On Helping: a Movie and Life Review


I saw The Help and liked it. It’s about a woman (called “Skeeter”) who collects the stories of black maids in her town. Movies like it should be made, and more movies need to deal with the working class. Also, I hate criticism that we white people shouldn’t write about people from other backgrounds. If we can’t then I think we’re leaving out a lot of stories. Still, the movie got me thinking. My thoughts had less to do with the movie and more with movies in general and the idea of helping.

There’s a whole genre of “helper” movies from Hollywood. Movies in which a white person goes in to a non-white community to help them and succeeds. The Help doesn’t really fit in this category, as we don’t see Skeeter victoriously ending discrimination. Instead it ends with her damaging the relations between people around her, even if she does bring out the non-racist side of her mother. Also, her goal is not to help so much as sell her book, so she’s a little more complex than your average Hollywood helper.

Helper movies split into two types: Helper dramas (The Blind Side,Music of the Heart) and warrior helpers (Avatar, Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Laurence of Arabia).

Ironically, given the focus on action, the warrior helper movies seem to have  more dynamic helper characters (they often switch sides). Helper Dramas are usually about characters who start out right and end just as right. Again, The Help just barely fits here, but there’s one side it doesn’t show, and that’s struggling at first. To be fair, she does struggle at first, but none of it is her fault, more to do with the risks of the time period.

I worked with migrant farm workers in South Carolina, signing people up for a health program and then recording an interview with one worker about his life. You can read more about my memories of that time at this blog. When I started out I was asking people what they ate for breakfast, who cooked for them and other weird awkward questions as icebreakers. I took notes even when I was just making light conversation, making me look like a census taker. People had to point these things out to me for me to change them. Usually these people were Latino. Why are there are no stories about people who try to help but start out doing it all wrong? Or even more importantly, a story of a helper failing?

In SC doing healthoutreach work.
Ben doing health outreach Work

I may, in the future, write the story I’m describing, although I have other projects at the moment. Right now I just thought I’d throw the questions out there and see what people thought.

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SAF internship


I’m no longer in Mexico, but talking to migrants in Mexico inspired me to get an internship with Student Action for Farmworkers, here in the U.S.

“Every time we sit at a table at night or in the morning to enjoy the fruits and grain and vegetables from our good earth, remember that they come from the work of men and women and children who have been exploited for generations.”

-Cesar Chavez

Cuernavaca: City of Ravines


Cuernavaca: a city of ravines.¨Upper¨ and ¨lower¨ class is literal. Well, not always, but mostly.

Walk up certain hills, and you´ll see mansions and flowering trees.¨The city of eternal spring¨ is Cuernavaca´s motto, and there is nearly always some kind of flower in bloom.

The people in these fancy houses are often people who left Mexico City for bigger houses and courtyards, some imitating the tiled domes of Spain. Unlike Mexico City, we have enough water for some people to have swimming pools.The modern convent of the Guadalupanas del Cristo el Rey is here at the top as are some language schools.

It´s good ground to avoid earthquakes like the one that ripped Mexico City apart in the 80s. Granted, land at the very top of some of these hills is looser and cheaper judging from what my host mother Alicia told me.

Okay, time to go down to the middle ground where I am now. Here you find small-shopkeepers with painted signs, good for if you need anything.

Walk down a flight of stairs into a ravine. Available space, if it´s there, often gets used for chickens. People come here from the countryside. Many will wind up in the U.S. eventually. The ravines actually look kind of picturesque from a distance because of their greenery and general wildness compared to the rest of the city.

At far bottom you hit the rivers that carved out the ravines. The ravine-bottom is nice and shady, but you´ll get a headache if you stand down there for too long. Black rivers carry sewage that washes down from all the layers above. Usually the rivers flow with suds. Just imagine the combined fecal and garbage smell. I can´t show it. The worst of these ravines don´t even have roads at the bottom, meaning that the people who live there have to climb stairs.

Foreigners (except for me) avoid the ravines with the exception of the San Anton waterfall, which is awesome despite not being clean. It´s a bit different from other ravines in that it´s more or less one of the nicer parts of town.

The city as it stands now grew in a jumbled way out of Cuanahuac the pyramid site of the Tlahuica (meaning ¨They who work the land”). The Tlahuica were among Moctezuma´s loyal taxpayers. They built their temples near Cuernavaca’s modern center. Cortez had slaves rip them apart to build a castle for himself. His castle still stands at the city’s center.

The Palacio de Cortez as it’s called has a mural by Diego Rivera inside of it. The mural shows Cortez invading, destroying the Aztec Empire, and installing himself and the Spaniards on top. It’s beautiful in spite of showing the divides of wealth and race. Cuernavaca itself is much the same way.

Palm Weaving


My relationship with the summer program is a little different from other students.I do go with them sometimes, but only when it´s something that I hadn´t done during the spring program, usually. One of our excursions last week was just down the street to visit some women from an indigenous village who were staying there to sell baskets and other woven goods in Cuernavaca. They taught us how to weave their style of palm baskets as well.

They talked about life in their town and relationships with their husbands. I won´t go into that too much because I hate to be the white man criticizing the norms of indigenous society. I will say that they thought the location of houses in Cuernavaca next to the cemetery was problematic due to their own belief in ghosts.

For them, their artisan work is very much an art, because it requires time and effort, just as much in their opinion as painting or engraving (which we discussed) particularly with the harvesting of plants.


Despite saying earlier that this will not just be a tourist blog, I will sometimes review various tourist attractions in the area here. People may just want more information about these places. Some of them (certain museums for instance) have long histories associated with them, which can be revealing.

Old haciendas in modern Mexico have become any number of things. In central Mexico especially, many had to divide their lands under beloved President Lazaro Cardenas, while being allowed to keep their houses.This particular one is now a water park.

Yeah, you heard me right. A water park. The old walls and the house are now parking lots and a cafeteria (which was not open). The slides and pools are out in what was once the fields. We actually went as a class with the summer group, mostly just to see the style in which Haciendas are built. (This was actually our second class trip with the summer group so far. I´ll get to the first one with Universal in Mexico City later).

I slid down two slides, both fun and both tunnel slides. I coasted in the wave pool and swam in a pool which had some of the old arches still over it. It was a great chance to get to know the new students more too.

Most of the slides weren´t open though. They try to conserve water on week days, which are, for that reason, cheaper to get in. Some travel bloggers would tell you that this conservation is a bad thing. I disagree. Sure, I may have wanted to do more of the slides, but water is a precious resource here in central Mexico. For that reason, I´m not sure how I feel about us having so many water parks nearby.