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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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SDSU students learned about opportunities for research and about the university's binational collaboration with Mexico during their trip to the SDSU Oaxaca Center for Mesoamerican Studies. (SDSU) SDSU students learned about opportunities for research and about the university's binational collaboration with Mexico during their trip to the SDSU Oaxaca Center for Mesoamerican Studies. (SDSU)

SDSU, SDSU Imperial Valley Student Leaders Journey To Oaxaca

SDSU students and faculty experience firsthand the university's binational collaboration in research and education during January's 6-day excursion.
By Aaron Burgin

San Diego State University students and staff hope a recent trip to the Mexican state of Oaxaca will yield future educational and immersion opportunities across the university.


The contingent of Associated Student leaders from San Diego and SDSU Imperial Valley, as well as faculty and staff members, went on the six-day Oaxaca immersion trip in late January. SDSU professor Ramona Pérez, director of the Center for Latin American Studies and the Aztec Identity Initiative, coordinated the visit.


The goal was to impress upon students the opportunities for research in the southwestern Mexican state and to focus on SDSU’s commitment to contemporary Indigenous history, culture and language while showcasing the region’s beauty and rich culture. 


“It was a fantastic trip, and I think the A.S. leaders learned a lot about why SDSU is in Oaxaca, how that relates to our commitment toward education/honor/respect of the contemporary and pre-contact Indigenous people of the Aztec Empire, and the possibilities for research and learning for all SDSU students,” said Pérez. 


“Having worked in Oaxaca for almost 30 years, I am excited for the many opportunities that our students will have: retreats, language and culture learning, research, internships, and of course, opportunities to simply enjoy one of the most beautiful states of Mexico,” Pérez said. 


The visit to Oaxaca came eight months after SDSU President Adela de la Torre and more than two dozen educators, administrators and state lawmakers celebrated the opening of the SDSU Oaxaca Center for Mesoamerican Studies in June. A two-day conference explored binational collaboration in research


Associated Student leaders were chosen to attend the trip because they are in the best position to spread the word about the SDSU Oaxaca Center and the research opportunities there.


During the January trip, the group took excursions to Monte Albán and Cerro de Atzompa archaeological sites, including a hands-on ceramic class using pre-Hispanic techniques. They also visited the Sierras and the Guelatao, the birthplace of Mexico’s first Indigenous president Benito Juárez. Additional activities included a cooking class using pre-Hispanic ingredients and methods, a trip to Teotitlán del Valle with a demonstration of textiles/weaving workshop and a mezcal tour; and a demonstration of traditional healing practices.


“A significant intent of the trip was to contextualize the answer to the question: Why Oaxaca?” said Emilio Ulloa, a psychology professor who serves as associate chief diversity officer for HSI and Regional Affairs in the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity. “Over the course of six days, the students participated in different excursions that served that aim.”


Henry Villegas, who serves as the dean of students at SDSU Imperial Valley, said participants benefited from traveling beyond the border region. “Many of our SDSU Imperial Valley students are familiar with Mexicali and the border but have not traveled deeper into Mexico for this type of cultural experience,” Villegas said. “Personally, this was also an opportunity to experience Mexico and my heritage.”


Robson Winter, A.S. vice president of external relations, said he left wanting to return and learn more. 


“I really enjoyed the trip and getting to see the SDSU Oaxaca Center,” Winter said. “Some highlights for me were getting to walk around the beautiful city, seeing all of the art and eating the amazing food.” 


Jazmyn Horton-Alvarado, a third-year master’s of social work student in Imperial Valley, said the trip exceeded her expectations on a very deep level. 


“I was blown away by what we ended up doing there,” Horton-Alvarado said. “I was unprepared, in the best way, by being fully immersed in the lifestyle, history and culture of the region. 


“Getting to stand on the rooftop of the Oaxaca center after being given a tour and learning about the endless possibilities it has for future students gives me great hope for some very big things to happen there,” she said. 


Horton-Alvarado said the precontact cooking class and learning the history of a mural that paid tribute to the women of the mezcal industry were highlights. 


“This trip hit on a much deeper level for me,” she said. “It began very superficially and along the way I cried, laughed and felt this connection to my roots that is indescribable. For that reason, I would return. I'd also love to meet up with the people we met and go to the spots we visited again to continue learning.”


Pérez said the trip accomplished its purpose. 


“We made a great decision to open the center there,” Pérez said. “I have students from 20 years ago who participated in my field school in Oaxaca and they also say it was one of the best experiences of their educational career. I hope the center will continue to provide this opportunity for many students to follow.”