Environmental Activism and Community Engagement in Mexico

Instructor Name: 
Jack Corbet
Course Description: 

Following three campus class sessions in July and August, students will spend two weeks in the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico. This international capstone explores sustainability and environmental activism in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Given the increasing interconnectedness between Mexico and the United States we want to understand how Mexican families and communities demonstrate environmental awareness and ultimately begin to make behavioral choices by opting for sustainable approaches to everyday activities of living. Specifically this course will assess how urban and rural households address efforts to sustain clean water, local food production, and a healthy environment in the face of political and economic changes contributing to a declining quality of life and increased migration. The capstone provides students an opportunity to work with community members in rural and urban settings in support of efforts to secure sustainability through innovation as well as the conservation of tradition.  Students live with local families in Oaxaca City, participate in daily language classes and travel on public transportation to rural communities.

Students in Environmental Activism and Community Engagement in Mexico have multiple opportunities to learn, develop, apply and test old and new theories both in and out of the classroom. This program offers students an opportunity to experience the rich cultural heritage of Oaxaca, through home-stays, visits to rural communities, and field trips to places such as the archaeological site of Monte Alban. Students will also have daily language instruction while in the city of Oaxaca.

By participation in the course, students will:

  • Learn about the culture of Mexico
  • Learn about United States culture
  • Learn about environmental activism as it relates to community engagement, especially with regard to the issues of community forestry practices and ecotourism
  • Experience another country, its food, language, customs, etc
  • Learn about their personal biases and prejudices regarding Mexican and other non-US cultures
  • Improve their practical use of the Spanish language
  • Increase their awareness of poverty in the developing world at a local (Oaxacan), regional, and national level
  • Deepen their awareness of globalization and its effects
  • Increase their sense of personal agency, especially in an international setting
  • Increase their ability to communicate across cultures
  • Increase their ability to communicate in diverse groups; present researched materials cogently and effectively to diverse groups
  • Increase their sensitivity to diversity issues, understood most broadly
  • Further develop critical thinking skills through community-based applications.
Project Description: 

This Capstone has essentially two different types of final products. The first type has direct impact in Mexico; the second will provide the basis for more direct impact in Oregon. Final Product, type one: While in Mexico students will actively participate in two specific community projects (note, these specific community projects are subject to change):

1. In the community of San Martin, students will use native plants provided by the nursery at the archaeological zone of Monte Alban to assist in the creation of a greenbelt between the community and the archaeological site, reforesting an area damaged by grazing.

2. In the community of Ixtlan de Juarez, which has designated part of its community lands as a nature reserve, students assist in the creation of multi-lingual trail and other informational signs. This direct participation will help accomplish needed hands-on tasks as well as assist two communities and the Instituto Welte to gain skills and understanding about working with external (foreign) groups on specific projects.

Final Product, type two: A larger, longer-term goal of this Capstone is to encourage Oregonians to engage rather than marginalize international newcomers, incorporating practices that immigrants accept and value to promote their contributions to the larger community. Since a large percentage of Mexicans currently residing in Oregon / Pacific Northwest are from the greater Oaxaca area, this capstone seeks to increase understanding of the patterns of environmental activism in Oaxaca as a precondition to finding ways to increase the engagement of Oaxacan and other Mexican immigrants in Oregon’s civic life. A more systematic appreciation of how and why Mexicans become active locally may assist the definition of strategies to tap that tradition after Mexicans arrive in the Pacific Northwest.