From nearly every perspective, Mexico City is truly a majestic place. Indeed, few cities around the globe can claim to be larger, more dynamic, or more historically or culturally important as the Ciudad de México.
Historically, the CDMX is the oldest capital city in the Americas, with origins dating back to the early 14thcentury, when the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan was founded. Size-wise, the city is enormous. Currently, more than 9 million people live in the city proper, and more than 21 million people live in the greater CDMX urban area, making it the largest metropolis in the Western Hemisphere. It is also the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world.
Geographically speaking, mountains surround three sides of the city, the center of which is situated nearly a mile-and-a-half above sea level. This altitude may not be good when you’re trying to run off the half-dozen tacos and heavy flan you’ve eaten the night before (it’s possible I might be speaking from experience here), but it makes for a remarkable subtropical highland climate, where the locals tell you the temperature never gets too hot or too cold. Economically, Mexico City remains the business and financial hub of all of Latin America, with a GDP of $390 billion, and if it were an independent country it would be the fifth-largest economy in the region.
And culturally, the city is simply magnificent, its overall artistic expression reflecting many centuries serving as the capital of 1) the most vast and powerful Mesoamerican empire of all time, 2) the Spanish empire in the Americas and, at last, 3) the modern-day United Mexican States. Today, excited tourists flock to the city from all over the globe, seeking to experience amazing art nouveau, art deco and bohemian neighborhoods, mouth-watering cuisine, trendy dining spots, thriving nightlife and many, many museums — more museums, in fact, than any other city in the world.
On Monday, the Ciudad de México served as a más perfecto setting for the newest chapter in Indiana University’s deep and expanding engagement in Latin America. The university has intensified its involvement in the region in recent years, largely in response to dramatic demographic, economic and cultural changes in Indiana. Though I outlined these shifts in the previous blog post, they bear repeating: According to IU’s Public Policy Institute, more than 429,000 Latinos live in Indiana, three-quarters of whom are of Mexican origin, and they represent the fastest-growing and youngest segment of the state’s total demographic. Not coincidentally, Hoosiers exported more than $5 billion in goods and products to Mexico, making it the state’s second-largest trading partner. Recent years have also brought a major boom in Indiana in the number of Latino-owned businesses, which increased almost 150 percent over a 10-year period, from 5,482 in 2002 to 13,639 in 2012.
These changes are increasingly being reflected in the makeup of Indiana’s flagship university, which, remarkably, has seen the number of Mexican students quadruple in the last five years alone and recently set a record with nearly 6,000 degree-seeking Latino students on its campuses across the state. The ranks of IU’s Latino alumni also continue to rise. The number is up to 10,000, including 500 Mexican alumni who, by way of recently establishing a new IU Alumni Association Mexico chapter and actively participating in other university activities, continue to demonstrate strong interest in reengaging with their alma mater.
Of course, this type of growth doesn’t happen by accident — and it certainly doesn’t take place without a concerted amount of academic involvement, outreach and partnership over many years. (DYK — the first time IU’s legendary 11thpresident Herman Wells stepped foot outside of the U.S., he did so in Mexico?) Today, ties between IU and Mexico run especially deep, and the university has been eager to explore new opportunities to work with the top educational, business, government and philanthropic institutions south of the border toward facilitating increased student mobility between Indiana and Mexico, greater research collaborations involving IU faculty and enhanced cultural exchanges and dialogue.
Strengthening the IU-Mexico connection
The stage was thus sufficiently set for the IU delegation’s busy day of activities Monday in Mexico City, which began, fittingly, with an early morning meeting with the National Association of Universities and Institutions of Higher Education. ANUIES, a non-governmental association representing nearly 200 Mexican public and private higher education institutions, is charged with developing programs, plans and national policies for higher education, all of which are aimed at increasing the academic quality of Mexican schools, pushing them to become more internationally focused and aligning their scholarly and research efforts toward advancing local, state and national priorities, especially those concerning grand challenges such as food, energy and water security.
As Dr. Guillermo Hernández, general director of strategic partnerships at ANUIES, spoke about his organization’s mission, it was easy to envision opportunities for Hoosier students to engage in the types of meaningful internships, important institutional development projects and other educational growth opportunities here in Mexico that will help them better understand a part of the world that increasingly has had a major impact on the economic vitality of the Hoosier state, while also preparing them to succeed in today’s increasingly interconnected and international marketplace.
Energized by this encouraging meeting (and, yes, a few cups of morning Mexican café), members of the IU delegation, led by President Michael A. McRobbie, headed off for Monday’s main destination — the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the largest university in Latin America, the oldest in North America and a leading university of the Spanish-speaking world.
Very few universities can claim to be among the world’s foremost archaeological, cultural and historical sites themselves. UNAM is one such university. Its main campus, Ciudad Universitaria, which was designed by some of Mexico’s most renowned architects of the 20thcentury, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, and the campus’ breathtaking murals were painted by some of the most recognized artists in Mexican history, including Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. UNAM is also home to several museums, including the Museo Universidad de Arte Contemporáneo, which members of the delegation briefly toured on Monday. It was the first museum created expressly for contemporary art in Mexico and, with its large and sloping front window facade, a visually and architecturally striking facility.
Furthermore, few other universities have had such a profound effect on an entire nation’s political development. UNAM served as the birthplace, exactly a half century ago, to the “Mexican Student Movement.” This protest movement escalated to deadly violence in the buildup to the 1968 Summer Olympic Games, which were played at UNAM’s famous Estadio Olímpico Universitario and were the first Olympics to be staged in Latin America and a Spanish-speaking country. Ultimately, it led to a nationwide rebellion against the country’s authoritarian, one-party state that would permanently alter the course of Mexican government. (Most Americans, of course, will remember these Olympics as the competition in which Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed a black-power salute during the medal ceremony for the men’s 200-meter race in protest against the treatment of blacks in the U.S.)
IU and UNAM have developed a robust partnership that dates back nearly two decades, to 1999, when collaboration began between UNAM and the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at IU. The workshop was co-founded in 1973 by the late Nobel Prize-winning economist and IU Distinguished Professor Elinor Ostrom. Over the years, IU and UNAM have established linkages in a wide range of academic and research areas, including in the humanities, languages, music and physics, that have often generated graduate student and faculty exchanges.
Most recently — and as outlined in an agreement President McRobbie and UNAM Rector Enrique Graue Wiechers signed during McRobbie’s last trip to Mexico in 2016 — the two institutions have been exploring mutually beneficial ways to expand upon what has been one of IU’s most active and productive global partnerships. To this end, earlier this year IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar led a delegation to UNAM to discuss possibilities for student exchanges and research collaborations in such important areas as dentistry, engineering and technology, public health and nursing. Additionally, a number of school administrators and faculty members on IU’s Bloomington campus have been in conversations with their counterparts at UNAM regarding potential new collaborative activities.
Introducing the IU Mexico Gateway
Today, however, was a day to celebrate the here and now and, most notably, another major milestone in IU’s international engagement effort – the formal opening of the IU Mexico Gateway office, located within UNAM’s International Unit of Foreign Universities building.
The new facility, IU’s fourth international office after those established in New Delhi, Beijing and Berlin, provides IU with a physical presence in Mexico as well as a point of access to other countries in this key strategic part of the world. More specifically, it will deliver support for teaching and research, conferences and workshops, study abroad opportunities and engagement with IU alumni, businesses, new and potential students, and nongovernmental organizations.
On Monday, upon arriving at UNAM, President McRobbie, Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret and their fellow IU delegation members met in the office of UNAM Rector Graue. Prior to the meeting, McRobbie presented his Mexican counterpart with a special gift — a stunning Japanese indigo-dyed cloth designed by Rowland Ricketts, a textiles professor in IU’s School of Art, Architecture + Design — in recognition of the rector’s and UNAM’s support for IU’s efforts in Mexico, including support for the new office, which is off to a flying start.
Christina Ochoa, associate dean for research and faculty affairs and professor of law at the IU Maurer School of Law who is also the academic director of the IU Mexico Gateway, explained that the office has already planned six academic workshops between now and next February, including two workshops for late fall that are connected to a President’s International Research Award that will support collaborative research between IU and UNAM faculty in indigenous languages. McRobbie established the President’s International Research Awards at IU in 2016 to support high-impact research projects that involve collaboration with IU’s partners and colleagues abroad and that engage one or more of IU’s global gateway offices and the communities they serve.
During the meeting, McRobbie and Ochoa were equally excited to share the news that IU’s third-annual Global Arts and Humanities Festival will focus on contemporary Mexican culture, following previous campus-wide programs on China and India. “Mexico Remixed,” which will take place next year, will be the largest Mexican arts and culture festival ever mounted in the Midwestern U.S. Additionally, McRobbie described preliminary plans for bringing the eight-time NCAA champion IU men’s soccer team to UNAM and Mexico City during next year’s spring break, building on a recent annual tradition, which head coach Todd Yeagley has called a “highlight” of the year, that has seen the Hoosiers host Mexico’s U-20 National Team in Bloomington. (I know a few members of the delegation who are primed to book their tickets and join the fútbol fanatics here in Mexico City for what promises to be a landmark event in the history of IU-Mexico relations.)
From the rector’s office it was on to the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. McRobbie did the honors, accompanied by Dr. Francisco Trigo, UNAM vice provost for cooperation and international affairs. Following a quick lunch with IU and UNAM faculty, McRobbie then promptly returned to the office to deliver opening remarks at the gateway’s inaugural workshop, which brought together some of the top scholars, poets, and cultural leaders from Mexico and the U.S. for a two-day discussion on indigenous languages, literatures and communities, which McRobbie said are “disappearing at an unprecedented rate.”
McRobbie also introduced the organizer of the workshop, Anya Peterson Royce, Chancellor’s Professor of anthropology and comparative literature at IU, who has spent the last 50 years studying and writing about the culture of the Isthmus Zapotec people of Juchitán, Oaxaca. In 2016, the Isthmus Zapotec people recognized Royce’s lifelong devotion to interpreting their story with the Medal of the Zapotec People, making her the first non-Mexican recipient of the honor. (Check out this Inside IU feature story on Royce’s work in Mexico, published shortly after she received the award.)
With the “official” opening of an office already buzzing with activity, IU finally has the hub it has needed to strengthen its educational engagement with Mexico and its connection to a country and region of the world that will continue to have a major cultural and economic impact on the Hoosier communities we serve.
Please check back in Tuesday when we visit with the IU Jacobs School of Music’s New Music Ensemble and put a coda on a brief, but busy, IU trip to marvelous Mexico City!