Photo Essays

Cross-Cultural Counseling (Puebla, Mexico)

Photos and Captions by Stephen Lewis

In January, I participated in a graduate course in cross-cultural counseling, led by Applied Psychology Professor Ron Esposito and held in Puebla, Mexico. Our group, which included students from a variety of counseling and psychology programs visited this middle school in Chalchihuapan, an immigrant community from which many residents go to the United States to work. We asked the students "Who wants to go to America?" and almost all the boys raised their hands enthusiastically. Through readings, field visits, and on-site lectures, this course gave us many opportunities to learn about some of the harsh realities many Mexicans face and how they cope with adversity and grow from family support. For example, here in Chalchihuapan, we were inspired by the ways community involvement and volunteering have helped overcome the limitations of under-funded government schools.

In the small town of San Andrés Asumiatla, in the vicinity of Cholula, Mexico, these women have been empowered through an innovative and highly successful microlending and microsaving project that emerged in the town several years back. In the past, townspeople rarely saved money and could not borrow money at reasonable rates. Since this program was established the local economy has stabilized and grown. The psychological benefits for members of this cooperative are clear and enormous: there is a sense of security and empowerment. The Cross-Cultural Counseling participants, being interested in the evolution of Mexican culture and its effects on mental health, noticed how the patriarchal paradigm of the past is shifting. Women such as these have more economic and social influence and personal strength now that they have their own bank accounts and small businesses.

The Cross-Cultural Counseling course emphasizes cultural education as a primary ingredient in developing students, cultural sensitivity and awareness. This photo was taken at the Templo Mayor (the Great Temple), near the Zocalo of Mexico City, which was the center of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (c. 1325AD). Here, we were stunned by the visual evidence of the city underneath the ground we walked and we learned of the fascinating and brutal happenings of those times. The day trip to Mexico City was filled to the brim with a variety of historic, artistic, and culinary aspects of Mexican culture.

Looking at Puebla,s Cathedral at sunset with a smoking volcano in the background, our group was in awe of the beauty and splendor of this region of Mexico. Catholicism is a vital element of Mexican culture and, as the Cross-Cultural Counseling class discovered and rediscovered on a daily basis, teaches values that most Mexicans hold dear to their hearts. Behind the Cathedral (about 30 miles or so) is an active volcano nicknamed ‘El Popo,, short for Popcatepetl, which in ancient times was worshipped, feared, and revered. To this day, some people still appease this smoking giant with ancient rituals. Learning about the variety of traditions that exist in Mexico helped all of us develop greater appreciation for and sensitivity to cultural differences, which are essential to effective counseling practice.