Lucia Hinojosa in Chiapas, Mexico (part 1)

As this site has grown over the last year, we’ve tried to keep expanding the type of material it contains, in order to give as multifaceted a portrait of the VCS program as possible. One of our long-term goals was to provide a place for readers to learn more about students and faculty, so that the blog will serve as more than just an expanded calendar of events.

In the past, I’ve been able to post a fair amount of student artwork, showcasing the wide range of work that has come out of the VCS studios. However, because VCS is a program that incorporates writing and critical thinking into the process of art education, studio work is only half of the picture. Therefore, this week we’ll be inaugurating a new thread, consisting of occasional posts that feature some of the writing that has come out of the VCS classes.

Our first selection will be a post featuring a photo essay written last year by VCS student Lucia Hinojosa for the first-year Writing and Literature class, taught by Janice Ahn. The class is a two-semester course designed to develop students’ writing and critical thinking skills, using significant works of Western literature as a sounding board for student analysis and criticism. Texts for the course include contemporary works on the craft of writing (such as On Writing by Stephen King), and literary classics such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground. A quote from the syllabus sums up the aims of the course: “the first goal is for students to express themselves clearly, critically, and thoughtfully, using language. The second goal is for students to explore writing as a personal process and as an artist’s tool.”

Lucia’s piece originated from time she spent in Chiapas, Mexico, during which she examined the encroachment of modernization and mass-produced commodities into rural areas where traditional values have survived and life is lived much as it has been for centuries.

I asked Lucia if she wanted to write an introduction to her essay; here are her comments:

An indigenous person is never an individual; their whole race is one. Maybe this is why they can penetrate one’s eyes with just a stare. They have been walking the same rough pathway forever; past and present always coexisting in a labyrinth of longing. As they walk, their shadow is not at all tired, it is immense and powerful, carrying tales and legends of a mystified past, of great gods and majestic cities. Their only heritage is based on ancestral memories.

Indigenous communities have had a changing history, at first devoted to their mythology, then disrupted by Christianity and colonization. The path that they walk is only mystery. Their world is still rustic, while the world at large is rapidly changing, invading them without providing an “instruction manual” on how to survive, without knowing if they fit in today’s modern world, or if it’s better to let themselves be stepped on again. In the meantime, they only ask for dignity and survival: the most basic human instinct in any civilization.

Every time I’m with indigenous people I feel connected, I feel comfort and security, but what I feel most is respect. I want to understand their culture, their traditions, their spirit and ideologies, but most importantly, their suffering. A couple of years ago, I traveled to the Southern State of Chiapas, Mexico, and lived in communities for 3 months. It was a nurturing experience. I was finally immersed in the jungle, with no signs of civilization around and spending time with a culture full of wisdom; a wisdom that in many cases is repressed. I did this, through a non-profit, non-governmental organization called “Enlace” that works with indigenous communities. I did work based on individual and group interviews with the community, in order to understand the root of their suffering and publish it. They seek for people to help them and most importantly, to know about their situation. (There has been a long and intricate dispute between government and these communities that I will explain further in my essay.) They also allowed me to photograph them freely (which is not common) in order to illustrate their lifestyle in a visual form. I have been working on this project for a year, trying to distribute this information in any form possible. I am pleased that I finally took the first step. However, there is still much work left to do.

Tomorrow, I will post Lucia’s essay, including photographs she took in Chiapas that complement her words and bolster the points she makes. See you then.

[Update, 9/29/2010: the essay is now up. You can read it here.]

(Special thanks to VCS faculty member Janice Ahn, who introduced me to Lucia and suggested that I consider using her essay for the first entry in this new series of student writings.)

Visual & Critical Studies