Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Region, Migration and Interculturalidad: Guest Lecture and La Feria Internacional del Libro

I arrived in Atolinga on Tuesday December 22 and have been here for nearly three weeks now.  I’m glad to have left Guadalajara for this small, rural town -- this is where my real experience begins. In Guadalajara I was teaching and reading literature on the topic; now I dive into the research section of my time in Mexico. The logistics of coming here from Guadalajara were not easy. My belongings seem to have multiplied, in large part because of the treasures I found at the book fair (described in detail at the end).  

The last month or so in Guadalajara was a bit crazy.  I wanted to blog about more of my experiences there, but, during the last week of November and first week of December, three major things captured all my attention: a guest lecture, the international book fair and mom’s visit. I’ll describe the first two in detail. First, I gave a guest lecture on my research in Professor Hugo Medrano’s class. When I was in Atolinga in mid-November, Prof Hugo emailed me to ask if I could present my research one day to his freshman anthropology class at the CUCSH (Centro Universitario de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades) at the Universidad de Guadalajara. Since I had spent considerable time in Guadalajara reading sources in order to prepare a literature review (mainly I went to the Colegio de Jalisco in Zapopan, the Universidad de Guadalajara CUCSH campus, and the Biblioteca del Estado Juan José Arreola on Alcalde Av. Downtown near the Rotunda de los Jalisciences ilustres). I had already lectured in Spanish in the Comparative Literature class (described in an earlier blog entry) and felt relatively prepared to do the same in front of Hugo’s freshmen college students. And even though it was short notice, I was excited to share my research with his students. After preparing the lecture, I read it to my conversation partner, Jaime, who gave me excellent feedback on the ideas.

Freshmen anthropology students, Prof Medrano and myself at UDG

 The lecture on migration and regional identity in the North of Jalisco / South of Zacatecas went well. Students were extremely attentive and enthusiastic; when I was at a loss for words, which happened a few times, they helped me out. I shared some photos and other images from my time in Atolinga and Agua Zarca. I noticed that, as urban creatures, the students may have had some trouble relating to rural problems, except a few who came from similar backgrounds. At the end of the presentation, I left time for questions (knowing I spoke three languages, Hugo actually had them ask questions in English, French and Spanish!) Some students felt I should emphasize less identity issues and more economic development. I told them this was a good idea but my expertise was not in economics.The students had clearly bonded as a group – they constantly joked around with each other in a familiar, kind and gentle way. Since they had to choose their major before entering their freshmen year, they were taking a block of classes together. One charming young woman, Belén, spoke the three languages fluently.  Drawing on her personal experiences of emigration and her background growing up in Bolaños, a city in the North of Jalisco historically known for its mines, she agreed with me about the peripheral position of this area of Jalisco, and enjoyed hearing my research. She also told me she had spent a few years with her family in Nashville. Her family was a musical one of Mariachi players. I gathered that they had tried to make it big in Nashville, but had returned after a few years. I never got the full story but would love to talk more with her sometime about it. At the end of the class, I felt so inspired and motivated by these young people. I gave them my email address and told them to keep in touch. I’ve kept in touch with Liliana and Belén, who invited me to a posada or Christmas party at her house a few weeks later (during my mom’s visit, actually).

Belén’s “antro-posada”
It’s customary for people in Guadalajara to have several kinds of posadas for different social environments. You might have one posada at home for close friends, another for family, and another for work friends. Sometimes the work posadas take place at work (as did Chavo’s at the school where he’s been teaching English). His aunt told me on the phone that she was volunteering to organize a posada at a home for the elderly near her own house in Tesistán, a municipio north of Guadalajara. In any case, Belén’s posada was an “antro-posada” designed for friends she and her identical twin sister had met during their first year of anthropology studies at the university (yes, these sisters were studying the same subject, and also played in the same mariachi band, which mom and I had the great fortune to hear during the posada!). Her family was very involved in preparing the posada, and they invited some extended family members and friends themselves. There were quite a few anthro students there, and I got to chat with them a bit. Mom and I couldn’t stay long—her flight left at 7am the next morning, so we had to get to the airport by 6am and wake up at 5am or so. She also lived near the Guadalajara Zoo. Due to abundant traffic from Cruz Verde to the Zoo, it took us about an hour to get there in taxi. When we came in the door, Belén and her sister introduced us to her parents; her mama led us around the house, showing us the elaborate nacimiento (a petit nativity scene with glowing miniature electric Christmas lights) set up on a table in the living room, and the food already prepared in the kitchen (mom saw a vision of heavenly tamales – I was off doing something else during the kitchen scene). In any case, pretty quickly, we saw that we were going to regret having to leave the party early. After everyone milled around for a half hour or so, the family began to play amazingly dreamy ballads (see photo below): the two sisters on guitar, dad on trumpet, and the two brothers on accordion and drums. Since this was my first posada, I had few expectations. Sadly, I did feel nervous about navigating our goodbyes even before we entered the party. Once there, I realized that leaving early was far from ideal and likely rude. I hoped they would forgive!

Urban posadas seem extravagant compared to here in el campo. In Atolinga, posadas occurred in families, but not with families we knew. There are only two kids in Chavo’s family here in town – the rest either live in Jeréz, Guadalajara or the US. But each afternoon at 5pm or so, these kids would go to public posadas. These took place, for example, in the Presidencia or at the San Cayetano parish church or at a surprise location announced at the last minute. At the town hall, there were piñatas for the little kids to bang on and explode; there were also small presents—plastic-wrapped, brightly colored plastic, play cell phones or toy trucks for children, who lined up at the back door of the Presidencia to pick them up. Private posadas may happen less frequently here, depending on the economic status of the family – but they do happen…as evidenced by teenagers across the street singing the familiar chant, “Da le, da le, da le…” across the street from the house on Via Guerrero.

Jean-Marie Le Clezio and Jean Meyer at the FIL (Feria Internacional del Libro)

 The second event that captured my attention during the last month in Guadalajara was the Feria Internacional del Libro – an amazing book fair, reportedly one of the biggest in the world. This book fair spanned ten days and its effects could be seen all over the city (a Spanish film festival at the Cine Foro near my house, the UNAM orchestra playing on Chapultepec Avenue, rock shows all over, author signings at various bookstores, lectures at different parts of the UDG campus) . The main events took place at the expo – a short 20 minute ride from 77 Cruz verde. Usually each event had a cost associated with it. Miraculously, my sponsoring professor, Sergio Figueroa, procured me a free pass to the events from start to finish. Although sometimes I was lazy, telling myself, “A 20 minute bus ride to hear Mario Vargas Llosa speak? Not right now, another day,” I mostly motivated to go every day and bought way too many toneladas of books. 

Jean-Marie Le Clézio's plenary speech for the book fair on “interculturalidad” was a major highlight. Apparently (and amazingly, considering the many places he's lived), he once lived in Michoacan, so his Spanish was amazingly perfect. I had never read a work of his, but now feel I must. The novel Le Désert is about immigration, Africa and Marseille – I need to start with that one. At the end of the talk, he invited questions from the audience. I wrote one in French on a slip of paper. It was about bilingual education in France and the US. I asked him at what point would the French educational system think about teaching African immigrants in Arabic so as to help support multiculturalism (like the US system)? He was pretty adamant that the US didn’t accomplish that in their bilingual education programs – rather, they served to assimilate people into their new host culture. Being a supporter of bilingual education, and a friend of many bilingual ed teachers, I hadn’t quite thought about it that way. In any case, he felt that France was a long way from offering bilingual education for immigrants from North Africa or Sub-Saharan Africa. It was extremely rewarding to have a dialogue (facilitated by the world reknown historian from the UNAM, himself a Frenchman, Jean Meyer) with a Nobel prize-winning novelist. I was struck by his humility and modesty. Other highlights of the book fair included a reading by Nancy Huston, a lecture by the extremely witty and brilliant immigration anthropologist Jorge Durand.

The entrance to the FIL
 The FIL also featured a two-day panel on “Interculturalidad” organized by UDG - CU Norte (a satellite campus of the Universidad de Guadalajara located in Colotlán, about 45 minutes by bus from Atolinga). The most impressive speaker on the panel was André Fabregas Puig, an anthropology professor from The Intercutural University of Chiapas. Before attending the fair, I had been familiar with Puig’s extensive writings on Northern Jalisco. During this panel, I met some anthropology professors from this school in Chiapas. A group of mostly women and one man were making comments to each other while listening to the speakers, quietly giggling at times and clearly quite engaged in the ideas. I started talking to them and eventually we exchanged emails. It would be terrific to visit them in Tuxtla Gutierrez at some point.  When the panel finished on the second day, I asked one of them whether there were representatives of CuNorte here, because I had wanted to follow up on an email I had sent to Erika Juliet Venegas Flores, a communications professor there who worked on immigration. He said, yes, there are at least four or five of them here – they introduced themselves on the first day (I had arrived late and missed their introductions) – would you like me to introduce you? Sure, I said. And he presented me to Alejandra Lizardi, a professor in public health who had co-authored the book I’d read (and bought at the Feria). Alejandra was most gracious, and gave me her email so that I could contact her about my visit there. She also said she would inform me about the class schedule for the spring, since I’ve wanted to audit an anthropology course. Since then, she has been in touch with me often about possible collaborations and invited me to submit an essay for a book she’s putting together with colleagues in other departments there.  I’m really excited to be a part of this vibrant campus; in spite of its small size and remote location, it carries a lot of force in the area (I’ve already met three students from Atolinga and Tlaltenango who commute a few times each week to study there).

La Cigale en voyage

La Cigale en voyage
In Tanzania