Category Archives: Independent Study

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


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.

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 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)

Structure change and Gustavo Esteva

In my most recent meeting with Vadim, we talked about the organization of my independent study paper. We established the following structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Evolution of blogs
  3. Findings of my research
  4. Conclusion

At the time, I was intently focused on incorporating digital media theory into my paper, whether it comfortably belonged there or not. However, after giving this structure more thought, I realized that there are more effective and appropriate ways to organize the paper.

The new approach I would like take uses the following structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Brief background in political and social organization of Oaxaca (corruption and social movements)
  3. Findings of research
  4. Conclusion

Writing a chapter on the evolution of the blogs is a bit of a stretch for the scope of my current project. However, a chapter of context leading up to the 2006 crisis can only serve to support and explain the significance of my research findings. After all, a teacher’s strike doesn’t make much sense without the knowledge that many Oaxacan schools are crumbling. Neither does the rallying of approximately one million civilians make sense without knowing about twenty-five years of political decay that eroded the people’s trust in their government.

Continue reading

Vadim asks: Peace Corps or Teach for America?

Believe it or not, I am currently applying for the Peace Corps. My ideal location would be Latin America, with an assignment in community development.

According to the Peace Corps website, the Peace Corps mission consists of three basic goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Make no mistake, I have no illusions about the Peace Corps. While the volunteers are well-meaning, I suspect it is a bureaucratic monster, a tool of imperialism, a mild-mannered sibling to the military.  

Just look at the first goal: “Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.”

Now, I could go on and on about the danger of using the word “helping,” and the connotation of “helplessness” that it carries.  Many human rights activists, indigenous scholars and Peace Corps veterans are discussing the danger of the word, and the discussion isn’t pretty.

On January 9, the New York Times ran an editorial by Robert L. Strauss, a veteran Peace Corps volunteer, recruiter and country director. Strauss sees a difference in the original goals of the Peace Corps in the 1960s and what it must become now:

Back then, enthusiastic young Americans offered something that many newly independent nations counted in double and even single digits: college graduates. But today, those same nations have millions of well-educated citizens of their own desperately in need of work. So it’s much less clear what inexperienced Americans have to offer.

The Peace Corps has long shipped out well-meaning young people possessing little more than good intentions and a college diploma. What the agency should begin doing is recruiting only the best of recent graduates — as the top professional schools do — and only those older people whose skills and personal characteristics are a solid fit for the needs of the host country.

Strauss goes on to criticize the concept of inexperienced Americans teaching people how to improve their ways of life and work:

In Cameroon, we had many volunteers sent to serve in the agriculture program whose only experience was puttering around in their mom and dad’s backyard during high school. I wrote to our headquarters in Washington to ask if anyone had considered how an American farmer would feel if a fresh-out-of-college Cameroonian with a liberal arts degree who had occasionally visited Grandma’s cassava plot were sent to Iowa to consult on pig-raising techniques learned in a three-month crash course. I’m pretty sure the American farmer would see it as a publicity stunt and a bunch of hooey, but I never heard back from headquarters.

Another problem within the Peace Corps is its tendency to send, as Strauss writes, “unqualified volunteers to teach English when nearly every developing country could easily find high-caliber English teachers among its own population.” Many more times, the need is less for English or agricultural teachers than for assistants in computer-literacy labs (and computer labs themselves).

It would be a mistake for us, as the passengers of Zakaria’s limo, to assume that we can tell others how to better live their lives. We must listen and learn and ask.

So why am I applying for the Peace Corps, you ask?

Well, for purely selfish reasons. I want very badly to become fluent in Spanish. I want to experience the flaws and benefits of the Peace Corps system for myself, after hearing the endless criticisms. I want to observe how well-meaning U.S. volunteers relate with cultures they do not understand. I want to live and work in another country for two years in order to experience something outside of my bubble.

I rather expect that my experience in the Peace Corps will be frustrating, and I may even disagree with much of what I do. However, I am not content with living in the U.S. after graduation, and I do not currently have the means to move to another country without some programmatic guidance.

Maybe, just maybe, some like-minded volunteers and I can whip the Peace Corps into shape once our terms are over.

Sifting: the dirty side of research

Ever since I wrote my independent study proposal, “Oaxaca Blog Wars” was one blog entry at the top of my check-it-out list.  The post is written by Colin Brayton, a freelance and staff journalist from Brooklyn.  In this post, as well as “Fair & Balanced,” Brayton attempts to work through the nitty-gritty of informational conflicts between various Web postings.

Brayton appears diligent when it comes to investigating the authors behind Web sources and cross-checking information.

One of the sites he analyzes,, seems to have been taken down since 2006.  Quite interesting to note, considering APPO sites are still functioning but the state government has quieted down a bit.

Both posts have overwhelmed me with the sheer amount of information that’s out there. However, it also gives me confidence in what I am trying to do.

Really, what I need to focus on now is Mexican newspapers.  Thank goodness for what limited knowledge of Spanish I have.

More research details to come.