In The Mexican Mountains — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Jennifer Battcher


In The Mexican Mountains — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Jennifer Battcher

I spent two weeks traveling in Mexico with a group on a service learning trip. One day, we visited a family of artisans in their home in the mountains. Their house was one room and the walls were made of branches. The floor was dirt. It was one in the afternoon and the family was just finishing their first and only meal of the day – tomatoes and lettuce. It was very important to them that they provided enough places to sit for all of their guests and, as I sat down on the bed in the corner, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if there were bugs in the mattress. The father of the family knelt on the dirt floor and wove palm branches as he spoke to us about how his family members are artisans. As the branches bent and twisted in his expert hands, he talked about the baskets and other things they made to sell in the city. It was amazing to see all the things they could create by twisting palm leaves.


I was sitting next to their daughter, who was holding her beautiful new baby boy. The father explained to us how they were having trouble affording formula for the baby, which they needed because the mother was unable to produce enough milk. As I looked around at their stick walls, dirt floor, and meager meal, I saw up close what absolute poverty looks like. Of course, I had been prepared to see this. After all, the purpose of our service learning trip was to educate us about these types of conditions, and we had visited other families in other parts of Mexico already. However, I saw something else in that house that I wasn’t expecting to see and it was overflowing from every inch of that one-room home. It caught me by surprise as I saw it on the father’s face, in the mother’s actions. I saw it as the family showed how they make baskets out of palm branches. I saw it in every corner of that dirt floor, every small proud smile of the new mama as she accepted compliments about her baby: This house was brimming with happiness. In the midst of terrible poverty was a calm and steady joy. They were together, they had their family, and they were happy. I will never forget that family and, as I settle into my life, getting older and acquiring more stuff, I keep them in mind. They had such contentment with so few possessions to call their own, so certainly I can be happy without the latest fashions and trendiest styles. This family is wiser than most and understood a concept it takes some people many years to figure out. Stuff will not fulfill your life; material things do not bring happiness. People, family, and experiences bring happiness.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Project Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU

For all of the North Star Project Reports, see

The North Star Project Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The Middle Ground Journal will share reports from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present The Middle Ground Journal. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Jennifer Battcher, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

33 responses to “In The Mexican Mountains — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Jennifer Battcher

  1. Jonia G

    Thank you so very much for sharing. Reading about this experience of yours is only a glimpse into a life of hardship that many people face; a mere slice of what you have seen. I can imagine based on your writing what it appears to be – though I am sure I will only ever fully understand if I experience it for myself. I am glad that you were able to see the happiness/contentment that existed within that family. Again, thank you.

  2. Alayna McCawley

    Reading this was such a comforting experience. It is so inspiring to hear of those don’t have many possessions or riches, yet still manage to inspire others with their positive attitude and humbleness. I would like to hear an interview from them some day to hear how they describe their life! This was a great post and was truly an inspiring one.

  3. Annie

    It definitely puts things in perspective…how different people’s realities and everyday lives are. We should be thankful for what we have and realize that money and material things can’t buy happiness. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Maija

    I love how this it put. It really shows how we don’t need all these objects to be happy. Most of the time when someone thinks of poverty, it is sad and hard to even think about but at the same time they are making due with what they have. They can still be happy with their lives, something we generally don’t think about.

  5. Amy North

    I really enjoyed this article. It sounds like an amazing experience. It really shows how happiness doesn’t have to revolve around what possessions you have and how people in poverty can still live happy lives.

  6. Thank you for the beautifully stated account of your experience in Mexico. I too have experienced the same refreshing attitude when visiting with people in Mexico. Maybe an attitude of gratefulness is our reward for expressing the gift of creativity, and knowing that all things come from our Creator gives peace of mind? Appreciating what we have instead of coveting what we do not goes a long way toward living an abundant life.

  7. Many people view poverty as a depressing way of life. After reading this article I see that it can also be a happy way of life. This article shows that there is more to happiness than just material things.

  8. Austin

    It was intriguing to learn of your experience in Mexico and how one family’s lifestyle and culture can vary drastically from another. It’s encouraging that a family with so little can make so much out of what they have, through happiness and each other. We don’t need the newest, most expensive material items to be fulfilled. Thank you for sharing your story!

  9. Neil Vierzba

    A very great read. It surprised me that a family living in poverty was as happy as can be. One child can change the way a family has a view on their situation. It just shows you that no matter the situation you can still be happy.

  10. Megan Hennen

    Something I am beginning to realize is that the more ‘we’ have material-wise, the more ‘we’ seek happiness from gaining material things. I have caught myself from time-to-time wanting something new and/or different solely because its something that I want and not necessarily need. I too easily forget how fortunate I am and it is a shame that it takes stories and experiences similar to yours to put it all into perspective.

  11. Robert Ochs

    To many of us in the United States, myself included, it is strange that people with so little can still be so happy and content with life. We put so much emphasis on material goods that we are upset when we don’t have the latest fashions or gadgets. We can all learn a lesson from the family you visited. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  12. Miranda King

    This was so amazing to read. It always amazes me to think that the people most Americans consider in poverty live such happy lives. It shows how having a lot of money and stuff isn’t the equivalent to being happy.

  13. Chelsea Bastyr

    I really enjoyed reading this, along with many others I see! I have traveled to Mexico 3 different times with my family, and although we were there on vacation, the bus we took from the airport to our resort brought us through neighborhoods that sound similar to this one. I was a quite young my first time traveling there, but I can still recall some of the images I saw out that bus window. Although the children were not fully clothed, the mothers were washing different things in buckets of water, and the houses were, like you said, made of sticks, I too remember how happy they all looked. At the young age of 9, I was about to go on a beautiful vacation that I was so excited and grateful for and it’s crazy to me that after a week of paradise, those images are what I still talk about from that trip. And it’s not because I felt pity for them, it was because they were glowing with happiness, with so much less than what I’ve always thought it took to be happy. Truly beautiful experience! Thank you for writing this and reminding me of that wonderful memory.

  14. Jenna M

    When I read this article it made me happy to see that despite the family’s living condition they put their needs aside to make you and the others feel welcome. They remained selfless and were not ashamed of what little they had to offer. On the other hand, our society I think we forget to put others needs before ourselves as well as be grateful for what we do have.

  15. Rachel Rees

    Reading about your experience with meeting the family made me grateful for everything I have and made me re-assess what is really important to me. The people you surround yourself with influence one’s mood and are more important than any materials one could have. I would like to thank you for sharing your experience, as it has changed my outlook on life.

  16. Ada

    It sounds like an amazing life changing experience. I feel moments like the one you mentioned help us become closer with our fellow human beings. In the end, most of us value relationships and connections, and simply desire happiness and love. It’s great that you were able to witness that in a different environment.

  17. Mindy Aubin

    Awesome article! Reading it opened my eyes a lot more to whats really important in life. I can relate to what you saw because there are certain people in my life that I would throw anything away for just to have them. When it comes down to “stuff” none of that matters if you have your loved ones by your side. We don’t realize how much we have until we see something like you saw. I too went to Mexico and traveled through some pretty rough neighborhoods and I new that I was so fortunate to have the things I do. There are so many places like that in the world we don’t even know about. People are fighting these battles and struggling everyday and us Americans are over here complaining about not getting the new I-phone. I think everyone should read your article just to be reminded what real happiness looks like.

  18. Mickie Keuning

    This is an incredible article! First off, being from the U.S. and being exposed to that kind of poverty must of been a shocking experience. But seeing a family so happy gives inspiration to anyone and something to thrive for.

  19. Cali Stabe

    That sounds like an amazing experience! I completely agree with on you that ‘stuff’ does not by happiness, your loved ones and experiences do. This experience I can only imagine made that even more real, and I think people take way too much for granted and should take a look around and realize you do not need stuff to make you happy.

  20. Kyle Hellmann

    I hope that their happiness brought you happiness, because it certainly gave me some. In a society where material possessions are held most importantly, its always nice to be reminded that it isn’t always about that. I’m glad that you were able to experience and share this story, for I have learned from it, as I’m sure you did too.

  21. Nick Kaplan

    This must have been a humbling experience. It seems that most people don’t realize how much material possessions they have until they see people with almost none. This article also does a great job of showing that money does not equal happiness because the family was happy with what they had and not what they didn’t.

  22. Katie Hass

    I think this was a beautiful experience and it shows so well the juxtaposition of the American ideal of materiality. This family had next to nothing and was so happy just to be together. I have a family member who has anything she could want. She has a mini-mansion on the ocean, multiple luxury vehicles, and vacations whenever and where ever she wants. The thing of it is, she’s married with two children and isn’t at all happy. Her husband ignores her, her daughter only wants her money, and her son doesn’t want anything to do with her.
    I just find it so interesting the polar opposites of this family and my family member and how the differences in material possessions makes a difference in personal happiness.
    In this case, I’d say less definitely equals more.

  23. Kendra Johnson

    I recently had an experience similar to this as I walked up and down the streets of Skid Row in Los Angeles, California on my service learning trip. nearly 20,000 people who are homeless and have nothing line the streets in tents and tarp-like tipi’s for shelter. As my group and I started talking to them and got to know some of them from when we would volunteer at the shelters, I came to find that they are still happy people and have so much to teach others about their lives and struggles they’ve overcome. People from there, the Mexican Mountains, and all over have so much to share about themselves and give to others even though they may not have as many material items as us. we just have to be willing to listen and learn from it.

  24. Daniela Rojas

    Reading this article made me think about the things I experienced back home. The people that live in those conditions are the ones who will care more for others. They are hard workers and they even make me feel bad sometimes when I don’t really appreciate the things we take for granted each day. I hope you learned something from this great experience.

  25. Camila Garcia

    As a person coming from a third world country, I understand and have seen poverty everyday. Is always very hard to see people living in those conditions, but is actually the reality of the majority of the people. At least in Colombia more than 80% lives in extreme poverty. When I read your article about your experience in Mexico, I am grateful that you could break the bubble where you live. These people are very hard workers and are people who fight for the bread of everyday. I admire their hospitality towards you, and how with very few they gave everything they could so you could feel conformable. I hope that you now value all the resources and blessings that you have at home.

  26. Rachel Studley

    It sounds like an amazing experience, and one that you will never forget. Service Learning trips like this one I think are one of the best ways to gain new perspectives. We read about poverty and how other people live every day but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really sink in until we experience it.

  27. Ashley Svihel

    I like how people can have so little and still be grateful and more than happy to have guests. That is exactly what this article demonstrated but it was tough to hear their living conditions and their hardships. Reading things like this makes me appreciate what I have even more then before.

  28. Kyle Stepka

    I thought it was really cool how the people their don’t have much but they are very grateful for everything they have. Even though their living space is very difficult and I couldn’t even think about living like that.

  29. Carley Nadeau

    This is a beautifully written article. It sounds like it was such an amazing experience. You can really feel all of the emotion you felt and put into this article. It gives a great perspective about if material possessions really do matter and our constant consumption of goods. Nice job!

  30. Thank you for this insightful article! I believe you have stumbled upon what many of us spend our lives denying. The world we live in today more or less determines success by wealth. Material accumulation is sadly also a part of social acceptance: even if we (as individuals) negate this reality we must be prepared for the social backlash it will generate. Experiences like your, I think will give us strength to pursue and clarification for we what our lives to look like.

  31. Megan Bingham

    This article means a lot to me because I too believe that family is everything. I am happiest when I am surrounded by my family even if we don’t get along all of the time. I could never imagine living in that type of entirety of poverty. That family physically had nothing, but what they did have was family and they were not going to let anything come between that special bond. The fact that tomatoes and lettuce was their only meal of the day showed me right away that they were not wealthy.

  32. Anissa Kathryn Jones

    This story was very eye opening and inspiring to read. It is incredible to see people like you mentioned finding happiness out of the most difficult situations. This quote from you really hit me – “Stuff will not fulfill your life; material things do not bring happiness. People, family, and experiences bring happiness” (Battcher, J., 2014). We can learn so much from these stories and experiences. In Worlds Together, Worlds Apart by Tignor et al., he mentions how different groups encounter roadblocks that can impact their survival, like treacherous weather. Nevertheless, they find a way around these roadblocks, either by adapting to the weather or moving on to a different environment that is more suitable. These groups made the best of their situations, just like the people you mentioned in your experience. Great job!

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