Opening Windows

This is something I’ve been struggling with lately. As an anthropology student, I am here as a “participant-observer”… my role isn’t to incite change or (ahem) “save the world.” I’m supposed to try and understand what values inform peoples’ interpretations of photographs, and their production of photographs. I’m not supposed to be “teaching” them how to “read” photos! I’m not supposed to be telling them what values they should have. I feel like I’m being manipulative in that respect….

But as a teacher with Fundación Ixtateca, I *am* supposed to be inciting change. I’m teaching at the first high school in this city, one that is only 2 years old and has a severe shortage of teachers. Like I said in an earlier post, San Mateo is looked down upon by both Ladinos and other indigenous groups; no one wants to teach here. All of the non-gringo teachers have lived in San Mateo all their lives. I’m supposed to be opening this “window” for these students; they’re supposed to have this wonderful experience that will open un montón of opportunities.

But am I opening up opportunities, or am I manipulating their culture and society in the name of “development”?

As an individual… I would tend towards the less academic side of the coin. Remaining silent, or at least “neutral,” would be going against my own values for what I believe constitutes a quality education. And what type of education I think everyone should have the opportunity to pursue. And it’s impossible (and some would say, morally questionable) to try and hide your own cultural values when engaging in this sort of project (academic research + “development”).

I hope that I’ll have the chance to study more theory on “Applied Anthropology.” Perhaps it would be helpful in resolving this identity crisis. Then again, experience is often the best teacher…


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