Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Majoring in Spanish

This piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Ignacio Sánchez Prado about how the study of Spanish is discriminated against and dismissed made me think a lot. There are so many important elements in there, but I am going to shift to my own narrow undergraduate experience, because I keep thinking about it. One of his points is that we need to preserve and emphasize Spanish-language literature as an important thing to study, research, and teach to students. I can't agree more based on my own life.

I came to college with no real sense of what I wanted to do. I took Spanish because I had been doing so since 7th grade (I grew up in San Diego, where just about everybody did), through AP as a senior, so it made sense and seemed familiar. I loved the literature classes. I took more Spanish than Latin American lit--I don't know if that was because of the department at the time or my own prejudices (I eventually did a year abroad in Madrid). But the literature classes are why I decided to major in Spanish (along with Political Science). That combination was totally coincidental, but prompted me to take Latin American politics. It was a logical connection and I needed it for my Political Science major anyway.

I'd have to find my transcript to remember the exact classes I took, but two things stick with me. One was a course with John Polt. I remember being in the class quite distinctly, though I can't recall his teaching style per se. But I know he made the study of literature seem cool--I went to the bookstore and bought his translation of José Camilo Cela's San Camilo, 1936, which is a really hard to book to read, and which I tried to lumber through, mostly unsuccessfully. The other was reading pre-19th century Spanish literature, though I don't remember which class it was. That's why I love the Captain Alatriste novels by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Anyway, I'm on board with his conclusion:
Defending Latin American and Iberian culture at large is of particular importance in this age of Hispanophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. We have the capacity to fight these phenomena, and a growing responsibility to do so. At a time when administrations are less likely than ever to invest in our growth, we need to bring into our departments subfields like Central American studies, Latinx Hispanophone literature, Afro-Hispanic studies, and indigenous studies. These are urgent areas of study — and there is student demand for them. If we are to deliver cultural recognition, inclusion, and justice to the largest immigrant populations and the speakers of the second-largest national language in the U.S., Iberian and Latin American studies should be front and center in conversations about literary studies. I hope that other humanists will fight alongside us against the existential crisis that threatens us all.


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