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OLIVIA JACKSON-JORDAN (BA ’18)

My summer began in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, the southeastern-most state of Mexico. The intention of my trip was to learn more about the women of the Zapatista movement and how this movement has changed over the last twenty years. Although the actual research that I had planned did not go quite as smoothly as I had hoped, I learned more than I possibly could have imagined just by being exposed to the many cultures, languages, and incredible people that exist in Chiapas.

I was staying in a seminary whose primary goal is to provide resources and opportunities to various indigenous communities in the surrounding area. Everyone that worked at the seminary was indigenous. They began to open my eyes to the many other movements and efforts of indigenous people in this region to fight for justice within their communities completely separate from the work of the Zapatistas. This trip helped me realize how often indigenous cultures are romanticized and simplified. My American perspective caused me to assume that indigenous communities are simple because they cannot afford access to the resources that are so important in my life but it is simply a different set of values that cause some of these cultures to put more of an emphasis on actual human interaction, on living closer to nature, to causing less destruction to the earth.

The second part of the summer I did an internship in Mexico City. The first few days were difficult for me because of the extreme differences that exist between the parts of Mexican culture that I was experiencing in Chiapas versus what I saw in the capital. The extreme indigenous pride and presence that surrounded me in Chiapas was almost completely absent in the city. It became clear the patterns of oppression that are so similar to those from the United States. Their skin color almost directly correlated with how much wealth they seemed to have. It was also surprising to see the lack of knowledge that Mexicans in the city had about indigenous groups in Chiapas. When I would talk about my research, most of them had little to no idea what the Zapatista movement was or what it was about.

Most strikingly throughout the summer, I was surprised to find how often my American perceptions of Mexico were proved wrong. Very consistently throughout the summer I was surprised at how different Mexico was from what I had imagined and yet I still fell absolutely and completely in love with the real Mexico. This experience caused me to rethink the main premise of my thesis and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be Mexican. It was difficult to walk around as an American in Mexico with the current political climate as it is, however it was a very valuable tool that allowed me to see American politics through an international lens, a lens that I will never be able to shed.