Oaxaca Poem, just for kicks

So, on the final day of the Witness for Peace conference, we spent the afternoon processing our experience and planning future projects. One of the processing activities was to have us shout out–popcorn-style–sights, sounds, smells or sensations from our week. Todd wrote them down in order, and they became a poem. (Which he finally sent via e-mail just now.) There are a lot of inside jokes, and it doesn’t all make sense, but I still thought I’d share.

Cacophonous Giration

Begging woman sitting across from the
million peso wedding
ancient corn
Tortillas – waking up to them
Tortillas – a different taste
depending on where we were
The taxi drivers waiting
for us
to finish breakfast

The smell of the campo
The warmth of the speakers
and the silence of no children
in Mixtepec

Living in the mountain with
chickens, donkeys, animals
Carmen’s hugs
and watching fellow immigrants
working in the field
The hierarchy of women
that came to attend to Ben
The Grandmother

Alma, Alba
walking into Santo Domingo
Gold building
The history
The green house
filled with tomatoes
true humility

Collective laughter
after losing the game
Magdalena’s almond mole
Beautiful faces
The stars before we
got to the campo
the milky way
Courage and perseverance

Justino’s calming voice:
a bean sprout
inside a squash sprout
inside a corn sprout


Barefoot in the fields
the taste of berros
(herb we ate)
(thought you said perros!)
symphony of night sounds
and the early morning chorus
of goats and sheep
when I went
to the outhouse.

Two little bright eyes
waiting for me
to wake up.

Brass band
headache caused by
pollution in the city
treacherous curves

Sweet natural odors

Instant adaptation

Matt blushing
Mad flushing


Radio, Free Us?

As a journalism student who had a certain wariness of media agendas beaten into her for the past four years, I cannot help but approach the idea of public diplomacy with caution.  In light of the rough U.S. approach to foreign policy during the last eight years–oh, heck, the last fifty years–anything that rings of “diplomacy” initially piques my interest. I’m disgusted by the history of wars (legal, proxy and otherwise) and subversive military funding.  I am young, and I want another way.

However, words can be just as dangerous as weapons.

Public diplomacy, through the form of radio broadcasts, carries the potential for peacefully winning the respect, if not the acceptance, of populations beyond our borders.  A 2005 article in the Columbia Journalism Review–as well as our class discussion last week–indicates that  Voice of America may come as close to careful journalism as a public diplomacy program possibly can.  In the CJR article, Corey Pein writes,

The thousand-strong staff of the Voice includes serious journalists who are emphatic about the agency’s code, which mandates editorial independence and fair treatment for all points of view. Its advocates see a straightforward journalistic approach as the best possible demonstration of American values in a time when the nation’s popularity is slipping around the world.

On some level, the extent of VOA’s objectivity and story variability must be questioned.  After all, public diplomacy is a euphemism for propaganda. However, Pein also argues that VOA is better than the strain of public diplomacy emerging under the Bush administration.  Even as the VOA English and Arabic programs are being cut, new programs are garnering support from government funding. In particular, Pein focuses on Radio Sawa and Al Hurra. According to critics, the programming of these two stations relies heavily on pop music and shameless propaganda.  While Arab listeners certainly understood the source of VOA’s Arabic program, CJR reports that they find the two new stations unbearably obvious in their propaganda:

Six months after [Al Hurra’s] launch, Tariq Al Humayd, the editor of the pan-Arab paper Asharq al-Awsat, which has shown more sympathy to America’s presence in the region than others, lamented Al Hurra’s sorry state: “We hoped that Al Hurra would emerge as the voice of reason and a source of information and investigative reports at the level of those produced by the U.S. media. The last thing we expected was that the United States would try to sell us its bad goods.” Mamoun Fandy argues that Al Hurra undercuts America’s proclaimed hopes for the Middle East by failing to promote free speech and women’s rights.

This type of public diplomacy will get us nowhere if it continues to be a major part of foreign policy during the next four years. It will only emphasis the perception of the U.S. as a hypocritical occupier, which uses free speech and democracy as a guise for imperialism. That won’t win us any international buddies.

Media Systems

Oh, Vadim, you don’t need to remind me. I was just mistakenly considering 3 a.m. to be a continuation of Sunday evening. After all, this weekend has been the weekend from hell, and I’ll be up for a few more hours, anyway. No news there.

Primary: Libertarian (privately-owned, market-driven companies)
Secondary: Social responsibility (with the intent of protecting Canadian culture against U.S. imports)

Primary: Authoritarian (history of public broadcaster NHK dominating the scene with funding from one long-ruling party, and laws prohibiting cross-media ownership)
Secondary: Libertarian (increase in commercial media ruled by the market and funded by ad revenues)

Primary: Social Responsibility (content quotas, laws governing trial coverage, publicly funded, etc.)
Secondary: Libertarian (privately funded, for-profit publications with some private broadcast media)

Witness for Peace delegation

Today is Day Three of my time in Oaxaca with the Witness for Peace delegation, and I´m exhausted.

Wonderfully enough, I´m also finding it hard to write in English at the moment. My fingers want to type in Spanish, especially with this Spanish keyboard in front of me: ¡ñññññññ! 😉

Qué suerte que me regresa la lengua. Pero, no estoy seguro que yo lo diga correctamente.  Ah, bueno.

Anyway, the past few days have been intense. We gone through nonstop meetings with teachers, lawyers, organizers and political analysists. The topics have covered everything from torture and forced disappearances, to globalization and NAFTA, to the proposed Merida Initiative and methods of counteraction.  To tell the truth, I didn´t expect the delegation to be nearly as informative and professional as it has been.  We still have four more days ahead of us, and I´m already about halfway through my notebook, with enough notes to not only support my independent study but to also write about three different articles.

Some of the most important information I´ve gained so far–aside from more detailed context of the economic and social situations that provoked the 2006 conflict–are names and facts to contrast with the information in my newspaper sources. For example, I have numbers of those imprisoned or disappeared, as well as names.  I have the names of Mexican politicians who supposedly lobbyed U.S. Congressmen with the mistruth of the APPO being a guerilla movement. I also have the demands submitted by the teacher´s union to the government in May 2006.

The most difficult part will be coming back from this trip and processing the information in such a way that it can be used both in my independent study and my 1500-word article for Journalism Workshop (and submission to a publication, ojalá).  The brainstorming is already beginning.

Tomorrow, we leave for the campo, or countryside, in Juxtlahuaca and San Juan Mixtepec for a brief stay with families. The goal there is to get out of the tourist city and into the region hit the hardest by poverty and migration.

I´d better be on my way to the next meeting, with an indigenous women´s group called Flor y Canto.  This will probably be the last time I access a computer until I get back, so hasta luego.

And now a brief divergence to Russia and the media

It’s said that when you learn something new, you suddenly find it everywhere.

I recently finished reading A Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who was shot and killed at the entrance to her apartment in 2006. The book documents in great detail the erosion of Russia’s young democracy under Putin. Politkovskaya knew that the book would never be published within Russia, yet her tone within the pages is certainly not a plea for foreign help. It is an account of what the Russian press ignores, an expression of frustration with the Russian people.

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article that also discussed some of the issues outlined in Politkovskaya’s book: political bullying, oppression of the media, and manipulation of the polls. The article was then posted in Russian on a livejournal page called The New York Times in Moscow, which provides space for readers to comment. The comments are being translated to English and posted to the original New York Times page.

The comments cover a wide range of opinions, from outrage at the article’s “propaganda” to affirmation of the article’s accuracy. However, among the posts I’ve read online and the snippets that initially caught my attention in the print edition, one common sentiment reigns supreme. The problems in Russia are problems for the Russians to solve, not for the U.S. to analyze.

One person with the username trzp succinctly wrote, “All of this is true, though why are we being taught democracy by those who are fighting in Iraq and maintaining a concentration camp in Guantanamo?”

A strained relationship between the United States and Russia still remains from the Cold War era. That’s nothing new. Politkovskaya’s book and the online feature of the New York Times article come very close to creating a dialog between the citizens of the two countries separated by distance and reality. Most importantly, both serve as a reminder to ourselves to know the realities of the world we live in. We must refuse to take things on face value. Politkovskaya wrote what she needed to. Who is writing about the erosion of human rights in the U.S.? What are we willing to accept at face value in our own communities? Where and how must we question?

Oh, technology

So, WordPress has been driving me up the wall the past few days. Not only does my new layout not display correctly, but also the WordPress.com homepage frequently refuses to load, making it impossible for me to sign in and post.

Rather frustrating, especially when I’m actually on a roll with my project.

Anyway, I’ve doing research for the final project in International Journalism, because I need to start thinking about how the information I cover there will apply to my independent study. In class today, Vadim presented a list of media elements we should consider while working on our projects. So far, I can think of a general skeleton for those elements in Mexico:

  • Cultural characteristics – languages include Spanish as well as various Mayan and other regional indigenous languages
  • Cultural policy is a term that appears frequently in articles about Mexican mass media. After the 1994 implementation of NAFTA, scholars and nationalists rose concerns about an increase in U.S. media and, therefore, a loss of Mexican culture. This argument takes on different shapes in each article.
  • Telenovelas very popular for TV entertainment; radio and Internet have played a huge role in the Zapatista and APPO movements
  • Somewhat worldcentric in its media flow; i.e., Televisa and TV Azteca export to the U.S. and other Latin American countries at the same time that Mexico imports U.S. news, movies, and music
  • According to Internet World Stats, 23,7000,000 of Mexico’s nearly 109 million people (21.8%) use the Internet. Of course, this does not distinguish between people who have Internet access in their homes and those who pay at widely popular Internet cafés.

Also, before Mexico signed onto NAFTA, the state government ran its own television network, Imevisión. It attempted to compete with privately-owned Televisa, but struggled “due to an inflated payroll, revolving-door leadership, feeble programming, and a notoriously small prime-time audience” (Wilkinson, “Cultural Policy in a Free-Trade Environment”). It was privatized and renamed Televisión Azteca.

I’ve found other articles on the regulation of radio in Mexico, which is probably what I’ll end up focusing on. It seems as if Mexican television is dominated by market forces, while the radio is repeatedly used by social movements to promote their cause.  More to come on that later.

Project outline

The following is a more detailed outline of my research paper:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
    1. Social demographics of Oaxaca
    2. Technological accessibility and state of the media
    3. Annual teacher’s union strike
    4. Reaction of newly elected governor to 2006 strike
    5. Seizure of media outlets by protesters
  3. Research and findings
    1. Methodology
    2. Significance and relevance of research
    3. Findings: newspapers
    4. Findings: blogs
    5. Analysis
  4. Conclusion (Including questions for further research)