16 of us represent almost every part of Australia- from Perth to Katherine to Wollongong and between. We have never met before, yet we all have one thing in common- the voice of a loved one that lingered through the 30 hour journey from Australia uttering “Why do you have to go there? Don’t go to Mexico.” It is “dangerous, violent, unsafe, corrupt, and led by gangsters and drug cartels.” It is not an unreasonable assumption given the size of the country (the population of Mexico City alone exceeds Australia’s). These societal issues do exist in Mexico, just as they do in any other megalopolis in the world. However, it is so much more than decades of fear mongering have implied, and we are here to silence those voices telling us otherwise.
The “Immigrant” group is the aforementioned 16 students from academic disciplines such as International Relations, Law, Psychology, Political Science and Criminology. We broke the ice on our first night in Mexico over local beers at a bar in the hip area of La Condesa, an old colonial borough of Mexico City near our hotel. La Condesa and La Roma are vibrant, cultural areas with many restaurant lined streets that offer cheap food and drinks as well as vantage points for people watching (and dog watching). It is safe to walk around these suburbs well into the evening as it is a relatively quiet area of the city and well lit. It is easy to forget that we’re not here on holidays.
This first week is primarily a cultural introduction to Mexico. In two days, we visited most of the major cultural and historical points of Mexico including the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, the Basilica de Guadalupe (one of the busiest Catholic churches in the world- second to the Vatican), the National Palace, and the historic centre of Mexico City. Standing at the top of Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Sun was one of the most surreal moments I have ever experienced. The ancient city of Teotihuacan is thousands of years old and has been home to many civilisations, and I, a girl from a small country town in southern Western Australia, am standing at the top of this monolithic pyramid looking down the Avenue of the Dead. I had never had a strong interest in Mexico, however I am pleasantly proved wrong as we explore this beautiful country.
Our first weekend concluded with a visit to the historic centre of Mexico City. Given that the city is built on a lake, much of the reclaimed land cannot support the weight of the buildings. Many of them are slowly sinking which is an attraction in itself, yet such a juxtaposition compared to the structural integrity of Teotihuacan. The National Palace is the home of the Federal Treasury as well as the National Archives, but is most significant as the site of many of Diego Rivera’s murals. Rivera’s History of Mexico features many periods of Mexican history from the Aztec civilisation, through Spanish colonisation, French invasion, and Mexican independence. Rivera’s murals reinforced Mexican culture that would take many others days to explain. They promoted national pride, a focus on the past, the vibrancy of Mesoamerica, failure and triumph, and the natural resources supporting life in ancient as well as modern Mexico.
I cannot write as a Mexican Immigration student in January 2017 and not mention the current political climate that is beginning to taint the American continent. Even before visiting Casa de los Amigos and Casa Tochan migrant centres, I could feel the tension gripping the city as they come to terms with the presidency of one certain “Agent Orange” (as a local dubbed him). As we begin our academic schedule at Universidad La Salle, it is apparent that under the vibrancy, colour, culture and hospitality of this wonderful city, a new humanitarian crises is just beginning. Every morning at breakfast, the national news speaks of another order authorised by President Trump that threatens the livelihoods of some 12 million Mexican immigrants who currently live in the United States. The Mexicans put on a braver face than us though- more Mexicans were deported from the United States under the Obama administration than any other time in the history of Mexico-US relations. Most interesting to explore are mixed-status families. These mixed-status families are usually consist of undocumented parents with a child born with US citizenship. If the parents were to be deported, the child would remain in the United States, and in extreme cases may be adopted to another family. These instances are confronting to say the least, and while I am very fortunate to be Australian, having an awareness of the duress others are under is important in a globalising world.
Tomorrow we are heading to Puebla and Cordoba for the weekend. We will visit a site called Las Patronas where our group will assist the preparation of food kits and clothing to throw to the “Beast” train that may pass with immigrants heading north. I am consistently challenged here. As someone with their head in a book most days out of seven, it feels unreal to be experiencing these moments first hand, but it is a fact of life for many along the tracks that lead to the United States.
Viva la México,