Hillary Clinton in Mexico: The US and Mexico are "like family"
First visit to Latin America as Secretary of State
By Catherine Dunn March 26, 2009 - 10:09
Mexico City - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat center stage at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, flanked by five Mexican scholarship winners to the US, attired in the indigenous garb of their home regions.
"We share a common future," she said of the United States and Mexico, before an audience in an intimate auditorium. "There is no more critical aspect to that future than the young people in both countries."
Clinton's first visit to Latin America as Secretary of State is weighted by tensions caused by the drug war, trucking restrictions on Mexican fleets, and a retaliatory tariff placed on imported American goods to Mexico. Today she concludes the two-day tour in Monterrey; during her Mexico City rounds yesterday, the visit to the white marble palace of fine arts served to stress Clinton's message that Mexico and the United States are "more like a family than two countries."
During the event, called "Supporting Indigenous Education," Clinton said educational partnership "is a very tangible way for us to deepen and further the relationship between our countries."
Clinton conducted a Q-and-A on stage with five Mexicans from Hidalgo, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. All had studied in the US on scholarships granted by the US government, in programs spanning The American University and Georgetown in Washington, DC to Mount Hood Community College in Oregon. Each of them is currently working in Mexico in NGOs or Indigenous education projects. Clinton signaled the importance of education to the Obama administration at both an individual level, and its "multiplier effect" among communities.
Reyna Luz Santiago Bautista, dressed in a red and white print dress, studied integrated technology for natural resources at Mount Hood. She addressed the audience first in the language of Oaxaca's Mixteca region, then in English, and then in Spanish.
"What did you learn about the role of women in the United States?" Clinton asked her.
"In the United States, women are very independent and always fight for their dreams... I had classmates who worked and studied at the same time ," she replied, contrasting it with Mexico, where "indigenous women sometimes have fewer opportunities."
"Trying to make sure that opportunities are equally available to men and women -- girls and boys -- is... an interest of mine," Clinton told her. "I thank you for the example you're setting."
Adriana Roque Corona, a Hñahñu speaker from Hidalgo, organized the Primer Encuentro Nacional de Enseñanzade Lenguas Nativas e Investigación aplicada. "Every language, every culture is a different way of seeing the world," she said, discussing the importance of access to education in one's native language, and the prejudices still faced by indigenous-language speakers in Mexico.
Before the event started, her peers from the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo fastened ayate shawls made of maguey plant fibers around their heads and took photos of one another in the art deco lobby. Steps away, security dogs (a golden retriever belonging to Mexican officials, and a German shepherd belonging to US agents) took turns sniffing reporters cameras and bags.
Gladys Hernández Mendoza and Blanca Norma Rosquero Pérez, both elementary school teachers studying degrees in indigenous education, said they would show Clinton their home villages if they could. They believe that by teaching the regional Hñahñu language they can compete with the community's trend to head North.
Students "think it's more important to learn English," Rosquero Pérez said. Or, "they are not thinking about studying; they are thinking about migrating."
The teachers also spoke of the deleterious effects of migration on the children left behind - from lack of emotional support at home, to traditional toys being replaced by Barbies and video games.
"The impact at the family level is when their parents migrate," Rosquero Pérez said. "They need their parents... and they're not there."
Clinton also announced a new educational partnership, the English Access Micro-Scholarship Program, for two years of training in English to be awarded to 100 Mexican students.
As the thirty-minute session concluded, Clinton added a personal note: "When my husband and I were married, we honeymooned in Mexico. We have very pleasant memories of Mexico...So we are very, very happy to see this relationship growing stronger."