Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Monte Alban

Amazing. We went to Monte Alban today and had our minds blown away by these ancient ruins. We spent about two hours climbing up the stairs of different "pyramids" (which is apparently incorrect terminology but it's the only way I can describe them), exploring the remainders of an ancient culture and society, learning about the history and importance of the site, taking in the breathtaking views, and saving our memories with countless photographs. We learned that the society was highly organized and complex- only the elite lived at Monte Alban, while lower classes lived along the slopes of the mountain. They performed difficult surgeries (such as drilling holes into a person's skull to relieve illness), built intricate buildings with symmetry and detail, and ran a society with order. Not only is Monte Alban beautiful, it's also rich with spiritual symbolism and meaning- scattered around the site, you'll find carvings of people, animals and symbols that represented something significant in Mexican life (and death). The most memorable were the danzantes or "dancing people" who are carved into stone blocks, each doing something different, each with different meanings, which are still to this day disputed. It is said that they could represent the ailments people may suffer through life, celebration through dancing (no longer seriously considered as a hypothesis), or simply a story from history. I also found it amazing how good the acoustics of the arena was; our tour guide demonstrated through clapping that sound carries extremely well, to allow for easy communication. This tour was more than just a pretty sight, it was an enriching experience.
I think coming to Oaxaca out of all the states in Mexico was a great decision. It seems to be Mexican culture at its purest and most concentrated. Although the Spaniards imposed their culture, language, and religion on Mexico, here the pre-Colombian life seeps out from every corner and serves as a reminder for what was. It's incredibly sad to hear that natives tongues are disappearing rapidly; our tour guide specified which regions speak each native language (ie: Zapotec, Mixtec, etc.), and the number of people who spoke them, which is decreasing with each generation. The number of natives in Mexico is small, but the number of those natives who still speak their original language is even smaller. I think to preserve these languages as well as the culture of Pre-Colombian Mexico, history/language classes should be taught in schools. It would probably work best when offered in universities, since other classes will have priority in earlier years of education. Unfortunately, not many people will be compelled to learn the languages because they essentially provide no benefit. Moreover, by the time people take those classes, it would be too late to learn it as a fluent language that they could teach to their children.
On that note, I'm surprised by how dominant Spanish culture is here. Mexico prides itself on having ancient ruins built by indigenous people and a culture that's a blend of old world and new world. However, its policies favor the Spanish and oppress the indigenous, allowing the native culture to die out with its people. Even the politicians are all white-Spaniards, who will probably perpetuate the problem of favoring non-natives. Benito Juarez was the only fully indigenous person to be president in Mexico as well as the entire Western Hemisphere. It's really a shame, but there is not much that can realistically be done about it. Hopefully the natives will continue to try to empower themselves and gain equality.

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