Saturday, May 26, 2012

The choir is going on tour!

The choir is going on tour and it's going to be hot!! (No really, like temperature-wise).

It's been confirmed! The choir is going on a 10-day-tour to give 9 concerts in 7 cities in Southeast Mexico!

The itinerary is:
Ciudad de Carmen, Campeche
Sabancuy, Campeche
Champotón, Campeche
Campeche, Campeche
Mérida, Yucatán
Valladolid, Yucatán,
Cacún, Quintna Roo

Tour route, courtesy of Google Maps 

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Choir goes to the Human Rights Commission

Today the choir performed at the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City (Comisión de Derechos Humanos del DF) to celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (bet you didn't know that one!). Afterward they gave us cotton candy!

with my cotton candy after the concert

Friday, May 18, 2012

Visit(s) to Maltrata

I was going to write about my weekend visit to Maltrata... and then realized I never wrote about my April visit...and then blogger wouldn't upload my photos correctly.... and then it go to be the end of semester...  So lets continue with the past few months' theme of "better late than never", shall we?

April visit:

In Mexico, being the Catholic country that it is, Spring Break is always during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday). Most of the elementary/middle/high schools have two weeks of break, extending into the following week, though as an UNAM student I only had the week off.  I spent the week in Maltrata in what turned out to be a mixture of work and play, combining follow-up for my thesis with visits and outings.

I was welcomed back to Maltrata with beautiful flowers and a welcome note in "my" room. (I've stayed with the same family during what have now been four visits)

The flowers and note ("Welcome Rebe") waiting for
me in "my" room

I enjoyed spending time with "my Maltrata family"...

with Mama Juanita and Rosa Maria

... and especially the littlest ones. The little guy that was born the same day I arrived in December is getting so big!

Look how big he's getting! 

Big bro helping little bro with his shoe
playing at the park
playing at the park

my little buddy

with Spider Man =)

I went for a walk one morning and there were some beautiful views!

view of Orizaba Peak during my walk

view of Maltrata from a distance 
view of Orizaba Peak through an old train car
We went to Orizaba one afternoon for lunch. Afterward we wandered around downtown and visited The 500 Steps. We did not attempt walking down and back up them all -- just enough to enjoy the view and watch people zip-line over the canyon. 

King of the Backseat (until 3 other people needed
to join him as well) 

500 Steps in Orizaba 

500 Steps in Orizaba

500 Steps in Orizaba

500 Steps in Orizaba

500 Steps in Orizaba

As for the Easter celebrations, I saw and/or was told about various traditions which were new to me, though since I'm not Catholic and this was my first Easter in Mexico (I visited the US last year), I can't be sure what was specific to Maltrata, Mexico and/or the Catholic faith.  

In the US, the emphasis of the week is on Easter Sunday, especially considering the cultural part of family gatherings, Easter egg hunts, etc. In Maltrata it seemed that each day had its traditions, without the added emphasis on Sunday. Here's what I heard/saw during the week (please excuse any potential errors or misinterpretations):

On Palm Sunday (Domingo de las Palmas), there's a mass in the Chapel to bless the palms and then a procession to the Church, including children dressed in white with crowns on their heads. The people were carrying their palms, most woven in different designs, including some that incorporated flowers.

There were lots of stands set up in the downtown park selling food and sweets. Some were the regular stands I’d seen before set up on Sundays in Maltrata, but others reminded me of stands you see at the fairs.

On Monday, a group of men go to a town in the mountains close to Orizaba Peak to gather olive branches. They gather some but also exchange with the people that live there, trading food for branches.

There was a class/camp Monday through Wednesday for adolescents ages 15 and up. When they finished, they were greeted by their family with flowers. There was apparently a similar program for younger kids Monday through Thursday, but held in a town outside of Maltrata.

Wednesday through Friday (or Saturday?) people don’t eat meat, so it’s common to eat fish or other seafood. 

On Thursday there's a mass where the Priest washes everyone’s feet, like Jesus did at the Last Supper. (And maybe something about blessing bread??). We had mojarras (a type of fish) for lunch that day. 

On Good Friday is the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross??). People go around Maltrata in a procession, stopping at stations. There was a ton of people!! I didn’t know until that morning that the house where I was staying was one of the stations. The procession leaves from the church. It was lead by a truck with a loudspeaker and people walking alongside it with a microphone, singing. There was a large figure of Jesus and another of the Virgin Mary. The procession ends at the church and is followed by Las 7 Palabras ("the 7 words"… Maybe The Celebration of the Passion?  The Liturgy of the Word? Not really sure).

Station (at the house) on Good Friday

Afterward the family (including extended family) prepared lunch: shrimp and a seafood soup. And in not Easter-related events, we spent the rest of the day together, including a game of soccer and baseball (I’m so much better at baseball than soccer!) and a birthday celebration. If anything, Friday reminded me the most of Easter back home, in terms of the family gather, focus on food, etc. 

seafood soup 

playing baseball

Friday night there's another procession around town, but this time everyone is silent – no prayers, singing, or talking – and everyone carries a candle. There are people in the church throughout the night, much like they would do for a velorio (wake).

Saturday is a day of mourning. That night there’s mass that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection, which was described to me with the phrase “abre la gloria.” It’s a tradition that Saturday night and Sunday (though during Holy Week in general), people "get wet," whether in the fountain in the downtown park or going to the beach, lagoon, river, pool, etc. Someone told me that in the past, everyone got everyone else wet (I’m imagining a huge water fight), but now they don’t anymore because of water shortages.

On Easter Sunday there's mass first in the Chapel and later on the Sports Field. (My only guess as to why it’s not in the Church is because it’s too small, though the Chapel is even smaller). No family gatherings or Easter Egg Hunts. I was able to skype briefly with my family though =) 

May visit:

I went back to Maltrata the first weekend in May to celebrate my little buddy's birthday! It was a quick trip -- arriving Friday night and leaving again Sunday afternoon -- but I enjoyed celebrating with my favorite two-year-old. 

Happy birthday, Axel! 

little brother 

love them so much!  

playing with his new blocks 
Since I was there on Cinco de Mayo, I went to the parade, which was made up of elementary through high school-aged kids dancing, doing gymnastics, making human pyramids (apparently a staple in gym classes here?), etc. I was even pulled out to dance in the parade briefly by one of the "cousins"! After that I quickly made my rounds to say hello (so as not to be yelled at if they saw the güerita in the parade and I didn't even stop by to visit!). 
(Note: Cinco de Mayo is not Independence Day or a drinking holiday. For last year's post click here)

As I was packing my bag up on Sunday, my little buddy asked me if I was going back to work -- that's where they tell him I am when I'm not in Maltrata. I have lots of work at the moment since I'm finishing  up the semester and working on my thesis -- but hopefully my next visit to Maltrata won't be too far in the future!  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Burritos + swings

Last night I had dinner at a burrito place where, instead of sitting in chairs, you sit on a swing! How fun is that? (Though it makes leaning over your plate to eat a slightly messy burrito a bit more challenging, since the motion of leaning in makes the swing go out!)

UNAM's 2nd Postgraduate Conference

Last Thursday I participated in UNAM's 2nd Postgraduate Conference. Master's and Doctorate students from any of UNAM's programs were invited to submit their abstracts and those selected were assigned to give presentations or poster sessions. I gave an oral presentation of preliminary observations/conclusions of my thesis, the reinsertion of deported return migrants in Maltrata, Veracruz.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Earthquake this morning of 5.6. Strangely, I think I'm started to get used to them?

Article: Are Americans safer in Mexico than at home?

A good article putting safety in Mexico in perspective. For the original article, click here.

Are Americans safer in Mexico than at home?

Robert ReidLonely Planep author

Every week or so I get asked, ‘Is it safe to go to Mexico?’ I had always said, if you’re thoughtful about where you go, yes. But after my most recent trip there, I’m changing my answer… to a question:
Do you think it’s safe to go to Texas?
To be clear, violence in Mexico is no joke. There have been over 47,000 drug-related murders alone in the past fire years. Its murder rate – 18 per 100,000 according to this United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report – is more than three times the US rate of 4.8 per 100,000. Though Mexican tourism is starting to bounce back, Americans appear more reluctant to return than Canadians and Brits (5.7 million Americans visited in 2011, down 3% from 2010 – and, according to Expedia, more than four of five bookings were adults going without children). Many who don’t go cite violence as the reason.
What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations. For example, the gateway to Disney World, Orlando, saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 per the FBI; this is higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, with rates of 1.83 and 5.9 respectively, per a Stanford University report (see data visualization here, summarized on thischart, page 21). Yet in March, the Texas Department of Public Safetyadvised against ‘spring break’ travel anywhere in Mexico, a country the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. Never mind that popular destinations like the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica have far higher homicide rates (36, 42 and 52 per 100,000). Why the singular focus?
Before you nix Mexico altogether, consider these five things:
1. Mexico may be more dangerous than the US overall, but not for Americans.
According to FBI crime statistics, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US in 2010. The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who risited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors. Regardless of whether they were or weren’t connected to drug trafficking, which is often not clear, it’s less than half the US national rate.
2. Texans are twice as safe in Mexico, and three times safer than in Houston.
Looking at the numbers, it might be wise for Texans to ignore their Public Safety department’s advice against Mexico travel. Five per 100,000 Texans were homicide victims in 2010, per the FBI. Houston was worse, with 143 murders, or a rate kf 6.8 – over three times the rate for Americans in Mexico.
3. And it’s not just Texas.
It’s interesting comparing each of the countries’ most dangerous cities. New Orleans, host city of next year’s Super Bowl, broke its own tourism record last year with 8 million visitors. Yet the Big Easy has ten times the US homicide rate, close to triple Mexico’s national rate.
Few go to Ciudad Juarez, a border town of 1.3 million that saw 8 to 11 murders a day in 2010 (accounts differ – CNN went with 8). It’s unlikely to ever be a tourism hostpot, but things have been quietly improving there. By 2011, CNN reported, the homicide rate dropped by 45%, and the first six weeks of this year saw an additional 57% drop, per this BBC story.
If that trend in Juarez continues all year, and it might not, the number of homicides would have dropped from over 3000 in 2010 to 710 in 2012. Meanwhile New Orleans’ homicide rate is increasing, up to 199 murders last year, equivalent to 736 in a city with the population of Juarez.
4. By the way, most of Mexico is not on the State Department’s travel warning.
The best of Mexico, in terms of travel, isn’t on the warning. The US warns against ‘non-essential travel’ to just four of Mexico’s 31 states (all in the north: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas). The warning goes on to recommend against travel to select parts of other states, but not including many popular destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, the Riviera Nayarit, Cancun, Cozumal and Tulum.
Meanwhile, 13 states are fully free from the State Department’s warning, including Baja California Sur, Yucatan, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guanajuato and others.
5. Malia Obama ignored the Texas advice.
Of all people, President Obama and first lady said ‘OK’ to their 13-year-old daughter’s spring break destination this year: Oaxaca. Then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made snide remarks over that, perhaps overlooking that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than his home state’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 toPennsylvania’s 5.2).
Oaxaca state, not on the US travel warning, is famed for its colonial city, Zapotec ruins and emerging beach destinations like Huatulco. Lonely Planet author Greg Benchwick even tried grasshoppers with the local mezcal (Malia apparently stuck with vanilla shakes.)
So, can you go to Mexico?
Yes. As the US State Department says, ‘millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.’ Last year, when I took on the subject for CNN, one commenter suggested Lonely Planet was being paid to promote travel there. No we weren’t. We took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home, be it Vietnam welcoming Americans in the ’90s or Colombia’s dramatic safety improvements in the ’00s. And, equally as importantly, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences – it’s honestly why I’m in this line of work.
So yes, you can go to Mexico, just as you can go to Texas, or New Orleans, or Orlando, or the Bahamas. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to.
Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s New York–based US Travel Editor and has been going to Mexico since he was three (most recently to Chacala).