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Learning About Familias in Mexico City
by Danny Wedding, PhD
University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine
During the first week in July, 2007, I participated in the 31st Interamerican Congress of Psychology (SIP; Congreso Interamericano de Psicología) held in Mexico City. It was my first SIP meeting, and it rivaled the very positive experiences I have had with other international conventions and congresses (e.g., the World Congress of Psychology in Beijing in 2004 and the International Association of Applied Psychology convention in Athens in 2006). The meeting provided an opportunity to interact with and learn from some of the leading psychologists in the Americas, including Rubén Ardila, Juan José Sánchez-Sosa, Albert Bandura, Bob Sternberg, and APA President Sharon Brehm. As always, I made new friends and came away from the Congress enthusiastic about the future of my profession.
Like many psychologists, I attend numerous professional meetings, and stay in lots of hotels. One of the risks associated with this practice at international meetings is spending one’s time sitting in the hotel bar, talking with old friends (frequently friends from the United States), failing to truly appreciate the culture of the country in which an international meeting is being held. To avoid this all too predictable risk, I asked Dr. Sánchez-Sosa if any of his graduate students or postdoctoral fellows at the National University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; UNAM) might be interested in hosting my visit. I was delighted when one of the graduate students in clinical psychology, Janneth Carballido, accepted this assignment.
Janneth was enthusiastic about serving as my host, and her family proved to be every bit as gracious and hospitable as Janneth. I spent most evenings sharing dinner with her, her physician father, nurse mother, and her sister (a remarkable artist who was arranging for her first public exhibition). The meals we shared were lovingly prepared and always delicious, and I felt genuinely included—despite the relatively short nature of my visit—as a member of the family. We were able to share some fundamental human experiences (e.g., pride in our children, concern for the environment), and we laughed together while watching television, typically English language movies with Spanish language subtitles. One evening I had the genuine pleasure of watching Rebel Without a Cause with my hosts.
I was pleased to discover that Janneth and her family shared my liberal political views, and I tried—albeit ultimately unsuccessfully—to explain how some of our leaders could have been elected for multiple terms. Like so many of our international friends, they found some of our politics inexplicable.
Perhaps the highlight of my visit was touring the National University of Mexico campus with six psychology students. The campus itself is beautiful, and it has recently been included as one of the United Nations world heritage sites. I was touched by the numerous young couples I found embracing on the campus quad on the beautiful, sunny day I visited, and it brought to mind two thoughts: (l) love is a universal human phenomenon, and (2) I should have attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
It was a particular honor to be invited to observe the thesis defense of a gifted psychology student, Carlos Gustavo Castro. Although my Spanish was too poor for me to follow much of the dialogue, I found the trappings and symbolism of the ceremony to be entirely familiar. I was very touched when Carlos invited me to celebrate his successful defense with his family and friends at a local restaurant, and later when he presented me with a bound copy of his thesis, which now occupies a very special place on my bookshelf.
Angélica Riveros, a brilliant UNAM PhD candidate, was kind enough to give up two evenings to spend with me and some of her fellow graduate students. We shared tequila and beer, listed to Mariachi bands, and had fascinating conversations about white coat hypertension, Angélica’s dissertation topic. Another cherished memory is going to a disco--for the first time in many years--with six young, female, attractive and very energetic psychology graduate students. We later visited many of the most important tourist sites in Mexico City, but did so at 3:00 am, thereby avoiding the congestion, traffic and crowds that would normally be associated with these visits.
Janneth also arranged for me to attend a remarkable Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which contains both Kahlo’s work and many of the murals of her husband, Diego Rivera. July 6, 2007, the day after my visit, was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frida Kahlo. After leaving the museum, Janneth and I spent two hours searching through music stores in downtown Mexico City for an authentic Güiro (a percussion instrument made from a gourd) as a gift for my musician son.
After Janneth drove me to the airport, I left Mexico City with considerable regret about not being able to stay longer, but also with tremendous gratitude for the remarkable opportunity I had to make new friends and experience firsthand the daily life of a Mexican family. In summary, my trip to Mexico City has become one of my favorite travel memories. I cherish my new friends, and particularly value Janneth and her family. I’ve invited her family to visit me in Saint Louis, and truly hope they will accept my invitation. My love of Mexico and Mexican people will be forever rooted in the five days I spent with my Mexican family. Ψ