Like many times in the past, the nation is facing a moment of reckoning: How do we successfully coexist in a country so vast, different, and diverse? What does it mean to our shared identity and shared experience? Montgomery College Professor Eddy Enriquez Arana raised all these questions during a recent visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History with 16 students from his Spanish for Heritage Speakers class.
The course is designed for students whose heritage language is Spanish, meaning they have a baseline understanding of the language but want to develop their reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, as well as expand their vocabulary. “The goal is to get them to sustain a conversation and overall develop their critical thinking skills in the language, as well as engage in high-level thinking and sophisticated dialogue,” Arana said.
Ariana Rios, one of the students, grew up speaking Spanish at home because her family is from El Salvador. The class has allowed her to practice the language and expand her vocabulary. “I thought it would be just about writing, but I am actually learning a lot about the culture and history,” she said.
Hopefully through their own direction and their own reflection, they can find a valuable aspect of identity in themselves that is validated, that is valuable and that can provide some real education for other citizens in our society.
Arana is part of the 2018 Montgomery College-Smithsonian Faculty Fellowship cohort, a collaboration between MC and the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital access. The partnership is the first of its kind between the Smithsonian Institution and a community college. This year’s fellowship theme was America’s experiment with democracy, and Arana has found a way to dig into that question by taking his students to the American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith exhibit.
The purpose of the visit was to deepen their understanding of United States democracy and how it relates to them as bilinguals, so they could gain better intercultural skills.
Arana is doing his part to enrich public dialogue regarding identity. He says multilingual people constantly negotiate meaning across languages and cultural values, and the language itself is a tool to navigate those worlds. “It benefits them insofar as they can expand their identity related to the language or languages that they speak. Hopefully through their own direction and their own reflection, they can find a valuable aspect of identity in themselves that is validated, that is valuable and that can provide some real education for other citizens in our society.”