las desobedientes — or lessons learned en mi Mexico

**I stole the title from the book by the same name (Las Desobedientes: Mujeres de Nuestra America). It seemed very fitting. The following are (edited) reflections made in May 2012 upon my return from a brief visit to the Distrito Federal, Mexico. It was part of the requirements for the immersion course that allowed this opportunity so fair warning, it may be quite lengthy. It’s broken up into personal reflections and professional development as a Latina, both major part of what I am working on in this journey. The latter part explores more of my identity as a Latina while the former pertains more to my Mexico as I like to call it. So, I figured, why not share these thoughts with you all.  

The overall idea I brought back with me (for those that are “let’s cut to the chase” type of people): Growth and change are constants in my life. I am who I want to be and becoming who I want to be simultaneously. working toward better while trying to be better. I’ve learned that this is part of my happy.

…granted, i don’t think I had to go all the way to Mexico to learn these lessons, but I’ll take them as I get them.

 

little else has made me feel as powerful (in every sense of the word) than when I climbed the piramide del sol… -history below me, limitlessness above me-

 Mexico Lindo y Querido:
Personal and Professional Reflections Through the Eyes of Mexico

            What can I say about the trip to Mexico? Or about what new understandings were formed while in a “foreign” country that has felt like my backyard since birth? Surprisingly, there is a lot to say. A lot about emotion. A lot about new thought. A lot about challenges. A lot about growth. Through it all, from Day 1 until Day 7, I reached many conclusions and developed even more questions regarding my personal being, my professional being, and the intersection of the two, my whole self.

For whoever reads this, and perhaps more for myself to reflect back upon later, I cannot say thank you enough. Thank you for the continued support to allow for opportunities such as this. Thank you for allowing me to merge my professional self with my personal one. Thank you for the challenges and allowing me to accept them, even when I wasn’t sure or secure of the outcome. Much of this may not make much sense given that the reflections haven’t been shared. So…

First for the personal

            One of the major themes throughout my journal entries was this idea of “my Mexico.” Reflecting on my entries from Day 1 thru Day 7, a personal change occurred. I appear to have gone through something, experiencing an array of emotions caused by the various experiences. Anger. Confusion. Rejection. Questioning. Attempting. Understanding. Accepting.

            I didn’t think that this trip would impact me in quite the way it had concerning my notions of Mexico, my Mexico. The social class divide is one that, in the United States, I am perhaps ambivalent toward. I have neither any intense negative feelings towards this occurrence nor any strong positive feelings. However, in Mexico, I took that divide more personally. In various cities I have had the opportunity to visit throughout some part of the U.S., I have, on many occasions, enjoyed driving through various neighborhoods. Stumbling across the lives of the upper class, passing by 3- or 4-car garages, admiring the detailed and well-cared-for landscapes, noticing the details on each of the levels of the homes and typically the guest houses that accompany them; I love this. Observation of different has always intrigued me. Yet, for one reason or another, I did not have this same feeling or thought while in Mexico.

I, not proudly or perhaps due to not fully understanding why, felt anger, contempt even. Through exploration of this, much of which is taking place at this very moment as I reflect and write, I think that these reactions are due in part to the level of divide. In the U.S., division of classes is present, undoubtedly. Lower, middle, upper classes are present, along with subdivisions in each. My experience of Mexico, however, was one in which I noticed a society essentially void of a middle class. People either had money, and everything that entailed, or…they didn’t. When I initially (and still) referred to “my Mexico,” it was speaking toward the latter experience, exposure to and interaction with those that did with what they had, living past or in spite of what they didn’t. The following is an excerpt of what I reflected on one of the days.

Class early in the morning…per usual. This took place in Polanco. Unsure. Uneasy. Perhaps a little unnerved. These conflicting feelings reemerged and were hard to ignore by this point. This, again, was not my Mexico. I had never experienced gated communities. This was not part of my reality of Mexico. Mi Mexico was pueblos of humildad, not expense cars with chauffeurs. Mi Mexico was multiple generations in homes with the necessities of life, not condos with excess.

The dirt roads and puestecitos I referenced earlier, along with homes made of lamina and adobe, outhouses in place of indoor plumbing, washboards carved from rocks by an arroyo in place of washing machines; this, this is my Mexico. I was never exposed to the former. I guess seeing this other side angered me a little. To know that these two distinct communities were living side by side, seemingly invisible to one another was….indescribable.

What really pulled this piece together for me was an experience I had on the final day in Mexico. My roommate and I decided to use our final evening connecting with our surroundings. We walked through the neighborhood, exploring the bookstores, searching for unknowns, and ending with familiar (Starbucks). We ordered some frappuchinos and sat on the bench outside, overlooking the plaza, water feature, and wandering people. As we sat there, a young couple and their very young child stood on the sidewalk. The kid couldn’t have been much older than 3 years old, if that. He came to us with a hat, turned upside down, holding it out for some propina while his father played some music. My heart broke. The individuals seated on the outside dining tables didn’t turn away from their coffee and conversations, nor did anyone offer any change they had. It was as if they weren’t there. While I felt some evolution of feelings regarding this, this event seemed to bring it full circle, anger had evolved, but to frustration, helplessness, and sadness. Something I wrote the last day really sums it up:

At this point, my expectations are so crumbled, layers of debris piling upon the previous, compressed, they’ve become like a newly paved road, new ideas formed of this Mexico.

Another important and impacting piece for me was my experience of the history, my history. The day spent in Teotihuacan, the second day of our trip, and the fourth and fifth days, which involved trips to the Museo de Arte Moderno and the Museo de Antropologia were truly remarkable and personally impacting regarding this. At one point during one of these, it was the question following question was posed: “Should we involve our past in our present?” I found this to the provoke thought and emotion, allowing me to reflect on what hadn’t really been explored previously. I took this in as I continued the day, guided through the museum by an amazing Latina explaining and exploring the history, details previously unknown.

As noted in my journal, I don’t remember a time when, in this type of environment, I was overcome with this sensation. It was a nostalgia-like emotion I don’t recall feeling before this. To see the history, essentially my history. To hear of the bloodshed and destruction, essentially my bloodshed and destruction. It was…truly incredible. This experience altered my perception of “me” as a cultural being. While I have always prided myself on being Latina, I was never proud on this level. Perhaps it’s because I have more recently placed emphasis on my culture. Or maybe it’s because I felt responsibility now, hearing the stories and struggles of those before me. I am not quite sure to tell you the truth. All I know is that it felt different. I am not one to cry. Or get that knot-in-my-throat feeling. I don’t typically express this type of emotion in public, especially at museums of all places. But I did. I don’t think words can explain the impact this had on me. I felt like my breath was taken away at various points. It left that much of an impression on me. The level of emotions was unexpected, which made it that much more impactful. This sounds like an exaggeration, but it isn’t.

I think another reason for this effect is because I had never felt exploration of me as a cultural being was possible. Growing up, culture was never addressed, explored, or spoken about. It was what it was. Pride in heritage wasn’t expressed or verbalized. It was what it was. Nobody in my family thought it was important or necessary to sign petitions or march in protests or show unity among other Latinos. That’s just the way it was. I, having the opportunity and blessing to take part in things other than working to provide for a family, such as education and exploration and questioning, was never completely comfortable with things being “just what it was” with no opportunity for questioning; so, I looked for opportunities to fill this gap. Man did I find it during this trip to Mexico. Truly an experience of personal growth and evolution.

 And the professional?

            Caveat: the personal cannot be completely separated from the professional as it is intertwined in my journey toward growth in this area. This trip impacted my development as a professional on countless levels. I think one of the major contributors to this were our hosts. To see a group of intelligent, strong, independent, ambitious, motivated, Latina professionals making a difference to address some of that divide and need I spoke about earlier was incredible. I’ve heard statistics throughout the latter part of my education about how representation of Latinos in higher education in the U.S. is progressively smaller the higher you go, with Latina representation making up very little. Seeing these women, what they have accomplished, and the passion with which they work allowed me to see for the first time the possibility or reality of what I was attempting to accomplish. I cannot say how much their ability amazed me. What I found most inspiring was their balance, remaining true to their culture, history, and personal valores (values), while never seeming to misplace their purpose, mission to serve the underserved, or collaborative nature of their work. It reinvigorated me; this reinvigoration will be a major theme throughout this reflection on professional development.

“Para poder generar conocimiento, se tiene que generar un ambiente de aprendizaje; el conocimiento se construye en comunidad.”

————————————

“In order to generate understanding, it is necessary to generate an environment of learning; understanding is constructed within a community.”

The idea of “willingness to be rejected” was one that stood out for me as well, in terms of my professional development. By this point, I don’t think it is news to anyone that I have struggled with confidence in my abilities as a professional. I think the statements above are extremely powerful and thought-provoking. I took them in more than some of the other amazing statements made by the women. Willingness to be rejected requires a lot of courage and strength and confidence, all things I have struggled with. But hearing it aloud helped me understand how beneficial this can be. I think the seminar component of the trip really allowed me to focus in on this aspect, to take on new challenges regardless of what I think I can do. In the end, doing anything less hinders me most of all.

With this, the idea of a “mutual openness to be influenced by the other” was one that stuck out for me, naturally emphasized by the way I conceptualize individuals and human interactions. I think this speaks toward that withness that was referenced many times. Human connection through interaction is what we do. Correction: it’s what we claim to do. Conversations throughout the various seminars resulted in reflection of this. I wondered how many of us are actually opening ourselves up to that level, actually allowing that connection and mutual influence to take place. I’m not claiming that this is an easy thing to do by any means. Reflection, however, has allowed me to truly try to understand my role as a therapist, especially when providing services in Spanish. In what way am I connecting with them? In what way am I being influenced by them? And, more importantly perhaps, in what way am I open to these opportunities and reflection of this?

Final thought

In the end, while I left Mexico with conflicting feelings, unanswered questions, and many unknowns, I also left with expanded identity, increased confidence, and incredible inspiration and reinvigoration. I believe that this is the hallmark of what an immersion experience should entail. What benefit would it have been to me to have left the trip without new information? Or without that reinvigoration? Or without developing questions or finding unknowns that require future exploration?

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