On borders and migration

“The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country — a border culture. Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them.” -Gloria Anzaldua

“Borrando la frontera/ Erasing the border”


“Border patrol sued over conditions in short-term detention cells”


“Europe’s Migrant Crisis”


“Deportations in Mexico up 79% in first four months of 2015”



Week 3 in Chiapas

After 3 weeks of living in Chiapas, I’m halfway through completing my practice experience! 😀 At the end of week 2, I traveled to the municipality of La Concordia with the FCA staff in charge of the program NuestrAgua Franquicia Social (Our Water Social Franchise). The purpose of the 2 day visit was to conduct a diagnostic questionnaire of various communities that could potentially benefit from the implementation of a Kiosco Azul (blue kiosk), a water disinfection system operated by local women who provide safe and affordable drinking water to their communities while participating in the local economy. So far, Fundacion Cantaro Azul has implemented 4 water kiosks in the state of Chiapas. On the field visit, the community members shared information about some of the living conditions in rural communities; for example, it was common for them to say they had unstable electricity service but sometimes received high electricity bills. In addition, some people consume boiled or chlorinated water, run out of water when the source dries out or the pipes break, or purchase water at high prices from the trucks that pass by the communities selling water from privatized purification plants . The Kiosco Azul is an alternative source that strives to provide safe drinking water at an accessible and fair price.

IMG_1790  IMG_1785   IMG_1798Traveling to La Concordia with the FCA team

 IMG_1812   IMG_1819The FCA team taking water samples from various sources to measure water quality

In week 3, I traveled to the communities of Tziscao and La Independencia to learn about the water kiosks that had already been installed by FCA and local women in the community. The purpose of the visit was to volunteer in the kiosk and ask the women about the kiosk’s progress. I learned how to clean and fill the garrafones that are delivered to the community members at a price that is often more affordable than what other brands charge. For several days, I had the opportunity to learn about the lifestyles of the residents that live off the land and value the conservation of the natural environment. It was a beautiful experience that reminded me about the things that really matter in life beyond those that are materialistic. Moi and I also traveled by mototaxi to explore some of the local lakes and then walked to the border between Mexico and Guatemala. I sat on the line that represented the border and took some time to reflect on the ways in which immigration and borders affect the lives of so many people around the world. I thought about the relationship between immigration and poverty, the families separated by borders, the children who have to endure the journey across the border alone, those who don’t make it to their destination for various reasons, and the unjust immigration policies that have led to the creation of dehumanising language used to label migrants in the US and all over the world.


The kiosk in Tziscao

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   “Don’t extract plants. Don’t throw rocks”                 Exploring Tziscao                               Coffee beans   

Week 2 in Chiapas

Thanks to everyone who read my first posts! It’s my first time writing a blog so this is definitely a learning experience. On Monday, we had a meeting with Moi, one of the FCA staff, to reflect on last week’s visit to the municipality of Sitala. He explained the steps FCA takes in the process of working with rural underserved communities. First, the NGO approaches the leaders of the municipality and introduces its goal of increasing access to safe drinking water to reduce GI illnesses and improve the community’s health. Generally, the NGO identifies communities in Chiapas that have low rankings of  desarrollo humano (human development) and high levels of poverty. Once the municipality leaders give FCA permission to approach specific communities, the NGO visits those communities and makes an effort to raise their awareness about water quality and the negative health effects of drinking contaminated water. If the community agrees to work with FCA, the NGO provides educational workshops, trainings, and follow-up visits in an effort to maintain sustainable programs.

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                Hanging out at a cafe with GPP students!                                     Admiring the view with Moises 🙂

Moi also shared his thoughts about the interactions between indigenous communities and civil organizations/ NGOs in Chiapas. He explained that several challenges arise when the community members have beliefs, cultures, and customs that are different from those of the NGOs that approach them. Because some people are accustomed to drinking water directly from the source, such as a spring, their entire lives without considering the health effects of contaminated water, it can be difficult for orgs to change beliefs and behaviors related to water consumption. I also learned that some individuals may distrust NGOs, the government, and other outsiders and decide to maintain their current practices as a way of resisting el mundo occidental (the occidental world) that has been associated with the colonization and oppression of indigenous people. Our discussion helped me understand a different way of looking at the world and the use of culture as a form of resistance. I also learned about the role of biculturalism in our lives as Moi talked about how he and I adapt to different environments because “somos de dos mundos” (we are from two worlds); he grew up in an indigenous Mayan community speaking Tzeltal and now works in San Cristobal speaking Spanish, and I have lived in the US my entire life speaking English but would also like to work Latin America speaking Spanish.

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Sunsets in San Cristobal


On my mind

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings” -Nelson Mandela

The power of art

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” -Cesar A. Cruz

San Cristobal de las Casas is full of art that is both beautiful and powerful. These past few weeks, I have encountered pieces of art that convey political messages and tell stories. While I walked around the city, I noticed that many of the local shops sell things related to the Zapatistas and their ideology. The state of Chiapas is known for being the place where the Zapatista movement was born. In 1994, there was an uprising of Zapatistas with anti-noliberalism ideology seeking indigenous control over land and resources. The EZLN formed a movement to protest the signing of NAFTA believing it would increase the gap between the rich and the poor in Chiapas. In present day Chiapas, Zapatista communities still exist but tend to keep to themselves in enclosed communities. Moises, a person who works with Fundacion Cantaro Azul, shared his experience of interacting with Zapatista communities in the past and told us that it is difficult to enter their communities because they usually distrust outsiders and ask them many questions about their motives, where they come from, and if they work for the government in order to decide if they will let them in. Reflecting on my choice of location to do the practice experience, I’m super excited that I have the opportunity to be in the birthplace of such a powerful and inspirational social movement.

I also saw a lot of artwork while walking by an outside market, such as jewellery, woven shirts and purses made by hand. As we walked through the market, we encountered a man working on his art. I asked him about his painting and he explained the painting method as well as the cultural and historical context of his artwork. He talked about how he lived in Palenque for five years and learned how to draw and paint there. Then he shared more of his artwork portraying Mayan and Aztec gods, explained their meaning, and taught me how to interpret the Mayan calendar. I told him about where I came from and he told me he would like to visit Canada some day because he thought it didn’t have a border like the one that separates Mexico from the U.S. I’m glad I had asked him about his artwork because I learned so much about it and enjoyed listening to his story while observing how proud he was of his art.

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In addition, I have seen various messages about the 43 missing students on the walls in San Cristobal and in other towns in Chiapas. 8 months have passed since the September 26 disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who were preparing to become teachers in rural schools. While the Mexican government claims a drug cartel kidnapped the students, killed them, and disposed of their bodies, many Mexicans distrust the government’s side of the story because there is a lack of proof, questions that haven’t been answered, and persistent acts of violence and corruption in the country. I have read messages on walls that say things like “Nos faltan 43, “vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos,” and “el gobierno compra votos,” revealing that the people in Chiapas have not forgotten about the 43 missing students regardless of how much time has passed.

“Si no hay justicia para el pueblo, que no haya paz para el gobierno” -Emiliano Zapata     

Art in San Cristobal


         “Words are the most powerful weapon”                                                                 Art against Monsanto

             IMG_1717                       IMG_1726”    

               “La paciencia de la tierra se agota”                                                         A house in San Cristobal

Week 1 in Chiapas

On Sunday night, I took a flight from San Francisco with another GPP student, Lucy, and arrived in Chiapas, Mexico on Monday morning. One of the staff members from Fundacion Cantaro Azul, Sergio, met us at the airport in Tuxtla Gutierrez and traveled with us on bus to San Cristobal de Las Casas, where the FCA office is located. He took us to the cabin where we had arranged to stay to drop off our luggage, and then he showed us around the city. Although I was sleep deprived, I was excited to see the city we would live in for the next 6 weeks. As we walked around the city, we encountered the director of FCA and met him in person for the first time. We had skyped and communicated with him throughout the semester to discuss logistics and plan for the practice experience, so it was great to finally meet him in person. Sergio, Lucy, and I ate a restaurant and then walked to a casa de cambio to exchange US dollars for pesos. As we ate and walked around the city, we had a conversation with Sergio about various topics. We talked about hometowns in California, the GPP minor, life in San Cristobal, the media’s representation of violence in Mexico, and the Zapatista communities in Chiapas. After that, we thanked Sergio for his help and returned to the cabin to take a nap because we hadn’t slept well on the airplane. After we woke up, we walked down the street looking for groceries and found some tiendas de abarrotes. That was our first day in Chiapas.


San Cristobal de las Casas

On Tuesday, we walked to the FCA office several blocks away and met most of the FCA team. Then we had an introductory meeting with Fermin and Moises, the person who would guide and assist us throughout the 6 weeks in Chiapas. We met the FCA technician and helped prepare some of the material for the Mesita Azul, one of the water filtration technologies the NGO designs and implements in rural communities in an effort to improve access to safe drinking water. We also met Lindsay, a UC Berkeley alumna who had been living in Chiapas for 9 months and working with FCA as part of the Fullbright Scholarship. I’m glad we got the chance to meet her and learn about her experience in Chiapas before she returned to the US the next week. On Wednesday, five of the FCA staff and the GPP students traveled to the municipality of Sitala to hold educational workshops with an indigenous community that was in the process of adopting the mesita azul technology. The purpose of the trip was to discuss teamwork in the communities, ensure that the community members understood how the mesita azul functions, what each part of the mesita is used for, and how to diagnose technical problems in order to fix the mesita themselves. On the way there, we passed signs that had messages about EZLN property, taking care of mother earth and not littering, and signs that read “Selva Maya.” Throughout the trip, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the community members who speak Tzeltal and are part of a Mayan indigenous group living in the highlands of Chiapas. Chiapas is one of the states in Mexico with the highest percentage of poverty and also one of the the largest populations of indigenous people who are often underserved. This week, I gained a better understanding about the work FCA does in practice and why it’s important for them to exist as an NGO that strives to increase access to clean water in rural communities when the government does not ensure that safe drinking water is a human right for poor, marginalized communities.

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Paintings in the Fundacion Cantaro Azul office

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world” -Dr. Paul Farmer