Friday, November 19, 2010

Choques Culturales (Cultural Clashes)

I was curious about the perceptions of Mexican's about the cultural conflicts (Choques Culturales) between Mexico and the United States. The people around Mexico shared some interesting thought on the topic! 

Racism or Nationalism?

I am almost 100% sure that your view of the below will be influenced by whether you are from the U.S. versus elsewhere in the world. 

Today an opportunity for a dialogue about U.S. multiculturalism and international conceptualizations of difference arrived at Alliant International University’s Mexico campus in the form of a vending machine.  The image above of “Negrito”(Spanish for little black boy) was blazoned across the machine.  Shortly after, a psychology student emailed the staff here asking, “Would you please consider moving or removing the "Negrito" vending machine from the student lounge? I understand the language and cultural differences but it really seems unnecessary and offensive.”

In a quick survey of those on campus, not a single Mexican views this as offensive. One told me that this is typical U.S. behavior—“le buscas 5 patas al gato” (You look for five legs on a cat—you look for what is not there).

Of the U.S. representatives, all think it is racist.

I look forward to hearing what our students from Africa and other international settings have to add.

Here in Mexico people sometimes use descriptive words like gordo (fat), China (Chinese) or Morena (dark skin) with great affection. The meaning often depends on the tone of the voice. Miguel Bosé has a song “Morena Mia” that translates into English as “Dark skin woman of mine” but I’ve been told more accurately translates into “my love.”

On the other hand, racism IS alive and well here in Mexico.

Here is my quandary. I can see the offensiveness through my U.S. formed lenses. Yet I worry about U.S. arrogance, including U.S. centrism in U.S. multiculturalism. Versions of today’s event occur often, and often the message is that Mexico is backwards. For example, people from U.S. may think in terms of race while Mexicans may think in terms of class. I think U.S. folks are often quick to devalue the Mexico perspective and move toward educating them on “how it really is” and miss opportunities for dialogues and new ways to think about difference.

Should we get rid of the vending machine? Yes. If one person feels diminished by this image, than yes. 
Side comment: The company who owns the machines is called "Bimbo." Ah….language. 

Where is the "Love Boat"

On one hand, there was a whole lot of love on the cruise I took with my family this past week. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary surrounded family and many of their closest friends. They are inspiring as a couple and as humans. 

On the other hand, I was struck by the unloving nature of how cruise lines teach about other cultures. The basic scenario is that they “visit” different countries, but in reality most excursions off the boat are basically extensions of the cruise ship. The worst example I saw was in Honduras where the ship docks on a property where the land has been bought up and a man-made beach area has been constructed. To escape this one has to overcome financial, physical and/or psychological barriers (i.e. $60 for a 5-mile taxi owned by the cruise line, a hike up a hill, and the bombardment of messages that locals are all crooks who will rip you off). How many thousands of people have gone on cruises, thinking they are visiting non-U.S. environments while engaging in sterilized versions in addition to being taught that non-U.S. communities are dangerous? I loved that we were able to push my mom’s wheel chair up the hill in order to connect with wonderful local individuals who were able to at least provide a very brief glimpse into their culture. 
A Cruise ship: Immersion education it is not. But…if you aren’t interested in local cultures, why go there? 
And I could go on about how most of the underpaid individuals doing the heavy labor are from countries like India, Africa and the Philippines (while someone is making big $ off of the $150 internet service, $2.50 cokes, gambling, and $60 taxis). Or…I could talk about the folks from the states dressed up as Mexicans when we stopped there (sombreros, big black mustaches, etc). Would it also be funny to paint our faces black if we stopped in Africa? In good fun, should Caucasians alter their eyes when visiting Asian countries? How would Mexican’s need to dress if they wanted to dress like folks from the United States? Waddle off board in fat suits? 
Many individuals from the United States often do not consider the ways U.S. culture influences their thinking. Research has shown U.S. citizens are less knowledgeable of world affairs than their counterparts in other nations (Bok, 2006). The cruise ship, while a great opportunity to be with family, reminded me how much of a problem it is that U.S. citizens so often know little about life outside a U.S. context. Call me dramatic, but to me this is the Achilles’ heal of our nation. 

Do Indigenous Peoples have Souls?

My friend Maximo

Today I saw “La Controversia de Valladolid” at UNAM’s Teatro Juan Ruiz de Alarcó (<>). The play is based on a debate that really occurred within the Catholic Church on whether the Indigenous peoples in the(new to them world) had souls. It was powerfully presented.
I didn’t realize when I was invited that Bartolomé de las Casas was one of the main characters. He is connected to the course I teach on the liberation psychology. In brief, the conquest brought a particularly violent and bloody kind of Catholicism, (tied to the discovery of gold and reactions to the Protestant Reformation. Bartolomé de las Casas was an outlier among the missionaries and protested the cruelty of the conquest. He experienced a conversion and devoted his life to struggling on behalf of the indigenous people. Later liberation theologians regarded this generation of missionaries as their precursors. One of these liberation theologians was Ignacio Martín-Baró, a priest and psychologist, who went on to develop the type of psychology I am drawn toward--liberation psychology.
Bartolomé de las Casas probably was no angel, but I like finding examples of people who don’t go with the flow. His actions contributed to the decision that the indigenous should not be slaves. The debate and issues are interesting to learn about and I think have clear mental health implications. 
Go see the play!

Me smart!

I worry that when I speak in Spanish, that maybe I sound like the sign above. People seem to be able to understand me, but sometimes I get some curious looks. I believe that one of the greatest acts for social justice a person and mental health worker can do is learn another language. And so I am pushing on. I think only people who don’t take themselves too seriously can learn a language. You have to be willing to look foolish--it is an absolute requirement. When people tell me they don’t want to speak until they know the language better, I know they will never learn a language. I have started classes focused on verb conjugations and I am trying to read a newspaper or something each day in Spanish. Next week I am going to track down some of Ignacio Martín-Baró’s writings in Spanish. I think it will be useful for me to start reading more about liberation psychology in Spanish. I was thinking of buying Harry Potter books in Spanish, but that probably won’t help me gain the vocabulary I need to learn!
I really love languages and accents. I love how the Spanish I have learned has given me access to worlds I may have never known. Learning a language teaches so much more than language. It teaches about culture and class and new ways of feeling and different ways of thinking. There are some words for which there is no exact equivalent in another language. If I controlled the universe (or university), I would require that all clinicians take language courses. 
Classes. Friends who speak the language. Reading. Movies in Spanish. Any other recommendations? 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life in Semesters

At age eight, I recorded this entry on August 30th —“Today I bought more dry ice. This is the first day I have homework.” Profound, no? I also doubt the dry ice had any connection to my homework. I have always had a need to write things down and for most of my life education has been part of my daily experience. One of the best things about being involved in education is tracking time in semesters. New beginnings come more frequently and there are more opportunities for setting ‘New Year’ type resolutions. This blog is tied to some of the new goals (and whatever you would call things you want to stop doing) that I have set for myself this semester. Mainly I am hoping it will be a more focused space to tinker with ideas about international mental health, education and other areas tied with being a person & professor working in Mexico (and India and Cambodia and elsewhere). 
I still think dry ice is cool. I wonder where I can buy it in Mexico City?