Roundtable With Indigenous Students

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Mexico City, Mexico
March 26, 2009

MS. ORTEGA: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon to everyone. We want to say that we’re very sorry for the delay, but I’m sure that this has given you a little more time to get to know each other.

To the most distinguished Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it’s an honor for me to welcome you to this room and to this very special event. I’m a former scholar – Fulbright scholar. I was able to go to the United States twice and finish my graduate studies there. I’m also a not-so-recent militant in favor of international education because I feel that it is an occasion of privilege to insist, to reiterate that the best face we can give the cooperation between our peoples and our governments is without a doubt science, education, the arts and culture, and the great enterprises of humanity.


No one in this auditorium or in the country or even in the United States ignores the value of building democracy and good citizenship. This building requires that we decisively expand the opportunities that we give to our young generations to improve their lives and to improve the lives of their families through learning from each other and through the knowledge that they generate together.


In tune with our times, we cannot imagine quality education without a strong stress on interculturalism and internationalization. This is an indispensible dimension for dialogue, for recognizing each other, for rebuilding and for learning.


Of course, we have consolidated Fulbright programs already, and they’re in the hands – in very competent hands. They’re very traditional, very relevant for scientists, for academics, and for the professionals in our countries. But more recently, we’ve been provided these flexible, close, and sensitive – and programs that are sensitive to the needs and wishes and hopes of our indigenous peoples.


Without detriment to quality and also based on solid competition, they have been developed to develop skills, to be able to increase those skills, and to share those experiences through the demonstration that it is possible to take on social problems and to overcome adversity, and that it is feasible to make progress through our efforts.


Programs that have delightful acronyms, like SEEDS, TIES and the short-term visits have been extremely effective, and here we see the demonstration of that. It is in these brilliant, strong, courageous young people, full of possibilities, where the impact of our best face in cooperation is shown. They are the ones who day-to-day are working on opening up those avenues. They’re working to open up the roads that will allow us, without a doubt, to open up a new phase of even better quality in the relationship between our countries.


Secretary Clinton, these young people are here to talk about their experiences, but also, above all, to share the effects they’re already feeling and they’re making in their communities and the difference they’re making in their perspectives.


Thank you so much. They’re all yours, Madame. (Applause.)


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I want to thank Sylvia Ortega for not only those very kind words, but much more importantly, for her leadership in education and her strong belief in cultural exchanges, educational exchanges, and investing in young people. And I appreciate the opportunity to meet with some of the young scholars who have gone to the United States to study, to hear from them personally about their experiences. And it’s a great honor to be here in the National Palace of Fine Arts, such a magnificent structure but also a real tribute to the cultural legacy as well as a promise of continuing global contribution by Mexican arts and crafts and culture in every walk of life. So I thank you for letting us present this program here today.


As Sylvia said, we are highlighting on this trip of mine, my first to Latin America as Secretary of State, the importance of the breadth and depth of our relationship. There are so many issues that are important to the United States and Mexico that we work on together, but it is more like a family than two countries. We have so much in common, we share so many common concerns, and we share a common future. And there is no more critical aspect to that future than the young people here in Mexico and in the United States.


So I wanted to highlight today this very important program that provides a partnership between our two nations and enables students to travel to the United States. We believe strongly in the Obama Administration in the significance of education for the individual, but in the multiplier effects of education for a society. And it is important to help young people like those on the stage with me to realize their own God-given potential through hard work, through the opportunity to pursue an education. But this particular program is special because it focuses, as Sylvia said, on indigenous youth. And that is a special interest of mine, to make sure that the programs supported by the United States are aimed particularly at young people here in Mexico and elsewhere who might otherwise not have the opportunity. So I am looking forward to hearing about their experiences.


Our first student is Elia Bautista. She’s from Oaxaca. I want her to talk about her experience. She is a 1994 alumnae of the Mexico-U.S. Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange and has a Master’s in International Affairs from American University in Washington, and was the first educational outreach advisor for the Institute for International Education in the state of Oaxaca starting in 2006.


So would you please talk a little bit about this experience and the importance of it? And what made you decide to pursue a Master’s degree in the United States?


MS. BAUTISTA: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Mrs. Clinton. Before thinking about going to the United States, since I was a little girl, I was very much impressed by the English language, and then later I had the opportunity to teach Spanish to many U.S. students. And I realized that these were people with a lot of discipline, excellent students, and I was especially struck by the reasons why they were such good students.


For example, one of the things that impressed me was that in Mexico we didn’t like doing homework very much, so when we were given homework by a teacher we’d sit down and say, oh, now we have to work. But when, as a teacher, I did not provide homework to my students in the United States, they were angry. And I thought, well, something here makes them work, and I wanted to know what their motivation was.


And aside from that, of course, it’s well known that the U.S. education system is very good, especially at the higher level, and so I was really very much interested in going there and studying international relations. Washington as a wonderful location to do it. I think it was the first time and perhaps the only time that I’ve seen that the local papers on – gave – on the first page have domestic news. In Washington, everything was international instead. And it was something that struck me enormously.


And I think that motivated me very much, in turn, to motivate other students so that they could go to the United States and do this. Now, through the international education office we have in the state of Oaxaca, I have this international opportunity and I appreciate it very much.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, how have you found to motivate students in Oaxaca to want to pursue their educations and even to do what you did, perhaps go to the United States to study?


MS. BAUTISTA: (Via interpreter) It’s very important for us as Oaxacans, because ours is a state of a lot of migration, it’s very important for our people to know that they have the opportunity not just to travel to the United States, to live and work there, but also now the new generations, the young people like these young men and women, have the opportunity to study. It’s something which in our states, especially the southern states, did not exist. So the idea sells itself. It’s obvious that now they don’t want to go and wait tables or, say, go through hardship trying to cross the border, but now that the opportunity exists to actually be mainstreamed into a multicultural group, study there, to go an important place like the United States and learn from its educational system.


So there is a generational difference here which is already having an impact on our people. I am extremely impressed when I look at the statistics and see that parents who are not very educated at all or they’ve had no education practically and through these programs their children get a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. in the United States.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s a wonderful story. And I know many of these young people come back to Mexico, which is especially important.


I want to turn now to Miguel Arias Martinez. He’s from the Tzoztil community in the state of Chiapas. He participated in a USAID SEED program on strengthening rural primary education at California State Polytechnic University. He’s now a teacher and advisor for indigenous education for the state of Chiapas and is working on teacher training.


So, Miguel, tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you go to the United States to study.


MR. MARTINEZ: (Via interpreter) Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton. First of all, it’s a great honor and a privilege to be with you right now and to thank the Government of the United States and Georgetown University and the SEED program that I was able to participate in, as well as our ministry and Rosalina Morales Garza, who is here, our General Director of Indigenous Education who provided us with the facilities to be able to enjoy this scholarship.


First of all, when I went to the United States, I was able to perfect techniques in four major areas: strategies; to acquire learning skills in young children, say between five and seven; also, the importance of bilingual education. I am an indigenous grammar school teacher, and so we take part in bilingual education. You have bilingual education in the United States as well, and I thought that there were a lot of very important things to point out in that area. Third was the use of didactic material. In the United States, it’s managed with a different approach. We in Mexico handle it in a slightly different way, but when we put both approaches together, we can improve our techniques. And the final area I want to point out is professional leadership, the leadership of teachers. Teacher leadership is something that we have not gone into in depth. Not just in our country but in a number of countries throughout the world, it really hasn’t been dealt with too much.


However, in the management of indigenous teaching in my state, these two activities are being carried out. The first is to train and constantly update our supervisors and area directors. We have 17 area directors and even more supervisors, and we are training in pedagogic leadership techniques and also in training. And in providing training to that leadership group, we are reaching almost 4,000 school groups between grammar schools, preschools, and even middle schools at indigenous education levels.


At any given time, we are training 317 young people who are new teachers in the state of Chiapas. Those 317 attend to approximately 1,000 students, and we’re training them as well in leadership techniques, professional techniques, aside from techniques and strategies to learn how to read and write, and always stressing the importance of teaching in the indigenous language, which for us is of fundamental importance.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think you made a very good point about how we’re stronger if we learn from each other. And when you talked about integrating strategies that are used in the United States and used here in Mexico, I think that creates a better opportunity for teachers to reach every child. And I must say your enthusiasm suggests what a good teacher you would be. (Laughter.)


I want now to turn to Reyna Luz Santiago Batista from the Mixteca community in Oaxaca, who participated in also the USAID SEED Program at Mount Hood Community College in Oregon, where she studied natural resource management. And I know that she has a particular interest in the education and role of women and, in fact, is currently working for an NGO that emphasizes women’s empowerment, health, education.


So what did you learn about the role of women during your educational exchange in the United States?


MS. BATISTA: (In Mixteco.)


(In English.) This is my native language. It’s called Mixteco. And I want to, first of all, to thank all of you for this opportunity and for coming here today. And I want to give my special thanks to the United States Government, to the SEED Program of the Georgetown University, and for all of you for being here today. So now I want to answer my question.


(Via interpreter) I think it’s very important to see the role that women have in the United States, in particular what I saw in the United States is that women are very independent, they constantly fight for their dreams, for education. They worry about the welfare of themselves, of their families, of their communities. I had female colleagues who worked and studied at the same time, and they also helped out with their communities.


And that to me has been an example, an example I want to follow, because especially here in Mexico indigenous women sometimes have less opportunities. And I think it’s very important for us to begin to seek opportunities like the SEED scholarship and Start-to-Study, and then move forward. And I think that we women can also make a contribution to the welfare of our communities and our countries.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have no doubt that you are doing that and you will do that. Because trying to make sure that opportunities are equally available to men and women, to boys and girls, is a continuing commitment of mine and of my country. And we want to work to bring educational opportunities to more indigenous women. So I thank you for the example you’re setting.


MS. BATISTA: (In Spanish) Thank you.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Now, let me turn to Telmo Jimenez, who is from the Mixes community in Oaxaca. He participated in the State Department’s study for the United States Institute Program for student leaders in Washington, D.C., last year. And he’s pursuing an undergraduate degree in anthropology at the Autonomous University of Oaxaca. In fact, he received a national youth award in social work, delivered by President Calderon, and is the coordinator of a new center in his hometown.


So you’ve already done so many things and have been recognized for your leadership and your commitment. What did your participation in the Leadership Institute contribute to your understanding of leadership and to the work you’re doing now?




(Via interpreter) Good afternoon. I want to thank everyone who made this event possible and especially the United States, which gave us the opportunity to go to the United States. I was in Amherst, Massachusetts at the leadership seminar for young indigenous students.


The work I’ve been carrying out goes back a long way. For many years, we’ve been working with children, young people, and adults in educational programs, in informal intervention outside of the schools, and through multicultural and artistic activities that also add to the training they receive at school.


That has given us not only the basic tools to be able to continue working with more young people, but it’s also given us – it’s provided a broad perspective on the problem that we’re dealing with within the communities.


The opportunity we were provided by going to the United States was very comprehensive. It wasn’t just about the theory behind all of this, but we went into community practices, we saw civil associations, NGOs that work with the communities over there, and that provided us with tools to be able to take on or better understand the problems we’re facing in our own communities with our young people and children where each of us is working in the various indigenous communities.


And that’s been a major force in being able to continue working with them and to show our leadership, not only at the level of our communities but also outside in our projects in other neighboring communities within the states or in other states. That’s been – that’s provided a strong impact to us, and you can hear it in the words of my various colleagues here. I think that the projects we’re working on are of transcendental importance in our communities because we don’t just attend to specific problems or – we also generate responses that help in global problems. And that was one of the greatest experiences provided, and also one of the greatest tools the United States gave us to be able to deal with these problems, and somehow being able to help our people in our various communities.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s an excellent description of what an education should do for a community. As we said in the beginning, of course, we want individuals to have these opportunities. But it’s very important that they then be fed back into the community itself and create even more chances for other people to take advantage of education and cultural experiences. So thank you for that excellent description.


Let me now finally turn to Adriana Roque, who is from the Ñah-ñu community in the state of Hidalgo. She also participated in the State Department’s program for student leaders last year. She’s an undergraduate student at the National Pedagogical University in Mexico City, where she is pursuing a degree in indigenous education. And she, too, assists with the equity and gender portfolio at an NGO in her home state, where she developed assistance programs to allow pregnant teenagers to continue their studies, something that is also very important that I worked on in the past as well.


And I think that with your first trip to the United States, when you went for the program – and I’m wondering whether your experience there impacted or affected your professional goals and the way that you want to work within and help your community.


MS. ROQUE: (In Ñah-ñu.)


(In English) Thank you for this opportunity.


(Via interpreter) My opportunity in the United States, yes, was the first time I went – I traveled outside of Mexico. And although it was a very short time there, you can see there’s enormous diversity in the United States, a level of equality that is often not reflected in our own communities. Being there provided me with the opportunity to be able to see that we shared two important elements, teamwork and respect. This, as an indigenous group, has allowed us to live, or to survive for much longer, but also in order to be able to provide help through these projects and to be able to understand who else other than us can have access to such opportunities, each language, each culture, is a different way of seeing the world. And we share global problems, even though we’re at a more local level. The fact that our cultures or our language could be lost lead us to being – to not being able to resolve our own problems. And so I’ve always been concerned with trying to help others, especially my own people. I take part in some youth projects that have to do with women’s equality issues, an issue of great concern to me.


But preserving our mother tongue, in this case an indigenous tongue, is very important. Unfortunately, that discrimination towards people still exists today – those people who speak an indigenous language, and it should not be so, because you lose perspective. And I think that that could help enormously to overcome the problems we have, not perhaps at the level of our communities because ours is a global society, but as you said, we’re working together, and the relationship is not so much diplomatic as it is the relationship of a family.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s an excellent statement. And I particularly appreciate you referring to teamwork and respect. That’s important between people, individuals, between families and communities and between countries. And I also liked what you said about how each language and culture helps us as humanity see the world differently and adds to the overall understanding of our human experience. So I thank you for that.


Sylvia, do you want to add anything after hearing these remarkable young people speak?


MS. ORTEGA: You know, I don’t think so. They made their statements very powerful.


(Via interpreter) I think the important thing would be to see that if there is an investment that pays the best dividends and on an extended basis, it is education. It is the acquisition of those skills that make us better people, better citizens, and better – more understanding of each other. Because deep down inside, that’s what it’s about. It’s about effectively building interpersonal relationships, family relationships, or relationships between countries. It’s going to depend on how well we understand each other. And to understand, you need to learn. And to learn, you need to generate knowledge. And that’s done much better, it’s true, with respect and as a team.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that you can see very clearly how impressed we are with these young people. And there are more like them sitting here in the audience who have pursued education and are not only furthering their own personal goals, but contributing to their communities as well. And so I am pleased to announce a new educational partnership in Mexico, the English Access Micro Scholarship Program. It will begin this month in Atlacomulco. It’ll later expand to Oaxaca and Chiapas and Mexico City.


This program will provide two years of training in English to 100 Mexican students. We’re hoping that this additional program will help even more young people expand their horizons, acquire new skills, learn what will give them a better future and then enable them to make those investments in their communities. I could not agree more with Sylvia, who has spent a lifetime working in education, that, you know, investing in an individual is the best investment we can make. And parents and families do the best they can to invest in their children, but very often there are many obstacles to being able to make those investments. Governments invest in their people, but often it’s challenging to do that to the full extent that we would like.


So we think partnerships for more educational experiences and opportunities is a very tangible way for us to deepen and further the relationship between our countries.


I told the officials with whom I have met today how personally proud I am to be the Secretary of State representing the United States and being able to come here to Mexico. When my husband and I were married, we honeymooned in Mexico. (Laughter.) We have very pleasant memories of Mexico. We have vacationed in Mexico. When he was president, we had official visits to Mexico. And we have Mexican friends who we treasure. So we are very, very happy to see this relationship growing stronger.


And so for me, working with your government and working with the people of Mexico is not only a public responsibility, but a personal privilege. And I look forward to hearing more about these remarkable young people, and knowing that they are making such good use of their education. And hoping that in my country as well as in Mexico, we can finally arrive at a point where no child’s dreams are denied, where it will be up to every single child to decide what he or she is willing to work for. And to go back to the point you made about how hard people are willing to work, but that that work will be rewarded. And we are working to achieve that in the United States. And I am very impressed and delighted to see the efforts that are represented on this stage by these young people. So please join me in showing your appreciation to these young students and to the others who are here, as well as to their teachers and the officials of the Government of Mexico who are supporting their education. (Applause.)

PRN: 2009/T3-4