Why should a young high school student be interested in learning Spanish? This is a question that I have been struggling with for some time. My short answer has always been: building connections between communities will always be greatly beneficial to them. In my head this makes perfect sense, however, my students need more convincing. I have exposed them to different aspects of Latino culture and attempted to show them interesting things to get them engaged, but this only works about half the time. This unit has been designed to spark a deep interest in the language right at the beginning of their time in Spanish class. This is accomplished by exposing students to many of the links that are shared between the African Americans and Latinos in the United States.
This unit will have three major goals for students. First, initiate a sincere interest in learning Spanish. Second, change the social relations between African American students and Latino students at Hyde from one of tension to one of understanding and unity. The differences between the cultures do exist, so the unity will come from accepting differences and building connections. Finally, to facilitate a new understanding of their own history (African-American) and the history of the people whose language they will eventually learn through a series of case studies based on sports, music, and the migratory history of New Haven. One of the major misconceptions about the Latino community (among the young African American community in New Haven) is that Latino means Mexican or Puerto Rican. However, Latino is also an extremely broad category that also includes Afro-Caribbean populations from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, etc. In other words, this unit also has the promise of helping students rethink these categories of «African American» and «Latino». This would help them to rethink what might seem to be rigid divisions between the Latino culture/race and African American culture/race.
Creating interest in content is a challenge for any teacher in any subject. For Spanish in particular, while some students are naturally inclined and see the inherent value in learning a language in addition to English, most students from urban areas struggle to see the significance of learning another language. Many students who grow up in New Haven are constantly bombarded with stereotypical images of Latinos and the Latino community. This is evident when students ask me "Are you Mexican or Puerto Rican?" rather than asking "Where are you from?" I conducted a poll when I began thinking about this unit. I asked students in Spanish class and not in Spanish class, "Where do Latinos live?" I got two answers: Mexico and Fair Haven. While this is very frustrating, the students themselves are not to blame for this. I believe that once they have a more concrete understanding of these groups' migration and cultural histories they will become more engaged in class and in their community on a regular basis. Throughout the unit they will get a chance to ask questions about the cultures each student represents.
The majority of the population at Hyde School of Health Sciences and Sports Medicine is African American and Latino, and mostly male. Students tend to self segregate when convening in common places like the cafeteria or the library for meetings. Most arguments and physical altercations have some racial tension behind them. This comes from a lack of understanding from both groups. Both groups believe and perpetuate the stereotypes that are presented to them on a daily basis. The different case studies presented in the unit will help to discredit many of these stereotypes. By presenting examples of similarities between the two cultures students will realize they are not quite as different as they originally imagined. By also discussing the differences that do exist and the reasons they exist, students will be able to accept differences and embrace similarities.
I have spent several weeks asking students where they come from. Most were born in New Haven and have never gotten the chance to explore the country or the world. Many students have families that came from other places like New York or Virginia, but very few students were able to explain the reasons behind why their family made the choice to move to New Haven. If students have a better understanding of their own history, they will have more of an appreciation for others histories.