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on June 4, 2017 on 6/4/17 from ,

Questioning Culture: Neoliberalism, Museums, “Tourist Traps”, and Más

What a week. This was my first full week of class at ITESM (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey). Though our course is being taught by our UT Austin professor, Dr. Laura Gutierrez, we have access to this campus’ resources and have been able to connect with other ITESM and international students. Reminder, my program focuses on three things: the implementation of NAFTA, the presence of Narcos and Narcoeconomies, and Neoliberalism. Throughout class, we are unpacking each of them to understand how they impact México (specifically México City) and its culture.

Photo of me in front of México’s National Museum of Anthropology.

Photo of me climbing up the Pyramid of the Sun.

This week we had excursions to el Zócalo, Templo Mayor, Palacio Bellas Artes, el Museo Nacional de Antropología, and Teotihuacán. First I would like to touch briefly on my understanding of neoliberalism. In one of our texts, neoliberalism can be understood as a “theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills…characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices” (2 Harvey). Sounds like capitalism? Well, essentially, that’s what it is, but on steroids. It proposes that free markets and deregulation would benefit the people. But the question then is, what do we do when the interests and well-being of corporations and businesses are put first? Individual freedom sounds great, and some of it does exist (especially in the United States) but we are questioning what that “freedom” actually means, and who gets to benefit from it. In terms of México, as I walk to class every day, I am experiencing the impact of this system by simply buying from our local street vendors who are a part of the very large informal economy that México has. I have a choice to go to “el Comer”, the nearest supermarket and a corporation which has many locations throughout the city, or I can make my way down a couple streets to “el tiangis”, another term for market, where I can probably find what I need for a lot less.

Anyways, let’s touch on the museum. Though it was beautifully designed and powerful to walk through, we received a tour from anthropologist Dr. Sandra Rozental, who shared with us a critical perspective on the limitations of how the museum portrays the indigenous history of Mexico, as well as the absence of Afro Latinxs and other identities who form part of Mexican history (especially when we think about immigration). When we walk through museums, we have to remind ourselves to always be critical of how these “machines” can be used and are used to paint history in favor of a place or an institution, and in this museum’s case, to set up an idea of Mexican identity or “Mexicanidad”.

On our trip to Teotihuacán, we were taken to a shop after visiting the pyramids and receiving a tour of the area. There, we were presented with an enthusiastic local who discussed the maguey plant, which is used to develop an alcoholic beverage called “pulque”. This drink is relevant to our ancestors in México, but unfortunately instead of expanding on more history, he quickly touched on the topic of alcohol and its prevalence in México. Many international students (outside of our program), were invited to taste a couple of beverages and eventually purchased a bunch of souvenirs (keep in mind the legal drinking age here is 18). My professor called it a “tourist trap”. But we also have to consider the other side. This is how many individuals in México City survive. Who are we to deny their right to do that? The city is full of so much culture and history, a magnet for individuals from all over the world. Its inhabitants need to make a living. They need to survive. And when the implementation of “individual freedom” doesn’t quite benefit them the way it may for larger corporations, they can use and manipulate these (culture, history, and everything in between) to do so.  As international students, it is always important to keep an open mind and consider every side of what we are exposed to. Only then can we do our best to understand.

Finally, my week concluded with a dinner joined by members and founders of ODA, Otros Dreams en Acción. ODA is a “binational grassroots community dedicated to mutual support and political action by and for those who lived in the U.S. and are now in Mexico due to deportation, threat to deportation, the deportation of family, and/or other obstacles”. Check out their page here: http://www.odamexico.org/

I was able to connect with its founders and “returned” “DREAMers”, as I listened to their immigrant stories in the United States and their experience of now living in México. I will touch more about all of this soon because this post is already long, and I have a lot to say about this experience, but it is definitely not the end of it.

Sources:

Harvey, D. (2011). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.