Tag Archives: Mexico

U.S. Mexican Border – Asylum Seekers and Legal Aid – by Kathryn Marquis Hirsch. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

U.S. Mexican Border – Asylum Seekers and Legal Aid – by Kathryn Marquis Hirsch. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

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[Photo 1: The border fence between Brownsville, Texas, USA and Matamoros, Mexico. It’s very tall and hard to grasp but people still manage to scale it. It’s harder to get down than it is to get up, which leads to injuries.]

For one short week during my latest semester break, I was a law student volunteer with an organization that provides pro bono legal services to asylum seekers in South Texas, near the United States-Mexico border. Some of their clients are being held by the United States Department of Homeland Security in detention centers while a relative few are out on bond. Lawyers, legal assistants, and law students from The South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) give presentations and meet with asylum seekers individually to help explain the application process and how to navigate the United States’ very complicated and often arbitrary system of immigration law.

It is important to note that under international and U.S. law, asylum seekers must enter American territory to begin the process; they cannot apply for asylum before entering the country. Detainees are not “illegal;” even people who are undocumented are not being held because they have committed any crime. Before they are given permission to stay in the United States, they are, however, subject to a rigorous application process that is very confusing and counter-intuitive.

The application process requires a person to explain why they cannot safely live in their home country and why they qualify for asylum in the U.S. based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and/or membership in a particular social group. (They may also be allowed to remain in the U.S. because of the Convention Against Torture.) These categories are broader than they might seem at first reading, so many applicants do not realize how they qualify. For example, a person being targeted for persecution because he or she is a member of a certain clan, sect, or gender, or someone who is not being protected from persecution by the authorities of their home country because of membership in an unfavored group, would meet the requirements. Including evidence of the conditions in one’s home country also helps, but country conditions alone won’t convince a court. Showing that violence is high or that minority groups are being targeted can reinforce someone’s claim but isn’t enough; the government’s policy isn’t to simply give asylum to everyone from a country even if that country is in a state of chaos. Applicants must show that they are especially at risk and have a credible fear for their safety should they return to their country.

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[Photo 2: The international border crossing in Brownsville, Texas is located right at a major intersection in the heart of downtown.]

One of the most important ways ProBAR can help an applicant is with writing a supplement to their application that explains why they felt forced to leave their home country and undertake a long, harrowing journey to the United States. This is a hard task even for native English speakers with some legal training. The process requires putting one’s story into a legalistic, sequential format that includes all pertinent information while also being brief and to the point. This is not how human memory works, especially not when thinking about terrible events, but any inconsistencies or omissions may undermine an asylum seeker’s credibility in the view of a court.

Consider the hypothetical of telling someone about something that happened the first day of the week. If they ask specifically, you might tell someone that it happened on a Monday without really drawing upon memory. If you then find some document that shows the event in question actually occurred on a Tuesday, that might prompt you to recall that it was actually the first day back to work or school after a three-day holiday weekend so it felt like a Monday, and that’s how you remembered it before you scrutinized the details. This is not a matter of being dishonest or even a sign of a faulty memory, it’s just how human memory works. People leave out or remember different details depending on what questions they’re asked, what order they discuss events in, and so on. Add trauma, time, and an unfamiliar language to the equation and it’s not hard to see how people need help to tell their histories in a linear, matter-of-fact way. Much of our work as volunteers was to interview applicants and review their information carefully to make sure that they understood what was being asked of them and that their answers matched the questions.

It cannot be overemphasized how complicated the process is– there is the basic process which is tricky enough plus different rules for different circumstances related to a person’s particular nationality, their parents’ nationality, whether they fit under an assortment of time-limited provisions, and on and on. Most people have a very strong case but don’t know how to convey this to a judge. Applicants who represent themselves without any sort of legal assistance have a statistically low chance of succeeding, while those who have even a bit of legal training and guidance are more likely than not to succeed.

Traveling great distances (often for months across thousands of miles) at great expense and risk and leaving one’s home country behind, never to return, is not entered into lightly. In the abstract, it’s easy to think about immigration as a policy problem to be solved, or in grandiose terms of huddled masses. From either a positive or negative standpoint, immigration is not a sea of humanity. It is important to look at the magnitude of the effects unrest in the world has on humanity as a whole while keeping in mind that immigration concerns the well-being of real children, women, and men.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch serves as managing editor of The North Star Reports.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (http://theMiddleGroundJournal.org).

For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

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Tulum, Mexico: City of the Dawn — The North Star Reports – by Tayler Boelk. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Tulum, Mexico: City of the Dawn — The North Star Reports – by Tayler Boelk. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

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Along the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea lie the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Located in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Mayans. The Maya civilization was one of the most dominant indigenous societies in Mesoamerica, excelling in agriculture, hieroglyphic writing, pottery, mathematics, and calendar-making.

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Tulum, which means “fence” or “wall” in the Yucatan Mayan language, is named after the large stone wall that surrounds the city. However, it did not always have this name. It is believed that Tulum was previously known as Zama, meaning “City of the Dawn”, because it faces the sunrise. This particular location was an important pre-Columbian trade site as it had access to both land and sea trade routes. Archaeological evidence suggests that the city of Tulum traded with areas all over the Yucatan Peninsula, Central Mexico, Central America, and sometimes beyond. Now, it is the most popular Mayan tourist site in the Yucatan and the third most visited archeological site in Mexico.

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My tour guide, Gus, was very passionate about de-bunking common myths and misconceptions about the Maya. For example, one Mayan myth is that they performed ceremonial sacrifices, the most popular story being the human sacrifice of a virgin. Gus explained that these “sacrifices” were most likely public executions of criminals and that there is no way to discover if those killed were virgins or non. While they did have some interesting practices, such as making a small cut to the hand as a blood sacrifice, most of these savage and primitive rumors surrounding the Mayan people were the product of their Spanish conquerors (or “conquistadors”).

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The Spanish conquerors, bringing with them weapons and disease, caused a rapid decline of the Mayan people.

However, by the time the Spanish Conquistadors arrived, the Maya were already weakening. In fact, many large Mayan sites had already been abandoned. Recent discoveries show evidence that drought, deforestation, and the decline of large game animals contributed to the Maya’s collapse of empire. While there were many reasons for the decline, the central cause was that the Maya’s cities grew beyond the capacity of the land. This phenomenon forced the Maya to separate into smaller villages, which made it much easier to conquer them.

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As the Spanish pursued their quest of discovering and extracting gold and silver, they learned more about the Mayan people. Mayan warfare, as Gus explained, was somewhat like a game of chess. If the warring state injured or killed the opposing forces’ King, they were considered victorious and both sides put down their weapons. It is believed that the Spanish took advantage of this tradition as they conquered different Mayan communities by targeting the respective leaders.

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Despite their numerous militaristic advantages , it took the Spanish 170 years to finally subjugate the Maya peoples. Their Mayan pursuit took significantly longer than their battles with the Aztecs and Incas, and they never found the riches they were seeking. The survivors were forced into slavery and were expected to convert to Christianity. Those who refused were often arrested and tortured. To further discourage pantheistic practices, religious texts and artifacts produced by the Maya were actively destroyed.

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Gus emphasized that it was the Spanish who created the Mayan stereotype of “the stupid Indians” when, in fact, the Maya were far more advanced than the rest of the world in both in mathematics and astronomy. This stereotype was reinforced as the Spanish suppressed the surviving Mayans into slavery and deprived them of an education. This is one of many examples supporting the saying: “History is decided by the winner.” Fortunately, a great deal of Mayan history has survived to date, and an adapted version of the Mayan language and some of the culture’s practices have been recovered. Today, Mayan descendants continue to live in the Yucatan Peninsula and other parts of Central America and strive to keep their rich heritage alive and vibrant.

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Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Norway, northeastern China, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

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Being Blonde in Mexico — The North Star Reports – by Jennifer Battcher. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Being Blonde in Mexico — The North Star Reports – by Jennifer Battcher. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

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Living in the upper Midwest, I have never thought much about the relatively homogenous society in which I participate. Being pale in many aspects of my appearance has allowed me to fit right in with the majority of people in the surrounding areas. When I was in Mexico, I experienced what it feels like to look different from nearly everyone around. I had been in Mexico several days, paying absolutely no mind to the fact that I looked very different from most of the people there. It never even occurred to me how much I stood out from those within my group, but it certainly occurred to other people.

“Jenny, these guys want to talk to you because you’re blonde,” said a girl in my group while we were out one night. Because you are blonde. Suddenly, I felt so very noticeable and defined by this one glaring feature that set me apart from the rest. Another time, while my traveling group had dinner with a family from the area, the older ladies started to laugh and giggle as a teenage boy’s face turned red. It was translated to me that this boy was wondering if I would take a picture with him because of my blonde hair. As he stood next to me, embarrassed but defiant to get his picture, I felt very on display, again. Like my hair was shouting “I’m different from you! I’m different from you!” Not only were all the Mexican people staring as our picture was snapped, but so was every brown, black and red haired person from my group. They all stood grouped together watching me and my conspicuous hair with emotionless eyes.

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Suddenly my morning routine changed. As I brushed my hair I began to wonder if I should wear it up to hide the blondness or wear it down and embrace my peculiarity.

When I returned to my society of doppelgängers, I started to notice the few people who don’t camouflage in the snow and wonder if they feel as if a spot light shines on them and their features. Some features that stand out aren’t as easily hidden just by putting your hair up. I wonder what kind of comments and experiences they encounter, and if they ever feel like blending in with the crowd.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

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

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org The NSR is sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

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Bilingualism and being lost in Mexico — The North Star Reports – by Jennifer Battcher. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Bilingualism and being lost in Mexico — The North Star Reports – by Jennifer Battcher. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

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I have great respect for people who are fluent in more than one language. Six years of Spanish and a minor in the subject have left me able to understand the teachers of the Spanish Immersion program at the local elementary school as they talk to their second and third grade classes yet completely baffled when they talk to each other. This respect for people who are fluent in more than one language comes not only from trying and minimally succeeding to learn another language, but also from my experiences in Mexico.

I travelled to Mexico on a service learning trip, and one of the activities planned for us was to go out into the city in small groups and try to find our way back to the market. As my group and I wondered around stopping people on the street to ask for directions, I felt lucky that my native language is English. Everyone we stopped to talk to was very patient with me as I butchered conjugations, piecing together questions. When they answered, my mumbled pleas of “más despacio, por favor” (slowly, please) was met with a quick switch to English if they knew it. Using the two languages, we were able to find our way.

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This experience made me realize how incredibly terrifying it must be to arrive in a country of which you don’t speak the language and no one can understand you. Most people we talked to know some English, and my group knew some Spanish, yet we still managed to find ourselves awkwardly wandering through an adult film store on the suggestion of someone to “take a shortcut through this building.” What a privilege it is to fluently speak a language that is well-known across the world.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’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 program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, projects on historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports 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) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org The NSR is sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact chief editor Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

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

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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.

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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 https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/

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:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

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.

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