.

That all changed in the Fall 2016 semester when I had the opportunity from the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute to pursue a study abroad class in Oaxaca, Mexico. With the necessary requirements to obtain Advance Parole (with the help of CUNY Citizenship Now!), I was all set! Nervous and excited, the semester went by quickly and the holiday season came by, in which I was about to embark in a new journey.

This study abroad class was different experience for me. Being an engineering major, my liberal arts choices are severely limited to basic introductory courses, and I am not free to explore. This is my first ever graduate level class and I knew it would be an exciting one! Each class day brought upon new knowledge and fun, and got me more immersed in the Mexican culture. Living with our home stay mother, Mamá Ruth, gave me a genuine experience of living in Mexico. We had fun daily in her home, with delicious foods and games on a nightly basis! We were usually at the dinner table for two to three hours. While in Mexico, I also celebrated Three Kings Day for the first time, so we all had lots of fun that night!

Oaxaca de Juarez is such a vibrant city. Every time I would go to the Zócalo, you would see all the vibrant artesanía being sold in the market. If you were there in the evening you would see people dancing and music playing. I don’t find that to be very common in the United States, so it was a beautiful sight to see. The nature in the state of Oaxaca is stunning. Never have I been able in the United States to explore quiet, serene, and stunning scenes, especially without 4GLTE! The culture in Oaxaca was something new for me and I am glad I got to experience it with the help of the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute! I look forward in going back to Mexico and helping my Mexican comrades here in the United States in the midst of a new anti-immigrant government.


Dreaming Awake

Isamar Liriano, The City College of New York, CUNY

On January 1st, 2017, a new journey began in my life. My name is Isamar Liriano and I am from the Dominican Republic. I was sent to the United States at the age of 8 years old and ever since that time, I have not stepped a foot out of the American land. Seventeen years later I was given the opportunity to enrich myself with a new culture. The City College of New York where I currently study political science opened the door for me to experience a new chapter in my life.

When I first applied to participate for the Multicultural program in Oaxaca, Mexico, I was super excited and enthusiastic. I started researching about Oaxaca, the people, their traditions, their food and their neighborhoods. As I kept doing my online research all I could think of every day and night was my study abroad program. I started dreaming of being in Oaxaca and returning back to the United States. I was excited but at the same time, there was a lot of fear in me. I am a DACA student and taking the risk of traveling outside the country without the certainty that I would let back in began to make me insecure of this journey that I really wanted to be part of. As the days got closer, I got more and more anxious and my initial excitement was turning more and more into fear. The day, December 31st, 2016, was here and I was home alone. My mother was in Virginia and as the hours passed I doubted on boarding my flight. I sat on the bed at 7:00 pm and said to myself “do I really want to do this?” Then I thought “If I already paid for the program, I went through so many hardships for me to be able to travel and I was really excited and restless for this day to come, why not Isa, just go enjoy Oaxaca and feel free for once!”

The moment I landed in Oaxaca, all of my fears and unhappiness went away. I already loved this place. I thought that living in Oaxaca for fifteen days, with strangers and in an unknown country was going to be difficult, but it was all the opposite. I and six other students were placed in a home with a single mother of two who currently lives alone. Mama Ruth as we all called her, made us feel at home. Living in a home with seven strangers from different backgrounds, different nationalities and beliefs was one of the best things that have ever happened to me. I felt more independent, I was able to learn a little bit of everyone’s culture and life experiences. They all became my family in a matter of days. The class consisted of twenty students who I also had the opportunity to interact with and go to many different places.

The program consisted of visiting cultural locations in Oaxaca and learning from the Mexican culture. One of the places that caught all my attention and got me fascinated was Cuajimoloyas. Cuajimoloyas is an indigenous community located at the Sierra Norte in Oaxaca. We arrived early in the morning to the community and got a tour of the forest and learned about the medicinal plants in the community. I was fascinated by the landscape, the people and the community. The streets were built of pavement and everything was extremely clean. The air felt clean and pure. The people were super kind and very educated that at a point I felt that we who live in such advanced country, the United States, were not as educated as them. This community really got all my attention because of the way they all collaborate with each other to make the community united and functional. They are one of the top recognized locations in Mexico for its touristic services. We were able to go zip-lining at the end of the day and the hike to the mountains was really long and exhausting but worth it. I loved every single thing about this community because it changed my mentality and expectations of what an indigenous community is really like. We in the United States are given a different perspective of what is like to be Mexican or what is like to live in Mexico. Oaxaca changed my mentality of what is like to be Mexican even more. I always believed Mexicans were hard workers. Living in a home where our mother Mama Ruth had to wake up at 6 am or earlier most of the times to have breakfast ready, clean the house and have dinner ready for us on time changed my mentality even more. Seeing the indigenous community at early morning in the markets setting their stations to sell handmade cloth, food or art was really shocking to me as well because I was able to see that they make the best out of their country and try to survive at any cost.

Oaxaca has become a place that I really want to go back to visit when I have the opportunity. I believe that Mexico is such a rich land not in the economy necessarily but in culture, traditions, and languages. I am very thankful to The City College of New York for creating a program that helps us the students learn to gain knowledge by having a first-hand experience. I am also thankful with to the Jaime Lucero Mexican Institute that helped me with the funds as well as some friends and family because without them I would have never had the chance to pay for the cost of this program. I came back to the United States with a different attitude towards life, with more joy and enthusiasm. I experienced life in a different land and had many adventures that over time can help me grow as a person. I believe that we grow as humans having first-hand experiences that can help us judge for ourselves without the influence of anyone.

I still cannot believe I was in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was there for fifteen days and I did not miss home not one day. I felt like I belonged there since the second day that I arrived. I came back to the U.S. feeling like it was all a long dream that I had. I was dreaming awake while I was in Oaxaca. Dreaming awake are the kinds of experiences that I now wish to have for the rest of my life. I want to travel and visit many places and if that is the feeling I will always have when going to a new country, I want to dream awake.