TIJUANA – The problems plaguing the U.S.-Mexico border can be solved, with young people from both countries leading the way.
That’s the message of a two-day conference Tijuana is hosting that’s brought together 200 accomplished college students from northern Mexico and California. It’s called “Jornadas Fronterizas / Border Workshops,” concluding Friday at the Grand Hotel.
It’s organized by a non-profit organization based in Mexico City, known as EVAC, and supported by the giant Mexican TV network Televisa. The goal is to offer a space where college students can meet politicians, industry leaders and academics -- as well as other young leaders – analyze community problems and propose solutions.
The conference consists of round-table discussions that tackle a subject, such as immigration, education, security, innovation, employment and art.
The students who are participating were selected because of their academic achievements and their proposals to solve a problem on the border.
During one of the sessions Thursday, called “Error in the Operating System: Failed Education,” about 20 students complained about the poor public education in Mexico. This system has produced an estimated 7.2 million so called “ninis,” young people who neither work nor study, the students said.
Instead of government investing in education, its leaders have invested in security and the fight against the drug cartels, some said.
Other young people countered, however, that even though Mexico’s northern states had the greatest problems with violence, their students had the best scores in international academic tests.
Some students spoke about the government neglect of schools on the cities’ geographic edge in favor of those in the center, particularly elementary education, and about students graduating with few prospects for a job.
“We should take the reins of education, since all of us have a stake in it. Parents have to push their children to get an education,” said Fernanda Armendáriz, 22, a student of Universidad Regiomontana.
She presented a proposal to make museums in Mexico free and to use them in coordination with schools to make learning more dynamic.
For his part, Ricardo Rodríguez, 26, a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and a member of the Collectivo H2L, said that he and fellow members are using rap, graffiti and other urban expressions to raise awareness of community problems.
Thursday’s sessions included workshops such as “Walls We See, Neighbors We Don’t,” about immigration, “Gambling on life” (security), “¿Maquilotitlán o Tecnópolis?”, about innovation.
The idea was to discuss the problems that young people identified in their region without necessarily assigning blame. Based on that, the young people were to propose possible solutions and specific projects, said Raúl Tadeo Ruiz, who coordinated the workshops that tackled immigration.
Ruiz, 24, said he works for two community groups in Hermosillo, Sonora, that help the disabled and homeless migrants.
According to the event’s director, Gastón Tadeo Melo, the communities that live along the U.S.-Mexico border have suffered greatly because of the war on the drug cartels and internal battles among the organized criminals.
But that crisis offers a great opportunity to make young people a part of the solution, since many of them know firsthand its damaging effects.
Twenty young people will be selected from this conference to present their projects in a summit in Washington, D.C., called Vanguardia Latina, where they will get a chance to meet national and international leaders, and continue the conversation about solving the region’s problems.