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Blogs from Summer Service Learning at CASA in San Miguel de Allende

“Today was extremely enriching…” by Shareny Díaz Saldaña.

Traveling to Mexico with Advance Parole for the second time has been overwhelming. The process to get approved hasn’t been the easiest and a reminder of the struggle it is to be undocumented. Although I feel privileged to have the opportunity to travel abroad, something my parents haven’t been able to do and have been hoping for for many years, it is still emotionally draining to deal with the process. The uncertainty of getting approved is angst provoking, but finding out a week before the trip that your petition has been placed on hold requiring additional information made me lose hope of coming on this trip.

Today is the end of my third full day here in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato Mexico. I am still warming up to the idea that I am actually here. I was granted an emergency Advance Parole with a 30-day limit. Although my stay will be cut short from what I had previously planned for, I am grateful and excited to be here.

My role here at our study abroad program is a big one. I am responsible for the students traveling on the summer learning program offered by the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at CUNY. I have under my supervision 12 CUNY students, 10 of which are Becari@s, recipients of the CUNY Becas Scholarship program. The transition from New York City to the rural small town of San Miguel Allende has not been easy for many of the students. We are still trying to adapt to the routine here in Mexico and learning the ropes about everyday life here in San Miguel de Allende. Centro de Adolescentes de San Miguel de Allende (CASA), the hosting organization here has been very welcoming. The program coordinator at CASA, Lourdes, is amazing at what she does. She has gone far and beyond to make sure we are comfortable and happy with our stay.

    Workshop at CASA

    Arriving in Mexico City

    Tour at CASA

    The activity today was extremely enriching. We began our day with a talk by the CASA psychologist, Alma. We learned about the program Educación para la Libertad y Equidad de Género Integrado Redes (ELEGIR) whose mission is to contribute to the prevention and treatment of violence against women and men through mental health care for the development of gender equality, community self-management and prevention of psychosocial risks. Alma led the talk with interactive activities with the students and testimonies from her professional experience. The students got a glimpse into the flawed justice system in Mexico. We were shocked to learn how common it is for women to experience violence and for the crime to go unpunished. The machista ideology makes it so that most crimes against women are justified by the expectation that a wife lives to serve her husband and his needs.

    After, we had a talk with two parteras, midwives who work at CASA. We learned all about the birth process. They were kind enough to invite two of their patients to speak about their birthing experience. Through their testimonies, we were able to understand the process from the mother’s point of view. From their testimonies, the humanized birthing experience is a very holistic and spiritual experience.

                As a woman with plans to birth a child in the future, today was very enriching. I think through everything we learned I am better prepared to make a decision as to how I would like my birthing experience to be. It is amazing to me how it took a trip to my home country to better learn and appreciate a practice that my ancestors, as close as my grandmothers, depended on to birth life. Yet it is saddening to learn that even with such an amazing ability to bear life and take care of an entire family, women are being violated and even killed with no justice in sight.

                “Our first day in CASA” by Guadalupe Ambrosio.

                On the first day we learned more about Center for Adolescents of San Miguel de Allende's (CASA) mission and got to see them in action. Although I had already researched them I was still extremely overwhelmed by how much they do for the community and teens. CASA’s mission is to help adolescents be able to advance in their education without barriers with a perspective around gender.
                They do this many ways through going to schools and teaching teens about family planning and workshops preventing violence. Most important they are able to this through hiring directly affected teens and providing childcare for the young families. I am so thankful to be apart of having this opportunity and learning from the amazing youth and the rest of the staff at CASA.

                “'El Charco del Ingenio' a botanical garden preserving Mexico’s nature” by Arianna Flores.

                Day 6, Sunday morning until late afternoon. On this day we had the opportunity to visit the “Charco del Ingenio,” which a is a botanical garden preserving Mexico’s nature. The botanical garden contains rescued plants and other historical landmarks such as the water mill. This was a rich experience as we went on a day when indigenous traditions were being celebrated. Members of the community were dancing, doing spiritual cleansing and getting ready for a procession in honor of the mythological gods and goddesses. Being able to witness and be part of this tradition was beautiful. We also learned about “el chan” which is assumed to be the devil. It is believed that wherever there is water “el Chan” is present. Knowing this about the area was scary but part of the learning experience.


                  Overall, our trip to the botanical garden was full of interesting history and some scary stories. On this day, we had only a brief visit but we hope to come back next week to have a more extensive tour around the area.

                “Developing a community library at the Palmita, Guanajuato” by Adriana García.

                Today we went to Guanajuato, to a rural area called La Palmita were there are 340 habitants. It’s a pretty small town that is close to Queretaro and it took us an hour and a half from San Miguel de Allende to travel there. Erika and Cesar who work for CASA gave us a tour around the area. They know the area because they have worked within some of these communities. They said that each year they choose a community to create a big change. We worked to help build a library which will enable the children to have access to a book during their summer break. This is important because this area has low average levels of education. I can say that the people there are humble, kind and always happy. It was our first day working on the project in which we will develop a library for that community. We will spend a week to finish it. I think it’s a challenge because there’s a lot to be done. For example, today we were cleaning the area where the library will be located.

                  The people from the community offered us lunch & the students from the school offered to help. It was a great day and the weather it was amazing. Also, I believe that all those children need a hand to initiate wonderful projects like this one. After finishing working as always we try to talk about what we have done during the day as a group. Then we went to the plaza at San Miguel de Allende to visit a library & we end up listening to music from the state of Veracruz. I can say that San Miguel de Allende and Casa have offered us great experiences and amazing memories that we will never forget. Furthermore, it has help us appreciate what we do in our daily lives. We can be the inspirational hand for other people.

                  “Words can’t explain how great I’ve been feeling this past week” by Claudio Salas Diego.

                  Dear World, Greetings! Words can’t explain how great I’ve been feeling this past week. Through all the hard work and constant traveling I’ve been able to find an inner calm between Mexico and myself. Mexico has been so great to me, the people are so welcoming and nice there is no word to describe them and the ambiance is one that cannot be emulated in the United States. Today July 13th, we traveled to a small town called “La Palmita” which is home to only 340 residents, and although it’s a small town it is home to people with big hearts. We’ve been visiting La Palmita for the past three days with CASA workers Erika and Cesar. Our mission in La Palmita is to create a library out of an old house where there are no longer habitants, and todays task was to paint the inside and outside while finishing the yard.
                  I myself decided to work on the painting of the outside of the building; we’re painting it a sky blue. As I was painting the kids from the school across the street finished class and quickly came running to help us paint. The kids of La Palmita are amazing, they are some of the happiest and funniest kids I’ve ever met, there are about 10 kids helping us paint: there was Mateo, Theo, Bryan, and Paulina just to name a few. As the kids began to help us paint their mothers who cook us food every day in the school called us for lunch; todays lunch was rice, lentils, fried pig skin (chicharon), and cactus salad (ensalada de cactus). Everyone sat down and ate together with Erika and Cesar while the mothers shaded under a tree, some of them even put on traditional Mexican skirts and began to practice some Mexican dances.

                  We all watched as they twirled their skirts under the sun and danced not caring who was watching. At that moment I noticed the calm of the rancho where everyone gets along and enjoys their lives to the fullest always ready to greet any stranger with open arms. As I stood there receiving the positive energy that was resonating throughout the air I approached Cesar and told him “Man, it’s amazing how calm and positive everyone is, the mothers dancing while the children play and help us out” in response Cesar told me, “Yeah, it’s amazing that’s why there’s a saying we say here that sometimes we wish we lived in el rancho.” That moment right there and the feeling I got is something that I’ll never forget in my life and something I probably won’t be able to feel again for a long time.


                  Lunch was done and we made our way back to the library, however! As soon as we arrived to our surprise the kids had almost already finished painting the whole building. We were in awe because we couldn’t believe how fast these kids worked and it was amazing, they really are hardworking children. We quickly finished painting the building, thanks in part mostly to the kids and then we worked on finishing the lawn.
                  The kids decided to come talk to us, and told us told us jokes, told us all their nicknames, and constantly kept asking us to tell them words in English. In addition they gave everyone nicknames, mine was “el pollito flaco”, meaning “skinny chicken”, and I thought it was pretty funny. The kids of La Palmita are very different from the kids in the United States and even from the kids in San Miguel de Allende, because their attitude doesn’t reflect their economy background.

                  This meaning that, although they don’t have the same economic privileges as other kids, the kids of La Palmita are extremely happy, they never lack a smile on their face or a joke to tell, it’s truly fascinating and heartwarming. We finished our work around 3 and decided to head back to San Miguel, we decided to buy candy for the next time we come back for the kids but they didn’t want candy, they wanted pizza.

                    We packed our stuff into the car and made our way back, ate some fruit and cracked some jokes. Now we are all getting ready to meet up at CASA to have a movie night/ pizza party, the movie has not yet been decided but I’m sure it’ll be a scary one. Con Amor, Claudio Salas Diego

                    “La Palmita is a underserved community in Guanajuato,Mexico” by Jennifer Martinez.

                    Blogpost July 12: La Palmita is a underserved community in Guanajuato,Mexico. Today was day two of our project to restore the library for the children at Escuela Primaria Rural Federal. We had help from about ten children. Our goal was to get rid of all the grass in the surroundings of the new library. We brought crayons and paper for the children to entertain themselves.

                      The children did not color at all instead they helped us get rid of all the grass and fix the inside of the library. As I was working on the new library I thought of how we all would leave a small part of us once we were done with this project. In August 25 I will be sitting in a desk at Lehman College and in Guanajuato Mexico there will be a blue bliblioteca that I helped paint and fix.

                      “Our CUNY group and a some members of CASA participated in the rebuilding of a library for the kids of the rural town ‘La Palmita’” by Sergio Torres.

                      Our CUNY group and a some members of CASA participated in the rebuilding of a library for the kids of the rural town ‘La Palmita’. Today was day four of the five days that we would be spending rebuilding the library. We started our day finishing painting the inside of the library and creating a mural on front of the library. We received help from the local kids that helped us choosing what they wanted in their mural and finishing painting. That wasn't all the kids did, they also gave us some introspective into what their day to day looks like. I got to meet Randall and his brother Bryan who are two out of four children.


                      It was easy to forget how young these kids are when they are working, but in talking to them, one is reminded that they are just kids. What some may seem as hardships they see as a daily routine in their life. I couldn't help to wonder if they are aware of how this is affecting their life and if they know that this would be forever part of who they are. The kids don't seem to take such questions into consideration at the moment and decide to spend their time helping and doing the best job they can.

                      By the end of the day the painting was done, the mural is still a work in progress. Something that we learned today is the age of innocence takes a different meaning in Mexico.

                      “El Charco del Ingenio, La hija del Nopal” by Denise Vivar.

                      Cactus, Cactus, Cactus, is all I saw today and it was magical. They might not be colorful but they are full of life and survive in one of the hardest environments, like my people have for centuries. After colonization they are still standing strong. They resisted like our people do everyday. Today we visited el Charco del Ingenio one more time because it is just so beautiful. The director Mario gave us a tour around the botanical garden.
                      The botanical garden was opened in 1991 during a solar eclipse. The mission is to conserve the native plants of Mexico and to raise awareness that we must protect the environment, especially plants that belong to us. He told us that we must understand how important succulents are to our native country. It was very exciting to see so many succulents and cactuses everywhere. I learn about them in the U.S and I knew they were Mexican plants but to see them in my native country was extremely beautiful. To see how vital they are to our cultural identity was powerful. They have seen Mexico change throughout the years and they stand strong.


                      One of the most interesting places we visited was el Manantial del Chan which has a mystical tale behind it. The Chichimeca community believe that el Manantial del Chan drown people who were impure. People think of El Chan as the devil but for the Chichimeca community he helped people that drown to get to the other side. After the tale, he gave us the opportunity to go down to El Manantial which was pretty scary but exciting. I was afraid to go down because it was really deep but this was once in a lifetime challenge that I had to take. I was the last one to get down there because I was afraid but after seeing how gorgeous it was, the fear disappeared. Mario also gave us the opportunity to eat Tunas cut right from the cactus. Today, was very enriching, I learned how important plants are in order for me reconnect with my roots. It made me understand how I really am La Hija del Nopal.

                      “Today we visit Plaza de Calzado, The Museum of Mummies of Guanajuato and El Callejon del Beso 'Kissing Alley'” by María Xique.

                      Today we went to the Plaza de Calzado in the city of Leon. Then we went to Guanajuato City to visit El Museo de Momias de Guanajuato and we ended the day by going to El Callejon del Beso (Kissing Alley). Leon is the biggest city of the state of Guanajuato. We had the opportunity to visit Leon to see La Plaza de Calzado (the shoe plaza mall). We were told that Leon is known as one of the cities that produces the best leather shoes. Going to this shoe plaza mall in Leon was very interesting because it was similar to the malls in the United States, especially in New York City. But these stores were mostly shoe stores.
                      It was interesting to see this Plaza de Calzado because it reminded me of New York City malls. In addition, were able to go outside the mall and walk over the streets that surround the mall. Walking over those streets reminded me as if I was walking over Sunset Park in Brooklyn because there were so many street vendors selling their goods, such as clothes, shoes, food, fruit and aguas frescas.


                      After spending around two hours in La Plaza de Calzado we went to Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (Guanajuato Museum of Mummies).The museum was a great place to visit because it was my first time seeing real natural mummies. It was a bit scary at first but it turned out to be amazing, however, the walk in the musuem was very short. One of my favorite moments at this musuem was to hear the stories behind the people whose bodies rest in the musuem. In the museum we were able to see the smallest mummy in the world. This mummy is a fetus who died along with his mother in a C-section surgery.

                      Finally, we went to El Callejon del Beso (Kissing Alley). El Callejon del Beso is located in the City of Guanajuato. Guanajuato its a beautiful and magic place. According to the kid who told us the story about El Callejon del Beso those who do not kiss at El Callejon will get 7 years of bad luck. I had a great time today because I had the opportunity to visit three different places in one day!

                      “Un Día en la Palmita'” by Laura Velazquez.

                      Esta semana hemos estado trabajando en creando una biblioteca para la comunidad llamada la Palmita. El grupo de estudiantes de CUNY hemos trabajado a lado de los integrantes de CASA en este proyecto y lo hemos disfrutado. Los primeros días trabajamos en el patio, preparando la tierra para los huertos ; los siguientes días trabajamos dentro y afuera del lugar que seria la nueva biblioteca.
                      Me encanta ver como los niños de la comunidad vienen a ayudarnos con mucha alegría. Cuanto pintábamos los murales en las paredes de afuera siento que los niños le daban un toque especial. Algunos de los colores que escogían los niños eran colores que no hubiera escogido yo, pero que se veían increíble como parte de la jungla.


                      Al ver a todos los niños pintar llegue a apreciar mas el trabajo de CASA porque sentí que los promotores en verdad querían ayudar a las comunidades. Ellos intentan de incorporar a la gente de la comunidad ya sea los chicos o la gente mayor, todos ponen su granito de arena. Disfruto las actividades con el equipo de CASA por que aprendo mucho de las personas a mi alrededor pero también alcanzo a ver como el trabajo en equipo crea gran obras.

                      “Misfit” by Sergio Torres.

                      Just like the sand runs out on a sandglass so is our time at this program. Today we had the opportunity to organize the garden at CASA. A garden in which they plant different vegetables such as cilantro, tomatoes, chard and carrots. The vegetables that are planted on this garden are use on the meals of the kids in the kindergarten program. After finishing our work at the garden we were invited to a pizza party organized by the kids on the summer program.
                      It was during the pizza party that I have the realization that CASA is an opportunity, a chance not just for women but also the youth. Two of the most at risk groups in Mexico. CASA has also been an opportunity to all of us, an opportunity to remember, to see, to feel. This last activities had made a few of us realize that we would have to flip that soundglass and that a different countdown would soon start.
                      Some have start packing to go back to New York and some of us are packing to go back to the places where we come from, the place we once called home. Just being in San Miguel de Allende I have notice that this is not the same place most of us left behind.


                      This is prove that is not only New York that moves on without you. Before heading home there are some questions that I been asking myself. How much has my little town change? What if this is no longer home? Would I be able to be the person others remember me to be? Am I a Mexican with American costumes? Or an American in disguise? Somehow I feel like a Mexican trying to buy fancy shoes in Leon to look more American and like an American trying to find the next exotic thing.
                      If I ask a Mexican their response would probably be that I no longer know this land, that my costumes have changed, that a mind that has been stretch never again regains its shape back. If I ask an American his answer would probably be that knowing the language, the history, the laws, the costumes, the culture and loving pizza would never make me an American.I guess on my part all I have to say is that the question is yeah to be answer and that I like not knowing, I like being a misfit. The kaleidoscope of emotions is just beginning and just like the thunder and lightning warn you of the storm to come so are these emotions.

                      “Radiodifusion: Educación en Derechos Sexuales y Salud” by Lorena Cariño.

                      Today we learned more about the program “REDeSS,” which stands for Radiodifusion y Educación en Derechos Sexuales y Salud. This program offers information through the radio about health, nutrition and the rights people have about their sexual lives. CASA makes sure to expand their information into the communities they cannot visit through the use of the radio. The main objective is to generate opinions and debates between the public about sensitive issues to promote a political and social change.
                      The radio station uses different methods to share information to the public such as radionovelas, videoblogs, or in person interviews with the community. We took part of making our own material to be used in the radio.


                      After being divided into groups, my group chose to work on a topic surrounding immigration for our videoblog. We used the knowledge and experience we have as children who migrated into the United States to share our experience and how the separation of families affects families in Mexico and in the United States. After working on our videoblog we learned the amount of work that takes into the team from REDeSS to make sure the material is well structured. I am glad to know that CASA offers a radio station for people to listen in about issues that affect their communities.