The Power of Language and Culture:
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated on college campuses around the United States, usually between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. At Roxbury Community College, we program events to provide students with opportunities to communicate in Spanish and English with cultural and artistic leaders on contemporary issues.
A centerpiece of this Fall’s events was the gallery exhibit entitled “Cargando la carga – Carrying the load” by Colombian artist José Alexander Caicedo Castaño.
Planting a banana tree to sustain your family isn’t part of daily life in Massachusetts. Using the banana to heal wounds and its leaves to wrap food is even less familiar – and yet it is a central fact of life for rural Colombians of African descent. Banana cultivation has recently become a touchpoint for race and class-based violence on the edge of the city of Medellín. Now, thanks to visual artist and community activist José Alexander Caicedo Castaño, the focus has returned to the life-sustaining and poetic qualities of the banana tree. The people who rely on such trees have found a voice which reaches beyond the center of their city to our students located 2500 miles to the north.
More than 50 students of Spanish and English as a Second Language participated in gallery tours of Caicedo’s exhibit entitled “Cargando la carga – Carrying the load,” curated by Mirta Tocci at the Joan Resnikoff gallery. Thanks to an energetic joint effort between Professors of Spanish Susan Kalt, Eloisa Franco, and Professor of ESOL Veronica McCormack, as well as Media Arts Center Director Marshall Hughes and Pamela Green, RCC students toured the gallery, viewed a burlap sack like the one on which Caicedo’s images were originally painted, and made sense of the complex images presented in the exhibit.
They brought their questions directly to the artist, who teleconferenced with them in Spanish from his home in Antioquia, Colombia over the course of two days of gallery talks.
Here are some of the reactions of RCC students to the exhibit:
“I can relate to the living conditions which seem to mirror many places in the South during the reconstruction era, as well as some parts of the south as recently as the 1980s.” – Kimberly Sanabria, Spanish 1.
“¿Por qué está la segregación de personas colombianas basada en el color de la piel?” (Why is there segregation of Colombian people based on skin color?) – Lauren Davis, Spanish 2.
“Es muy emocionante ver a la gente hacer todo lo que pueda para defender a lo que quiere.” (It is moving to see all that people do to defend what they love.) – Nahomie Charles, Spanish 3.
Although Spanish speakers in the United States are sometimes treated as a ‘minority’, Spanish actually has more speakers than English throughout the world. Most Spanish speakers live in the Americas, and their ways of speaking have been deeply influenced by indigenous and African languages and cultures.
Students at Roxbury Community College bring a wealth of first languages to their learning experiences, and have opportunities each semester to discover how speaking, listening, reading and writing in multiple languages can serve as both frame and focus for new perspectives.
Dr. Susan Kalt conducts research on language and identity in the Andes, a mountainous region of South America in which Spanish is not a ‘minority’ language. She brings what she is finding back to the RCC campus in the form of videos, slideshow presentations and topical assignments that lead RCC students and faculty members to re-envision their own experience of language and culture.
For more information contact Susan Kalt