Historical Parallelism

On Sunday, we went to see Hamilton: An American Musical at the Orpheum Theater. As the Broadway nerd that I am, I was extremely excited to see – again – one of my favorite musicals. Although I recognize its many flaws, I enjoy this show because it combines beautiful music and the ironies of history. Many of the issues and debates explored during the play showcase that America today is still haunted by the very same phantoms than at its foundation.

The number “Cabinet Battle #2” depicts the debate between Secretary of State T. Jefferson and, Secretary of Treasure A. Hamilton on the issue of neutrality of America in France’s revolution. In the last verses of the song, Hamilton raps “If we try to fight in every revolution in the world, we never stop. Where do we draw the line”? I smirked at this replica; it underlined in the plus two hundred years debate on the role of America in the world scene. To intervene or not to intervene, that is the USA’s question. And although, this country foreign policy has evolved and transformed over the years, its compromise or need to help fights for democracy – or supposedly –  has persisted. Even today, the topic on America’s role in the global scene is still up for debate and thus every time there is civil or military unrest, this country falls down the same rabbit hole than Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s. Under this vision, one could argue that the origin of manifest destiny can be traced back to 1789.   

Another historical parallelism depicted in this play is the political polarization of the government. Often I hear in the news that we live in an age of extreme polarization. Yet, seeing Hamilton, I could not help to notice that the newly formed American people were as divided than it is today – or almost. The fights about foreign policy, wall street, and political substitution have carried over the years. In both cases, the cabinet fracture has bled into the media. In the times of the founding fathers, they would express their disdain in op-eds in newspapers and, today over twitter. Needless to say, the first ones were much more eloquent. Maybe one day Trump’s tweets will become an elaborated number for a groundbreaking musical. It took Lin Manuel Miranda seven years to write his second Tony-awarded play and it opened in 2016. And although the theater is a place to escape from reality for a few hours, during the last presidential campaign the performance was a more eloquent – and much less depressing – mirror of the American political reality.

Overall, Hamilton: An American Musical, is one more example of the American dream. The theater burst in cheers at the line “Immigrants we get the job done” during “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”. Hamilton was an immigrant from Saint Kitts and Nevis that ended in the $10 bill. It is a tale about pulling oneself by the bootstraps – even if the myth is in its death bed and the cases of success are less and less common, it is still real. The author of the play is the vivid illustration of it.   

History is cyclical, nevertheless, if we fail to learn from it, like America, we will continue to repeat the same mistakes.

“Man and History are one; it is Man that makes history, but it is History that made man”. – Vercors  

Meows and words

By Diana Paz Garcia

This week we had two interpreters come to our class and talk about their experience. It got me thinking about language. Language and speaking are one of the things that we take for granted every day. I am used to switching on a daily basis between English, Spanish and French, yet I found it surprising when I hear a language that I am foreign too. As the presenters related their experience a cat meowed at us. I made me ask myself if the ability of language is exclusive to humans? What then characterizes the human language? Why are the natural codes of signals used by animals not able to claim the status of languages?

            Some philosophers such as Descartes, argue that that the word is suitable only to the man alone; the only man has the property of being an animal capable of inventing signs; man, is a “thinking thing”, he is driven by the need to express his thoughts (Descartes, 1646). It is thought and the reason that radically distinguishes man from animal. If animals do not talk, it’s precisely because they do not think.

            However, if thinking is a prerequisite for being able to speak, it implies that the thought must have happened in a language. Under this perspective, to think is to hold a speech, even if it is not actually uttered, so that thought is inseparable from the language that expresses it. In that case, a thought that is not composed of words is not a thought, since thinking is linked to language (Hegel, 1817). Thus, language is a faculty exclusive to Men. Language begins, in fact, where there is not expression but discourse, which animals seem incapable of doing. But what makes the human language unique?

            The human language is a very complex system of signs both in terms of the nature of the signs that compose it and their rules of combination, as well as the functions it performs. On the one hand, human language, unlike animal communication, is infinitely mobile. On the other hand, the linguistic sign is inherently arbitrary. Finally, human language is a system of signs that is doubly articulated (Bergson, 1907).

             Bergson’s analysis on the mobility of the sign is taken up by linguistics through the notion of double articulation. Linguistic signs are an essential characteristic of what Martinet calls the double articulation: whereas each barking of the dog or each bird song is presented as a kind of melody that must be perceived and memorized globally, the words are on the contrary articulated. From a small number of basic sounds or phonemes (vowels, consonants, diphthongs), all meaningless, one can form by the assembly as many words as one needs.

Therefore, is language man’s exclusive? Yes, if language is understood as a double-articulated system of signs. It is mobility, with its adaptive capacity, that is the essential aspect of the “intelligent sign” of human language, as opposed to the fixed nature of the animal “instinctive sign”. Human codes are characterized by their delicacy, complexity and a high degree of arbitrariness. Man, has the ability to compose linguistic signs according to various arrangements that allow him to deal with any discourse situation.

Decolonizing my identity; a work in process pt.1

Malinchismo: is a form of attraction that a person from one culture develops for another culture. It applies to all those who feel attracted to foreign cultures and disregard for their own culture (Lemos & Dantas;2010)

I have a confession; for most of my life, I was a malinchist. I was convinced that European, particularly French culture was superior to the Mexican one. I did not realize that my mind and my identity had been colonized until I left my country.  

I developed this preference by attending a French school in Mexico City. It is a private school that provides French education in Mexico under the programs of the French National Minister of Education. The curricular taught in their classrooms are exactly the same than in any other public school in France. It is a bicultural and bilingual institution with students from all around the world, whose mission is to form responsible and capable men and women to contribute to the development of the country. All of our classes are taught in French, except for languages, and students learn about French history and society. Since the school operates like any other French school in France the teachers say “we” as citizens of France, “your ancestors the Gallic” and hold students to the highest standards when it comes to the language. Although, most of the pupils are not French and their native language is something else than the one spoken at school. As they teach instructors erase the identities of their listeners, presenting an equally problematic conception of what it means to be French in the world. One could say that the LFM and their staffulty have a power-evasiveness approach (Ochoa 2013;22). Under the excuse of equality, they dismiss the impact of structural and institutional inequalities as well as systems of race and they blame the student for not studying hard enough.

Moreover, by being French the student can see the connection of their personhood and identity to the content they are learning. There is, thus, an unequal system that is only reinforced by the power-evasive approach undertaken by the school. French students, in particular, have a bigger symbolic capital. Almost as if the nationality was a resource of prestige. And to some extend it is, because the underline of this system is that being French is better; it opens more doors, a better control of the language and better opportunities.  

Sometimes, it is not even the underline, some teachers make their mission to demonstrate that France is superior to Mexico. Inflicting in the non-French an inferiority complex, and a feeling of nationality dysphoria. Because the message is inflicted upon the students since kinder garden, by high school it becomes the common sense. French supremacy, as a type of white supremacy, is then reproduced by POC students. For instance, when I was in my first year of high school (sophomore year in the US) my history teacher, a white French male, told us that “Spaniards have made us a favor by colonizing us”. We did not question this message since that was the same one that we had learned from elementary school, we took it as a reality. The system by that time does not longer need white people to reproduce white supremacy. By teaching the story of colonization from the perspective of the colonizer in a country that was once colonized, the LFM is dismissing of the impact of historical and structural forces. It ignores the sociopolitical context of Mexico. It assumes that white is neutrality and that they are the best perspective to teach history from. It silences the historical privileges of white identity and cultural practices (Ochoa 2013; 22). Because most of the teachers grew up in a mostly white context or at least in a French one, they assume that these roles do not matter. But, they do (Ochoa 2013;48). Moreover, French supremacy is also enforced by the choice of staffulty, most instructors and administrative personnel are white French citizens, even Spanish and Physical Education teachers are Francophones. It is understandable that the LFM wants to reproduce as closely the experience to go to school in the old continent, and the instructors were not bad. However, it is the hidden message it sends to Mexican students that even for teaching them their own language they need a foreigner

It took me moving 3,400 km away from Mexico in order to fall in love with my country and to begin the process of decolonization of my identity. I realized that my education, as explained by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, had annihilated my belief in my language – my French is still better than my Spanish – my history – I am oblivious to much of our past – to the point that I had started to believe about my nation as a wasteland of no achievement– I rejected my country. I would like to precise that I am not saying that everything I learned during 15 years needs to go and that it was bad. On the contrary, I am extremely grateful for the education that I received and I would not be the person that I am today if it was nor for the French educational system. However, today I employ the most powerful tool that they gave me, critical spirit, to question the system that formatted me. Now, I strive to decolonize my identity and re-build what it means to me to be Mexican, raised by European values, living in Trump’s America.  

Visiting the Overlooked

By Diana Paz Garcia

The heart of C5i – center for intelligence and security – in Hidalgo, Mexico

This summer I had the opportunity to visit a prison, a military sergeant school and a state-center of high security. The first one was during this program, and the two last were in Mexico. I have to admit that before every one of these trips I was consistently nervous, skeptical and to be completely honest, a little scared. Although all three of these institutions belong to the State, there are systems that we keep apart from the populous and the common life. We never immediately think of them when we conceptualize the image of a Nation, we tend to omit them or think of them under a “us vs. them” dynamic. In Mexico, the military and the prison are institutions that are mostly mentioned in a negative context. As Mexicans, we are taught to be skeptical about our institutions and security forces. The military is not glorified like in the US; there is a gap between civilians and the army. Plus, due to historical events as well as the “recent” militarization of the country, people often fear the military and perceive them as a threat to their daily life. When it comes to our security facilities, we are oblivious about the way they function and their operations. We regularly omit their victories and focus exclusively on increasing crime rates. The omnipresence of violence makes us blind to their work. Then, when it comes to prisons, we are aware of their existence, yet it seems that we try to do everything possible to eliminate the thought of it – for what I have observed, it seems to be the same situation in the US.

Nevertheless, as pointed out by Julie we have a moral obligation to understand these systems; we are participants of them as well as we are paying for them. We cannot ignore their presence because they belong to the social fabric that constitutes our nation-states, they are part of the social contract we have signed off on and they are as key participants of our society as the rest of us. Thus, the visits to these three different facilities opened my eyes; going into them, I was ready to confirm my beliefs that these institutions were flawed and harmful. However, to my surprise, I was proven wrong. Yes, all of them still have fundamental defects and I still disagree with some of their core principles. However, by interacting with them I was exposed to another side of their narrative that is usually ignored by the media and our general vision from the outside. All three of them are working – under their perspective – to make the country safer, fairer and better. As well as they are all constituted by humans. Oftentimes when we look at institutions we perceive them as a faceless anonymous mass, yet we forget that they are conformed by people; a nice guard in the prison, a brilliant sergeant and a passionate 911 operator. Interacting with them broke the glass wall for me, it returned them their humanity – to my eyes- and in their own ways, they inspired me for a better future.

Now, beyond understanding each other, I believe that there is an urgent need for collaboration. We – military, the justice system, civil society, civilians, etc. – strive and work towards the same objective: peace. Yet we do it individually, from our own trenches and almost competitively. I think that in order to achieve sustainable peace a collective and collaborative effort is imperative.

The human experience is weird – disjointed thoughts

By Diana Paz Garcia

The human experience is a weird one – this thought has popped in my mind several times during this program, either walking in the streets of Monterey, in class, during our prison tour and even watching Hamilton. This idea had already begun to germinate in my brain a time ago, but it was pushed to grow exponentially after Eugenia’s talk and with our visit to the different criminal justice system facilities.

More and more, I encounter the word decolonization in academia – it is the idea of freeing knowledge from its engrained Western vision. But, is it decolonizing to go back or decolonizing to build something new? If we are going back, how far are we going? Who gets to choose? And what tells us that the past is the best option? Unfortunately, we do not know and the game of historical “what if” is counterproductive. Yet, I am still left to wonder what would the world look like today if Europeans had not taken the endeavor to colonize the world. I struggle with the idea of going too far back because then: what is left? If we undress history what are we going to found at its core? Is there anything? But, I also understand and support the idea that if we do not undress history we will just be reproducing the harmful and detrimental historical systems. Nevertheless, what tells us that even in the “beginning” there weren’t unequal systems of power? Is it in the nature of humanity to be unequal?

The human experience is weird; as we walked around the prison I was surprised by the existence of these institutions. Someone, thousands of years ago, decided that the best way to deal with people that broke the implicit social structures was to put them away in a space with restricted mobility and less than desirable conditions. Not only that, but that humanity continued to reproduce this practice until it became “normal” to have huge industrialized complexes with thousands of people in its inside restricted from their freedom. On an everyday basis, most people do not question the existence or validity of these institutions. But, as we toured the facilities, I was weirded out by the materialization of this idea and the acceptance towards it. The existence of prisons seems to be part of the human experience.

Another curious aspect of our existence is that although, we – humans – have a shared “humanity” we are unable to completely shared it. We are isolated we our own feelings, completely unable to share or communicate them in their whole complexity with others. What we hold up to be our more prized common ground is also what alienate us and makes us the “other”. We are a prison to ourselves – maybe that is where the idea started?

The role of empathy in peacebuilding

By Diana Paz Garcia

Last Friday, we were introduced to the Mantras of Peace; it is a list of different values that peacebuilder should have. The first one was “empathize with other persons”. In order to exemplify it, we realized an activity where we had to look at a picture and try to put ourselves in the shoes of the person depicted; we had to emphasize with them. The images depicted refugees, kids in wars and suffering people.

Although interesting, this activity made me question the idea of empathy. The world is often used to make reference to the “imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it” (Oxford Dictionary). In other words, to be empathetic is to put oneself in the other’s shoes, to feel their emotions and particularly their pain.

Nevertheless, I believe that empathy is a concept in our field that is overused and often is unproductive. I will like to note that I am not against compassion, kindness or morality, but more that I do not believe that empathy is the most pertinent guide for peacebuilding. On the one hand, empathy implies feeling the other’s pain, however, as exposed by Pascal in the Pensées (1670), we are alone with our feelings. One of the beauties of humans is the loneliness and uniqueness of our emotions. They are non-transmissible, as well as our language is limited and lacks the words to describe them in their totality. Thus, we are left alone in this word with our feelings and sessions because we cannot completely communicate them. Consequently, it becomes impossible to empathize because our emotions are intangible, we can imagine and try to grasp what the other is feeling, however, we will never be able to completely feel what they are experimenting. And by empathizing we are minimizing and trivializing the experiences of our counterpart because we will never be able to completely capture the reality of what they are expressing. Moreover, emotional empathy, in our field can be detrimental because it can lead to what psychologists call empathetic distress (Paul Bloom). By trying to feel the terrible sorrow of the people we are helping, we are hindering our own psychological status. It is destructive of the individual in the long term. Experiencing other’s suffering is exhausting and can cause burnout. The empathetic distress is not constructive to the situation; it is not helping either party.

However, by this argument, I am not denying the existence of empathy. To some degree, it is natural for humans. For instance, babies often try to help – in their capacity – by patting and soothing when they hear the suffering of others (Paul Bloom). As well as other animals, such as chimps, pat and groom the victim of an attack (Frans de Waal).   

On the other hand, I think that empathy is a concept in the peacebuilding field that is often misguiding in the construction of social policies. I consider that “the empathy-altruism hypothesis” as explained by C. Daniel Batson is flawed. The idea is that empathy is a mean to dissolve the boundaries between one person and another and that when one empathizes with others, they are more likely to provide help. Nevertheless, what this hypothesis ignores is the fact that empathy is biased. We are more likely to feel empathy towards people that look similar to us or share some particular trait such as race or ethnicity. Additionally, research laboratories have found that empathy is more likely to happen towards an individual from whom we have personal information than towards a big number or statistical data. Thus, our social policies will improve once we put empathy aside; they will become more grounded in reality and least subjective.  

Commitment to Peace

By Diana Paz Garcia

On Friday, we started our session with a “healing circle”. It is a practice inspired by Native American traditions and it is commonly used in restorative justice processes. During this activity, we were asked to reflect and share our personal experiences with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and gross human rights violations.

This question took me by surprise, although I constantly study the violations of the Statute of Rome, I had never reflected on their presence in my life. I tried to formulate a coherent answer in the few seconds that we had, but when it was my turn to speak, my voice cracked and I was unable to formulate any word. In those 10 seconds, the reality of my country, the thirteen years of conflict, the over 300 000 deaths, the 84 daily homicides, the blood, the terror, the funerals and every single traumatic experience that I had ever had as a consequence of the “war against drugs” slapped me in the face.

Immediately, my eyes drowned in tears and my stomach turned. A small piece of my soul crumbled and for the rest of the day, I felt empty. However, little by little, the fear and sadness were replaced with determination and passion. Although I would have preferred to have it another way, this activity helped me regain ground with the core principles that have pushed me to want to become a peacebuilder. It is the same experiences that break me that fuel my conviction to work on conflict resolution.

It is because my homeland hurts in my entrails and I aspire to calm its ailments that I plan to dedicate my life for the improvement of the Mexican reality. Everything I do, my studies, my research, and even this program I do them for my country. I cannot afford to do nothing; I do not have that privilege. My commitment to my country and hunger is enrooted in my soul. I plan to fight for my México lindo y querido until my death because I love my nation with “fury, passion and dismay” (Carlos Fuentes).

Questions for global citizenship

By Diana Paz Garcia

During one of our sessions, the speaker introduced the idea of global citizenship. She argued that humans should embrace this concept based on people’s shared humanity. She defined global citizenship as “being able to identify with the world, and feel like you belong anywhere”. Although I agree that there is a commonality in the human experience that we should embrace, I also feel conflicted. It becomes hard to visualize the idea of belonging “anywhere” were systems and structures constantly strive to make some sectors of the population constantly feel like the “other”. Institutions in most countries are built to make me, a Mexican woman, feel like I do not belong. Regardless of where I go, it is impossible to shake off the feeling of “otherness”.

I believe that it is impossible to undermine the role of structural power in the conceptualization of global citizenship. Because, if we ignore it, in the construction of this global village there would be – like in most communities – second and third-class citizens. However, isn’t the core concept of global citizenship ingrained in the idea of equality, due to the fact that because we are humans – thus equal – we all belong? Nevertheless, if there are forces that limit and barricade the feeling of belonging to some, wouldn’t that then defeat the purpose of the existence of this global identity?  

Coming out of this session I am left with many questions, particularly; how might we strive to cultivate a global identity without reinforcing structural violence? How can we deconstruct and decolonize global citizenship? And should the process then, be first bottom-top or top-bottom?  

Where do you belong?

“Where do you belong?” / “Where is Home for you?”

Four simple words, yet they set off a wave of panic in my mind. We were asked this on our first day at SPP. I could not help but to feel annoyed at this question, and the apparent obsession with the idea of “belonging” and “home”. Why do we constantly seek to delimit our belonging? And mostly what does it mean to belong?

This word is commonly used, yet lacks a concrete definition. Even the essence of this term is blurry.

The speaker indicated that we belong to the place that we call home. But, in an age of ultra-mobility what does “home” look like?

I was born in Mexico, raised in a Franco-Mexican, and I currently reside in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The obvious answer to where I call home would be Mexico. Nevertheless, every time I have gone back since I left for college, it has been a bittersweet experience.

I have realized that although Mexico City it is the place where I am from, today I have lost touch with many of the components of its essence.

The fantasy that I had built in my frozen dorm day by day melts in front of my eyes when I am there.

I feel alienated and invaded by a feeling of otherness in the place that I should be able to call Home.

My immediate response is wanting to go back to Macalester, wanting to go back to the place I now call familiar. However, whenever I am in Minnesota I cannot not think about Mexico.

I guess, being an international student in the US is a little odd. I have never stopped feeling like a stranger in America. You are reminded by misunderstanding cultural references, people pointing out at your accent and by constantly longing for your home country. But now that I go back to Mexico I do no longer feel like I belong. I was left in the middle, with a foot in both countries, without really fitting into either.

Thus, I wonder if our sense belonging has to be linked to a physical space?  Or if the notion of “home” as a geographical location is soon to become an anachronism.

Peace: my name and passion

By Diana Garcia

My last name is Paz, which means Peace in Spanish. One will believe that after a lifetime of repeating it, the meaning of the word would be evident and superfluous to define. However, after 20 years of seeking for the definition, I am still unsure of what it is and what it looks like in real life. The only certain thing is that Peace is beyond being my identity, is my lifelong passion. Thankfully, the quest to define this concept has led me to several enjoyable activities, projects and adventures.

I first concretely got involved with peacebuilding, when at 16 years old along with a friend, we created a foundation. It was located in a disfavor zone of Mexico City – my hometown- where organized crime was prominent. The omnipresence of violence in the neighborhood affected negatively the youth of the community; it was dangerous to play outside and often joining these groups seemed like the only option or at least the most profitable one. Thus, we created a safe space where kids and teenagers, could play soccer – our national sport- and get access to educational tools such as talks on conflict resolution and sexual education. Although we did not solve all the problems of the community, we contributed to the construction of a better social cohesion and improved tools for dispute transformation. In June 2016, we received the “Best Realization of a Startup” prize by Numa Institute Mexico and the French Embassy in Mexico.
Later, my passion for peacebuilding was accentuated when I discovered Model of United Nations. I love solving conflicts through debate and negotiation even if they are just a simulation. I was also inspired by the fervor of all the young people that participated and were so invested in the construction of a better world. I went on to create the first MUN conference and team in my high school and nowadays I am the Secretary-General of my college’s team. Ever since I discovered this academic activity, my goal has become to one day work at an international organization to participate in the construction of sustainable inclusive peace.
This same love for conflict resolution and peacebuilding lead me to study Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarianism at Macalester College. Saint Paul (MN) and Mexico City are pretty different cities; in Mexico, the biggest threat is organized crime, in Minnesota, the biggest danger is the cold. Nevertheless, my new community is not exempt from conflicts. My experience with peacebuilding in my college community has been in the realm of gender and sexual violence. I am the co-chair of the organization Feminists in Action-Students Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault and a sexual health peer educator. These two groups work against gender and sexual violence, through the organization of workshops, conferences, and events. It is a way to construct peace on our campus since sexual violence is a problem that gravely affects our community. 
Moreover, ever since last March, I have collaborated with the Institute of Economics and Peace in NYC and Mexico City. Although I have executed several activities for peace construction with them, the two most meaningful ones for me were giving a “positive peace and violence prevention” conference/workshop to sergeants still in military school. As well as creating a study group with different sectors of the civil society for the study and analysis of victims of the current Mexican violent context.
Furthermore, in December 2018, along with a friend I created the initiative Nuestra Paz. It is a project that works to integrate young people in the Mexican peace process. Through a survey, we collect youth’s perception of the general violence situation in Mexico City, and what they imagine peace would look like in their communities. Based on their responses, we develop local solutions in collaborations, multiple actors. I presented this initiative at the 2019 UN Youth Assembly and it was awarded the Live It fund.
I hope that during my time at SPP I will obtain the pertinent tools to create sustainable positive change in my country, Mexico. For the past year, I have been involved in increasing youth participation in the national peace process. In SPP I will be able to enhance my abilities for conflict analysis and management, and thus, make my work more impactful. Moreover, I would love to be part of this program to gain from the incredible faculty, a broader vision of the world and to have a better understanding of how conflict is a vehicle for change. I believe that thanks to this experience I will obtain the materials and skills to use for the construction of impactful comprehensive actions to change the situation of violence and inequality in my home country. Furthermore, I look forward to exchanging ideas with my peers and hopefully engage in a trans-national project for peacebuilding. SPP offers the perfect opportunity for me to continue developing my passion for social justice and my will to change the world.

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