Monday, July 11, 2016

Casa de los Amigos: Quaker Peacework in Mexico City

¡Saludos desde la Ciudad de México!

This year I received a Pickett Endowment Grant to help me write a book about Casa de los Amigos, a 60-year-old Quaker Center for Peace and International Understanding in Mexico City. I am grateful for the support from the Pickett Fund, and happy to share some news and updates about this project here on the Grantee Blog. I have read the other posts from this years grantees with interest.

My name is Nicholas Wright, and I am called Nico here in Mexico. I started working at Casa de los Amigos as a volunteer in 2001. There have been many changes at the Casa in the last 15 years, including an overall reboot upon the organization's 50th anniversary in 2006. Working with many, many others, I've been able to be a witness and participant through all of these changes. Last year I stepped back from the day-to-day running of the Casa, and I've been working full-time on this project since then.

The incredible history of Friends' social action in Mexico continues to inspire and inform the work of Casa de los Amigos today, and part of being there for so long was learning more and more about this history. It began with the American Friends Service Committee workcamps in Mexico in 1938, which eventually gave rise to the Casa in 1956. The Casa has been a versatile tool for peacework in Mexico these past 60 years. Today it is a bustling, active convergence center and an important member of the community of organizations in Mexico City.

AFSC workcampers in San Francisco Tepeyecac, Puebla, in 1960.
This history includes the famous AFSC workcamps, the Casa's pioneering environmental work in the 1970s, the role of the dynamic Youth Committee, a decade of work with Central American refugees, reconstruction work after the 1985 earthquake, and much more. I also learned that this history has never been written or even really compiled anywhere, and while many people knew a lot about different parts of it, nobody knew all or even most of it. It's a great story, and I'm happy to be able to share it. My hope is that a clear record of this history, as well as a general assessment of the meaning and impact of this work, will be a valuable tool for the Casa as it steps into it's next chapter and it's next 60 years.

That's an overview of this project; in terms of an update I wouldn't know where to begin. I'm over a year into it, and it has been another non-stop learning experience. I could easily take five years to do this--every clue turns into another lead, every interview yields five more names, every folder reveals a new project I've never heard of. There's a lot there, and in the end the great task is to condense it into a narrative that's clear, readable, and not 700 pages long. It's fascinating and challenging work.

Good people in the Casa today--daily Spanish classes for those new to Mexico.
In addition to the backing from the Pickett Endowment, I also ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to make this project possible. For that, friends and I made a short (2 1/2 minutes) video about the Casa and this project. I'm not raising funds for this book right now, but take a look at the video here. You can learn more about the Casa today at www.casadelosamigos.org.

Last summer I was able to do some research at the AFSC archives in Philadelphia. I stayed with a friend in Germantown and ran to catch the train into Philly each morning, and the Clarence E. Pickett Middle School was on the way to the station. As a Quaker tourist in Pennsylvania coming from Mexico City, this was quite a thrill for me (even though sadly the school appeared to be shuttered).
I am so grateful to all who have supported the idea for this book, and especially to folks at the Pickett Fund for their trust and support. More to come...



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