By Courtney Westlake
As the world becomes increasingly globalized, it is becoming more and more important to pay attention to the repercussions of the economic policies that guide Western society today, a group of UIS students has found.
The Mexico Diez, a group of 10 students and two faculty members, left for Mexico the week before spring break in March and spent about 10 days in San Cristobal and Chiapas, as well as some southern, rural areas, after first undergoing training with Witness for Peace, said Julian Borjas, a junior who participated in the trip.
The group, part of the political studies class called Mexico & Globalization taught by Dr. Heather Dell and Veronica Espina, was studying how workers are actually affected by different trade agreements and economic policies put forth by the United States.
“We were looking at economic effects from neo-liberal trade policies, which are the official economic foreign policies that that U.S. backs through trade organizations and through trade agreements like NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) and CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) that kind of privatize government lands and publicly-owned lands so that corporations can use the resources,” Borjas said.
The students met with families, grassroots activists, scholars, labor organizers, and other experts in everyday life to learn about their experiences and perspectives regarding these policies and also stayed with three Mexican families during part of their time there.
“We talked with them about what their lives are like and what their concerns are,” said Bob Skorczewski, one of the ten students on the trip. “I had a little background in some of these political and economic issues from my time here at UIS, but the actual real world application of these policies and how they affect people is something you don't really get in a classroom environment.”
“Actually going there and communicating with the people in Mexico was very eye-opening, and you can see how these things affect them and their families,” he continued. “There are just so many things happening there that we weren't ever wanting for something to do and to learn.”
Borjas said the trip reinforced many of the ideas he had before taking the class.
“There is a lot of militarization; there are military installments in every town,” he said. “The people that are known to protest the government, the Zapatistas, are really feeling a lot of pressure. A lot of the towns are being persuaded to become more favorable to the government.”
As part of the experience, members of the Mexico Diez began speaking to groups around campus and the community upon returning from Mexico, sharing what they studied and what they learned while on their trip.
The students first talked to a couple of UIS classes, Skorczewski said, and then took on some speaking engagements at high schools in the area as well as community groups that helped to sponsor their trip.
Skorczewski encouraged other UIS students to sign up for the Mexico & Globalization class next spring for the chance to study this area, learn about globalization and make the trip to Mexico.
“Some of the experiences we had were very intense, but in a good way, in an eye-opening way,” he said. “I’m looking for ways now to get involved around here, or whatever community I end up living in, with the labor movement, or if it's in politics, keeping that in mind as we form public policy. There’s a hidden side to all these issues we see, and a lot of time we're concerned only with how it affects us and not other people.”