Section: Features

Students swap classroom for adventure in Yucatán, Mexico

Students swap classroom for adventure in Yucatán, Mexico

The class in Pasaje Picheta. | COURTESY OF TOMÁS GALLARETA

Over spring break, a Kenyon anthropology class traded Gambier for a warmer locale: Yucatán, Mexico. The trip complemented the students’ study of Latin America’s modernization and included visits to archaeological sites, colonial landmarks and urban centers that allowed them to get up close and personal with core ideas from the class like the variations in Latin America’s cultural makeup.

In an interview with the Collegian, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Latino/a Studies Tomás Gallareta Cervera explained that his goal for the course, Latin American Ethnicity, Identity and Cultural Heritage (ANTH 259), is to foster a more nuanced understanding of Latin American cultural heritage by examining the social structures that contributed to its development. “The idea is that the students are able to see those things and think critically about Latin America in terms of identity, in terms of relationships between race, colonialism and how they actually work on-site — in the field, as they say in anthropology,” Gallareta said. He went on to express that the choice to include a travel component in the syllabus stemmed from his own experience with anthropological fieldwork, which strengthened his grasp on the societies he was studying. “Some of the things that I’ve learned from my own experience, the life lessons that have hit me the most and that have shaped who I am and how I teach, have to do with me not necessarily reading books, but connecting those dots in the field,” Gallareta said. 

Associate Professor of Anthropology Claire Novotny, who was also on the trip, described how the group’s itinerary grew from topics discussed in the classroom. “There were several components [of the trip] that really were built out of the themes that [the students] were already discussing, like cultural ecology and colonialism,” she said. “The course really inspired the trip; this was like a case study of, ‘Well, if we go to Yucatán, here’s how all of these things that you’re already reading about play out in this place.’” Gallareta added, “It’s almost like gathering raw data.” 

The trip, which aligned closely with the call for more global learning opportunities outlined in the Foundations for Kenyon’s Third Century, also represented a homecoming for Gallareta. The class stayed in and around the city of Mérida, where Gallareta grew up and completed his dissertation. The Millsaps Puuc Archaeological Research Center (MPARC), an archaeological compound headed by Gallareta’s father, served as a base for the group. From there, they traveled across Yucatán to observe the cultural and ethnic differences between more urban, downtown areas and MPARC’s more rural surroundings. Staying at MPARC was a family affair; Gallareta and Novotny, who are married, brought their two-year-old son along on the trip.

Though education was the primary focus of the excursion, the connections forged between students proved to be a highlight of the experience. “This particular group of students had a really good rapport,” Gallareta said. “They were incredibly respectful with each other.” Novotny elaborated: “They were very welcoming. I think this kind of experiential learning is really fun to watch as an instructor — things really come alive for them.” 

Alexis Miramontes ’23 shared this sentiment, writing in an email to the Collegian that her favorite moment from the trip involved a bittersweet goodbye at the airport: “We were all going our separate ways to different gates, different cities, and yet we waited for each other anyway,” they said. “I began to grow impatient, fearing I would miss my connecting flight, and I started walking away from TSA along with a few others. That’s when one of our newest friends started running towards us, leaving her luggage behind, to hug us goodbye one last time.” 

Miramontes also noted how the trip improved her grasp of themes from the course. “Traveling to the historical city of Mérida with such rich Mayan and colonial heritage forced us to confront its history as well as our own privileges as tourists. Learning and traveling alongside peers that come from differing socioeconomic and racial backgrounds further complicated my participation and understanding of Mexican culture particular to the places we visited,” they said. “Going to Yucatán was an experience like no other — as a student of Mexican descent, the opportunity to be enrolled in a course that centers and experiences Latin American heritage and cultures firsthand is invaluable.” 

Despite the tiring nature of the trip’s packed itinerary and the occasional logistical challenges that it posed, both Gallareta and Novotny were pleased with how impactful the experience was for everyone involved. Miramontes recommended it heartily: “I hope this course is offered again in the future and this opportunity is made available to more students like me.”

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