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Navigating Identities in Mexico

Peace Corps’ Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (ICDEIA) approach seeks to reflect and support the diversity of the United States through its staff and Volunteers, who represent a broad collection of social identities, including race, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, marital status, and socioeconomic status, among others.

How might a Volunteer’s social identities impact their service?

The information below provides additional context about how different social identity groups may experience service and what types of ICDEIA-related support you can expect from the Peace Corps.

Accessibility and disability considerations

Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers with disabilities to support them in training, housing, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

Volunteers with disabilities in Mexico may face a special set of challenges. In Mexico, as in other parts of the world, there are people who hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities and may discriminate against them.

In bigger cities, there is better adherence to infrastructure laws and there is often more accessibility to ramps, railings, and elevators. In rural areas or smaller cities there may be little to no infrastructure available to Volunteers with disabilities.

Throughout central Mexico, it is common for streets and sidewalks to be made of cobble stones or bricks which can be hazardous for Volunteers with mobility issues. Even concrete roads and sidewalks are commonly broken and can pose challenges.

Staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender role considerations

Gender norms are deeply rooted in Mexican communities and can vary depending on the context. In rural areas, Volunteers may find conservative attitudes regarding gender equality and gender identity.

Men are often seen as providers, and women can be expected to have more traditional responsibilities like caring for the family, cleaning the home, and working long hours to prepare food from scratch; but this is changing, and more women are entering the workforce. Older generations and those living in rural areas are more likely to expect men and women to adhere to traditional gender norms.

In communities or villages, women have tremendous influence and are often the backbone of community development efforts. Men often work during the day, which may involve traveling to nearby cities; some may be away from the family during the work week and only return on weekends.

Volunteers identifying and presenting as women may face initial difficulties gaining acceptance and credibility at work. They may be asked questions regarding their marital status and be pushed towards more traditional gendered activities and roles, even within the workplace.

Street harassment is common for all genders, so it is important to identify allies and strategies to prevent risk or conflict.

During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country, and will take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You’ll then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in your host country and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what you may or may not do—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.

LGBTQI+ considerations

Many LGBTQI+ Volunteers have successfully served in Mexico and have very fond memories of their community, counterparts, and service.

Mexico legally recognizes same-sex marriage across the entire country.

Mexico forbids all forms of discrimination (Ley Federal para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación, 2003) and has a federal agency, CONAPRED (Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación) to ensure compliance. This does not mean there is not discrimination in Mexico; there is, and it is often felt more acutely in smaller communities with more conservative attitudes.

The Mexican population is generally accepting of LGBTQI+ community members. The “Social Progress Index” ranks Mexico #29 out of 170 in terms of acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community. For reference, the U.S. ranks at #14.

As in other countries in the region, LGBTQI+ acceptance in Mexico is greater in urban areas, while rural areas, due to limited exposure to diverse sexual orientations.gender identities and expressions, tend to be more conservative with a limited understanding of expressions of gender identities other than binary and cisgender.

It is suggested that LGBTQI+ Volunteers explore safety and integration implications (with the support of staff if needed) prior to sharing this part of their identity with community members.

Volunteers have told us they feel they can be open with their sexual identities with other Volunteers and staff, and that they are able to identify and have been able to find LGBTQI+ communities, primarily in larger cities.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Volunteers serving in Mexico can expect some degree of unawareness of diversity in the U.S. and an expectation that all U.S. citizens are White and native English speakers. This lack of awareness can be more evident in small towns and rural areas.

Black/African American Volunteers: Due to its proximity to the U.S., the Mexican population has been exposed to American culture and will have some level of awareness of the Black/African American experience and the contributions of the Black/African American community in the United States. However, Black/African American Volunteers are often the only Black person in their communities; they may experience microaggressions and be asked inappropriate questions based on stereotypes. There could be members of the community who use racist terminology to describe Black Volunteers, and there may be little awareness of the civil rights movements in the U.S.

Hispanic/Latinx Volunteers: Hispanic/Latinx Volunteers may be questioned for not speaking Spanish fluently, about having heritage that is not Mexican, and may receive questions about their intentions and motivation for coming to Mexico. Hispanic/Latinx Volunteers may also be expected to already understand cultural norms and gender roles and be treated differently than other Volunteers when those expectations are not met.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American Volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American in Mexico. It is common for all people of East Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” and be called “China/Chino.” Microaggressions around martial arts abilities or language/accent may occur.

White Volunteers: White Volunteers will likely experience privilege in many ways. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be American, while your fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary. Navigating this and being an ally to diverse Volunteers will be important. At the same time, White Volunteers may stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention because of this aspect of their identity.

Age considerations

Older Volunteers may find their age to be an asset, especially regarding work, and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. It is also common that older Volunteers are not invited to certain community events or physical activities that their younger colleagues may be.

Younger Volunteers may find their age to be a factor in building trust with the community. It may take longer for community members to open themselves and to involve younger Volunteers in a variety of activities. In rural communities there may be very few people from the same age group as a younger Volunteer, as they often travel to larger cities for school and/or work.

Work and life in Mexico can be particularly stressful for Volunteers whose lifelong learning styles and habits may or may not lend themselves to the commonly used techniques found in Mexico. Some Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to a lack of structure and clarity in their role after having worked for many years in a very structured and demanding environment.

Religious considerations

Mexico is a largely Catholic country (78% in 2020), and Volunteers will likely be asked “Are you religious?” Volunteers are in a particularly unique position and people are curious about who they are, where they come from, what they eat, and what they believe. Volunteers may feel free to talk about their religion or faith, or lack thereof, always remembering to do so respectfully.

Wherever Volunteers are assigned, it is essential that they understand and respect the importance that religion holds in the lives of Mexicans. Volunteers who show respect for local beliefs are more likely to be accepted into the homes and lives of the members of their new community.

In terms of practicing non-Catholic traditions in México, past and current Volunteers have found doing so more challenging in smaller cities and rural parts of the country. In larger cities it may be possible to find a religious center for your faith tradition, although it is important to know that in 2020, only 0.3% of Mexico’s population professed a non-Christian religion.

Regarding specific dietary needs, in small cities and towns you can expect a lack of availability of Kosher or Halal products. Some large cities may have specialty stores that import food products and may have Kosher or Halal items.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

While youth in Mexico are becoming more progressive, it is not common for unmarried couples to live in the same home. Most of the country still believes that if you live together, then you are married.

Couples can be assigned to the same host family for pre-service training, if they choose, or they can live apart if they think it will help improve their cultural adaptation and communication skills.

Couples without children may be repeatedly questioned about why they do not have children or be the subject of comments or jokes about being monogamous.

Cisgender, heterosexual couples can find that they are expected to adhere to traditional gender norms for men and women in Mexico. Community members may find American relationship dynamics and gender roles to be a significant cultural difference that may be challenging for them to understand.

Peace Corps Mexico has hosted same-sex couples. Given the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ individuals in communities, these couples will likely face similar challenges.

Staff will work with same sex-couples to help support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively. It is important to note that same-sex couples are only accepted for the TEFL program.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Peace Corps Mexico has a Peer Support Network (PSN); members are trained Volunteers who provide one-on-one support and outreach as well as link Volunteers to available resources. The PSN is not limited to ICDEIA-related support but promotes overall Volunteer well-being and resilience.

Peace Corps Mexico is in the process of reestablishing the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group. This group will be staff-led but rely heavily on a diverse and inclusive group of Volunteers. The focus of the advisory group is to contribute to updating ICDEIA-related training sessions for pre-service training.

Members of the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group will be able to contribute to the staff-led Post Bridge Council, to be formed in 2024. The purpose of the Bridge Council is to integrate ICDEIA into Post operations and collaborate with Volunteers to foster a culture of equity and belonging.

Trainees and Volunteers are encouraged to form affinity groups, safe spaces for those who share a common social identity (e.g. race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion) and seek community to discuss, support one another, and work through issues, discrimination, or common experiences that they face based on the shared social identity.