It has been a little over a week since I arrived in Mexico with nine of the finest students that the IU system has to offer. Seven of the students on this year’s trip are from IU South Bend while the other two are from other IU satellite campuses such as IUPUI and IU Southeast. We stayed in Mexico City the first evening and on Sunday we visited The Church of Our Lady of Remedies and the archeological dig at Tlachihualtepetl, which literally means “artificial mountain.” The temple actually has several temples in the same spot, but have become buried due to erosion, deliberate rebuilding to make larger temples, and volcanic eruptions. The last temple was dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl, who some believe that the Mexica (Aztecs) considered Hernan Cortes to be him or his representative. Tlachihualtepetl is the world’s largest pyramid based on the archeological evidence gathered by its base.
After exploring the archeological site and the Church, we went to Oaxaca and met our host families. Within Oaxaca there are seventeen distinct ethnic groups, with fifty-two language dialects spoken. Mexico is a very multi-ethnic and multi-racial society and we had a chance to see the rich and colorful indigenous cultural traditions in person in both the Plaza in El Centro Histórico in Mexico City just outside our window and in the Zócalo (The Plaza de la Constitución) in Oaxaca. Mexico has a fascinating mixture of colonial and indigenous cultures and Oaxaca in particular has a strong indigenous influence, while also containing a distinctive colonial flavor as can be seen in the picturesque colonial estate that now is the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. Where, I might add, I get to study and grow as a student scholar. There is also a traditional colonial plaza situated near the Instituto.
Oaxaca is also the birthplace of two of Mexico’s greatest leaders, Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz. Benito Juárez (1806-1872) is Mexico’s only indigenous president, who reestablished the Republic of Mexico after he helped expel the French invasion in 1861. Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915) served as the Mexican President, essentially as a dictator, from 1876 and 1911 which was one of the main catalysts of the Mexican Revolution. This mix of indigenous and colonial influences and contributions to Mexican history makes Oaxaca the ideal place for learning about and understanding the concept of lo mexicano, the concept of what is Mexico and Mexican.