This summer, I was based in Mexico City taking part in non-profit organisation makesense Americas’ re_action for impact programme. The aim of this programme is to mobilise Laidlaw Scholars with the skills and cultural understanding necessary to help local communities build concrete actions to tackle socio-environmental challenges within Mexico City. The project I was assigned to focused on empowering of minority groups.
The organisation that my group partnered with was Muuch Creative, a social enterprise which aims to connect artists and indigenous artisans with public and private organisations in order to create commercial opportunities with their products and services. Our primary aim was to work with Muuch Creative to raise awareness of a project that they support - iin ki kalante. Based in Yucatan, iin ki kalante (meaning I will take care of it in Mayan), is an independent cultural headquarters which focuses on developing artistic and socio-cultural projects which promote the accessibility of art within communities. Our job was to promote the work of iin ki kalante within Mexico City and potentially on an international scale, with the aim of showcasing the benefits of accessible cultural education for all ages through art.
With a budget of $14,000 MXN provided by makesense, we consulted with Muuch Creative and iin ki kalante to organise a cultural enrichment event, which took place during makesense’s Impact Carnival held on 12th August 2023. The event involved an embroidery and drawing workshop (akin to the sessions held by iin ki kalante in Yucatan)
The primary thing I will take from the programme is the importance of having minority voices leading projects that relate to them. Going into the re_action progamme, I was concerned that as a non-indigenous person, I would be encroaching and taking space where I had no right to be. The good thing was that I participated in a programme where the majority of scholars I spoke to had a similar concern, and so were equally cautious to ensure that we avoided ‘white saviorist’ traits. Maksense were great in that they focused our first two weeks of seminar and field activity on how we can amplify indigenous voices without taking over.
One of the most impactful sessions on the programme was hearing first-hand from Carlos about his community and receiving a condensed version of the history surrounding the struggle of codifying indigenous peoples’ rights through the years. The following day, we had the privilege of being able to hear from the elected representative of Northern Indigenous Mexicans, who shared her experience having to see her culture and language slowly be eroded due to the impact of colonisation.
Being in a country where I did not speak the language was a challenge and reinforced the importance of learning how to speak the basics of the language you are travelling to. Whilst makesense did make sure that the individuals we engaged with throughout the programme spoke English, I felt that I inherently missed out on connecting with them because they had to compensate for my lack of Spanish and were unable to communicate in the language that they were closest connected to. For a programme focused on community empowerment, the irony was not lost on me.
On a personal note, I also learned more about myself and how I operate in unfamiliar situations. As a naturally more introverted person, the idea of spending six weeks with 20+ strangers was nerve-wracking, and at times, I admittedly struggled and became overwhelmed by the imbalance of extroverts versus introverts in the group, as it meant that I struggled more to get over my slight social anxiety and make friends. However, with time, that became easier. The programme brought to light what I already believed about myself, but never had the chance to test out the theory - that I do not like change or lack of control of my circumstances. Prior to Mexico, I had never experienced homesickness, despite my not going home often when at university, however, that changed while I was there. I believe that this was primarily caused by the stress I felt being in an unfamiliar environment with nowhere to go that I could call my “safe zone”. After about three weeks, I finally started to feel settled in Chapultepec. The local coffee shop near the hotel we stayed at became one of my two ‘safe zones’ (familiar, reliable places where I could decompress if the day became too much), the other being a taco place, a short walk from the hotel.
I am grateful to have spent the last six weeks getting to know my laidlaw cohort. The group was comprised of an eclectic mixture of individuals, each of whom had a notable passion for enacting positive socio-environmental change in their communities. I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet with people from all over the world, and so I am grateful to the Laidlaw Foundation and Makesense for making this happen.
I am also grateful to have been assigned the my project. Art is a subject that I enjoyed studying at school, and I have a general appreciation for the power it has to invoke emotion, ideas, and ideals, and so to take part in a project which aims to promote the work of an organisation which uses different forms of art to bring its local community together, was a privilege.
Overall, the re_action for impact programme was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will not take for granted. I want to use what I learned about myself and the socio-environmental issues that we discussed and incorporate it into the work I do in the future. For instance, I had already chosen to take environmental law as an elective module for my final year at university, but having been exposed to issues surrounding the topic first-hand has made me more excited to study the topic in September. Furthermore, my proposed dissertation topic was already going to be based on international law and how it negatively intersects with minority groups; having been able to hear first-hand from indigenous activists about the struggles they have (and continue to) go through, I want to incorporate those specific failures in my research.