On the ninth floor of a downtown building, in this vibrant and multicultural city of Los Angeles, the puma cry explodes: “Goya!”…
It is not just any building, it belongs to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a historic organization in the United States dedicated to the defense of undocumented workers and the promotion of their education. Tailor-made suit for the University in its desire to expand its social function, beyond national borders.
“Cachún, cachún, ra, ra!” We shout it among internationalists, language teachers, administrators and designers, who make up the university representation team in this city. It is headed by Silvia Núñez, who was for a long time director of the Center for Research on North America.
“We promote the process of internationalization of education, especially higher education, which is fundamental. We could not understand the greatness of UNAM without this expansion”, says the teacher. “We don’t live in an isolated village: to get to know each other you have to cross doors, that our people come here through exchanges or stays subsidized by our University, but also that students from universities in this area go to Mexico, as equals.”
And here we are, on trendy Spring Street, where the rush of cameras and lights announce the shooting of a new movie, a few blocks from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Between luminaires, the auriazul shield stands out.
UNAM has 13 representations in different countries, although five of them are concentrated in the United States, not only because of its geographical proximity, but also because of the large number of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in this country: San Antonio, Boston, Chicago, Tucson and Los Angeles. Angeles, which has been operating for 16 years and where we now direct our steps.
It was the first venue to promote the study of a baccalaureate or an online degree among those who live in other countries; specifically, in the United States. Admission exams are held at its facilities: hundreds of students have been evaluated and have become UNAM students. Support is provided for registration and paperwork; and then for the degree.
This year, for the first time, the five locations on this side of the border will join the project.
Los Angeles is a crucial representation, we have already said, due to the large population of Mexican origin -in fact, California is the state of the American Union with the largest presence of nationals- and its border mobility: just over two hours from Tijuana and flanked by the Pacific Ocean, a bridge of dialogue with Asia: hence the great flow of Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese, Thais and others.
California is also the fifth largest economy in the world and one of the two cities on the American continent -along with New York- considered global, due to its level of connectivity: from its airports it is possible to fly to any part of the world.
“It is a great mirror of human mobility, the great melting pot (meeting point) of the United States, where minorities from many countries have settled: Iran, Syria, Italy, not to mention Latinos, Africans, Asians, a fascinating melting pot of cultural identities, with different neighborhoods of immigrant groups”, describes Núñez.
So we went up to the 9th floor, leaving behind stars on the asphalt and mountains of souvenirs from nearby parks.
We are greeted by Ricardo Rosenzweig, a graduate of International Relations who has just joined the dissemination and marketing team: “The institution gave me knowledge and experience, and now I have to give it back a bit, promoting it, making it even bigger in quantity and quality” , He says.
In the office of the director, our hostess, different memories, paintings and portraits alluding to UNAM are crowded. In the corner, three flags coexist: that of the University, that of Mexico and that of the United States. “Either the three go together or they don’t go,” says the teacher. The only way to have a good relationship with the neighbor is through the knowledge and admiration of the other. Many of the paisanos have the same affection for Mexico as they do for the United States. The best of each one is in their towns, not in their politicians who come and go and are of different colors.
End the borders
“If we want to end borders, we must start with mutual learning. The University is a house open to all and will always build bridges with Anglos, African Americans, Asians and Whites. We have wings to hug. We are the headquarters with many angels.”
A gray day appears through the window, like a harbinger of rain.
-Don’t be scared, you can walk around Los Angeles. It doesn’t rain here, there’s even a song about it -says Professor Núñez.
It refers to “Never rains in Southern California”, by Albert Hammond. And humming the song, we continue the conversation…
The purpose of the representation, he assures, “is anchored in the three main axes of UNAM: teaching, research and dissemination of culture.”
In addition to opening the possibility of obtaining a university degree to Los Angeles students, these classrooms encourage the learning of Spanish.
“Every time there is a greater number of people and companies interested. The metro company itself has sought us out, because it wants all its workers to be bilingual. The advantages are all, starting with the fact that people have access to better job opportunities. The United States is the country with the most Spanish speakers. And the UNAM works so that Spanish is spoken well. Public education is organized in a unified school district and 75 percent of the students are of Latino origin, and of these, 75 percent are of Mexican origin.
The field of opportunity is enormous…
The district wants to have more trained and certified Spanish teachers, and that is what we are doing with great success with the help of the National School of Languages, Linguistics and Translation, and the Center for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. We do it online, which is easy for many in a highly mobile city. What we learned during the pandemic escalated our work.
We also coordinate classes, originally designed for countrymen. Our regular and TOEFL exam courses have become very popular, even in Mexico, because the platform is very dynamic and inexpensive. We just had a working session with the Sinaloa government, which wants a group of young scholarship recipients to study English with us. And we organize together with the University of Long Beach the puma summers and winters: intensive English courses, several groups from Mexico come for three weeks. We are partners, our courses are always more accessible, because the University will always have a social orientation.
But UNAM exceeds the limits of teaching. Perhaps one of its most fascinating functions here is the support for migrant clubs and organizations, already with an intense political activity and with projects of legal advice, citizenship and financial education for countrymen.
“There are youth support programs or women’s empowerment programs in which we participate. We have just signed an agreement with Fuerza Migrante, one of the largest networks here, to accompany the migrant university project. There is another group we work with: Extraordinary Women, focused on empowerment and cultural activities.”
The celebration of the Day of the Dead, Independence, May 5… Just last month we held a forum with a historian, and we presented a duet of singers: she American and he Mexican, who sang popular music from both countries. We are interested in keeping traditions alive. The Los Angeles Opera also sought us out to bring our communities closer to a taste for opera, with performances and workshops taught in Spanish by a very distinguished professor from our University: Gerardo Kleinburg.
The Mexican communities here are very holiday-inclined…
There are some that have parties every month, we are not in all of them, but we try to be close. Recently those from Jiquilpan, Michoacán, asked us to organize a simultaneous event, where they connected here and there: we designed the program, we had testimonies from migrant women, their life stories. There, in a theater, they played music. The poster was very cool, with its church in the center and the kiosk: they incorporated a local historian who told us about its origin.
Organizing international conferences, adding vitality and promoting binational research (California is one of the states with the most universities) are among the challenges of representation.
“We can understand UNAM thanks to the fact that university students have maintained a critical spirit to be better, that is also the key to the internationalization process. We must respond to the great need for education: Mexicans are at one of the lowest levels in the United States and California. And you have to do it with social sense”…
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