International Women’s Day with IHouse – by Clare Collins

This past week the group again met up with students from International House, a university here in Mexico. The groups met in honor of international women’s day to talk about the history of women’s rights, both in Mexico and the United States. Each week that we meet with IHouse, a few students from each group—both the Mexican students and the US students—present on the same issue in their individual countries. This way, both groups can learn about the same topic in the context of two different countries. It was fascinating in many ways to see the parallels and the contrasts between the histories of feminism in the two countries.

I happened to be a part of the group this week presenting on feminism in the US. Our group touched on the three main waves of feminism, as well as the emerging fourth wave, and discussed the various ways of seeing feminism in the US context. We also played a trivia game at the beginning to test students on their knowledge of feminism. For a sample of what we discussed, see if you can answer these questions right:

*1. What percent of single mother families live in poverty in the US?
A. 31%
B. 15%
C. 22%
D. 37%
2. Although approximately 40% of professional sports participants are women, only ____% of total sports media coverage is devoted to them.
A. 8-9%
B. 12-14%
C. 22-23%
D. 29-32%


The Mexican students who presented talked less in terms of waves of feminism, and instead focused on different powerful female figures in Mexican history. After this, they told us some staggering statistics on feminicides (the gender-based hate crime of killing women because they are females). For example, in Mexico, an estimated seven women were killed every day in 2016 due to feminicides. The group told us that often in the cases of feminicides, the authorities question the characters of the women killed instead of conducting investigations into the deaths. They also had us participate in two different activities related to women. In one, they had us draw a woman and represent in her the power of women. In the other, they separated the women and men into two groups and had each write characteristics they like in the other gender. The activity played out in an interesting way in that the male group ended up writing positive characteristics of women, such as “strength,” and “wisdom,” whereas the female group ended up writing what they want in men, including descriptions such as, “no mansplaining,” and “empathy.” However, the activities made many think more deeply about gender relations and dynamics and some of the similarities and differences between the genders in this respect.

Separate from our gathering with IHouse students, we learned more about feminism in a Mexican context from a presentation on Monday the 12th on the history of feminism in Mexico. The presentation was given by Lilia Venegas, who works for the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico. Venegas explained to us that in a similar manner to the suffragettes in England, Mexican women used as one of their primary arguments for suffrage that because women fought in the revolution, they should also be able to vote in the elections. However, despite women’s movements for the vote, women did not gain suffrage until 1952.

Overall, in the past week the group gained a much broader understanding than before of feminism in Mexico. I personally hope to continue learning about this topic, since it seems of utmost importance today, and for the future of women, both in the United States and Mexico.


*1. D (37%)

2. A (8-9%)

New Beginnings in Cuernavaca – by Caitlin Curtis

This week was the beginning of many transitions for the students and I. It marked the first full week that my fellow students and I have lived with our host families in Cuernavaca. Much like my rural host family, I felt immediately welcomed and a part of the family. On my first full day, my family took me to Parque Ecologico Chapultepec, a famous state park just outside of Cuernavaca known for its environmentally-friendly structure. My family has also taken me to various restaurants and locations throughout Cuernavaca to give me more opportunities to explore and learn the city. Additionally, on Sunday, the students and I were given the opportunity to visit Teotihuacán, a vast archaeological site located outside of Mexico City. We were able to bring our families along and I was glad that my sister was able to come along with me, so we could share the experience together. She had been to Teotihuacán several times before and knew a lot about each pyramid. Hearing about the rich history and culture of this site from someone who shares the culture made the experience that much more valuable for me.

The student and her host sister in Teotihuacan

My host sister and I in front of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan

This week also marked my first official week at my internship, Las Palomas. Located in the middle of Cuernavaca, Las Palomas is a group home for older adults whose health problems prevent them from living alone. Since there are very few staff members, it is necessary for each one to balance many different roles. As a result, there is almost no structure or formal engagement with the residents of Las Palomas. My responsibility is to help create a stronger community and to engage the residents in activities. Since this internship has very little structure, the focus is less on the tasks I need to complete and more on learning from my environment and experiences with the residents. The benefit of an internship like this one is that I get to personally decide what I want to learn and get out of my experience instead of having to meet expectations and objectives asked of the organization of me. I know that this kind of experience is hard to come across in internships in the United States, so I am grateful that I have been given this opportunity in Cuernavaca.

The student's internship site

My internship placement with Las Palomas

This internship has also really challenged my way of viewing the structure around care since Las Palomas is so different than the tightly structured group homes I have learned about back in the United States. I am interested in learning more about the impacts of different structures on the resident’s experience in group homes. Does the amount of structure have any impact on the care that the residents receive? Most of the organizations I have worked for in the past had extremely formal structures, so this new opportunity will help me answer the question: How can a social worker be effective in an unstructured environment such as Las Palomas? In addition, when I am back in Minnesota, next fall, I will have an internship. I will carry these experiences with me and they will provide a new lens with which I can see and critically analyze my internship. 

First Week of Urban Home Stays – by Clare Collins

Last Friday, students moved out of Casa CEMAL, the location of our classes, where we lived in dorm-style houses, to our urban home stays. Each student was paired with a family living in Cuernavaca. The families live in varying distances from the school, with some students traveling a five minute walk down the street, while others commute 20-40 minutes by taxi or bus.  

Personally, my family lives about a 20-30 minute drive from school. Before heading off to my urban homestay, I was slightly nervous about how my experience with my family would be. I’ve found that although I speak intermediate Spanish, it is often hard for me to follow fast conversation, and I often feel overloaded by the mental struggle of trying to focus when someone is speaking. I was also nervous about entering someone else’s home and trying not to be a burden. I was worried my presence might disrupt their normal lives. However, I can say looking back that the experience has been completely different from my expectations.

Clare and her host mom

My host mom and I

I entered into a family of four—with a mother, father, sister and brother. The kids are grown up now. My host sister is 20, and my host brother is 23. But throughout my stay I’ve been amazed by their generosity and warmth. My family invites me everywhere with them—birthday parties, doctors appointments, church. I even dance Zumba every day with my host mom and her Zumba class, held in our living room. Throughout my stay, my host family is always repeating to me, “This is your home. If you want something, take it. You don’t have to ask. You are welcome here.” They are constantly joking around and positive. They seem to have no problem with my presence here while their daughter is 8 months pregnant and due to give birth while I’m here. I even attended one of her doctor appointments with her.

What my experiences with my host family have taught me is the importance of family and hospitality. My family took me in as one of them and welcomed me like family. They want me to feel welcomed and supported. This was something important to them—hospitality—and something I will think more closely about in the future.

Immigration Isn’t Black & White, So Let’s Not Treat It As Such – By Amanda Nole

If I can be completely vulnerable, there was a time when I was ignorant to anything that didn’t affect my day to day life. I can’t pinpoint the day, but at some point in my educational journey I realized I wasn’t being as empathetic as I said I was. Specifically, I’m talking about the topic of immigration. Sure, I’ve always wished the US was more accepting of immigrants, but there was always a thought in the back of my head “Why can’t they just do it the legal way?”. Well, after hearing the history of US economics and the personal stories of immigrants from my week spent in Ixtlico el Grande, Mexico, my views are changing. It isn’t so black and white. In fact, its as grey as it can be.

A corner of Ixtlilco el Grande

A corner of Ixtlilco el Grande as the sun sets. We stayed in this tranquil town for almost a week.

To put it simply, working conditions in Mexico are bad. The current minimum wage is 88 pesos/day, which equals to less than 5 dollars/day in the US. Not only is the pay low, but jobs are scarce and the US is responsible for some of this thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That’s not something we learn in our history classes, but yes, NAFTA created an environment in which there are now tens of millions of people in poverty in Mexico. Instead of immediately judging undocumented immigrants, let’s first look at the harm we’ve caused as a country by the implementation of this policy. I’ve heard the stories of these Mexicans who’ve been affected. This past week, I lived with an older woman in Ixtlilco el Grande. Just from the five days that I lived with her, I learned that two of her children have moved to the city of Cuernavaca during the week so they can have jobs. Not everyone has the privilege or ability to move to the city like this where they must pay rent and commute back to Ixtlilco on the weekends. So if offered a way to get to the border, wouldn’t you think about taking it? Just like us, all that they want to do is provide for themselves and their families. Is this an outrageous desire? So I challenge all of you who are reading this to change your perspective and views of Mexican people. Instead of first looking at their legal status, first look at them as human beings and look at our own privilege. These people are our neighbors, our friends, people with skills, people with souls, just like you and I.

Residential homes in Ixtlilco el Grande

Residential homes adorned with political messages in Ixtlilco el Grande

Just like myself, it is okay to be vulnerable and admit that we were wrong in our thoughts and actions. We all make mistakes and take advantage of our privilege, but what matters is what you do once you’ve admitted to your wrongs. Now is the time to educate our friends, family, and colleagues. Help change the narrative around undocumented immigrants and let’s look for policy change that will support and help our neighboring country. Mexican people are some of the most welcoming and accepting people I’ve met. Can we learn a lesson from them and try to be the same?

A Comparative Exploration of Community in Mexico & Stateside :) :) !! – By Tony Hommerding

Hello 🙂 !

            Social work students finished up our rural home stay in Ixtlilco el Grande on Sunday with a presentation from the municipal president. The municipal president is similar to the head of a county in the States. His presentation was truly the icing on top of the cake as we had the opportunity to be welcomed into the extraordinary community of Ixtlilco el Grande.

The cohesion, empathy, support, solidarity, and resilience of the community radiated profoundly during our stay. From brief greetings in passing to invitations for full meals, there was always a friendly, familiar face or complete stranger diligently welcoming us into their community. We were told many times from community members that this is an extension of our home and that they are there if we needed anything at all during our stay. These exact sentiments, the experiences in Ixtlilco el Grande, and the entire community as a whole are the biggest moments of reflection and critical analysis throughout our time in Ixtlilco el Grande for me.

Students with their host family in Ixtlilco

My Mexican family and I in Ixtlilco el Grande

For example, the head of community activities and festivals spoke to us about his dedication to the community and the responsibility to give back. He channels this dedication and responsibility into his event planning as it brings the community together. He enjoys watching the children take in the events as it reminds him of his fond memories of the town events. The smiles on their faces and hope for their futures are some of his favorite rewards for the work he does for his community.

Student with Mexican host family

My roommate, host sister, host mom, host dad, I, and host brother

Thus, I found myself questioning my own sense of community stateside and my level of involvement in my own community as many speakers answered the same questions. I’ve been asking, “How do I welcome strangers into my community?” and “How can I give back to my community for all it has done for me?” In the end, I can acknowledge the influence of individualism on my own community involvement, as I have been predominately focusing on myself lately. However, I will not use it as an excuse. I intend to continue to reevaluate my participation in my own community and formulate a plan to start giving back like the innumerable individuals do each day in Ixtlilco el Grande. 🙂 I also plan to give back because I have been blessed to be a part of an amazing community back home with invaluable relationships and supports 🙂 ! I am grateful for the individuals in my own community who work diligently each day to make it a better place and send a huge thank you to them from Mexico for all they have done for me 🙂 !

Blessings! & Carpe Diem!

Schools of Ixtlilco – By Sam McCoy

My time at my rural homestay in Ixtlilco El Grande was an experience with lots of emotions. In the beginning, I was very overwhelmed and sad because I couldn’t communicate with my host family at all. Then after the first day of being sick, I was excited and happy to be there. I was thrilled to see not only how we grew as a Social Work group, but also to experience all of the education we were going to get.

Name of the Ixtlilco school Social Work students visited

The local school that we visited

The visit I most enjoyed while in Ixtlilco was the schools. It was so interesting to see all the kids so eager to learn. It was intriguing to see and hear about the schools. The thing that struck me the most is that the students have between five and nine different courses in secondary and high school. In the United States you have a different teacher for every course you take, but here in Mexico they have the same teacher for every subject. Another interesting fact is that as the kids get older they are more likely to not continue their education. The current numbers in the school are: in primary education there are roughly 260 students; Secondary level has 150 and high school has 86 students. As you can see the numbers drop dramatically from primary to high school. Another thing that stood out to me is that yes, they are getting a good education, but their books are out of date. With this being said they are not getting the current education like the students in the States. The last thing that I loved is how welcoming they were of us. In the primary school they allowed us to sit in on class. In the secondary school, we were able to play soccer, jump rope and even try games they play in Mexico. In the high school we had the opportunity to learn all of the things they are doing to beautify their school like planting trees and flowers. The schools here are very different form the ones in the States.

Two CEMAL students are jumping rope with high school students in Ixtlilco

We skipped ropes with students from the local high school

Ixtlilco is a beautiful place. It has that great community feeling. They were and will continue to be very welcoming to us as students. I’m glad I was able to visit a place so welcoming, loving and willing to help everyone. I wish that communities in the States were more like those in Ixtlilco.