Friday, August 23, 2013

Every Border Wall has a Similar Story: A Photo Essay of Borders Around the World

For more information visit the Wall on Wall website.

Kai Weindenhofer photographed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as a university student living in Berlin. He was deeply moved by the history-in-the-making event and truly believed with so many others that the fall of the wall meant that border walls would never again be used as “political instruments.”  He was wrong, of course. The construction of the borders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories caused Weindenhofer so much shock, anger, and concern that he decided to document the erection of the wall and its surrounding controversies. Then in 2006, he dedicated his time and expertise to a project about borders throughout the world, specifically to demonstrate that border walls are ineffective and destructive.  

Weindenhofer believes that a border wall as a barrier is a reflection of “human weaknesses and errors.” Border walls exacerbate the issues and inhibit the resolution of problems. In historical terms, he compares the border walls to the Berlin Wall, and believes that by tearing down border walls peace will ensue. 


The photo exhibition is displayed on panels of the Berlin Wall, what’s left of it, at the following address:
Berlin Wall MuhlenstraBe – 12043 Berlin-Friedrichshain on the Spree River side called the East Side Gallery.

The exhibit runs until September 2013.


The photos are panoramics measuring 3 meters X 9 meters.  Wiendenhofer has photographed eight border and separation walls. These include the following:

Baghdad; South Korea/North Korea; Cyprus/Greenline; USA/Mexico; Ceuta & Melilla, Spain/Morocco; Occupied Palestinian Territories; Belfast/Peace Lines; The Iron Curtain/former German-German border.

Photos taken on site:

The following are photos I took of each wall panel.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guatemala’s Next Language Challenge: Toward a Polyglot Future

         When the Spanish army led by the Alvarado brothers besieged the Mayan nation in Mesoamerica in early–mid 1500’s, the Quichean speakers they encountered were at the apogee of their civilization. Prior to the conquest thousands of years had transpired when the Mayan languages developed, evolved, flourished, and changed due to, for example, language contact, migrations, geographical landscapes, and social interventions. Today, Guatemala has 4.5 million people that speak between 22 to 27 different languages other than Spanish, and thousands are monolingual speakers of their native language. Despite the fact that an unknown number of Maya languages have vanished, scientists recognize the Mayan’s enormous historical and aesthetic contributions in the form of literary accomplishments. Indeed, the richness in the manifold diversity that is unique to Guatemala’s linguistic tapestry is of great pride to the Guatemalans, and a growing majority of them want to keep their native languages alive and thriving.  (See brief historical account of Guatemala and see also Las lenguas Mayas: Historia y diversidad.)
Credit: Tubín, Verdugo, & Jiménez (2010, 39).
     To this end, the work and advocacy of bilingual educators in the indigenous community sectors of the country have created a campaign to improve the bilingual educational programs and implement new programs, particularly in schools where the native language is threatened.  Schools have become an important venue to not only teach children in both Spanish and their native languages, but to promote bilingualism, and to ensure the intergenerational transmission of the native language among families. But, are these efforts enough to accomplish the difficult task of linguistic sustainability?

     In the Case of Santa María, presented in the following paragraphs, the voices of bilingual teachers, parents, and administrators speak to the issues in their efforts to implement a successful bilingual intercultural education program. Unraveling the problems and framing the issues reveal a profile of a struggling program, despite the impressive, enormous work behind their efforts.

The Proyecto Linguístico de Santa María (PLSM)

The Video

            The Proyecto Lingüístico de Santa María (PLSM) is a non-profit social and educational organization and amongst its main funders is the Canadian agency, Horizontes de Amistad (Horizons of Friendship). Their purpose is to advocate for change and improvement in the social and economic inequalities among the indigenous communities. They fund projects that educate teachers and parents about the advantages of bilingual intercultural education. In PLSM’s brief video, Situación Legal de Educación Bilingüe en Guatemala. the project's coordinator, Obispo Rosales Yax, leads a discussion on the legal basis for bilingual intercultural education, followed by promotional and testimonial interviews with parents and teachers from a K’iche – Spanish language school, Escuela Official Rural Mixta de Chuisuc (EORM), in the area of Santa María, Quetzaltenango in the western highlands of Guatemala. The thematic thread emphasized throughout the video, i.e., Guatemala has a legal basis for the implementation of a bilingual education program in all their schools, is substantiated with supportive documentation. Amongst the Legal Documents or Acuerdos y Leyes are the following, which I included in my discussion in a previous blog on University of San Carlos student protests.

          Guatemala’s constitution, Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala in Sección Tercera, Comunidades Indigenas, the Constitution recognizes, respects and promotes the communities’ “forma de vida…..idiomas y dialectos.” The subsequent section on Education alludes to the country’s responsibility to educate the youth since  education is a right.

            The Acuerdo sobre identidad y derechos de los pueblos indígenas, was the fifth of twelve peace treaties promulgated by the Guatemalan government in 1997 after the 36-year armed conflict that left 200,000 people dead and destroyed thousands of families and their properties. The overall content of the treaty is specific to eradicating discriminatory practices against the indigenous population, especially women. However, the protection of rights also includes the linguistic right of the people to learn to speak, read, and write their non-Spanish language in all public institutions of learning.  The inclusion provision is paramount in the treaty’s statements of recognition and acceptance of the pueblos’ identities, cultures, and languages. About half of Guatemala’s population belongs to an indigenous community.

            The document, United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples outlines the major rights to their culture, languages, and dignity thereof, but specifically states in Articles 15 and 19 respectively that educational programs reflect the diverse cultures and languages, and that decision-making related to content and curriculum be inclusive and representative of the indigenous groups.

            The Convenio or Convention number 169 of the International Labor Organization, an off-shoot of the United Nations, passed in 1991 a revision of the 1957 declaration of the rights of pueblos indígenas y tribales that included in Part Six, Articles 26 – 31, the rights of the people to have a direct input into the educational programs in public education and that they are judicially represented in all matters of education.

            The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions that underscores that linguistic diversity is an essential part of cultural diversity and that education plays a key role in the protection and promotion of cultural expressions.  A recurring theme in this document is that cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of humanity.

            Although the legal basis for bilingual education is well documented, and the voices of the school community express their unflinching support for the program, the missing piece, i.e., the implementation component is perhaps the most essential part of the integral plan. Parents, teachers, and administrators’ comments in the video emphatically express the concern over the lack of leadership in administering the bilingual intercultural program at every level, from the administration to the classroom, and in the school community.

The Study

            The Proyecto Lingüístico surveyed and analyzed the bilingual intercultural education programs in 50 schools in Quetzaltenango and Totonícapan. Their report, Principales indicadores de la educación bilingüe intercultural (located in their website), outlines the positive areas of the schools as well as their shortcomings. The results are familiar to bilingual educators in Texas and elsewhere in United States, affirming the fact that bilingual education programs have commonalities across international boundaries. About three-fourths of the teachers surveyed agree on the importance of bilingual education and its positive impact on the cognitive and self-esteem of the students. There is similar agreement on the benefits of the program for the school community and at-large. The teachers’ responses strongly indicated that there is a need for bilingual education for the purpose of maintaining the native language, with the concern that increasingly less parents are speaking or transmitting the native language to their children. The interruption in intergenerational transmission of the native language is one of the “red flags” in determining the high-threatening level of a native language.
            The study pointed out some of the similar needs for improvement found in bilingual education programs in the United States. For example, the training of bilingual teachers is a priority as is the accessibility to quality instructional materials in the native language. The teachers voiced their disapproval for the lack of support, supervision, and training from the administrative levels. The lack of adequate funding for the program was perceived as a major concern.

Assessing the Vitality of the Languages To Analyze Their Intergenerational Transmission

            The lack of leadership is only one of many roadblocks that complicate the process for successfully implementing the bilingual education program. Many factors consider the extent to which a language will thrive or fall under the threat of extinction. A methodology for assessing language vitality and endangerment from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization) include the following criteria:
  1.  Community members’ attitudes towards their own language;
  2. The extent to which the language(s) is used for governmental and institutional purposes;
  3. The availability of quality materials for use in schools and community literacy education;
  4. The proportion of speakers within the total population; and
  5. How the language(s) respond to new domains in a changing world and flexibility in terms of use in different contexts for different purposes.
            Ethnologue Languages of the World focuses on the uses and functions of the language in question to determine an index of endangerment. Two important indicators mentioned by Ethnologue are the official recognition of languages within the nation, and the non-linguistic factors such as economic opportunity that promote language use and its further development.

            Educating children in a quality bilingual intercultural educational program is by far one of the most important actions in the process of language sustainability. But in addition to these efforts is the fundamental promotion and use of the language in various domains, including institutional functions. Assessing language vitality as well as language planning and language-in-education implementation is an important endeavor but require time and responsibility (see my language policy paper on South Texas schools.


            According to UNESCO, if we don’t take appropriate measures to ensure the survival of indigenous languages, in just two generations half of the existing 6000 languages in our planet will die. And, of course, the most vulnerable are the indigenous languages. Language loss or language death is a serious matter when considering the consequences and its impact on humanity. In Guatemala, two languages are endangered, Itzá and Xinca. In fact Ethnologue lists the Xinca language as extinct (see complete list of Guatemala's languages and their statuses). However,  Xinca, a non-Maya language, is in the process of revitalization due to the efforts of the pueblo or community as I reported in a previous blog post

          A language holds the key to specific knowledge and understanding; it is a voice of many in our universe that makes us who we are as people. Our diversity, in all its dimensions, is essential just like our environment requires biodiversity (see UNESCO’s statement on how maintaining indigenous languages is conserving biodiversity).

            Guatemala’s language challenge is our challenge as well. A vision of a polyglot nation for Guatemala is our vision and the future of our world. Learning language begins at home, but the responsibility for second language learning and beyond is a shared endeavor. In an ever changing digitized world, citizens must learn at least three languages – the native language, the dominant language, and English or another comparable “power” language. But first, we start with a deep and broad understanding of the issues; simultaneously, we value our own and others’ language(s) and culture(s), preserving the diversity within; making sure that children become the knowledgeable and caring individuals needed for our changing polyglot world.

          In closing, I include the poem, Cuando muere una lengua that brings into focus perhaps, the most important aspect of language - its human qualities. (Note: grammatical errors are features due to translation.)

Cuando muere una lengua
        Traducido del Nahuatl por Miguel León Portillo

Cuando muere una lengua
las cosas divinas, estrellas, sol y luna,
las cosas humanas, pensar y sentir,
no se reflejan en ese espejo.

Cuando muere una lengua
todo lo que hay en el mundo,
mares y ríos, animales y plantas,
ni se piensen, ni se pronuncian
con atisbos, con sonidos,
que no existen ya.

Cuando muere una lengua
se cierre a todos los pueblos del mundo,
una puerta, una ventana,
un asomarse,
de modo distinto a las cosas divinas y humanas
en cuanto es ser y vida en la tierra.

Cuando muere una lengua,
sus palabras de amor,
entonación de dolor y querencias,
tal vez viejos cantos,
relatos, discursos, plegarias,
nadie, cual fueran,
jamás alcanzará a repetir.

Cuando muere una lengua,
ya mucho han muerto,
y mucho mas pueden morir,
espejos para siempre quebrados,
sombras de voces
siempre acalladas,
la humanidad se empobreze,

Cuando muere una lengua.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mexican Women in Contemporary Politics and Activism in Tamaulipas and Beyond

            In many respects, the development of the women’s political movement in Mexico is akin to a modern-day story of how a girl grows up to become a woman, mature, intelligent, resourceful, and clever, albeit still the daughter invested in the country’s culture and heritage. Indeed, the historical analysis of how women gained political astuteness, clout, and endurance is centered on the richness and complexity that is uniquely Mexican with all of its social, cultural, economic, and political panoramas. The voices of women whose lives focus on service and dedication to their communities are the most telling insofar as the essential elements of the women’s political movement.  Parallel to the political movement is the feminist position, which adds an international scope to the multi-vocal background. However, there are as many different kinds of feminisms as there are voices, no doubt a phenomenon common to other countries such as the United States. Examples of these voices are in the political lives of three women from the state of Tamaulipas (a U. S. and Mexico border state), particularly in juxtaposed views and perspectives against the historical and current political discourse.  

Women’s Suffrage Movement in Mexico

            According to the historical account by Victoria E. Rodriguez, (Women in Contemporary Mexican Politics, 2003)) women in Mexico were not allowed to vote across all levels of political elections until they obtained full suffrage in 1953 (Rodriguez, 2003). Amalia Cabellero de Castillo Ledón is credited for bringing the proposal to its final steps when she persuaded then Presidente de la  Republica, Adolfo Ruiz Cortines to declare equal suffrage for women.  The road toward equal rights for Mexican women is arduous, and many women have participated in the process, their contributions small and large, but each one played a crucial role nevertheless. In Mérida, Yucatán, women were allowed equal suffrage at the state level in 1920; soon afterward, the first women in modern Mexico were elected to office. Of the three elected, one was Elvia Carrillo Puerto, sister of the Yucatecan governer, Felipe Carrillo Puerta. But the suffrage movement (1935-1953) was successful because of indefatigable, persuasive women, networking, negotiating and lobbying.  Aurora Jimenez Palacios from Baja California was the first woman elected in 1954 after full suffrage. Today, women comprise 52% of the country’s electorate.
Women’s issues and rights have been consistently relegated to a secondary position in Mexico’s political history, particularly during harsh, economic periods that reinforced the “ultraconservatism” of the right.  Some of the key events that boosted the country’s feminist movement include the United Nations-sponsored women’s conference held in Mexico City in 1975, which became the focal point for protest and the beginnings of the modern feminist movement in Mexico; the establishment of 51 new NGOs in the 1980’s, many of which were directed to gender-related issues; the Plan de Igualdad in 1991, which foregrounded equity issues in regard to campaigning and holding political office; the passing of the Ley de Violencia Intrafamiliar in 1997; the formation of the Mexican Women’s Parliament in 1998, and shortly therein, the Comisión de Equidad y Género; and the 1999 reform of the Federal Labor Law forbidding the discrimination against women based on pregnancy. It’s important to note that although some Latin American countries have passed a law that requires a quota for ensuring an equitable or near-equitable participation by women in political offices (40% women and 60% men), Mexico’s “law” (Cuota de Paridad) is not enforceable, thus, feminists are closely monitoring the electoral process for inconsistencies and inequalities.

Women Leaders in Tamaulipas
The advances made by women leaders in Mexico in the face of immense obstacles, social, economic, cultural, and politics, has spurred interest among feminists and researchers. Rodriguez’ (2003) work focused on the identification of a multitude of various aspects of successful women leaders in Mexico in order to advance the participation of women and improve the democratic structures of the country.  The women featured in our study shared many of the features and characteristics that emerged in Rodriguez’ study.  The following summaries underscore the commonalities. An important observation is that the women held steadfastly to their political party’s ideologies, thus, their interests are not solely anchored on women’s needs and issues and unlikely to call themselves “feminists.” The descriptions are based on a panel discussion presentation on a May 6, 2011 to an audience of university students, faculty, administrators, and community (University of Texas Brownsville).  

Betty Collado-Lara
Beatriz (Betty) Collado-Lara ( deputada del estado de Tamaulipas y coordinadora del grupo parliamentario del Partido Acción Nacional or the National Action Party (PAN),  [representative for the state of Tamaulipas and coordinator for the parliamentary group of the political party  - PAN].  Ms. Collado-Lara began her talk substantiating the advances by women in government – roughly, 25% of the legislative body, at the federal and state levels, are comprised of women; 18% of the judicial system and three members of the executive branch are women.  In the state of Tamaulipas, 30.5% of the representatives are women. The election of 2000, which heralded an historic change in the country’s political landscape, was an open door for Collado, and she like many other men and women, took advantage of the “transition of a new stage” by participating in the political electoral process. A different political party took center stage replacing the long-standing PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional or Institutional Revolutionary Party) with the PAN of the newly elected president, Vicente Fox.  But, Collado’s efforts in 2000 and 2004 did not result in winning the elections for which she campaigned until 2006, when she ran and became the winner of a coveted federal election, a “first” for a woman to be elected from that district.  Collado seized at the opportunity to serve in politics because of ideological reasons, and the PAN best serve her interests in that regard. Her rhetoric is often pronounced with motivational messages, contending that “la vida se compone de los sueños”  (life is made of dreams), and since engaging in the political process that all of her efforts have been worth it. Collado is apparently proud of her accomplishments, particularly because of the many obstacles that she managed to overcome.
Collado claims Beatriz Paredes Rangel, a senior member of the PAN, as an influential person in her life. She also mentioned that the needs of women in her district have motivated her to accept and fulfill her responsibilities as a politician. However, her priorities are with the issues that “affect us all,” and she stands with President Calderón on his administration’s decisions.
In many respects, Collado’s ideas about women and her role within the institution of the family in Mexico coincide with the information that Rodriguez collected in her study of women politicians (see Rodriguez, 2003, p. 119). Collado fits Rodriguez’ description of the “progressive Panista”, which acknowledges the obstacles in the political process, but doesn’t deviate from the traditional view that women bring their natural essence as women to the political experience.  Collado’s mention of the “cuota de paridad” that drives the equity agenda for maintaining the 40-60 ratio of women to men in elections at all levels demonstrates her awareness of her own plight as a woman politician.
Letty Salazar Vásquez
Congresista Norma Leticia (Letty) Salazar Vásquez, presidenta de la Población e Inmigración de Puntos Fronterizos: Salazar Vásquez, the youngest of the three featured women, rose from the ranks in the 13 years that she has served in political office. She began serving as a councilwoman (regiodora) and then, as a state representative (deputada) for Tamaulipas. Her father and her sister are in political life; her mother prefers a more private role, but both her parents received an elementary school education while she and her sister obtained post secondary degrees, and in her case, she obtained a post graduate degree.  In her talk, Salazar mentioned an important achievement under her charge: the passage of an immigration law, “una ley de inmigración,” the first of its kind in 30 years, an important feat to advance the rights of immigrants. She elaborated on the importance of this law because of the polemics surrounding the mistreatment of Mexican immigrants who illegally cross the border into the United States.
When asked about her political stance on the issues related specifically to women, Salazar alluded to her role as an advocate for women’s rights early in her career.  However, in light of her overall summary of her career, the advocacy role was just a step toward other tasks, one in which a junior member of the legislative body would assume, or as an obligation in response to having been elected as a woman. According to Salazar, a woman’s contribution in her role as politician is based on the same kind of ideological platform as her party’s affiliation, the PAN, and similar to what Collado had discussed. Specifically, Salazar named three characteristics of a woman leader in politics: a) vocación de servicio (dedication to service); b) honestidad (honesty); and c) ser sensible (women are practical and can personalize problems).
Guadalupe Flores Valdez
Guadalupe Flores Valdez, the oldest of the three featured speakers, is deputada and presidente del congreso del estado de Tamaulipas. Her political agenda is clearly focused on the small town communities often disregarded or overlooked by the progressive political undercurrents in urban areas of the country. A member of the PRI, partido revolucionario institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party) since 1982, Flores Valdez grew up in a small town of San Carlos and despite very few resources, she was able to obtain a post secondary degree and worked as a teacher before she became involved in politics. She was the daughter of campesinos (farmers) but felt a special kind of responsibility as a member of her community that led her into a career afuera de las aulas y en la comunidad (out of the classrooms and into the community). 
Flores’ vision and dedication are clearly anchored in the needs of the campesinos. She feels an obligation toward a segment of the population that she identifies with and feels the responsibility to represent them. She made some reference to the plight of the woman, for example, that 24% of women in the country are head of households. But, Flores’ political rhetoric in regards to women’s rights is aligned with the conservative, traditional views of women as first and foremost members of the family. Her response to the question about the differentiating characteristics of women leaders includes a) honesty; b) responsibility; and c) practical (sensibles), in exact alignment with Salazar Vasquez’ similar response.

Feminists in Mexico
Marta Lamas
Patricia Mercado
A well-known writer, Marta Lamas began work as an activist/feminist in the ‘70s and recently celebrated the fifteenth year as editor of the popular and academic-style magazine publication, Debate Feminista. She founded La Sociedad Pro Derechos de la Mujer (SEMILLAS) that provides assistance and support to small businesses and cooperatives that work on diverse issues and varieties of venues related to women. She is co-founder with Patricia Mercado and others of GIRE (Grupo de Información en Producción Elegida), an organization that promotes women’s reproduction rights.

More Notable Feminists/Activists:

Daphne Cuevas Ortiz
•     Director of Consorcio, a coalition formed to campaign politically and socially for women’s causes such as women’s health issues, equity among sexes; works with legislative actions to promote change;

•     Activist in the feminist movement;

•     Promotes equity in women’s rights and combats social injustices for women

Martha Sánchez Nestor
   Representative for CONAM (Coordinadora Nacional de mujeres indigenas y enlace continental de mujeres indígenas;

•    Coordinadora Guerrerense de mujeres indígenas;

     Founder, La Casa de la Salud del la Mujer, Manos Unidos

Lol Kin Castañeda Badilla

Activist/spokesperson, Lesbians, Gays, transexuals, bisexuals

Adriana Ortiz Ortega

     Author of books on abortion politics, sexual and reproductive

        Professor/academic at UNAM

Teresa Ulloa Ziáurris

Attorney/human rights activist; 40 years fighting human trafficking and Violence against women;

       Regional director for the Coalition Against Trafficking Women (CATW);

      Created Red Alert system in México;

        Received Gleitsman International Activist Award in 2011

Vásquez-Mota: Highly Criticized by Feminists

Josefina Vásquez-Mota, presidential candidate in 2012, was criticized by feminists because of her lack of interest in working within an agenda advocating for women. In an article by Gladis Torres Ruiz (Vásquez Mota: canto de sirenas por el voto) Vásquez Mota is portrayed as anti-feminist and an opportunist, loyal to Calderón’s political machine to the “bone,” which has rewarded her with political advancements. (See article by Torres Ruiz on Marta Subiñas Abad’s critique on Vásquez Mota and Isabel Miranda de Wallace.)

“Where are the Women?”

            The fact that very few women have successfully competed in important, huge elections in the Mexico’s history substantiates claims made by authors such as Rodriguez (2003) that there exists “sexist patterns of candidate selection” (p. 201). Indeed, only six women have claimed victories as governors in four states: Griselda Alvarez,  (representing the PRI in ‘79-’85) in Colima; Rosario Robles Berlanga (representing the PRD in ’99-’00) in Distrito Federal; Beatriz Paredes Rangel (representing the PRI in ’87-’92) in Tlaxcala; Dulce Maria Sauri Riancho (representing the PRI in ’91-’94) in Yucatan; Ivonne Ortega Pacheco (representing the PRI in ’07-present) also in Yucatan; Amalia Garcia Medina (representing the PRD in ’04-’10) in Zacatecas. Particularly, the opposition parties, the PAN and the PRD, have fallen short of their campaign intentions to be more inclusive in the pursuit of more representation and democracy.

Rodriguez, V. E. (2003). Women in contemporary Mexican politics. Austin:
            University of Texas Press.
Daptnhe cuevas Ortiz
Lol Kin Castaneda Badillo  martha sanchez nestor:  Founder, la casa de la salud de la Mujer “Manos Unidas” (2003)