Art and Trade High School Reborn in the Yaqui Valley
“Everything is Possible, Especially Since We Have the Other Campaign Here With Us”
By Amber Howard
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Sonora
October 30, 2006
When the Other Campaign landed in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, in Northern Mexico, for an adherent meeting on October 25, 2006, the chosen site was a local school on the brink of a major transformation. Originally created to help farm workers and their children to receive an education, now, more than two decades later, it is being reformed as site of cultural resurgence, mixed with new sustainable methods.
Luis Diaz Flores, community member and part of the indigenous Yaqui Nation, chose to create an alternative theater program as his contribution to the school called the Popular High School for the Yaqui Valley. “Campesinos typically don’t get an education, so I began by teaching adults,” Diaz explains. “I used theater as a way to teach my students material they would typically learn in grade school or middle school, as well as a way to help them find their role in society. All my work was volunteer, I gathered all my own material, and I did it for free to help my community. When we were able to give the students their diplomas, that is what motivated me.”
The high school was formed in 1979 with support from INEA, the National Institute for Adult Education, and while it lasted only four years, it survived a number of threats and hostility from both the government and the community at large. The impact it had still influences part of the school’s legacy, with one of the most controversial aspects being the rebellion theater.
“The government would threaten us, calling us communists, etc., saying they would not recognize our work and certification,” claims Diaz. “The state of Sonora still doesn’t recognize our school, we had to incorporate it in the state of Guerrero.” Diaz says that the reason being that the goal of the governor of Sonora, Eduardo Burs, is to privatize everything, including the education system.
The formation of this school was important to the Yaqui Valley because previously no high school existed for the people there, much even less a university. It was created out of sheer necessity during a time when land was being distributed out to the people from the ownership of large landowners, a movement started by President Lazero Cardenas in the 1950’s.
The founders of the school supported the land distribution and sent out a call to all the local small farmers and union organizers in the struggle: “Send us your children, we’ll support you by educating them.” Though there was no funding to pay teachers, different individuals came forward to participate in the program, as their way of participating in the worker’s struggle. “We used theater and music as a form of protest, as a way of sharing our beliefs with the rest of the people throughout the Yaqui and Mayo Valleys.”
The school was shut down in 1983, after just four years. But now, more than twenty years later, this same school is getting a facelift. Many of the original organizers have come together again, some after not seeing each other for over fifteen years, to recreate the dream. One of the founders of the first school, Carlos Soto Hernandez, describes how the new school, to be called the “Cultural High School of the Yaqui Valley,” will be different: “It will be an art and trade school, incorporating arts, such as theater, painting, dance, singing and mime along with trade skills such as mechanics, carpentry, and plumbing,” described Soto, who will be in charge of the construction aspect of the project.
In addition, they are planning a botanical garden for vegetables and flowers in an open field behind the school to teach students about agriculture. The organizers also want to utilize innovative new techniques in alternative and recycled building materials in their classes and create a solar powered laboratory – all to demonstrate the possibilities of the future and the next generation. “We want people to be able to bring us their recyclable materials so we can not only dispose of it, but also include it in our classes and studies,” says Diaz, who will be focusing on the botanical garden aspect and who is currently taking classes on the subject to prepare himself for the school’s initiation. One of the important new aspects of the new school will be workshops available to the local people who aren’t students, to educate them about these subjects. Diaz is also interested in creating links with schools and studies in other parts of Mexico, such as a study of medicinal plants in the state of Chiapas.
“We are going to create the alternative,” adds Soto, “to recuperate this high school for everyone’s benefit. We have to defend this space since the government and it’s bosses are not willing or able. We are going to go out in the streets and shout like “locos,” it’s our responsibility.” He goes on to say how in the current climate of people being kicked off their land, there’s an increased importance of making one’s presence known. “The possibility is all there. It’s inside each one of us to take part and to assume whatever role we can.”
One of the youth organizers of the community in Ciudad Obregon, Carlos Cesar Garcia Valenzuela, is excited about this new school and he’s planning on taking part in the coordination. “We are going to make it happen as a collective. When they need me, I’ll be there.” For many, this high school represents a new step for the community.
“This school represents an ideological instrument that has the ability of transforming the mindset of the participants,” claims Soto. “The first time around this wasn’t everyone’s intention, many people used it as a political tool, saying ‘if you’re not with me, I won’t give you the grade you want.’ We wanted to really move people, but we were surrounded by enemies and the division of [social] classes made it really difficult.” These divisions are what caused the dissolve of the original school due not to outside pressure, but rather to internal dissent. Now is the chance to do something different.
Even with jail threats from the government of Sonora, those behind the new art and trade high school are not dissuaded. “The Minister of the Interior said he’s going to use his constitutional powers to try to put us away, but we are not afraid,” maintains Soto. “Everything is possible, especially since we have the Other Campaign here with us. This is why they came here, as a stimulant, to reinforce both us and the struggle we have maintained for all these years.” The group now is beginning to put together pamphlets with all of their visions, with the hopes of starting on the formation of the new school by this coming January.
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