During Spring Break, from March 19 – 24, 2023, seven students and three faculty from SUNY Broome Community College traveled to Querétaro, Mexico to meet with students and faculty from la Universidad de Celaya in Mexico. The SUNY Broome students are enrolled in Anthropology 288: Storytelling and Heritage, and are part of a bilateral exchange program, funded by a grant from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund .
Students from both campuses – in Binghamton, New York and in Celaya, Mexico – are participating in a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) experience. For several weeks before traveling to Querétaro, Mexico, the students met and interacted with one another via Zoom. While online, they discussed themes of storytelling and heritage, including stereotypes of one another’s cultures; memes, folk stories, and ghost stories; the role of food in storytelling and passing on heritage; and how material culture can tell stories about heritage.
When traveling to Mexico, the students and faculty from both institutions stayed together at a retreat center in Querétaro. Each day, we visited sites, dined together, and explored Mexican culture. Students from Celaya taught workshops on making Pan de Muerto, a bread eaten on the day of the dead, piñatas, and calaveras (representations of human skulls), and told stories about the importance of each in their culture. SUNY Broome students interviewed them and recorded the process. Photos and highlights of the program are being posted on a blog – Storytelling and Heritage Blog. Posts will continue throughout the semester and until the conclusion of this program.
Day trips included a visit to la Peña de Bernal (a monolith composed of the lava of an extinct volcano), el Cerrito Archaeological Zone (with a Toltec “pyramid”), the city center of Querétaro (a UNESCO World Heritage listed city), and the Museo Regional de Querétaro. This program coincided with the Equinox, so many of us were able to watch purification rituals and festivities in Bernal that marked the start of the new season. Students and faculty were also able to participate in a cacao ritual and a temazcal (ceremonial sweat lodge), both of which originate in Nahuatl culture. Dancers from the Casa de Cultura in Querétaro visited and performed Baile Folklorico, and shared a meal and Pan de Muerto with us. Students and faculty told stories around a campfire, and shared meals together throughout the week.
In June, our partners from Celaya will visit SUNY Broome Community college, and will learn more about American culture. Our bilateral exchange program will culminate in an exhibit at the SUNY Broome Library, curated by participants in the class, with assistance from our librarians and professional staff. The friendships formed during this collaboration will likely last a lifetime.
Faculty from SUNY Broome include Lynda Carroll, Kathleen McKenna, and Tairi Mead. Our partners in Celaya include David Shrum, Roberto Orozco Bush, and Jaime Daniel Merlo Uribe.
This program was designed to foster deeper cultural understandings between students from the United States of America and Mexico. It is part of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, which supports “dynamic higher education partnerships, increases student training and exchange opportunities, and strengthens regional education cooperation and competitiveness throughout the Americas.” The innovation fund is a public-private partnership and is the leading hemispheric-wide educational initiative supported by the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassies, and Partners of the Americas.
This Storytelling and Heritage program, in particular, was funded by the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation, which made funding available for anthropology partnerships between institutions in the United States of America and Mexico. The funding was granted in 2019, but due to the global pandemic, the program was put on hold until this semester. Additional funding was provided in 2023 by SUNY Broome Community College, La Universidad de Celaya, the SUNY Broome Foundation, the Harold Sunshine Fund for Interdisciplinary Work, and the SUNY Broome International Education Endowment Fund.
Submitted by: Lynda Carroll