The sum of curiosities - Resources for your Spanish Classroom
By Anne Silva
When I was living in Colombia, it both irritated and amused me that people would say things like, "but you don't LOOK American. Americans are fat!" Or "do you live in Miami, New York, or California?" And for the record, I ate far more hamburgers while living in Bogotá than I ever did in the Midwest. People, it seems, have a tendency to focus on a few stereotypical details and expect that that pretty much covers all of a certain place's culture.
We do it too, of course. All Spanish-speakers are Mexican, all Latin food is tex-mex, all Latin music is salsa. Right? Ha.
That's part of why we're here as Spanish teachers, right? To dispel these narrow-minded myths of other peoples' cultures and languages, and help students be functioning members of our global society. And one of the most rewarding parts of that process is helping students to achieve that "ah-ha!" moment when they realize that another language's speakers cannot be categorically assigned one monolithic cultural icon, but rather that our cultures are more like mosaics of a million different curiosities, that together paint a far more ornate picture than we once assumed.
While preparing for my exchange partner teacher to arrive, she kept asking what American culture was like. How do you answer a question like that? Since I couldn't come up with a glib, one-word description, the only thing I could do was list some of the curiosities that I thought she'd find interesting: the amazing amusement parks in my state; Cincinnati chili; the local zoo; Red River Gorge; the 17-year cicada infestation that was due to arrive that year. These aren't things that necessarily define my culture, but they do contribute to the overall tapestry. And she soon learned the less-visible aspects as well: fire drills, an overwhelming sense of practicality, a general expectation of orderliness in everything from walking through the halls at school to going to the post office.
Experiencing Hispanic culture is much the same: the truly interesting things are rarely those "mainstream," visible, stereotypical ones we already know about. Things like:
-In Colombia, people often "point" to things with their lips.
-Vallenato music, from the Caribbean coast of South America, features accordions thought to have been introduced by a ship full of them that was shipwrecked and/or hijacked as it passed by the coast of what is now Colombia and Venezuela.
-There is a rare and valuable stone called larimar that is found in the Dominican Republic. (And when shopping at the mercadillo at the beach there, don't necessarily believe the guy who swears that he's selling authentic larimar for $10.)
-In Toledo, Spain, during Holy Week, they put up a toldo along the parade route, through the twisting, labyrinthine streets. If you get used to following the toldo to find your way back to the dorm, be aware that one day, without warning, they will take it down and it will take you approximately 3 hours to find your way home.
-In many people's homes, not finishing your food means that you didn't like the food. However, finishing everything on your plate means that you want them to serve you more food. So you'd better show up HUNGRY.
-In Cuba, "standing in line" often consists of asking who is last, then claiming your spot behind that person, but you don't necessarily have to stand in any line. You can go grab a snack, sit down nearby, talk to an acquaintance... The "line" is more figurative than literal.
And those are only a couple of curiosities from just a few places around the Spanish-speaking world. What others do you know of that have helped "paint the picture" of a place or a group of people? What curiosities have you learned about from your OWN culture?
Every year, Americans around the nation get together to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th through October 15th. The contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the United States are endless and inspiring, and they have had a profound and positive impact on our county.
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