Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Learning from Our Neighbor: Women with Disabilities in Oaxaca, Mexico. (Women with Disabilities in Mexico)

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Learning from Our Neighbor: Women with Disabilities in Oaxaca, Mexico. (Women with Disabilities in Mexico)

Article excerpt

 
   "Everyone has [her] own Atlantics to fly. Whatever you want very much to 
   do, against the opposition of tradition, neighborhood opinion, and 
   so-called `common sense'--that is an Atlantic." 
 
   Amelia Earhart cited in, Amelia Earhart by Virginia Morell National 
   Geographic, January 1998 

For the first author, principal investigator of the Vecinos y [Neighbors and] Rehabilitation research project, one Atlantic was, in fact, only a 50-minute drive from home. The border between Mexico and the United States is a frequent destination of friends, family, and colleagues who visit the sun mecca of Tucson, Arizona. We go to Nogales to shop--to find cheap Kahlua and vanilla. We go a bit further to an "Arizona beach," either San Carlos, Sonora or Puerto Penasco, the "Rocky Point" crazy-college-kid beach town, also in Sonora. Importantly, we typically do not go to Mexico with concern for the educational and employment opportunities of the general public there. We are not particularly concerned with the health care and human services of our neighbors to the south. We are not particularly concerned with the human fights or the health and well-being of the indigenous people of Mexico, nor do we think there is anything we can learn from them.

Getting to Mexico became an Atlantic when rehabilitation researchers wanted to secure U.S. Department of Education funds in order to research the needs and resources of indigenous people with disabilities--to "broaden the context" for the research conducted through the American Indian Rehabilitation Research and Training Center and the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center of the Pacific. Funding for international rehabilitation research was possible. The idea of working in partnership with Mexico as a neighbor--a neighbor from whom the United States could learn in terms of better understanding indigenous people with disabilities--came from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, which states that National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) funds may be used to "conduct ... a program for international rehabilitation research, demonstration, and training...." However, comments from peer reviewers of the first research proposal were not positive. Comments from some colleagues were similar: "We have our own problems, why go to Mexico?" Comments from some public servants challenged the premise that Mexico would have any experts from whom the United States could learn and further challenged the idea that what we proposed to do was even true research, saying, "This looks like public service." Nonetheless, in time, support was found for the "Atlantic crossing" and with funding through NIDRR, the Vecinos project--research conducted in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico--began in 1994 and was completed in 1999. These five years of modestly funded research reinforced our conviction that the United States and Mexico should be working more closely together to benefit indigenous people with disabilities in both countries (Marshall, Burross, Garcia Juarez, & Santiago Gonzalez, 2000).

The state of Oaxaca is located in the southeast of Mexico. It is considered one of the poorest regions of Mexico and one of the most heavily indigenous. By way of comparison and as one rationale for looking to Oaxaca as a place to learn from indigenous people with disabilities, the indigenous population of the United States is reported at less than 1% of our total population (Sanderson, 2001), a factor which contributes to American Indians being considered "invisible." The indigenous population of Mexico has been calculated at 6.5% of the population, but in accordance with Mexican Census regulations, this count includes only those persons over age 5 who can speak their Native language (Ayllon Torres & Chavez Flores, 1993; Marshall, Gotto, & Bernal Alcantara, 1998). Such a criterion, that the Native person be conversant in her or his Native language, would most certainly reduce a count of the number of indigenous people in the United States who would be considered Native. …

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