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Cinco de mayo: To Celebrate or Not To Celebrate? By Sheila Cockey 
Club Cultura
A Peruvian Odyssey: Spanish immersion studies abroad
A Taste of Culture: Five Days in San Salvador
Making the "Día de los Muertos" Come Alive
What is Hispanic Culture? by Dr. Andrea Varricchio

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From April 2010

Cinco de mayo: To Celebrate or Not To Celebrate?
By Sheila Cockey 

5 de mayo

Let me state up front: I do not celebrate the 5th of May in my classes. I commemorate it. In my mind it is more of an American holiday than a Mexican one. Why? My opinion only, but…It is more an American holiday because it is the result of an advertising blitz created by the marketers of a specific Mexican beer, with the desire to increase sales in the U.S.

How do I handle the high interest level this holiday engenders? I recognize it as a legitimate historical event. I have my advanced students prepare a Power Point presentation about the Battle of Puebla, which happened on May 5, 1862. They research the events leading up to the battle, the clash with the French invaders, and the entire historical context in which it all happened. In addition, they learn about how this important event is recognized and marked today in the city and state of Puebla. These students then come to my other classes and do their presentation, explaining the historical reasons for the recognition of May 5 in Mexico. They also draw parallels to something in U.S. history, such as the British invasion of Washington, D.C. during the war of 1812. We end by acknowledging that there has always been a local celebration of the defeat of the French in the Battle of Puebla.

Reenactment of the battle of Puebla from
5 de mayo

Having given the students the historical background for the holiday and explained my personal dislike for it (I have a hard time celebrating a holiday in high school that espouses the drinking of beer), I provide the opportunity to make some simple Mexican crafts, if curricular time permits. Things such as picados (cut paper), Huichol (yarn art), bark drawings, plans on a grid for weavings or embroidery designs, are some examples. Any good book that has pictures of Mexican crafts will have a wealth of ideas. Some of these ideas may have to be adapted and simplified to fit into one class period. Ask that the motifs appearing in the crafts relate to the Battle of Puebla. I have prepared packets that provide some background information about the particular craft, ideas for choosing authentic designs, and directions for making it.

Once the crafts items have been made, you have the artifacts for a museum. When the museum is open, the guides to the collection are the students who made the items. Each student tells the class about the “real” items made in Mexico that provide the inspiration for their individual adaptation.

The students come away from this experience with a deeper understanding of Mexican history and a richer knowledge of the craftsmanship inherent in all things Mexican. And, I am relieved to have avoided yet another crazy day of tacos, salsa, and tostados. I heartily recommend trying a different approach to May 5 this year.

I’m sure there are such holidays in every language group and country that could benefit from a similar approach. I would be interested in hearing about how you have designed a new view for your students and have redefined their concept of an event.

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By Sheila Cockey

A rich site sponsored by FNAC, the giant media chain in Spain, will be of great interest to anybody who wishes to remain current with the Spanish/Hispanic culture of today. Teachers of Spanish will find it to be especially helpful for locating resources for reading, listening, culture, and many other kinds of lesson plans. Reading this site will help keep anybody "In the Know" about what teens, and others, are listening to, watching, and reading in Spain.

The site covers all forms of the media arts, including film, literature, humor, music, photography, and more Each of these pages includes a forum, for which one must register, dedicated to the discussion of film, literature, and so forth. Although focused on Spain, the site covers Latin America as well. . There are links to official pages of many directors, authors, humorists, musicians, and photographers.

The contents include an on-line version of the print magazine, ClubCultura. The on-line version has articles and interviews with a variety of artists and a table of contents for the print version. In addition, the website has four more sections: Destatacados, Agenda Forum, Galerías, and Documentales.

The site is updated monthly and it is all in Spanish.

A brief outline of what is included in each of the genre-specific pages follows, along with the URL of that page:


  • Reviews of new books from around the world.
  • Interviews with authors.
  • Focus on an individual writer. In March it is Julio Cortázar: See the manuscript of his last poem, listen to him talk about living and writing in Paris (in French), and of his love for jazz.
  • Announcements of awards, prizes, newsworthy items, including appearances.
  • Links to home pages of many authors.


  • Reviews of new releases, full length feature films, shorts, documentaries by known and new directors.
  • News about the Málaga Film Festival
  • Personal blogs of directors
  • Feature articles (films that didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Film)
  • Reviews of television programs about music.
  • Links to home pages of many directors.

Club Humor

  • Insights into the work of various humorists
  • Announcements about contests
  • Reviews of new work
  • Announcements about appearances by various illustrators
  • Links to a variety of humorist’s home pages.


  • Articles and announcements about concerts in Madrid and around Spain
  • Reviews of new releases
  • Blogs of composers
  • List of 2007 tours in Spain (name of group, performers, bio of group, tour schedule)
  • Interviews with musicians
  • New Talent Spotlight
  • Links to a variety of musicians’ home pages.


  • Blogs of various photographers.
  • Announcements about photography workshops.
  • Reviews of photographers from around the world.
  • Announcements about juried shows and scholarships.
  • Reviews of exhibitions.
  • Links to a variety of photographers’ home pages.

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Making the "Día de los Muertos" Come Alive
Reading in the Cultural Mode: Applying the 3Ps to a Reading Text
By Marcel LaVergne Ed.D.


In accordance with the Foreign Language National Standards, it is important to consider all reading assignments through a cultural vision and to go beyond the normal vocabulary acquisition, grammar recognition, and factual question/answer routines that usually accompany those activities. In other words, what else besides words and verbs are the students learning through the reading assignments?

When seen through the lenses of culture, reading passages can generate valuable information about the people whose language we are studying through the products, practices, and perspectives mentioned in the readings. Students can also gain valuable insights about their own culture as they read and discuss someone else’s traditions, customs, and way of life, especially if they engage in compare and contrast activities by applying the Cultural Comparison Standard.

To illustrate the technique being proposed, I chose the holiday known as the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) that is a very popular observance in Mexico and also among the many Mexicans that have settled in the United States. The examples that I have chosen relate specifically to the article “Day of the Dead is time to remember” that appeared in the November 2, 2003 issue of the Boston Sunday Globe.


The traditional achievement-based approach to reading usually evaluates what facts students have learned as a result of the reading. That approach often results in knowing the what (vocabulary and facts) and the how (customs and traditions) of the holiday observance as it engages the students in skill-getting activities such as true/false, multiple choice, matching, question/answer, or translation activities, all of which address lower-level thinking skills.

The proficiency-based approach to reading takes the students one step further because it challenges the students to demonstrate what they can do with what they know as it engages the students in skill-using activities such as compare/contrast, personalize, hypothesize, analyze, summarize, etc., all of which address higher-level thinking skills. That approach usually results in understanding the why (the underlying belief system) behind the what and the how.

Unless the students understand the belief system (i.e., the perspectives) that governs the holiday, they will never get beyond the superficial, tangible, and outward manifestations of the custom and, in their eyes, the Day of the Dead becomes a quaint holiday when people eat candy skulls and skeletons.

The Cultures and the Comparisons Strands of the Foreign Language National Standards provide an effective way to get the most out of reading if one plans activities that focus on each of the three Ps: products, practices, and perspectives.

Go to the Teacher’s Lounge (April-May 2006) for a task-based activity which incorporates both the achievement and proficiency-based approaches and illustrates the model.

Observations and Conclusion marigold

When students engage in active rather than passive reading, i.e., proficiency vs. achievement, they have a deeper understanding of the material being read because they go beyond a simple knowledge of the words and facts.

Integrating the 3 P’s approach of the Cultures Strand guarantees that the students will have a more complete understanding of the topic because by identifying the products (the what?), the students will be learning their vocabulary in context, by recognizing the practices (the how?), students will know the raison d’être of the products, and by discussing perspectives (the why?), the students will understand the belief system that gave rise to the practices. Except for the very beginning classes, these activities would be done in the target language and the students would be improving all four language skills, would engage in higher level thinking skills, and would gain a better understanding of the world that they live in.

More importantly, the students would be engaging in all the 5Cs:

  1. Communication: each group would be providing information that the other groups do not have and would be engaged in all three of the communicative modes:
    • interpersonal: when discussing among themselves in their group
    • interpretive: when reading the article at home and researching the Internet
    • presentational: when presenting their findings to the rest of the class
  2. Cultures: the activity is based on the 3Ps
  3. Connections:
    • History: Christian and Aztec beliefs
    • Geography: Where is the Day of the Dead celebrated? Where do your ancestors come from?
    • Sociology: family traditions
    • Art: the decorated altar
    • Cooking: pan de muertos, candy shaped like skulls and skeletons
  4. Comparisons: the students will compare/contrast the Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico with the way it is celebrated in the United States
  5. Communities: the article relates how the Day of the Dead is celebrated in towns near the Boston area.

According to the National Standards, there is more to reading than just answering a series of questions, of learning vocabulary lists, of writing a summary of the story, etc. By adopting a cultural vision and reading through the eyes of the 3 Ps of Culture, the students are afforded the opportunity of seeing more than one vision of reality and of realizing that they truly live in a multicultural world.

The author Marcel LaVergne spent more than 41 years as a teacher of French and as a Foreign Language Administrator in the public schools of Massachusetts. He has been teaching Foreign Language Methodology courses at the university level for more than 20 years and he is a co-author of the Scott, Foresman French textbook series for secondary schools. He also serves as a consultant delivering professional development workshops.

The photographer Susan Tilt has done a lot of photography but she is also a fiber artist. She makes contemporary quilts, fiber sculpture, and has a small business designing and producing liturgical fiber art, primarily vestments. Susan visited Oaxaca with her husband and friends during the 2005 fall celebration of The Day of the Dead and was captivated by the celebration and the warmth, creativity, spirit, and generosity of the Mexican people who welcomed their interest and participation.

The diverse festivities in Oaxaca City and the outlying areas are a time to remember deceased friends and relatives with flower strewn altars, candlelit vigils, and quiet respect while also celebrating the annual return of their spirits with fireworks, art, music, parties, and parades. She hopes that her photos here in the Speaker’s Corner and in the Teachers’ Lounge depict a glimpse of a very special and colorful culture.

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A Peruvian Odyssey: Spanish immersion studies abroad
by James Hassell


For the past six years I have been leading groups of Elmira College students to Hispanic countries for language and culture studies in an immersion environment. Typically, the students are stationed in one city for six weeks, where they live with families who agree to speak only Spanish with them. During the week, they take formal courses in the language and culture, explore sites of historical and cultural interest, get to know the people, and participate in a variety of activities, some of which are tailored to the specialties of the region. On weekends, they travel to cultural sites in the area. To date, we have traveled to Ecuador, the south of Spain, and most recently Peru.

The premise that "language is culture" is at the heart of the program. Each culture reveals its history, its heartbeat, and its secrets to those who are sensitive, curious and adventurous. Thus, if truly interested in the culture, the visitor must communicate in the language of the target culture. The more advanced one's linguistic ability, the more profound his or her awareness, observations, understanding and, hopefully, appreciation and respect. A corollary to the above premise is that, while culture may often be expressed non-verbally, cultural understanding depends fundamentally on the ability and effort to communicate in the appropriate language of the country one is visiting.


Some years ago, in a very large class I was observing, the professor cast this rhetorically baited question to the students: "What is more important: the things that unite us or those that separate us?" The question remains embedded in my mind, not so much for consideration of what may unite us-though that question is also fascinating-but for the alluring and enriching yet enigmatic challenge it underscores: "How may we gain understanding and appreciation from our differences? And will understanding help us deal with one another in a respectful and humane manner?" With these thoughts in mind, then, let's accompany my students in their adventure to Peru in 2005.

The program began in Elmira during the winter months, when the snow and cold restricted our outdoor activities. The students set about to investigate Peru, through texts, videotapes, the Internet and television; they studied its geography, peoples, languages, government, economy, history, customs, literature, food, clothing, among other matters. We met regularly to discuss what they were learning and to plan for the upcoming experience. At the same time, they were all required to be enrolled in a Spanish class.

Every year I find that many have had little travel experience; some have never flown before. They and sometimes their parents need coddling. The unknown, aggravated by a violent world, germinates reticence and fear. Before leaving for Peru, we discussed appropriate clothing and behavior, what was expected of them and what expectations they had. Details and explanations can never be too obvious. I prepared them for life in a Peruvian family and among themselves and strove to inspire their curiosity to try new things. Then, with preliminaries taken care of and winter fading, we met at JFK Airport in late April to fly overnight to Lima.

Early the next morning, Luis, our guide, met us at the airport and drove us directly to the southern desert port, Paracas. It may have been a blessing that there was no rest for the weary. The immediacy of the new environment, the vitality of Lima, the stark contrasts of the desert, the sea and the riverine oases captivated our senses. On one occasion, Luis stopped to buy chirimoyas, a first rite of passage for the students, who winced a little before taking the tiniest, most timid bites. I found it curious that Luis had bought so many, but they turned into vitally useful forms of currency at one of the police checkpoints, of which we had not been forewarned. Needless to say, I was very thankful to be in the company of Luis, who was never nonplussed.


Later that morning we boarded one of the tour boats for the Islas Ballestas, the islands of avian guano that have played such an important role in Peru's economic history. We stopped briefly to view and photograph the mysterious geoglyph, the Candelabro, engraved in a hillside overlooking the bay, reveled in the cool, fresh air and in the abundant life-the sea lions drew the most attention-and fluid colors of the ocean, and admired the splendid geographic formations of the islands. After a relaxed lunch and parting view of the monument to San Martín, the revolutionary hero who, after crossing the Andes into Chile, landed with his troops in Paracas, we drove to Nazca for a lovely evening and much needed rest. Here my students were offered their first of many Pisco sours and a lively serenade by local musicians.


Thank goodness we didn't have breakfast the next morning before boarding the planes for a dizzying view of the Nazca Lines, those immense etchings in the Peruvian desert of the pre-Inca Nazca people, who left no record of their purpose. Besides carving these mystical and mysterious designs, the Nazca people were also well advanced in domestic arts and in the construction of a vast network of underground irrigation canals. Some are still in use today and are well worth a visit.

The serene desert landscape, framed by the precipitous Andean background to the east and the aqua jewelry and pageantry of the Pacific to the west, and pitted by a web of serpentine arroyos was a rich introduction to our new home; and though Paracas and the inscrutable Nazca Lines drew primary attention, we managed to visit a few other worthwhile sites, especially the little museum of the regional pre-Inca peoples housed at Oca. There we found an excellent collection of representative ceramics, textiles, mummies, an impressive quipu, and other artifacts of great quality. Time also permitted us a delightful detour for lunch at one of the producers of pisco.


The following day we flew to Cusco, where our new families hustled us off to our new homes and plied us with the customary mate de coca to help us adjust to the altitude of more than 10,000 ft. Cusco is a thoroughly enchanting provincial city, rich in the Inca and colonial heritage that continues to permeate its life. For the next few weeks we explored the city. First, we struck out on foot to get a broad overview and orientation of the city. We passed through the central square, the Plaza de Armas, its name reminiscent of colonial power -both civil and religious- and struggled up the hill to Sacsayhuamán, head of the mythical Puma, the Inca design for its royal seat. There we gazed in awe at the huge boulders that the Incas had mined and moved such a great distance to build their splendid city; we pondered the intricacies of their construction and design; and we marveled at the site of Cusco below. How did they quarry and move these monoliths, then sculpt and place them in seemingly natural yet intentional formations that were also remarkably resistant to earthquakes?

The next few days, we explored Cusco by way of a kind of treasure hunt, which introduced us to the monuments, museums, streets, markets and other sites of the city. All are captivating, but the one site that drew me many times was the Mercado Central. There my students were introduced to some of the manifold varieties of Peruvian potatoes and corn and were courted by the ladies who prepare fruit drinks in combinations never before imagined; they encountered the ritualistic llama fetuses and had to kiss a pig's head at a meat stand; and they learned what criadillas were.

Over the five weeks that followed, the students were engaged in language classes and other activities: visits to specific sites in and near Cusco; a concert of regional, folkloric dances; bargaining in the crafts markets; the exquisite procession of Corpus Christi in the Plaza de Armas; weaving classes; weekend tours of Inca sites of the Sacred Valley and elsewhere, including Tip�n and the pre-Inca city of Pikillacta, "city of fleas," apt precursors to our final trek to Machu Picchu.


For one week, the students divided their days between their language studies and helping out in one of the less advantaged elementary schools on the outskirts of Cusco. Until then, their experience had been limited to middle class society, and this opportunity gave them insight into the lives and character of poor children, a few of whom spoke only Quechua, and their educational and social milieux. My students were astounded that a couple of stray dogs had adopted the class as their daily home, wandering unrestrictedly in and out, all the while unheeded by the children and their teacher. When the class took a hike to the airport, which turned out to be a field at the end of the runway, the dogs kept them silent company. This teaching experience made an indelible and profoundly warm impact on my students. Children help us to reconnect with the gentler side of our humanity, and the photos my students took all stand in vivid testimony to the bonding that melded their worlds.

Heeding the adage, "when in Rome, do as the Romans," I also organized weaving classes for the students. We began by learning some of the jargon of weaving and were presented a broad sketch of its history and practices in the Andean communities; we viewed some of the natural dyes and observed how they were processed. Not being a scientist, I was surprised to learn that fermented human urine is used to set the colors.


Some of the students managed to spin wool rather adeptly, but our attempts at weaving were not so successful, in part because most of the weavers spoke only Quechua, in part because there were too few of them, and in part because they were not practiced in formal instruction. One lady recounted that, when as a young girl she was learning to weave at her mother's side, her mother would rap her fingers with a ruler whenever she made a mistake, a practice not unknown to our own school history. I wondered amusedly if they might have had better results with me and my students if they had employed such tactics.

Perhaps the most rewarding experience to come from the weaving experiment was a day trip that we took to one of the Andean villages with a thriving community of weavers. Though we tried to do some weaving, the most endearing moments of the visit were those we spent exchanging stories of our respective customs and lives, sharing lunch on tarps placed on the ground, and touring the village on foot, stopping every few steps, it seemed, to cull an herb used for medicinal or other purposes.

In all my travels to Hispanic countries, the combination of language and culture studies has proven very successful. The students learn rapidly that they can communicate and begin to gain confidence. The home stay does much to facilitate their adjustment. As Hispanic families are, for the most part, extraordinarily warm and caring, they naturally tend to embrace the students as part of the family. For their part, the students learn that the conventions of home life are somewhat different in another culture. They learn not to walk around the home barefooted, for example, or to help themselves freely to the goodies in the refrigerator.


I also believe strongly in keeping them busy in order to expose them to as much culture, history and language as possible. We study and visit the tourist spots, of course, but I also include sites and experiences off the beaten track. Finally, I seek opportunities for them to learn something of the artistic specialties of the area. Each year the flexibility that I have built into the program allows changes to the itinerary. The trip to Peru this coming April varies considerably from last year's, though the home stay and language and cultural studies remain fundamental, as always. All in all, I hope that their stay leads them to understand that they, as Americans, do not have all the answers, that the world around them may teach them a great deal. The key to unity is an open mind and an eagerness to immerse oneself in the culture, while generously sharing one's thoughts with others. Thus, by attempting to appreciate and respect our differences, we may contribute to sustaining the marvelous diversity in the world, while bridging the gaps between peoples and thereby enhancing our common humanity.

As an addendum, let me invite anyone who is interested to view the blog we created last year, our first:

James Hassell is an associate professor of Spanish and French at Elmira College in Elmira, New York. He has also taught Latin and Arabic.

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A Taste of Culture: Five Days in San Salvador
by Christine Foster Meloni


We language teachers know that we can teach our students a lot about the target culture in the classroom. The textbook will provide cultural information and we can supplement it with authentic materials such as magazines, music CDs, and food. We can connect our class electronically with a class in another country, and our students can engage in real communication with native speakers. But nothing can compare with actually spending time in the target culture. One needs to be immersed, however, in the culture and spend time with its people. Being a superficial tourist doesn't count!

I was amazed at how much I learned about the culture of El Salvador in only five days. Spending a longer time would, of course, have been better. But I'd like to share with you what I did learn in the short time I was there.

When I told a Nicaraguan friend of mine that I was going to San Salvador, he excitedly exclaimed, "Oh, you MUST try pupusas." On the plane I sat next to a couple from El Salvador. They too began their little culture talk with me saying that I HAD to try pupusas. I made a mental note. My travel companions also told me to be sure to visit Metrocentro, the largest shopping mall in Central America.

When I landed at the airport in San Salvador, I was a bit concerned about Passport Control because I did not have a visa. I didn't even know if I needed one. I can't believe that I didn't find out before I left, especially since I had recently spent three arduous months trying to obtain a visa for Russia. The day before I left for El Salvador, my husband asked me, "By the way, do you need a visa for El Salvador?" I gasped and responded, "I have no idea and it's too late to find out." I was asked for my visa but, when I sheepishly said that I didn't have one, the very friendly official smiled and said, "You can buy one now for $10." Oh, I am going to like this country, I thought. Such accommodating people!

A note about the request for $10. El Salvador is a "dollarized" country. This means that the currency of the country is the dollar, the same as in the U.S. When I asked my Salvadoran friends about this, they explained that the government had made this decision "overnight" without a public referendum and everyone simply accepted this change. Officially, the colonna can still be used but it has almost completely disappeared.

Fortunately my companions on the flight had warned me about the "Russian roulette button" at the exit of the airport. Just before you reach the exit, a customs official stops you and asks you to push a button. If the light turns green, you can exit. If it turns red, you must stay and have all of your luggage thoroughly searched. Fortunately I got the green light!

My friends Marta and Roberto were waiting for me at the airport, and they took me to my hotel. The hotel was splendid! It was the five-star Real InterContinental San Salvador Hotel which offered every possible luxury for an incredibly reasonable rate. As I was checking in, I heard a soft voice at my elbow: "Mrs. Meloni." I turned to see a smiling man in uniform holding a tray. He first offered me a warm, damp towel to refresh my face and hands after my long journey. He then presented me with a tall glass of delicious freshly-squeezed orange juice. I have never felt so special, not even in an intimate Bed & Breakfast in a remote rural area. And throughout my stay in the hotel I was always greeted as I left the hotel in the morning and as I returned at the end of the day.


I ate my breakfast every morning in the hotel's Escorial Restaurant. What delighted me the most - apart from the extremely courteous and friendly personnel - was the island of tropical juices and fruits. I had the happy dilemma every morning of deciding which of the fruit juices to select - mango, orange, papaya, pineapple, cantaloupe, or watermelon. Choosing fruit was less of a problem because I just took a little bit of each! I always made sure that I took pieces of both kinds of papaya, the orange variety and the sweeter pink variety.

I had been invited to give the plenary address at a national conference of teachers of English. English is a very important language as fluency in this language opens many doors. It is thought that English will soon become a compulsory subject in Salvadoran elementary schools. I was very impressed with the excellent English of the teachers that I met and their serious dedication to professional development. I was also very impressed with their friendliness. They were delighted to have me with them and went out of their way to make me feel at home. They succeeded in making me feel very welcome indeed.

The very first announcement at the opening ceremony of the conference was a detailed explanation of how to exit the building in case of an earthquake. El Salvador is earthquake prone. A devastating earthquake killed many people and destroyed many buildings just a few years ago, in 2001. The memory of this disaster is still fresh in everyone's minds.

I enjoyed talking to my fellow teachers during the conference. I was full of questions about the country and its culture, and my new friends never tired of providing me with answers. We talked about the close connection between El Salvador and the US. Many Salvadorans have emigrated to the States, and the Salvadoran economy is very dependent on the money these emigrants send back to their relatives. The amount adds up to two billion dollars per year!

We talked about the seasons. They don't have four seasons as we do - they have two which they call the rainy season and the dry season. I was there in July during the rainy season. I was amazed that I was soon able to predict when it would rain. It never ever rained in the morning; it always rained at 5 pm and at 10 pm! It was like clockwork! It was a lovely time to be in San Salvador with the lush green vegetation everywhere.

I noticed that their license plates said "El Salvador - America Central." We discussed the concept of Central America. I found that their definition differed from mine. In my mind the Western Hemisphere is divided into North America (Canada, the US, and Mexico), South America (the 13 countries on this continent), and Central America (everything in between North and South America, from Panama to Guatemala and all of the Caribbean Islands). My friends told me that they actually had two definitions, one geographic and the other political. For them the important definition was political and it was as follows: "Central America consists of five countries - Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, and Nicaragua." I asked about Costa Rica and Panama. They responded that they sometimes included Costa Rica but never Panama. The islands are another area altogether. The five countries they generally include are the five that work together, that make regional agreements.

They emphasized that El Salvador is unique in several ways. It is the smallest Central American country. It is also the only one that does not face both the Pacific and the Caribbean. It has a coast on the Pacific only. They are also proud that their country is well known as having the friendliest people and also the hardest working people in the region.

At the closing ceremony appetizers and drinks were served. The appetizer that I enjoyed the most was a corn tamale. And I had the opportunity to drink what many referred to as their national drink, Kolashampan or Kola Champagne. It has an absolutely luscious taste. It tasted like something familiar but I couldn't place it. I asked the person standing next to me (an American who had gone to San Salvador with his wife in 1956, fallen in love with the country, and had never left). He gave me a wonderful answer: "I think it has a butterscotch taste." Yes, I thought. It's definitely butterscotch! I made a mental note to find a Salvadoran store in Washington to see if they carried this exquisite drink.

After the closing ceremony three of the young teachers asked me if I had tasted a pupusa yet. I was sorry to say that I had not had that pleasure. They immediately invited me to accompany them on an outing to the best place in the area for pupusas. So off I went with my new friends Gustavo, Juan, and Fredy. We had an incredible afternoon. I learned a lot and I laughed a lot!


We first drove to a scenic overlook just outside of town. You can experience a breathtaking view from a rock formation known as the Puerta del Diablo (the Devil's Doorway). Then we went to visit the colonial village of Panchimalco. I was disappointed that its16th-century Spanish mission style church was closed but I found the façade lovely. I also enjoyed watching the elementary school children playing in the yard of the church's school. They enjoyed watching me, too. I was surprised to see many little girls peering at me through the fence. One of the teachers gently told me, "You look different from the people that they are used to seeing! That's why they are staring at you." The boys, on the other hand, were much too involved in their soccer game to notice the strange foreigner.


We then went to the local cultural center. Apparently these local cultural centers are very prevalent in the small rural towns. We watched an elderly woman who was sitting at a loom weaving colorful pieces of cloth. We saw a giant woman puppet (La Gigantona de Jocoro) that is used in local folkloric festivals. I was intrigued with a mural on a wall depicting an important historical scene in which a group of Christians and a group of Muslims meet in the town plaza. I wanted to know what happened when they met. No one was able to give me an answer but they said that the encounter was probably peaceful. We also saw photos of the palm procession in May in which villagers carry huge palms filled with frangipane flowers that they have prepared.

We were about to get into our car when we were invited into an art gallery across the street from the cultural center. As we were looking at some intriguing paintings of young girls with large, searching eyes, the artist himself entered and very kindly began talking with us. Miguel Angel Ramirez is an internationally known artist - Pope John Paul II, Mrs. Hillary Clinton and the First Ladies of Spain, Chile, and other countries have attended openings of his exhibits - but he was very humble and congenial. He talked about his keen interest in developing the artistic talents of children and showed us the works of children in exhibitions that he had organized for them.


The highlight of the outing was eating pupusas at a pupuseria in the town of Los Planes de Renderos. The pupusa is truly delicious. The hype surrounding it is well deserved. It is a corn tortilla about the size of an English muffin, and it is usually filled with cheese. It can be filled with cheese and beans, too, or with pork. I ordered only one initially but ended up eating four of them. I definitely became a pupusa fan! The pupusa, I discovered, is called "the national snack of El Salvador." One can eat it at any time of day or night. Many Salvadorans travel by bus and pupuserias are conveniently located with a few tables at bus stops. You can buy a pupusa and eat it as you walk or you can sit and enjoy it while you wait for your next bus.

My visit to El Salvador was short but very pleasant. I was struck in particular by the warm kindness of the people and the lush vegetation. I would definitely like to return to this lovely country. Although five days is a very short time, I feel that I got a taste of El Salvador and that I can with some authority say that it is a land of exceptional people.

Soon after I returned home, I received an e-mail from Juan. He wrote, "Through this means I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in knowing about my country, my people, my culture and our essence." I can truly say that the pleasure was all mine!

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What is Hispanic Culture?
By Dr. Andrea Varricchio

Dr. Andrea Varricchio is an Associate Professor of Spanish at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in Spanish language and linguistics and Spanish for business and the professions. The Pennsylvania Campus Compact, the New England Resource Center for Higher Education and PT3 (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology) have awarded her grants for the integration of service-learning and technology in her classes.

From the moment a Spanish teacher begins to speak the target language in the classroom, his or her students are exposed to culture. Hispanic culture with a big "C" may include fine art, music and architecture while culture with a small "c" may entail customs, food, holidays, and traditional celebrations. Pop culture may include the latest films, contemporary music, and media celebrities.

Each Spanish instructor, whether native or non-native, has learned to speak Spanish in a particular Hispanic environment. The way we speak, our accents and the words we choose to use, were acquired from our contact with a particular region of the Spanish-speaking world. Since students enjoy hearing stories, what better story than your own language -learning experience? Were you immersed in Spanish as part of your family life or did you develop fluency while studying abroad for a semester or a year?

Think about the specific phrases that you learned in Spanish and what the cultural contexts were when you learned them. Did you acquire the accent of the region where you lived? Did you learn to use vosotros or vos? Did you pronounce the letters (ce, ci, z) with the zeta, the (th) sound? Did you learn to use seseo, pronouncing the letters (ce, ci, s, z ) as an (s)? Or did you learn to aspirate or elide instead of pronouncing the (s) at the end of a word or syllable? How did native speakers react to your pronunciation or accent? Did you need to acquire new vocabulary words? Were you able to switch from coche, autobús, and metro in Spain to carro and camión in Mexico or to auto, colectivo, and subte in Argentina? Did you learn that turkey in Mexico is guajalote? Did you learn catalán or vascuence in Spain or perhaps guaraní in Paraguay? Helping students understand the regional variations of Spanish is one way to infuse culture at the language level.

Fine art, in particular paintings, can represent the culture in many forms. A history of Mexico, from the Spanish conquest to the revolution in the 20th century, can be explained through the murals and paintings of Diego Rivera. Goya's paintings and etchings describe the French occupation of Spain and the people's revolt in the 19th century. Picasso's Guernica represents Hitler's involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Traditional folk dress from the 12 regions of Spain is depicted in Joaquin Sorolla's murals in the Hispanic Society Museum in New York City.

The architecture and monuments of a country each have a history. El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico is testimony to Spain's defense against the "pirates of the Caribbean." Machu Picchu in Peru is symbolic of the Incan civilization, as is Tikal of the Mayan civilization in Guatemala. A study of the Zócalo and the Cathedral in Mexico City must include the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán that once stood in its place. A description of these monuments should include a geography lesson in order to explain the sinking phenomena of many buildings in and around Mexico City. The dried up Lake Texcoco with its soft lake bottom continues to have its effect on both colonial and modern architecture. The story of Aztec ruins discovered in subway excavations also ties the ancient culture to the present. Geography may also inspire a monument, such as that which marks the equator in Ecuador.

Geography can be the stuff of political dispute, such as that with Great Britain over Gibraltar in Spain, and Las Islas Malvinas off the coast of Argentina. Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina share Iguasú Falls, the largest in volume of water in the world. Aconcagua, the highest mountain peak in South America, stands majestically in Argentina. While the highest mountain peak in Spain, el Teide, is located on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and is surrounded by a landscape of craters that invoke a moonscape. In Mérida, Venezuela, the cable car, teleférico, is man's attempt to reach the Venezuelan Andes the easy way. The rain forests in Peru, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are a wealth of flora and fauna, and new vocabulary words.

In addition to fine art, history and geography, a comparison of a country's contemporary culture to that of the United States also requires students to process visual information. Photographs of ordinary street scenes with shops and ordinary people going about their everyday business can be linked to an exercise in expressing comparisons. Clothing styles will readily become apparent in one good photograph. The McDonald's website connects to McDonald sites in many Spanish speaking countries. The company changes food names to fit each country's preferences.

Films can also show cultural differences, not only between the US and Hispanic countries, but also between the different cultures within a country, such as the Mayan and Hispanic in Guatemala, in the film, El Norte.

Students can learn to feel the rhythm of the culture and acquire new vocabulary through pop music. They can learn about traditional customs through folklore music and dance. The lyrics of a song can also be used to teach a particular language structure.

As the granddaughter of four immigrants to the US, I had the good fortune of being raised with a second language and culture which kindled my desire to learn Spanish. I studied for two years in Spain, first as an undergraduate in Valencia, and then with Middlebury College's MA program in Madrid. Numerous trips to Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Peru have given me first-hand experience with the many facets of the Hispanic world.

Choose any Hispanic country and discover the wealth of culture. Students will learn that art, music, history, and geography are interconnected and play important roles in shaping the special culture and regional language variation that is to be found in each Hispanic country. ¡Viva el mundo hispano y viva su cultura!

The following websites provide facts and photos of the Hispanic World:
Cities of the World | Spanish Language News and Magazines | Aconcagua in Argentina

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