The Universidad Intercultural de Estado Mexico


As a multi-ethnic, multi-tribal person, I was raised on a reservation not my own (Mescalero) and in an environment (SW mountians & desert) that is a far cry from my tribal ancestoral environment (Great Lakes).

The Universidad Intercultural de Estado Mexico

Date Posted: 
2013-06-10 13:47

Blog Series:


As in the United States, young native people in Mexico are looking for, finding and reviving their language and health traditions. Mexico’s constitution recognizes Mexico as a pluri-cultural nation state and Intercultural Universities have been created in a number of Mexican states to reflect cultural plurality. In the fall of 2012 a delegation of students, faculty, and alumni of the Institute of American Indian Arts visited the Universidad Intercultural de Estado Mexico (UIEM) located in the town of San Felipe Del Progresso, a little over 100 miles northwest of Mexico City. The visit was part of the International Student Mobility Partnership on Cultural Diversity. The group included students from Canada and Malaysia as well as the IAIA and UIEM students.

The UIEM is a relatively new school having been in existence for about 10 years. The UIEM classroom building is in the shape of a coiled serpent and the administration is in a building shaped like a conch shell. Thus reflecting important symbols in the Indigenous cosmology of the region and reinforcing the Indigenous nature of the school.

The UIEM serves the five Indigenous peoples in the State of Mexico, the Nahuatl, the Mazahua, the Otomi, the Matlatzinca, and the Tlahuica. The UIEM offers several areas of study including Language and Culture, Intercultural Communications, Intercultural Health and Wellness, Sustainable Development, and Art and Design.

The Language and Culture Program offers classes in each of the 5 Indigenous languages as well as English. The model for teaching language is a dynamic model that relies heavily on cultural expression such as dance, food and clothing.

In the Health and Wellness program, students learn the Indigenous healing traditions as well as some Western medicinal techniques. The focus is on traditional processes such as massage, herbalism and the use of the temescal (sweatlodge). The UIEM sponsors rural health clinics as outreach into the indigenous communities and is in the process of building a clinic on the campus.

The Sustainable Development program addresses a number of issues related to sustainable food and housing. In addition to courses related to sustainable development, the UIEM maintains a research facility that works with a community on housing and food issues.

The idea of an intercultural university is quite radical in Mexico. While the constitution talks of a pluri-cultural nation state, the reality has been one of trying to assimilate the estimated 12 million indigenous peoples into a more European world-view. This has been done through denying indigenous knowledge and indigenous languages and their role in today’s world. But Indigenous knowledge and world-views as expressed by Indigenous language have become more and more important as a result of climate change and for Mexico, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).  NAFTA is seen as the foundation for the introduction of large-scale industrial agriculture: investments by those outside of Mexico that displaces the Indigenous farmers. The UIEM is providing a counter-narrative for Indigenous people to regain strength in their culture and traditional values.

The UIEM is a small school, serving about 1000 students, most of which are Indigenous, but there are a number of mestizo students. Students come from the villages in the mountains as well as from the cities and towns surrounding san Felipe del Progresso. Many ride the bus system for hours to get to the school, others find a way to pitch together their money to rent places to stay in San Felipe. The poverty is overwhelming and to see these young people fight the poverty to get their education is inspiring. The tuition at UIEM is about 40 American dollars per semester, but while we see this as an incredible bargain, even that small amount is a major challenge for the majority of the UIEM students. But even with these challenges, UIEM and its students represent a faith in Mexico’s indigenous future.



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