Coming to Cuernavaca, Mexico? Just leave your worries at home! There is no denying the online statistics that indicate that Cuernavaca, Mexico is a violent city, but this is my second visit to Cuernavaca in the last year and I have not seen anything that looked like violence. Instead, I have met some of the kindest, most helpful and happy people I have ever met in my life.
I am learning Spanish at CETLALIC , the most progressive Spanish language immersion school in Mexico, but I still have a long way to go to learn the language and I just know a little Spanish at the moment. If I listened to the media, though, I should be at great risk because I don’t know the language and I am a senior travelling alone, all over the city on local transportation. I also walk throughout the downtown area and I have yet to see any violence. In fact, I hear less sirens than I do in Toronto. I see kids playing outside and travelling to school and adults going about their daily business just like at home. I have been completely lost three times now while exploring the city. I had to ask people I have never met before in another language for help. One person walked me to where I wanted to go; the other person called the Spanish speaking family with whom I am staying to get directions; and a shop keeper took the time to draw a map on a piece of paper showing me exactly where I needed to go.
As a point of comparison, I first visited Cuernavaca 10 years ago and I feel as safe now as I did then. The change I have seen, which is sad, is the disappearance of several language schools. I think that Canadian and USA news, in a desire the select the facts that get the most listeners have managed to scare those responsible for language and cultural education in our countries into discontinuing programs that sent students to Cuernavaca.
It is sad for the students to be denied the experience to come to Cuernavaca. It is also sad because one of the most important principles in managing risks for social and educational programmes is to gather the facts. While reviewing general statistics and listening to the news is one method of gathering such information. I think that a closer analysis of the data and a site visit might have revealed that students staying with host families and coming to Cuernavaca do not fit the common profile of those who have been victims of violence. I have a feeling that students might be at far greater risk walking to school in their own cities!
CETLALIC offers programming that promotes dialogue between Mexico and the people of other cultures as well an excellent language learning program. I am having an incredibly rich and valuable experience learning Spanish at CETLALIC.
I hope those responsible for organizing language, social justice and cultural programming for students will reflect on their decisions and give students the opportunity to learn from and experience this precious city.
And… if you are travelling or be sure to visit Cuernavaca and leave your worries at home!