Vivir: Wildcats in Mexico

July 3, 2013

University of Arizona staff members Socorro Carrizosa and Dan Xayaphanh, along with professor Richard Ruiz, collaborated with UA Study Abroad to launch Vivir México. Students in program earn six credits while traveling to Mexico City and Guanajuato, learning about sociopolitical issues in the country.

Another priority was to ensure that students not only gain study abroad experience, but experience working directly with local community members.

Socorro Carrizosa and Dan Xayaphanh, program directors for UA Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs and Asian Pacific American Student Affairs, respectively, launched the Vivir México study abroad program to offer students with financial need a chance to study abroad. The team was able to land private funding to support students in their travels.

Students are required to complete service projects, giving them the chance to gain strong social and cultural immersion while working to benefit local communities. Such an effort marks a departure from assumptions about study abroad programs: that they primarily emphasize student study and travel beyond U.S. borders. 

So far, the group has attended performances and visited cathedrals, research organizations, the U.S. Embassy and the Mexican Senate, meeting with elected officials. Some students responded to our questions via email. They are: Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, a third-year student in the UA American Indian Studies Program; Marvin Josue Portillo, a UA undergraduate studying mathematics and Spanish; and Pauline Munoz, a junior in the speech, language, and hearing sciences department.

Q: Why did you choose to commit to Vivir México?

Tsosie-Mahieu: I heard about the study abroad program through Dan Xayaphanh. As a low-income student, I always thought that study abroad programs were too expensive for me, so I didn’t really think too much of it. However, after learning more about the program’s affordable costs and unique features, I was determined to go. One of the features of the program that I was most interested in was the Indigenous component of the program. Learning about the language and cultural diversity of Mexico’s indigenous populations was important for me as an American Indian woman and a graduate student in the American Indian Studies Program.

Portillo: Mexico City is an interest to me because of the rich history the city has. In particular interest to me is the indigenous culture and history of the Mexica (Aztecs). Guanajuato was an interest to me because my father was from the state of Guanajuato and I really had an interest in visiting his homeland. Another reason I came was because of the focus of the program. I am still I want to pursue a career as an educator and with this program we would be working with children in the rural areas outside of Guanajuato. I wanted to go on this program in the hopes of deciding whether education might be for me or not.

Q: What have been some of your most informative experiences thus far?

Tsosie-Mahieu: During the Mexican Senate and U.S. Embassy visits, I gained insight into different perspectives on the Mexico-U.S. border issue that I hadn’t really considered before. We quickly toured the Zócalo area, but will return for a longer visit on Friday. Our third day here, we visited the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social (CIESAS), a research organization. The CIESAS presentations were very valuable for me as an American Indian person and for my research. We learned about the cultural and linguistic diversity of the indigenous populations in México, as well as how different groups of people came to be in México. Perhaps the most astonishing thing to me was that there are Kickapoo and Seminole – both U.S.-based American Indian tribes – peoples residing in México near the border of Texas. The history of these two groups being here in México is so rich and complex and absolutely intertwined with U.S. historical and social conditions, such as the forced removal of American Indians and enslavement of American Indians and African Americans.

Munoz: We have visited a couple cathedrals, one of the top research institutes and a theatre.  The cathedrals are so grand and the architecture is beautiful. The research institute we visited today was one on anthropology in the small town of Tlalpan. At the institute they discussed information on indigenous languages and indigenous populations from African roots.  Last night, we all had the pleasure of visiting the Bellas Artes Theatre and we got to experience a great dance performance from the Ballet Folklorico.

Portillo: It was an exciting journey, and a slightly rough one. We traveled by bus from Tucson all the to Hermosillo, Sonora. It was an approximate six hour trip, plus an overnight stay at the airport in Hermosillo. We had little to no sleep. We flew to Tijuana  then boarded another plane straight to Mexico City. We have seen the iconic "Angel" in the center of the city, where inside rest the supposed remains of 12 heroes of the Mexican Revolution. We've also been to the Zocalo where the Mexican president addresses the nation and gives the traditionary "El grito" during the celebration of Mexican Independence Day. I can't express how much we have learned in these three days.

Q: At this point, what do you anticipate most?

Tsosie-Mahieu: During our last week in México, we will be working with Resplandor International, a nonprofit educational organization (founded through the work of UA College of Education professor Todd Fletcher) dedicated to working with people in rural communities outside of Guanajuato. More specifically, we will be coordinating workshops for a summer camp for children and adolescents. We have been charged with creating our own curricula and methods to teach students something that we think will improve their lives or further their educational opportunities in some way. My group is organizing science projects, because most of the students that we will instruct do not have access to formalized education in the sciences. Our hope is that the students will enjoy the projects enough to seriously consider educational possibilities in the sciences. I’m really excited to meet with the students and to teach them what I know, but to also learn from them in the process.

Photos courtesy of Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu and Marvin Josue Portillo

For more information on this, and other, study abroad programs, please visit the UA Study Abroad Office.