Today we went on a bus tour of Oaxaca, and as we drove through the city we saw plenty of visual reminders of the impact politics have on Mexican housing and infrastructure. One thing that really stood out to me from the tour was that unions play a much larger role in the people’s lives here than they do in America. As one who has a relatively comprehensive understanding of the U.S. political party development and implementation, I understand the relevance and importance of a two party political system and can recognize its strengths and weaknesses. The U.S. is a democratic republic, which in theory means the people decide, but in my lifetime we as a country have become a lot less active in our role in government. Mexico is also a democratic republic, however the citizens are by far more proactive in political issues.
Along the banks of the Rio Grande, a well-known river that runs through Oaxaca, there are several makeshift homes made with scrap metal, rags and recyclables. They look very synonymous to the famous “Hoovervilles” established during the 1930s American Great Depression. Imagine my shock when my professor told me people willingly live in these conditions as a way of obtaining land ownership! Electoral candidates promise to give the people living in these makeshift houses a plot of land and building materials in exchange for political support. My first thought was this would never work in America because candidates promise things all the time, and no real change ever seems to result, but it really works in Mexico. My class and I were able to see communities that were once squatter settlements, but where people had received the materials they needed to build permanent residence. These places are poorly constructed due to lack of urban planning or any real type of coordinated infrastructure, but they are sturdy looking homes owned by people who started with next to nothing.
Unions also play or used to play a large role in achieving goals. For the past ten years the teacher’s union is probably the most prominent example of this. The presence of the teachers specifically in Oaxaca deserves its own blog post, and after further research and a complete understanding of the issue I can provide an explanation and opinion.
In the mean time I’d like to try and understand why Mexicans are more proactive in politics than Americans. In America people still protest when they are outraged by certain events, but the impact seems to be lessened. My first guess for the change would be the wide spread use of technology and how people use social media as a platform for reform more so than actual physical demonstrations, but people in Mexico have social media. So then why? Is it possible that we’ve gotten too comfortable with the privileges of being a “first world” country that we’ve forgotten how to fight? Perhaps because conditions in Mexico, specifically Oaxaca ( one the poorest states in Mexico) could be better, people are more willing to risk things because they have less to lose. Whatever the reason, I believe the oneness and nationalism that I’ve witnessed in my brief time here has shown me to never doubt the power of unity in political reform.