Posted to the Ethnos Project by on May 18th, 2011

This paper (excerpted below) by Mónica Isabel González Arribas, Emilio Sánchez Sánchez, and Edgar de los Santos Ramírez was presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2011) in Vancouver, BC.


ViTu is the entire development of a system focused on appreciating and highlighting the culture and traditions of native Mexican communities. It also contributes towards preserving and regaining the lost Mexican roots of the Mexican-Americans living in the United States. To achieve this, a culture, customs and traditions storage device of the Mexican village of San Jeronimo Silacayoapilla, was created. The main objective of this system is to encourage people to love and be proud of their cultural roots through technology. We are confident that this project will not only highlight the lifestyle of the native communities in Mexico but it will raise awareness on the importance of sharing, celebrating and appreciating our differences.


Since the beginning of colonization, poverty has prevailed in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and as a result of this, migration is still a current issue in the state. Over the years, the migration of Oaxacans to the United States has risen due to the state’s large economic poverty [1]. Oaxaca, traditionally, has one of the biggest migration indexes in Mexico.

During the migrants’ initial period of integration when they try to be part of the American culture, they tend to forget and change their traditions and culture, leaving behind their Oaxacan roots.

The Mexico-born population living in the United States reached 11.8 million people, in June 2006. [2]. Nowadays, there are approximately 2 million Oaxacans living in the USA, being California the US state with the largest Oaxacan population. [1]

Much to our surprise, Oaxaca has the largest number of indigenous migrants in the country, which is approximately 16.95% (See Figure 1) of the total population of Oaxaca [3].

The Mexican State of Oaxaca is divided into eight regions of which the Mixteca region has the largest migration index. The Silacayoapilla town is an example of this phenomenon, as more than 50% of its population lives in the United States. Although a significant number of its own residents have migrated, its present community still wishes to recover or preserve its culture and traditions. It is these residents’ wishes that helped us to realize that we can celebrate our differences and connect cultures through the recovery of the Oaxacan traditions that may have been lost.


The development and research of this project is based on the User Center Design Methodology (UCD), in its extended version, comprising five stages [4]. This methodology allowed us to create our own approach or design based on the needs of our users.

Interviews carried out as well as a bibliographic study helped us to identify the problems faced by the people. An ethnographic study was then carried out and based on its results design proposals were made leading us to the making of the prototype. This was evaluated through the Wizard of Oz testing. The usability study shows the interaction between the users and the prototypes of our technology. Based on the evaluation and the research done, it was decided that the system should be easy to use, friendly, functional, emotional and attractive to the users.


ViTu which means “Bridge”, in the native language of Mixteco, allows the creation of communication between the indigenous communities in Oaxaca and the Mexican – American people in the United States in order to preserve, communicate and recognize each other’s cultures.

Native communities are considered a vulnerable group with a great treasure: they are the keepers of the rich and ancient Oaxacan culture. i.e. how to make the traditional Mexican tortilla, (see Figure 5), as well as the popular Mexican weaved palm tree sombrero, worn by most in the community (see Figure 6).

However, when these native people migrate to the US, looking for better opportunities they feel the need to be part of their new environment, leaving aside their Oaxacan traditions and adopting the American ones as their own.

Our own study suggests that Mexican-Americans are very interested in recovering their roots. The community of San Jeronimo Silacayoapillan is also eager not only to preserve and share their traditions but also to understand better the US way of life their people experience in America Oaxacan traditions have been at risk of becoming extinct for a long time and as Oaxacan students and Mexicans, we need to contribute to take care of this.

Making a decision

Analyzing the statistics and comparing the contextual inquiries carried out in Oaxaca, especially in the town of Silacayoapilla, we could see that local customs and traditions have been lost. It is therefore evident that our help is needed.

We had to design an easy to use system, functional and attractive to the users which can successfully satisfy their needs. Technology is our great ally, allowing us to connect our different users and highlighting the differences between those two cultures [8]. By being part of this bridge, which generates a sense of belonging in the user, a feeling of personal pride is achieved resulting in a celebration of cultures.

Two interfaces were created: an Internet terminal booth for the people of Silacayoapillan and an interactive toy for the Mexican – Americans residents in the US. The communication is achieved through the interaction of our two types of users with their interfaces, becoming more significant once the two cultures start exchanging experiences.


In order to find an initial solution, we came up with two main issues: 1) Mexican-Americans are losing their cultural roots and 2) native people in Oaxaca have got their native culture to share. Therefore, we had to research on the three main objectives of the project: 1) communicating differences: Mexican-Americans as well as native Mexicans will be able to share their customs and traditions. 2) To make the children and grandchildren of migrants feel proud of their own roots: by creating a sense of belonging through emotions. 3) Using technology to build this bridge. To understand these objectives visual ethnographic studies were conducted in the community of San Jerónimo Silacayoapilla. This is a Mixtec native group in the municipality of Huajuapan de Leon, in Oaxaca.

Structured and unstructured interviews were carried out with two different groups of people. The first group was the people of San Jeronimo Silacayoapilla and the second group included people between 20 and 35 years old, born from Mexican parents in the United States.

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