What is Aalto Lab Mexico?
Aalto LAB Mexico (ALM) is a shared initiative from Aalto University with Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Ciudad de México (Technological Institute of Monterrey, Mexico City Campus), and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico). ALM was established in 2012, and since then, every year a team of Aalto students has traveled to the field to visit the community. The objective to ALM is to bridge the gap between “development as imposed by outsiders” and “cultural relativism” – two dangerous opposites in development initiatives, which lead to either disregard of community culture or accomodation of traits of culture that discriminate certain groups of people. Our contact from Mexico, who will lead us through the project, is Dr. Claudia Garduño García, who completed her Phd dissertation at Aalto with the topic “Design as Freedom”. This is the seventh year of Aalto Lab Mexico, and we are lucky to have a heritage from both the ALM team, and previous student teams’ work.
Introduction to “El 20”
Ejído El 20 Noviembre is the community we will be working with. El 20 was founded in 1969 by a community of people who left the Dzibalche area because of a reallocation of government land. The name “El 20 Noviembre” comes from the day the community moved to the new location, and as a coincidence, it is also the Día de la Revolución, celebrated in Mexico on the 20th of November (this day in 1910 marked the start of the Mexican revolution). El 20 is formed by around 500 people, and most of the community members define themselves as Maya. The Mayan language spoken by some people in the community is Yucatec Mayan, a strain of Mayan language spoken in this area, the Yucatan plain. Local activities mainly consist of agriculture, animal farming, and artesanía (handicrafts).
The climate in El 20 is quite challenging, with periods of extreme dryness and periods of rain which last 7 years each. These cycles create first of all challenges for water availability in El 20, and locals may need to get water from the government when their own resources are exhausted (which can happen during the dry part of the cycle). The second issue with water beyond availability, is its quality: previous ALM teams have measured its quality and ground water in El 20 is both very “hard” and occasionally contaminated with Coliform bacteria. These two water quality issues mean that locals can get sick from the water they drink.
Besides water, economic security and the ability to feel safe about one’s own future are sometimes compromised in El 20. In fact, medical emergencies represent a large issue because of the monetary resources that are needed to take care of them, disproportionate to the monetary income of locals. Both tourism and craft production could be solutions to this problem, but how to include as large a part of the community as possible in these?