Back in Spring of 2000, I was in my junior year at the University of California, Riverside when I made a life-changing decision: I decided to study abroad in Mexico City. I was already a Spanish major, in full swing in my literature classes, but I knew that only by being in the country, soaking it in, making friends, and reaching out for new experiences would I ever be able to gain real fluency in the language.
Once my feet were on the ground in Mexico City, I saw a world I did not even know existed. Abandoning caution, I jumped in and learned as much as I could. I took Spanish language classes at Mexico’s largest university, the UNAM. I also took an anthropology class and even an acting course to help my oral communication. The results were fantastic. There was no turning back.
No other region on Earth is quite like Latin America, and I could not stop myself from learning more. After teaching in a dual-immersion elementary school program, the allure of colonial Latin America drew me back to graduate school. I decided to go all the way this time. I wanted to know -or at least find a partial answer- to a burning question: how did Mexico become Mexico?
The answers I found were illuminating, alarming, and at the same time brought everything into focus. I learned that the colonial period formed a hinge that connected all that is ancient with all that is modern. Yet we do not hear much about the colonial era beyond worn-out stereotypes about violent, oppressive Spaniards.
My deep research into indigenous writers in Mexico City during the colonial period showed me that the millions of lives on the margins together made history. Their legacy continues to make a difference for us today. These individuals and communities did not cower in fear in front of the Spanish. In fact, they made deliberate choices about the elements of European culture they would accept and adapt. Some even outright rejected everything the Spanish brought. The forgotten lives of colonial Latin America drew me on.
Through my doctoral program, I came to realize that colonial Latin America is not about dusty, played-out ways of looking at the past. There is no avoiding it: if you are alive today and live in the Americas, you are living the effects of Spanish colonialism, even outside of Latin America. My earlier question “how did Mexico become Mexico?” then expanded into two larger questions:
“What does it mean to be modern?”
“How can we remember forgotten lives in Latin America in the colonial era and today?”
Over the years I have continued to pursue my fascination with Mexico and the Iberian world. My commitment is to help others see the beauty, truth, and joy that I have encountered there. For fifteen years now I have been a Spanish teacher. One of the greatest rewards I gain in teaching Spanish, is when my students understand that there is more to the language than they ever imagined.
There is only so much we can do in the classroom.
KNOCKING DOWN THE WALLS
Forgotten Lives of Latin America breaks out of traditional learning environments. We take college students and other lifelong learners in the places that have made history and continue to influence our world today. Participants in our tours abroad gain a new perspective on colonial history, and a deeper understanding of the the Americas today.
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