[EDLING:179] washingtonpost.com: Learning in Their Native Tongue

Francis M Hult fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Tue May 11 14:53:29 UTC 2004

>>From the lg-policy list:
> <http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A15746-2004May10?
> language=printer>
> Learning in Their Native Tongue Mexican Cities Join Experiment in
> Bilingual Education
> By Mary Jordan Washington Post Foreign Service Tuesday, May 11, 2004;
> Page A10
> MEXICO CITY -- Jose Roberto Cleofas depends on red lights to make a
> living. As soon as cars brake for the stoplight in front of the Pizza
> Hut on Insurgentes Avenue, Cleofas, 14, moves in on dirty windshields
> and starts wiping.
> "How else can I eat?" said the fifth-grader, one of the hundreds of
> thousands of indigenous people who have migrated to Mexican cities in
> search of work as agriculture has failed in their dying villages.
> The federal government is struggling to educate migrant children here
> and in other Mexican cities. The Education Ministry has opened more
> than 2,000 bilingual schools for speakers of 62 indigenous languages in
> the past 10 years.
> In part, the initiative is a response to the armed Zapatista movement
> in southern Mexico in the 1990s, which embarrassed the government by
> bringing worldwide attention to its neglect of indigenous people. Most
> of the new schools are in rural areas where indigenous children are in
> the majority. Now, the challenge is to accommodate their growing
> numbers in cities where they are a minority.
> Like 300,000 other Mexicans, Cleofas's first language is Otomi. There
> are 10 million indigenous Mexicans in a population of 103 million.
> During the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, indigenous people fled to
> remote desert and mountain areas and remain among Mexico's poorest,
> marginalized by racial prejudice and inferior schooling.
> Cleofas attends the Alfredo Correo school, a two-story brick
> schoolhouse, where about 100 of the 124 students are indigenous,
> according to the principal. The school was chosen last year to be one
> of 76 city schools in a vanguard bicultural project, because nearly all
> students speak the same language and are from Santiago Mexquititlan, a
> farming village 100 miles north of Mexico City. The schools' computers
> are programmed in both Spanish and Otomi, and teachers are required to
> learn Otomi so they can communicate more easily with students who are
> not proficient in Spanish. The national anthem is even sung in Otomi.
> Cleofas, who began speaking Spanish five years ago at age 9, said he no
> longer feels bad in class for not knowing a certain word in Spanish.
> Rather, he said, he enjoys helping others pronounce Otomi words.
> Science concepts are clearer when explained in his native language, he
> said, and when he sings the Mexican national anthem in Otomi "it rings
> with more meaning."
> Cleofas has already attended school longer than many indigenous
> students, who typically don't finish primary school. He said no one in
> his family had ever finished fifth grade. He said he had moved to
> Mexico City last year, aspiring only to earn money cleaning
> windshields. But he now likes school, especially math.
> The soaring number of indigenous children in urban Mexico is being
> compared by education officials to the situation in the United States.
> In both countries, the influx of migrant children is prompting schools
> to introduce native languages in the classroom. And in both countries,
> multicultural education is facing some resistance.
> "Yes, there are parents who don't like it," said Nancy Miranda, head of
> the parents association at the Alfredo Correo school. She said some
> parents believe assimilation and speaking Spanish are the way to get
> ahead in Mexico.
> Some parents said the cost of training teachers in indigenous languages
> and creating special bilingual textbooks was a wasteful expenditure for
> an already thin education budget. Rather than have their children learn
> Otomi, some parents interviewed said they would prefer their children
> learn English or French, the languages wealthier Mexicans study.
> Sylvia Schmelkes, coordinator of bilingual and intercultural education
> for the Education Ministry, said some of the opposition is based on
> discrimination against indigenous people.
> "Racism is very profound in Mexico," she said. "You can ask any Mexican
> whether he or she is a racist, and they'll say, 'Of course, not.' . . .
> Nevertheless, in direct interaction, it exists."
> Miranda, the parent association head, said some parents object to the
> growing number of indigenous children in their neighborhood school. She
> said some parents unfairly complain that the newcomers "are slower to
> learn, don't know how to speak, are lower class."
> Miranda, who is not indigenous, said she feels it is "neither positive
> nor negative" that her son Donovan, 9, comes home singing songs in
> Otomi. But she said there are practical benefits for him to be part of
> this experiment: The school receives additional funds, computers, and
> attention. President Vicente Fox visited recently to see the new
> program, considered a blueprint for integrating indigenous languages
> and customs in additional urban schools next year.
> Students in the program receive scholarships of a few hundred dollars a
> year to make up for the cash that children might earn if they dropped
> out of school.
> As Miranda spoke, the recess bell rang in the tidy school in the upper
> middle-class Roma neighborhood. Boys and girls wearing the school's
> blue uniform ran onto the concrete playground, some laughing and
> telling jokes in Otomi.
> Most of the indigenous children at Alfredo Correo live in shacks
> haphazardly built in alleyways in a neighborhood of ornate homes and
> expensive apartments. Life is harder for them, said school principal
> Juan Valente Garcia Lopez. Nearly all are so poor they quality for
> subsidized lunches of oranges, bananas, peanuts and milk, which were
> stacked in boxes outside his office.
> Garcia said his job was to create an environment that raises
> self-esteem: "School represents a place where they are treated equally,
> where they aren't discriminated against, where they are happy."
> When classes end for the day, Cleofas walks two blocks to the busy
> street corner where he earns, on a good evening, about $6 for eight
> hours washing windshields. Nearly all his classmates also work after
> school. Most of them sell handmade dolls from their village, or gum and
> candies.
> "Usually their mom is working in one spot, but they are off on their
> own," said Rosalba Esquivel Fernandez, a first-grade teacher. She said
> most of her students, who are as young as 6, work on the streets until
> after midnight.
> The migration of indigenous families to such major cities as Tijuana,
> Monterrey and Mexico City is more visible every year, in large part
> because of the women and small children it is bringing to urban street
> corners. The mothers commonly wear colorful traditional dresses and
> carry a baby strapped to their back. Children knock on car windows
> selling homemade handicrafts for the equivalent of $1. It is a business
> born of desperation.
> "All that is left is a ghost town," said Domingo Gonzalez, a town
> official in Santiago Mexquititlan, Cleofas's village. So many people
> have left, he said in a telephone interview, because there is "no food,
> no jobs, nothing here."
> The price of Mexican corn, the staple many indigenous people have grown
> on small plots for generations, has been undercut by less expensive
> U.S. corn that has flooded the Mexican market in the 10 years since the
> signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
> Alejandro Lopez, director of Mexico City's office of indigenous
> affairs, estimated that as many as 40 percent of Mexico's indigenous
> people now live in urban areas, compared with 20 percent 15 years ago.
> He said there has been nearly a four-fold increase in Mexico City since
> 1990, with about 500,000 indigenous people now living in the capital.
> In the northern city of Monterrey, public school officials are
> struggling with how to help thousands of new indigenous students who
> speak dozens of languages. Regina Martinez Casas, an academic
> researcher, said the rapid growth of the indigenous population in
> Guadalajara is generating culture clashes. She said an indigenous girl,
> who by custom would be married by age 13, is now exposed to other
> 13-year-olds who are studying and "putting rings in their belly button
> and having fun."
> Cleofas sat at a computer in his school's new media lab, toggling
> between Spanish and Otomi during a lesson on the human nervous system.
> A shy boy with black wavy hair, Cleofas said that his mother died last
> year and that he survived on a little corn and the edible parts of
> cactus plants until he left his village for Mexico City.
> "There is nothing left at home. It's better here," he said, wearing new
> tennis shoes and sport clothes he bought with his earnings from washing
> windshields.
> He now lives with his sisters, who had previously migrated to Mexico
> City. Cleofas said school has given him goals and that he is now
> thinking about studying medicine, because, "I'd like to help others."
> Just maybe, he said, "I'll be a doctor one day."

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