Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Resources to Inspire Empathy about Immigration

I'll be speaking at the #AATSP17 conference in Chicago this week on: "Discussing sensitive current issues in the Spanish classroom: A Humane Education approach" I'll be sharing some resources for inspiring empathy in civic dialogue when talking about political change and about immigration policy. Here are links to some activities and maaterials I have used in the Spanish language classroom to spark conversation and reflection. VIDEOSFamilias sin fronteras (3 min) •A Family Endures the Tragic Side of ImmigrationInvisible Mexicans of Deer Canyon: (Trailer) •Frontline: A Tale of Two VillagesBuen Viaje – Immigration between Morocco and Spain (Film in Spanish without subtitles here) •Dying to LiveVictoria para Chino (in the textbook Rumbos with subtitles in English / Spanish) •Life in the Deportee Slums of MexicoSin nombre (full length feature film—use with reading Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario) BOOKSCajas de Cartón: Memorias de un niño campesino de Francisco Jiménez •Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario ORGANIZATIONSDeported Veterans Support HouseNo más muertes / No More DeathsRadio Ambulante episodes on immigration

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Piñatas políticas in Colorado and in Latin American Tradition

In Mexico, political piñatas are a "thing." To celebrate holidays, families and friends gather to take turns swinging a stick (palo) to hit the swinging paper maché piñata until it breaks open to disperse evil (el mal) and to scatter candy (dulces) for children to gather and enjoy.

Piñatas to express political dissent are a form of popular satire, such as those made to represent the former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gotori and current president Enrique Peña Nieto.  The PRD (one of three major political parties in Mexico) even hosts a competition for young people to encourage the artistic creation of artisanal piñatas as political engagement and expression.

This week, a Colorado teacher has been placed on administrative leave because students in Spanish class broke a piñata with the figure of Donald Trump.  The superintendent of Johnstown Milliken Schools Dr. Martin Foster, evidently unaware of the custom of youthful satire through political piñatas, called the incident "incredibly disrespectful."

At first glance and from a purely USAmerican perspective, perhaps the custom of breaking a piñata representing a politician's image seems odd.  Here instead of piñatas and effigies, we express political humor more commonly through satiric caricatures and Halloween costumes.  MayDay rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis included artistic satire in the form of puppets and floats criticizing billionaires, especially Donald Trump.

In US Latino communities, piñatas in the form of political figures are common and innocent fun.  We poke fun through satire that is culturally appropriate and, in a Spanish class, las Posadas or Reyes or Cinco de Mayo are celebratory moments in which it is common to express political humor in a light-hearted, playful, way.  The constitutional right of freedom of speech allows us to gather as communities to laugh and cry together about the politicians who represent us in government.

Would you take a moment to share your experiences with political piñatas as a healthy form of political satire?  Do you have a photo of your own political piñata that you might be willing to share in the comments?

Scroll down to contact Dr. Martin Foster by email to share your cultural experiences with political piñatas.  Your cultural knowledge may be useful to the school district as they consider how to proceed with the Spanish teacher who has been placed on administrative leave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Campañas electorales en español para la presidencia de los EE. UU. en 2016

The 2016 election season feels more volatile than promising.  Like a woman in transition during childbirth, we all need words of encouragement to stay engaged in the democratic process.  I've reminded my students multiple times to register to vote. We've talked briefly about the debates during class. I'm working on a lesson plan about Spanish-language campaign efforts to get out the Latinx vote.  Here are some videos with questions that I'm working into the lesson plan.  Suggestions and advice are welcome!  

1.  Describe la voz y la fluidez de Jacqueline Kennedy en su anuncio.
2.  ¿Cuáles son los temas que más le preocupan a ella?
3.  ¿Qué dice acerca de su esposo John F. Kennedy y sus planes y promesas?
4.  ¿Cómo concluye su mensaje?

5.  ¿Qué dice Barack Obama acerca de su familia?
6.  ¿Cómo describe a los DREAMers?
7.  ¿Cuál es el legado (legacy) del Presidente Obama para los DREAMers?

7.   ¿Cómo se identifica el Senador Tim Kaine?
8.   ¿Dónde dio su presentación?
9.   ¿Dónde y cómo aprendió español el Senador Kaine?
10.  ¿Qué dice el Senador Kaine acerca de la responsabilidad de votar?
11.  ¿De qué se trata la parábola del Buen Samaritano?

12. Hillary Clinton habla muy poco español.  El 9 de marzo 2016, dijo "¡Basta!" durante un debate entre los candidatos demócratas.   El 2 de junio 2016, Clinton dijo:  "¡Sí, se pueda!"

13.  No hay ningún anuncio publicitario en español de parte de la campaña republicana. Donald Trump explica su opinión acerca del español en los Estados Unidos

14.  En tu opinión, ¿es importante que los candidatos para la presidencia y el congreso de los EE. UU. hablen español?  ¿Por qué sí o no?  Defiende tu respuesta.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Spanish Poetry Day

Here is an outline of my presentation for the Indiana Foreign Language Teacher's Conference this weekend

Poetry Recitation as a literary / social event

El día de poesía en español  ~ Spanish Poetry Day at Valparaiso University

--April 23:  El día del libro / San Jordi
·         Co-hosted by the Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures and the Christopher Center Library
·         Letras literary magazine launch event
·         Poetry reading of famous works spanning 500 years

                   How we chose poetry
       Solicited submissions of famous poets and poems, based on the yearly theme for Letras
       Aimed for a diverse mix of poets, regions, styles, forms
      Sought familiar poetry and less-known works

How we chose readers
       Shared applications in intermediate and advanced courses
       Invited student poets to consider reading
       Reviewed applications and invited students to a rehearsal

      Event Details and Program:   Decorations / Food / Drink
       Welcome / Introduction
       Reading of famous poets
       Presentation of Letras literary magazine
       Introduction of student poets


  Letras:   Spanish language literary magazine at Valparaiso University
·         Editor Carlos Miguel-Pueyo
·         Published annually

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How Can I Practice Spanish in the Community in Northwest Indiana This Summer?

There are a many options for learning and practicing Spanish around NW Indiana. When you make the brave step to begin using Spanish with native speakers, you'll get lots of chances to use the language in the local community.  Speaking in a real life context is the fastest way to become fluent.  Grammar and vocabulary foundations that are built in a classroom can boost your confidence and help you become easier to converse with in Spanish.  Think of classes as a courtesy to your real teachers in the world around you:  your Latino friends and neighbors.  Your language skills will improve fast when you practice with speakers who are more fluent than you are, and others will really appreciate your help in communicating as you apply your growing grammar and vocabulary.  I encourage you to practice with recent immigrants and Spanish-speakers living in the area.

I teach full-time at Valparaiso University. Classes are excellent tools for learners of all levels, especially to study the formal grammatical structures, the syntax, vocabulary in context, an introduction into cultural topics, in-depth study of literature and history, and regular, scheduled practice and evaluation.  

Some employers pay for classes in Spanish, so ask if your HR department will fund this venture!  The investment in employees and in the community is worth the cost to many companies!  

I have a few ideas for you around the area.  These suggestions are geared for working adults.  I have other suggestions for children who wish to learn Spanish.  I will post those later.

Classes at Valparaiso University are offered four days per week. You would go through the admissions office for taking a continuing education course.  In addition to language courses, Valpo offers majors in Latin American and Latino Studies, in Spanish, in International Service, and in International Economics and Cultural Affairs. offers information about these programs.  

In Gary, Indiana University Northwest classes meet 2 or 3 days per week. Lots of evening options are available. Summer classes begin in May or July. Call and talk to admissions or the registrar and let them know you want to take one class.

For a lower cost option, Ivy Tech classes are taught one day per week for a 4-hour class, at Valpo and Gary campuses. You can also take a class online, but for speaking practice I recommend you take a classroom class.  Eight week classes are given every semester, as well as the traditional 16 week classes. Many of these classes are online, which works for people who are not able to attend a weekly class session.  But live immersion and daily classes, with simultaneous conversation (not asynchronous instruction) and face-to-face classes are by far the most effective way to learn language.

The Valparaiso International Center is a nonprofit here in Valparaiso on Lincolnway. They may set up private tutoring or offer referrals for you:
They have cultural nights for global topics, and sometimes offer things like a conversation group and salsa dance lessons in the evenings.

The communities I know best are Hobart and Valparaiso.  Please share more recommendations in the "comments" section.  A few good places to practice Spanish while eating out or shopping include: La Rancherita Bakery / El Ranchero Restaurant in New Chicago, off route 6 in Hobart by the Red Rooster.  La Carreta in Merrillville (by Kmart) has the best decor and dining atmosphere of any restaurant in the area and the food is wonderful.  Of course, don't miss out on El Salto in Valparaiso, Chesterton and Munster.  We love the horchata at El Amigo on Calumet by Ace Hardware in Valparaiso.  La Cabaña is newly remodeled and is across from the university in Valparaiso.  Don Quijote on Lincolnway in Valparaiso is authentic Spanish food (not Mexican)...think Mediterranean, Peninsular cuisine.  

Grocery stores are: La Mexicana grocery store / fruit market in Valparaiso at Roosevelt and Evans, behind Phil B's restaurant.  Also,Tarimoro Guanajuato is a store in Lake Station, on Central Ave., where you can buy produce at good prices. There is a small market called Merkev on Calumet Avenue on the way out of Valpo.  El Salto has a new grocery story on Lincolnway by Valparaiso University, next door to Domino's Pizza. These grocery stores are a good cultural experience.  

You may learn more from individuals than from a classroom.  Maybe you'll find a recent immigrant family willing to spend time tutoring you or doing conversation practice. You could probably post a sign in the local Hispanic grocery store to ask for people to contact you about teaching you. People love to share what they know. 

Attending worship services in Spanish is a good way to learn language in context and to meet friends.  St. Paul's Catholic Church in Valparaiso has services at 12 or 1 pm in Spanish. Gloria Dei Mission meets at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Valparaiso. Worship services are at 11 AM on Sundays in All Saints Chapel at Immanuel. 

You can practice Spanish online if you want to do some listening practice, once you acquire some grammar and vocabulary lessons. Two listening activity websites that I highly recommend are:   Here are some listening activities for various levels, with transcripts so you can see what they say.   This is a listening website with a couple from England and Spain. You can pick up some vocabulary and listening practice there. 

Tutors can be hired for a reasonable price for conversation classes, formal lessons over chat or Skype, and individual tutorials at and Edufire tends to be classes and formal tutoring. Italki seems more like a dating website but there is certainly the option to be "taken" (whether or not one really is) and to be selective about the language exchange partners that one selects. I belong to these websites but have not found classes in the less-commonly-taught languages that I want to study (indigenous languages, and Catalan and Galician). These websites have been recommended to me by friends who use them and love them. 

If you are interested in an individual tutor for specialized vocabulary, prices range widely depending on the education and experience of the instructor, and the class size. There are some local tutors in Northwest Indiana. 

Best wishes. Please stay in touch with questions as you learn the language. Let me know if you have questions or if you find a great teacher, class, conversation group, cultural immersion experience, or website that I should know about. If you're motivated and willing to practice with native speakers in the community, you'll become fluent over time, you'll make friends, and you will be able to help and be helped by a lot of people.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

La esclavitud y el tráfico de personas en el mundo actual / Global Human Trafficking and Slavery and the campaign to END IT!

Today, April 9th, is a day to END IT!  For practice with simultaneous translation, today I showed this brief video about slavery in the world today.  As the subtitles ran in English, I offered an interpretation in Spanish of the video's script.

I provided students with a few key terms that appear in the video, including:
  • la esclavitud
  • la mentira
  • las fábricas
  • la amenaza
  • el burdel
  • la justicia
  • la opresión
  • oprimido/a 
  • contra su voluntad
  • luchar
  • la voz
  • a indiferencia
  • la libertad
I showed students the X on my hand sketched with a red marker, and my Facebook profile picture of my family's hands.

In Spanish 203 and 204, students have been preparing debates this week using the subjunctive form.  I asked whether there is any debate to the subject of slavery.  Following this video and translation exercise, students began presenting opposing points of view over various topics of human security and human rights:  gun control, immigration, the DREAM act, gay marriage, abortion, lowering the drinking age, legalization of marijuana.  I allowed students to propose topics and to choose the side of each debate that they wish to argue.  They have been preparing during class and at home this week.

By doing debates in class, students are gaining confidence in embracing their own bilinguality.  They are taking their speaking abilities to the brink in answering impromptu questions from the audience about controversial topics---and as they stretch their linguistic capacity, their language skills grow before our very eyes.  It is an honor to see the students grow.

Here are some ideas for class discussion in a language classroom. After we watched the video, I offered some sentences using the subjunctive to talk about action steps we can take.  I had a list of infinitives on the board:  
  • informarse sobre el tema
  • compartir el video
  • divulgar la información
  • cambiar nuestros hábitos de consumo
  • participar en un boicot de las compañías que abusan de sus empleados
  •  influir en el Congreso con peticiones y cartas sobre esta situación
  • orar por los víctimas del tráfico de personas 
We formed sentences using the subjunctive and impersonal expressions that trigger its use, such as:
  • Es importante que
  • Es triste que
  • Es necesario que
  • Es preciso que
  • Es urgente que
  • No creo que
  • Espero que
I have learned the following statistics from reading many sites about slavery, exploitation and trafficking.  Did you know that 27 million people around the world live in slavery, working in brothels, or in hard labor, for someone else's benefit?  The global cost of a human being is $90. The average international cost of a sex act is $5. Five bucks. Life is cheap in a world where slavery is permitted. If we turn a blind eye to the plight of the enslaved, our complicity chips away at our own humanity and we become lower than beasts. April 9, this is a day to recognize the role of consumers (of chocolate, of coffee, of pornography, of exploitative sex, of cell phones---all our first world addictions) about the human cost and the price that someone else is paying. END IT is a campaign to educate and empower people for change. There is more slavery today than at any previous point in history. Trafficking and slavery exist INSIDE the United States, very likely around the corner from where you live. There is more criminal money changing hands for human trafficking than for the drug trade now. This is EVERYONE'S issue.

Since we are talking in class about food, we did a reading from the textbook (Identidades) that talks about the chocolate trade.  Some in the class knew about fair trade clothing, and we discussed the boycotts against Hershey's and Nestlé.  We mentioned the local fair trade store in our community, The Welcome Mat.  We discussed how sometimes something healthy and good, like quinoa, can lead to environmental devastation, as is the case in present-day Bolivia.

As students learn how consumer choices and personal decisions affect others, they become truly engaged global citizens.  They take their language from an artificial, safe classroom environment and prepare to use their language skills for everyday tasks that involve logic, rhetoric, science, technology, social justice, love and mercy. 

How do you engage students in thinking compassionately about their own responsibility for justice in the real world?  Please share your comments below. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Local Hispanic Food Markets / Mercados locales

  El Salto has just opened a new Mexican grocery store in Valparaiso.  It's on Lincolnway right next to Domino's pizza and Au Naturel Market.  They carry fresh produce, dry goods, pan dulce sweet breads, meat, fresh tamales, and household goods and toiletries.  They provide excellent service.  The selection of fruits and vegetables is a mix of domestic and imported produce, and all is fresh and ready to eat without needing time to ripen.  

In Hobart / New Chicago / Lake Station, La Rancherita bakery and El Ranchero restaurant are my favorites.  From Old Ridge Road, turn at the rooster statue onto Michigan Street (it's at 3559 Michigan St).  The mural on the wall is pictured above and is a landmark. Their restaurant is busy at lunch time---free chicken-tomato noodle soup comes as an appetizer with the meal.  The pan dulce Mexican sweet bread is 35 cents to 75 cents a piece.  My kids love the watermelon-shaped cookies, and I like what my mom calls elephant ears (different from the fried dough at the county fair) that in Spain was called palmeras.  Next time I am there I'll take a picture of those to share. 

  Tarimoro is a larger Mexican grocery in Lake Station  located at 330 Central Avenue.  The produce is fresh, ripe, ready to eat, and the prices are great.  They have a selection of piñatas for children's birthday parties.  They also sell gift items like the piggy bank pictured below.