Name: Daniel Ruiz de la Concha
Hometown: Puebla, Mexico
Major: International relations and urban studies, minor in Latin American and Latinx studies
Activities: Amnesty International at Penn, Journal of International Relations, Membership Vice President for Wharton Latino, Undergraduate Advisory Board for Latin American and Latinx Studies, Advisory Board for Urban Studies, Undergraduate Assembly, and Mex@Penn
Out of your extracurricular activities, which one would you say has had the biggest impact or has been the most meaningful to you in your experience at Penn?
I think Mex@Penn is probably the biggest one. It was sort of my first community; when I came to Penn, I thought it was a very informal group. I took "Negotiations" my freshman year, which was very uncommon. I was the only freshman in the class. Another person in the class immediately knew that I was from Latin America [from how I introduced myself], and he was a senior from Mexico. He introduced me to all the Mexicans [in the class], so it was just a very special community. When I started getting more involved with the club, we decided to expand the scope of the club and created some divisions. We had a social impact branch and we realized that a lot of people from Mexico tend to forget what's going [on] back in the country. We wanted to do something [for the community] back home since so many clubs do amazing things for the Philly community, and it’s incredible. At first, we were just brainstorming what we should do. What can we do? And then the pandemic hit and it was harder to do something.
Then there was a report from the UN saying that 10 women [in Mexico] are killed every day. When I first read it, I was like, this is unreal. With the pandemic, domestic violence became huge, and all of the women's shelters shut down immediately. We decided to do virtual cooking classes, and all the money was gonna be donated to women’s shelters in Mexico. That was our first attempt at trying to do something. I've always been a very passionate chef; I thought I was gonna go to culinary school, so I try to connect everything I do with that.
I feel that [Mex@Penn] is a community that has given me a lot and it just keeps me thinking about home. And again, I feel it's been a way for me to have an impact back in Mexico. I'm just really grateful for that community.
How do you feel that majoring in IR or urban studies has influenced your desire to help?
I thought I was gonna be a chef, and then in middle school, I started getting really involved with Model UN. I loved debating, diplomacy, and learning about different countries. The first time I was involved in MUN, I represented Mexico. The conference was about public education, and I was so unaware of the reality of public education in Mexico. I was really fortunate to go to a private school. At the time I obviously didn't realize that, but now I understand that it's the government—the Mexican government—that has an incentive to keep the population uneducated, to continue taking advantage of them. I feel that a lot of people have forgotten what public service is actually about—it's never about you. It's about the country, and Mexico is incredible. I could talk about Mexico forever. I'm just obsessed with the country and the people.
International organizations can have a huge impact on what's happening domestically. I hope that one day I can work for an international organization and actually help states realize a change that needs to come, because even though international organizations are there to serve states, the interest of the state should be the people and not the politician running the state. It's an avenue for collaboration with other countries, and there are a ton of lessons that Mexico can take from other countries, which I feel you can't really understand unless you get to study that or see it firsthand.
For urban studies, it was sort of an accident. I had never heard of the major until I took a class during my freshman spring. It was “Understanding the Public Policy Process” and used Philadelphia as a case study. And again, I was very interested in public policy, because I wanted to go back to Mexico and get involved in politics. It’s been one of my favorite classes at Penn. From then on, I was super interested in the department, and I just started looking more into it. I saw that one of the concentrations you could do was public policy and government, which is pretty much what I want to do. So I was like, 'I'll just continue taking some classes,' and I just fell in love with the department. The community is incredible.
Tell me about your internship and your thesis.
During the summer of my sophomore year, I started interning for the Organization of American States (OAS). They're sort of a branch of the UN. It's not technically part of the UN system, but they have a ton of collaboration. They are based on four pillars: democracy, security, development, and human rights. They try to really work on those four pillars to guarantee the well–being and the development of the region. There's a lot of collaboration between the Gulf countries.
I first learned about it through MUN, and it seemed like a really cool opportunity. I was learning a lot about the OAS through that program. It reaffirmed my desire to work in an international organization, and I got to talk with a bunch of people who worked at the OAS, because the program brings in so many speakers. It was just incredible. I interned there for the summer in the Department of Education.
In terms of my thesis, I’m doing two. For urban studies, I wanted to do something related to food and Mexico, so I decided to do research on agriculture. Another Urban Studies class I took was URBS 248 with Domenic Vitiello. It's called “The Urban Food Chain,” and we learned a lot about international value chains in food. We learned about the Green Revolution and the impact that the United States was having on Mexican agriculture; with the [NAFTA] free trade agreements, obviously, it changed dramatically. During the class, I really saw some of the environmental problems that were stemming from the Green Revolution and that the Mexican [agricultural] field was suffering a lot. The farmers were having a hard time because of the regulations for the seeds that were genetically modified and all of that.
I wanted to look into the social aspect of free trade agreements, so I went to Mexico for three weeks. I traveled across the country interviewing agriculture workers, hearing about their experiences in agriculture and how the industry changed, and their thoughts on free trade agreements. Many of them didn't even know about the trade agreements, but based on the narrative they were telling about how their lives have changed over that period of time, you can pinpoint when NAFTA came into effect. Their lives changed even if they couldn't acknowledge that it was because of the free trade agreements.
What's next for you after Penn?
I'm going to graduate school next year. I'm doing a one–year program, but then after that I'm not completely sure. I want to go to law school at some point, but I don't know if I want to go right after graduate school or if I want to take a year or two [off]. And again, I don't think I would go into Mexican politics right away, because it's very complicated, and I feel [that] actually getting started this young in your career, you have to commit to a party and I don't want to do that. Another option would be joining the Mexican Foreign Service, which I really want to do, and I feel like Mexican diplomacy has been incredible for a long time. The other option would be an international organization; I would love to get the chance to do that. I'm really thankful for my experience with the OAS. It just confirmed my desire that that's something I want to pursue in the future.
Last song you listened to? “You Found Me” by The Fray.
Death row meal? Cochinita pibil.
Favorite movie? Hercules. I love Disney.
There are two types of people at Penn… Those who dine out and those who cook.
And you are? To your surprise, I would say I’m the one that dines out. I love to cook, but I love to try new food, and the restaurants in Philly are incredible. Especially now that I'm about to graduate, I want to try as many as I can.