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Jim Creechan

Jim Creechan
November 30, 2003

I've always thought of my CIASP days with a fondness and joy- but now, forty years later, the impact of the experience continues to influence me.

My most enjoyable time was my first summer in La Arena above Pisaflores. Ann Soden's essay restored names of wonderful people who had disappeared to a distant part of subconscious memory. I also enjoyed the next year in Pisaflores as project director, and of course had wonderful experiences in other parts of Mexico during the time I served as Canadian chair.

Intellectually, I was very strongly influenced by meeting Ivan Illich and I struggled to sort out the implications for me, and for CIASP, after meeting him several times during 1967 and 1968 in Cuernavaca, Chicago and Toronto.

In my head, I knew he was right but my heart hoped he was wrong- or that we Canadians were different than the Americans. The escalation of the Viet Nam war and the anti-war protests were the jolts of reality telling me that Illich was right- there were other pressing issues right in our own backyard.

But I didn't make a conscious decision to "break with Mexico" until after tragic events of Tlatelolco in 1968 became known. Hundreds of university students were massacred at the Plaza of Three Cultures during a rally about university autonomy and funding for the 1968 Olympics. The actual impact hit home when one of those university students appeared at my family's home in Hamilton asking for help. He had fled Mexico in fear for his life and sought temporary refuge in Canada.

Forces for change and progressive ideas were driven underground and remained in the background of Mexican politics until Carlos Salinas de Gortari began negotiating NAFTA. This action unleashed the latent and dormant opposition and those student leaders surfaced to fight against NAFTA. That's about the time when I began to revive my personal interest in Mexico- but there many things happened before then.

In 1969 I married Mary Lou Purdy and we've remained together all of these years. We have one son who now lives in Los Angeles and a daughter who lives in Niagara Falls.

In that same year I returned to university and enrolled at the University of Arizona in the sociology program. Actually, I'd applied to a community development program located in Tucson but it was cancelled after I was accepted and after we arrived in Tucson. The graduate chairman offered to admit me to sociology and I made that choice without knowing anything at all about sociology.

As it happened, I'd ended up in one of the best sociology departments in the world and I earned a MA and Ph.D. by focusing on Research Methodology and Statistics and the study of Crime and Delinquency. Those years in Tucson were wonderful, and it would be the place I'd most like to live if all other things were equal.

Tucson was close enough to the Mexican border that we made frequent visits into the State of Sonora. It was also a wonderful city populated by Mexicans and Mexican Americans. It's a cliché, but it's true that many of our friends were Mexican-Americans (who were just starting to call themselves Chicano during my stay there). One of those friends is Raul Grijalva who was just elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Congress. The time in Tucson also gave me the opportuntity to personally meet Cesar Chavez and do work for the UFWA in Tucson.

The food in Tucson is fantastic, and this turned out to have an impact on our lives that would surface a few years later and lead to another type of notoriety. More about that below!
In 1975 I chose to go to the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I was one of a number of people who moved there in that year to work in the Sociology Department. My research and academic work was in Juvenile Delinquency, but I also developed an interest in other issues such as learning disabilities. I was a frequent contributor to local news and radio shows on the topics of crime and delinquency. But, my claim to fame at Alberta was the fact that I taught more than 12,000 students during my tenure at Alberta. I wasn't exactly Mr. Chips, but I knew people in all parts of the city and province.

I was also active in the community, politics (we never won) and in minor sports. I also resumed a long abandoned hockey career and played old-timer hockey as a goalie for 18 years in the over 35 league. Those friends from hockey are missed more than anything else from Alberta. But my goalie pads are now in my basement serving as insulation.

While I was at Alberta I achieved notoriety as a cook. I won the Best of Show Prize when Chile Pepper Magazine sponsored a contest for Chile Pepper recipes. That award led to appearances on television, radio (As It Happens, Basic Black) and incredible teasing from my colleagues in academic life.

As an academic, my family and I were fortunate to live in other places during sabbatical years. The most memorable experiences were a sabbatical year living in Los Angeles during 1982 and 1983 while I was working at the University of Southern California, and a even more wonderful year in 1996-97 living in Mexico City while I worked at El Colegio de Mexico.

After NAFTA passed, I'd re-evaluated my longstanding feelings about Mexico and decided that I needed to return. I traveled there just after the Zapatistas and Sub-commandante Marcos emerged, and then I arranged to live in Mexico City during a period of rapid change when the PRI was falling apart. At that time I finally learned to speak and read Spanish beyond the CIASP level. Mary Lou and my children spent time in Mexico City during that sojourn. I met many wonderful people and learned more and more about Mexico and its differences from Canada and the USA.

Before going Mexico City in 1996-97, major changes at the University of Alberta were to affect the long-term course of my life. The government of Ralph Klein decimated the University budget by cutting 24% from the operating portion in 1995 (that's where Mike Harris learned the trick). The U of A also had other restrictions placed on it and was told that it could not run a deficit, could not let enrollment drop and that faculty should give back part of their salary. The administrators devised an early retirement package to save money and avoid a deficit- and I accepted this package in 1995 (along with 244 other professors). However, I was committed to remain in Edmonton until 2001 when I would be eligible for my pension.

This package meant that I could still travel to Mexico City and continue research. It was during the Mexico City year that I was invited to be a faculty member for a Master's Program located in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. I maintain that relationship and continue to teach a course every other year for the Masters Program in American and Canadian Students.

After my return to Edmonton, Mary Lou and I wrote a book about Mexican Salsas- the food kind not the music kind. It's done fairly well and is available through the University of Arizona Press and widely available on the internet. (Beginning with Chiles). This attracted further interest and there were many newspaper and magazine stories about how Canadians came to do this book. Mary Lou and I are happy that we did this book- although she accuses me of making it much too academic!

In 2001, I moved back to Toronto to be close to family members in Hamilton and Toronto. I've kept busy teaching courses at universities in this area: I taught one year at Queens to fill in for a sabbatical, taught a graduate course at McMaster as a sabbatical replacment, and now I teach courses for the sociology departments at the University of Toronto. Mary Lou and I have recently moved back into the over-heated Toronto housing market and re-establishing ourselves in the Beach/Leslieville area.
Mary Lou is still working and hosts a Latin Jazz show for JAZZ FM 91.1 in Toronto (Tune in Saturdays between noon and 4). She is become well-known for introducing Latin and Cuban music to Toronto and I am introduced as her husband. Her work has given us the opportunity to meet many Cubans living in Canada and to travel to Cuba and spend time in Havana.

Many current events have made me think about CIASP and it's meaning in my life. I think that nostalgia about the JFK assassination and the idealistic period of Camelot American reminded why something like CIASP could emerge furing the 1960's. Also, the interest in radical student movements of the 1960's (e.g. the Weathermen) also made me realize that there was another side to activism that CIASP didn't really touch. Of course, the strongest reason that I began thinking about CIASP was the recent death of Ivan Illich.

I've been wondering, why did I give in so easily to his plea and not return to Mexico for 30 years after he told us "not to come" with the idea of making change. Would we have changed the world if we had maintained a presence? Of course we'll never know. I also found it a little disturbing when I did an internet search for CIASP and discovered that most references to CIASP are found in the very speech that Illich made to CIASP in 1968. There was much more to CIASP than that document will leave the world to know.