Editor’s Note #2: We mistakenly stated that this article was only co-written by Dr. Felipe de Ortego, when he was in fact the only writer of this piece. We have fixed the error and apologize.
Editor’s Note: This story on WNMU’s Language Institute originally appeared on latinopia.com and was written by WNMU’s own Dr. Felipe de Ortego.
In 2014 there were 14,000 Mexican students studying in American colleges and universities. In an effort to improve that number, the Mexican government approved Proyecta 100,000—a goodwill act that would help both countries by having 100,000 Mexican students studying in U.S. colleges and universities by 2018. The goal of Proyecta 100,000 is to expand economic opportunities for U.S. and Mexican citizens and to develop a shared vision of educational cooperation while boosting student mobility and academic exchanges between the two countries. This was a monumental gesture by Mexico in light of historical grievances between the two countries.
Proyecta 100,000 is based on the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research launched by U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013. The forum is designed to enhance educational exchanges, scientific research partnerships and cross-border innovation that help both countries develop a 21st century workforce for mutual economic prosperity and sustainable social development. Proyecta 100,000 is complemented by the U.S. government’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas project, which aims to increase educational exchanges in the Western hemisphere (Jayme Blaschke, University News Service, Texas State University, March 11, 2015).
The level of academic, technical and scientific exchange between Mexico and the United States cannot be compared with the intensity of its trade and political relationship. Mexico, with 116 million inhabitants, only sends 14,000 students a year to the United States, and 4,000 U.S. students take courses for academic credit in Mexico each year. South Korea, with a population of 49 million, sends 72,000 students a year.
-Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research
On Thanksgiving Week of 2014 the first contingency of those 100,000 Mexican students ar-rived at Western New Mexico University—144 of them. Other Mexican students were as-signed to other American colleges and universities. That first contingency at Western New Mexico University was made possible by the acuity of Dr. Joseph Shepard, president of Western New Mexico University and Dr. Magdaleno Manzanarez his Vice-President for External Affairs and Professor of Political Science.
Though a relatively small school nestled at the edge of the Gila Wilderness in Silver City, New Mexico, Western New Mexico University is as president Shepard has been shaping it
“the best of the small schools anywhere.” What makes this venture particularly notable is that the president of Western New Mexico University is bilingual—English and Spanish, as is Dr. Manzanarez who studied at the University of the Americas at Puebla, Mexico; both are confirmed Hispanophiles. And surprisingly both are alumni of Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff.
Arriving at Western New Mexico University after a long day’s journey from Mexico with all the attendant officiousness of border crossing, they were met warmly by a cadre of university personnel who were truly excited by their presence. It was to be an event of memorable and prodigious proportions. The nexus of activities for the Mexican group was the Miller Li-brary of the university with Dr. Gilda Baeza Ortego, the University Librarian (Director), as the chief cheerleader.
Dr. Gilda Baeza Ortego, Director of the University Library; Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, University Scholar in Residence; Dr. Miguel Angel Narvaez Silva, Professor and Chair, School of Allied Health; Mike Morones, Mayor of Silver City, New Mexico, at the Language Institute graduation ceremony with Mexican participants of Proyecta 100,000 at their graduation dinner in the cafeteria at Western New Mexico University December 18, 2014.
The permutations of success by which to judge Proyecta 100,000 are intricate because of the skein of emotions engendered by the event. Suffice to say the event was successful beyond measure. The relationships engendered by the event have become durable and heart-warming. E-mail traffic between that first group and their new-found friends at Western have flourished. The event is a model for transborder cooperation.
That model continues with the second group of Proyecta 100,000 at Western in 2015. Though fewer in number the excitement is still high among the Mexican student participants and their university hosts. Weather and constrained metropolitan activities are not deal-breakers for the Mexican participants. Their eyes are on the prize. They are studious, energetic, and affable. This generation of Proyecta 100,000 understands full well the historic significance of this moment and their role in it.
Important to bear in mind is that the costs of this initiative of Proyecta 100,000 are being borne by Mexico. In a way, this is a gift to the United States. This is not a “bracero” program. This is an intellectual undertaking of high merit, obvious by the student engagement in the classroom activities of the program. The instruction is in English. Mexico wants its population to be bilingual—Spanish and English, the two major languages of the Western Hemisphere.
In both groups of Mexican participants the mix of interests and professional capacities has been diverse and ranging in disciplines. Their goal at Western New Mexico University—to hone and improve their English language skills sufficiently in order to engage fluently with English language professionals in the various disciplines of social and scientific research. They are not in the United States to study and learn those disciplines—they are already professionals in their disciplines. Abetting their English language skills is to cross-germinate their research findings in their Mexican universities with English language researchers in the same fields elsewhere in other countries. Intellection is the motive force of Proyecta 100,000.
Bear in mind that despite misleading public opprobrium Mexico is not a 3rd-World country in pursuit of intellection. Despite centuries of European colonization, modern Mexico is a reflection of 20,000 years of high culture. The Spaniards did not bring civilization to Mexico—they brought guns, germs, and steel. By the time of the Spaniards, Mexico had a flourishing civilization unequaled by European standards as described by the Spanish chronicler Bernal Diaz del Castillo.
Until the 20th century, history has tended to blur the presence (and progress) of indigenous civilizations in the Americas, favoring instead the template of Spanish civilization overlain on the pre-Cortesian past of the Americas—especially Mexico. The Spanish contributions to Mexican life are everywhere evident. And as mejicanos (either in Mexico or the United States) to disavow those contributions is to disavow our identity. Spain is an important part of who we are. So is Mexico before and after Cortez.
-Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, “Mexico Before Cortez: A Brief Account”
Little known and little bruited is that of the two places on earth where writing emerged spontaneously one was in Oaxaca, Mexico and the other in Sumeria (present-day Iraq).
Western New Mexico University’s participation in Proyecta 100,000 is due to the reputation of its Language Institute organized in 2011 by Drs. Manzanarez and Ortego y Gasca. The Language Institute’s reputation has grown with its successes and Dr. Manzanarez’s determination to create enduring ligatures with Mexico’s academic professionals in pursuit of a sort of North American Free Trade Association of Intellection, unifying the Intellectual interests of the North American triad of Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The Language Institute was conceptualized in 2010 by Drs. Magdaleno Manzanarez and Ortego y Gasca and organized in 2011 as part of the Department of Chicano/Chicana and Hemispheric Studies when Ortego y Gasca was Chair of the Department of Chicano/Chicana and Hemispheric Studies. In 2013 the Language Institute was transferred to the Division of External Affairs headed by Dr. Manzanarez who coupled its interests with the International Studies program of External Affairs, headed by Brazilian born Dr. Alexandra Neves.
The success of the Language Institute is due to the indefatigable efforts of Dr. Magdaleno Manzanarez and his forays into Mexico arranging MOUs with Mexican universities and Western New Mexico University. President Shepard’s whole-hearted support of the Language Institute’s efforts with Proyecta 100,000 is evident in the success of the Language Institute. Ultimately, however, the success of the Language Institute will be reflected in the success of the student participants. The clamorous cheers and jubilation at the Institute’s Award Dinner at the end of the program attest to the value and success of the program. This is a real effort in “Hands across the border” that should go a long way in dispelling the nefarious images of Mexico’s chaos in the hands of narcotraficantes.
One of the Mexican participants of Proyecta 100,00 in the 2015 group is Maria Rosa Avila Costa, co-author of Progress in Neurodegeneration: the Role of Metals, Nova Science Publish-ers 2009. These are not light-weight Mexican students. Except for the trace of an “accent” Avila Costa’s fluency in English is near-perfect. But she is nevertheless set on improving it to perfection. This mindset is pretty much the norm for this group of Mexican participants of Proyecta 100.000.
Ortego y Gasca, Felipe de. “Mexico Before Cortez: A Brief Account,” Historia Chicana,
October 25, 2012. Posted on Scribd October 26, 2012; Published in Tianguis, 2015.
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Copyright 2016 by Felipe de Ortego y Gasca. Photos of students, Mexico City and WUNM copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc.