May 3, 2005

WORK WITH COLLEAGUES IN MEXICO


Today, in North America, some of the most impressive leadership in media education is coming out of Mexico. Take, for example, the Asociacion A Favor de lo Mejor, A.C. (meaning ‘The Best in Media”) which has promoted media literacy programs since 1997. This spring the association, based in Mexico City, announced the development of additional quality monitoring tools. In the on-going effort to create international solidarity on the subject of media education, these have been enshrined in The Declaration of America. "It’s purpose," said Sidney Cano, “is to generate a strong network of like minded organizations in America in order to propel a continental plan for critical analysis of media content."

Recently, my work with Mexican colleagues on this important project was enriched in two different ways. In January, I arrived in Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa in time to participate in a three day workshop on English as a Second language (ESL), organized by Dr. Betty Donaldson from the University of Calgary and Professor Javier G. Villa, from the, Escuela Normal de Sinaloa. This initiative was an outgrowth of Betty's yearly, winter jaunts to Mazatlan and participation in a project called 'Building Bridges between Canada and Mexico. The dual purpose of this ESL pilot project was to offer students the opportunity to use English more fluently by focusing on oral communication and to encourage an appreciation of some common values that Canada and Mexico share while at the same time, respecting their differences. My role, on the third day of the workshop, was to walk along the Malecon and let each of the 10 students tell me in English about a previously selected local point of interest. Needless to say, this very pleasurable experience enhanced my own knowledge and appreciation of Mexican culture. So successful was the project, that plans are underway to bring the entire class to the University of Calgary for one week this summer.

My second opportunity to work with colleagues in Mexico occurred in March, at the invitation of Julia Morton Marr, founder and director of the Toronto based International Holistic Tourism Education Centre , Teresa Prieto, president of the Mexican Commercial & Industrial Centre of Canada and Pedro Guzman, director of marketing projects for Onvisa Tours. The principal focus of this trip, financed by Onvisa, a group of Mexican wholesale tour operators, was to promote Canadian tourism in the mountainous, interior state of Michoacan. We were on the inaugural, direct, Mexicana flight from Toronto and, less than five hours later, arrived in the beautiful city of Morelia, 303 kilometers from Mexico City, and home to no fewer than six universities. There, we were greeted at a welcoming reception by local government authorities with speeches, local refreshments, traditional dances and music.

For many of us, the sightseeing highlight in Michoacan was a trip to the Zitacuaro region, in which Ocampo, 147 kilometers away from Morelia, provides a winter sanctuary for millions of Canadian Monarch Butterflies. Surrounded by mountains with pines, oyamel and cedar, it is located on the Campanario Hill in the Rosario Common Land. Over the years, since it was first discovered by Canadian biologists in 1956, local Mexicans, attempting to eke out a subsistence standard of living, have cut wood deep into the forest, threatening this natural habitat. Since then, with guidance and direction from the University of Mexico, they have been encouraged to adjust their lifestyles to rely more on the revenue generated by tourism. In fact, it is now illegal to cut wood in the area at all.

In conversation with one restaurant owner at the foot of the mile long trek up the side of a mountain, necessary to view the sanctuary at its best, I learned that, although it is rumored that Canadian foreign aid is earmarked for local assistance, none of it ever seems to trickle down to the local economy. The irony, of course, is that the very special appeal of the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary as a tourist attraction, is its unspoiled, natural setting with minimal commercial development of any kind. Indeed, the perils, faced by the butterflies, both in their winter habitat as well as in their migration patterns back to Canada, increasingly include more than the usual predators of wasps, beetles and birds. On April 16th it was reported in the New York Times that, this year, a record number of butterflies passing through California, Nevada and Arizona have met their fate spattered on the windshields and headlights of motor vehicles.

Before we left Michoacan we explored several, delightful, historic villages, towns and cities surrounding Morelia, all while traveling along excellent roads. These included the exquisite, hammered copper craft shops of Santa Clara, Zirahuen, the craft markets of Patzcuaro in the beautiful lake district and Uruapan. The latter, founded in 1534 and situated in the rich agricultural region of avocado and fruit orchards, encloses the Eduardo Ruiz national park. Its numerous, cascading waterfalls, lush vegetation, organic salmon trout farm and the Cupatitzio River (meaning the river that sings), should not be missed. The river is famous for its crystal clear waters and features special embankment spouts for drinking and filling up water bottles.

On the whole, Mexican buses are clean with wide windows and a pleasant way to get around the countryside. The only anomaly to the usual calm and tranquility of watching the miles slip by with occasional commentary on a point of interest from the tour guide is an inclination on their part to rely on violence as a form of entertainment. This is especially problematic on trips involving several hours when it is common for an extremely violent movie to be slipped into the VCR with a TV screen at the front of the bus an hour or two into the journey. Blocking out the noise and imagery is not an option. Julia and I tried to impress upon our hosts that a travelogue about the area being explored would be much more suitable. Certainly, it would be preferable to most Canadian teachers and parents, particularly those traveling with children. In the past, I have brought this flaw involving bus travel in Mexico to the attention of the Mexican ambassador to Canada, industry officials at the A Favor de lo Mejor Conference I attended in Mexico City in September, 2003, and I wrote about it in an English newspaper in San Miquel Allende, on behalf of fellow Canadians who love Mexico but hate being subjected to this violence whenever they travel by bus. Some progress has been made, in recent years, according to my informants but clearly, more needs to be done.

Our Onvisa hosts concluded our weeklong orientation in Mexico City. There, we were able to view Diago Rivera murals, visit the world renowned Museum of Anthropology, the pyramids of Teotehuacan and, on Good Friday, join the throngs of Christians at Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica. We were also treated to a reception at the Royal Hotel in the Pedregal region of Mexico City. Noteworthy architectural features in this newly designed hotel complex include ample use of natural lighting as a measure that cuts down on artificial energy demands.

Canadian flags and pins for distribution were provided for these trips to Mexico by the Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Defense for Canada, and my local federal MP for Toronto Centre Rosedale. Additional resources were contributed by C-CAVE (Canadians Concerned About Violence In Entertainment) and IHTEC.

Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chair: C-CAVE and the Media Working Group - Science for Peace (University of Toronto)
Editor- The Learning Edge
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication