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Public Affairs : Pyramids in Mexico

Pyramids in Mexico?
Cadets explore on AIAD 

By Djeunie Saint Louis
Contributing Writer
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 7, 2014) — Those who have not traveled south of the border are often surprised by the discovery of pyramids left by ancient civilizations of the Americas, such as the Mayan and Aztec. Ancient pyramids are often exclusively associated with Egypt.

A group of six cadets had the opportunity to experience life and culture in Mexico from June 24-July 14, everything from exotic foods to astounding pyramids.

Cadets Evan Caval, Collin Crane, Joshua Olivas, Daniel Park, Djeunie Saint Louis and Gregory Wiggins traveled to various Mexican states and explored many ancient ruins under the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Steigman, officer-in-charge and associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages.

The journey began in Mexico City where World Cup fever was palpable throughout the city. There, the cadets had the chance to visit the U.S. Embassy and were inspired to become FAOs, Foreign Area Officers. The cadets visited Teotihuacan and stood in awe of the pre-Columbian city boasting an abundance of pyramids.

The cadets traveled to the state of Guanajuato, visiting Centro Fox, in the town of San Cristobal, where they met former Mexican President Vicente Fox and learned about contemporary Mexican politics, foreign policy and social issues such as the burden caused by migration from Central America to Mexico. In San Cristobal, the cadets were also able to engage with the local community through a community-development project.

The cadets then journeyed to Puebla where “La Batalla de Puebla,” commonly known as “Cinco de Mayo” was fought, repelling an invading French army in 1862. Here, the group was able to learn the “real” background behind the famous Corona marketing tool.

They also enjoyed the history and colonial ambience of the ancient city, including a local theater group that performed Golden Age Spanish plays in the open air, using the colonial architecture as their set.

In the state of Oaxaca, they visited Monte Alban, another impressive pre-Columbian archeological site. They also visited a rug workshop where they witnessed the art of Zapotec rug making with natural dyes to create Native-American patterns.

After nearly two weeks of travel, the cadets departed Oaxaca for San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, the southern-most state in Mexico. In Chiapas, they visited Mayan villages where indigenous people live a more traditional lifestyle.

The cadets were also able to enjoy some ecological excursions, such as touring the Cañon del Sumidero, a geological wonder on the scale of the Grand Canyon.

They concluded their journey in the state of Quintana Roo, where they relaxed in the Cancún sun and reflected on what they had learned throughout their experience.

This trip was a valuable developmental experience for these cadets as they learned about a different culture, current events which connect the U.S. and Mexico, and improve their Spanish language abilities through a variety of interactive tasks. 
The group poses atop one of the massive pyramids at the Teotihuacan Complex, a pre-Aztec sight north of Mexico City. A group of six West Point cadets traveled to Mexico for an Advanced Individual Academic Development opportunity.  

Cadet Joshua Olivas attempts some traditional Zapotec rug making in Oaxaca. 

Cadets heard a Vamos Mexico-youth orchestra recital at CentroFox Presidential Center and Library, in San Cristóbal, Guanajuato. One of the highlights of the Mexico AIAD is visiting the Fox Center to learn about contemporary socio-political issues confronting modern Mexico. Former President Vicente Fox and scholars-in-residence are kind enough to donate contribute their time for the intellectual edification of cadets. The orchestra is part of a program called Vamos México!, founded by  Fox’s wife, doña Marta Sahagún.