The Corner Institute: Local and Global Context


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Many of the people of Malinalco are poor, but they know they live in one of the most beautiful places in Mexico. This area’s cultural heritage and much local vocabulary go back to Aztec times, but both this culture and the livelihood of the local inhabitants are threatened with extinction by changing economic factors and encroaching imported mass culture.

Subsistence farming had long been the backbone of the local economy, but it has become less and less feasible as a means to support a family in the years since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While the principal economic activity for the area -- employing over half of the working population -- continues to be the growing of corn, sugar cane, rice and oats, increasing competition from international agricultural producers favored by NAFTA has meant that a diminishing number of local residents can make a living in this way. This has lead to small landowners gradually being forced to sell the land that previously provided for their families, and thus to rising unemployment, resulting in a growing number of local young people deciding they have no alternative but to leave the area in order to seek jobs in Mexico City and, increasingly, in the U.S.

Since the majority who cross the border to the north do so illegally, the journey often means years of not being able to return to Malinalco to visit their families, for fear of not being able to recross the border to report back to their jobs. This has led to divided families, and to children being raised by a single parent or their grandparents. Meanwhile, returning migrants have brought Malinalco's first cases of AIDS, drug problems and the beginnings of gang activity.

The inhabitants of this lovely but underdeveloped area would like nothing better than to stay home and work to help Malinalco flourish. The people here feel strongly that access to education and training can help them develop the knowledge and skills they need to preserve this beautiful area and make it productive in ways that will not destroy its culture. It is this conviction that has produced the popular support which gives the Corner Institute's work its impetus. People in neighboring towns are watching developments here with interest, and have expressed hopes that a similar project could be started in their area. We believe that with some outside support, combined with the considerable talents, energy, charm and enthusiasm of local residents, the Corner Institute can provide the boost in terms of educational and economic development necessary to make an important and positive difference to Malinalco and surrounding areas.