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Rain, ponchos, and a human encyclopedia

We are highlighting perspectives from members of the Hispanic/Latino Initiative at Go Global NC as they travel to central Mexico. The Initiative brings together representatives from education, workforce development and business, including four NC community colleges — Wake Technical, Durham Technical, Central Carolina and Rowan-Cabarrus — who are partnering to identify and eliminate barriers to access and entry for Hispanic and Latino students.

Close your eyes and imagine Mexico. What do you see? Cactus, brown rocky terrain, maybe desert with heat waves radiating up from the ground? If you want to know what it is like now in Mexico City and you live in Raleigh, NC, then just step outside.

It is cold and rainy here, much like the weather reports I read this morning for Raleigh. Is it always like this in Mexico City in November? Our guide, better known as the Human Encyclopedia (I’ll talk about her later), says no — it’s usually cool but not rainy. The cold rainy weather caught many of us on the NC Team off guard and we paid for it walking on the grounds of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and shivering with every step. 

NC Delegation huddling under a pedestrian bridge to escape the rain at UNAM. Courtesy of Matt Meyer

UNAM is the public university of Mexico and a UNESCO World Heritage site for the spectacular architecture and buildings covered with murals by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. UNAM prides itself for being a highly ranked international university due to its research and innovation but also boasts free tuition for those lucky enough to gain entrance. Approximately 76,000 people applied to UNAM in 2017 but only 6,300 were admitted. According to UNAM’s website, in 2015-16, the university and its high schools served a total of 346,730 students with 112,229 in high school, 204,940 undergraduates, and 28,638 postgraduates.

A campus building at UNAM. Courtesy of Matt Meyer

As for our Human Encyclopedia of Mexican History, also known as Lynda Martinez Del Campo, she provided what seemed like a never-ending tsunami of information on everything from anthropology to archaeology to art history. Dang, she was good! I just wish my cognitive ability to keep everything she said was better. The biggest take away at this point in the trip is that Mexico is rich in history and culture.

Lynda Martinez Del Campo talking about Diego Rivera’s home. Courtesy of Matt Meyer

The history of Mexico is complex and full of vibrant characters and heroes. Few in our delegation realized the connection between the Hapsburg Dynasty of Europe and Mexico. Maximilian I, the younger brother of Austrian Franz Joseph I, proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico in 1864 with help from Napoleon III. Forces loyal to Benito Juarez eventually captured and executed Maximilian in 1867. Lynda explained that Maximilian had a genuine desire to help the people of Mexico and his refusal to desert his loyal followers during the siege of Querétaro was honorable and brave.

Our guide, Lynda, never missed the opportunity to share her knowledge of the arts, explaining the intricate details of famous murals in Mexico City by artist like Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. The Mexican ballet performance, which included songs, music, and dances from the different states in Mexico, was unlike any performance I have seen. Prior to the performance, I expected to see some native Aztec and Hispanic-influenced dances. For nearly two hours, dancers, musicians, and singers entertained with an infusion of colorful costumes and lighting that put a smile on everyone’s face throughout the entire performance. As we leave Mexico City for Guanajuato, I can’t help but think how little I knew about Mexico.

Close-up of a Mural by Diego Rivera at the National Palace in Mexico City. Courtesy of Matt Meyer

One of our delegation commented: “We need to tell the story or our own mural of images about what we experience in Mexico so that others can understand that our neighbor to the south is nothing like the images and dialogue we see and hear on the news.”

Matthew Meyer

Dr. Matthew Meyer is the associate vice president of educational innovations for the N.C. Community College System.