Another beautiful day greets us. We walk to the school in the cool morning air but the sun already feels warm on our skins. Our students spend the first part of the morning taking their placement interview. Afterwards they have time to talk, lay in the sun or read while the rest of the group has their interview.
By 11: OO everyone has been placed in a group according to how well they did and they head to their new classes. Each class has 5 students or less. After an hour the students take their break. With few exceptions, most seem happy with their group. The staff of the school is flexible and allow students to change level if they feel the material being covered is beyond or below their ability.
One of the highlights of the Cuauhnahuac school is the restaurant operated by a lovely woman named Estela and her able assistant Cecilia. They make delicious, quesadillas, tacos, tortas (sandwiches) and other Mexican specialties which they sell at reasonable prices. And you can wash them down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. It quickly becomes a favorite place for our students to hang out during their break between classes.
Today we’re in for a special treat. Our friend, colleague and the founder of the trip to Cuernavaca, Pat Herrington, comes to visit. She’s traveling in Mexico but makes time to stop by and see us She distributes hugs and kisses all around. All the staff from the school comes to greet Doña Pati as she’s known in Cuernavaca.
At 2: 30 the first day ends and we all head back to our homes to eat “el almuerzo, the main meal of the day in Mexico. Our hostess, Doña Delia has prepared for us chicken fricase, yellow rice with vegetables, and what else can you do after a meal like that but to take a siesta.
At 6: 00 we reconvene at the school for a lecture on the history of the Cuernacava region led by Alejandra one of the teachers who’s also a historian. She gives us a wealth of information but it’s a little too much to take in all
at once. Some of the main points:
1. The city of Cuernavaca is located in mountain valley which has been fought over since pre-Columbian times because of its fertile land that produces corn, beans, cotton and several other crops. The original settlers of the valley, the Tlahuicas were forced by the stronger Aztecs to pay tribute in food and bird feathers.
2. When the Spaniards under Cortes conquer the Aztecs, the entire Valley of Cuernavaca is given to the conqueror as his private domain. The Spaniards introduce the cultivation of sugar cane and subdivide the land into Haciendas where the indigenous people are forced to work .
3. This system endures until the beginning of the 19th century when two priests Hidalgo and Morelos lead the fight for independence from Spain. They are both captured and executed by the Spanish troops but the fight goes on until Mexico finally gains its independence in 1821.
4. The Mexican Republic has a turbulent history in the 19th century. The new republic is occupied by the Americans in 1847 during the Mexican – American war and then by French army in the 1860’s under the command Maximilian, who crowned himself emperor. After a hard fought war, the Mexicans regain their independence under the leadership of Benito Juarez. After the defeat of the French, an era of industrialization begins. The sugar industry grows in the Cuernavaca region. By then the area is renamed the state of Morelos, after one of the martyrs of Mexican independence.
5. But the unfair Hacienda system survives almost intact into the 20th century until Emiliano Zapata, an agrarian leader from the Cuernavaca region leads a revolt against the wealthy hacienda owners . Zapata’s program calls for “bread, land and liberty” and for a while his peasant soldiers gain control of the land. But Zapata is betrayed and murdered and the wealthy hacendados reclaim their holdings.
6. But the change that Zapata fought for is finally realized under the presidency of Lázaro Cardenas in the 1930’s. He institutes a program of land reform and rural development. Change comes to Cuernavaca. The formerly sleepy rural city begins to grow when a new road is built from Mexico City. Many “chilangos” (residents of Mexico City) begin to buy weekend houses in Cuernavaca. And others move permanently to Cuernavaca from the capital after the devastating earthquake of 1985. Today Cuernavaca is a bustling city of three hundred fifty thousand inhabitants and it boasts some new industries like the enormous Nissan plant that produces cars for the Mexico, The USA and the rest of Latin America.