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The Power of Language and Culture: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at RCC

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated on college campuses across the United States, usually between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. At Roxbury Community College, our Hispanic Heritage Month programming provided students with opportunities to communicate about contemporary issues, in Spanish and English, with cultural and artistic leaders. A centerpiece of this Fall’s events was the gallery exhibit entitled “Cargando la carga – Carrying the load” by Colombian artist José Alexander Caicedo Castaño.

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Planting a banana tree to sustain your family isn't part of daily life in Massachusetts. Using the banana to heal wounds and its leaves to wrap food is even less familiar – and yet it is a central fact of life for rural Colombians of African descent. Banana cultivation has recently become a touchpoint for race and class-based violence on the edge of the city of Medellín. Now, thanks to visual artist and community activist José Alexander Caicedo Castaño, public focus has returned to the life-sustaining and poetic qualities of the banana tree. Through Mr. Caicedo Castaño's work, the people who rely on such trees have a voice that reaches beyond the center of their city to students located 2500 miles to the north.
 
More than 50 students studying Spanish or English as a Second Language participated in gallery tours of Caicedo's exhibit entitled "Cargando la carga – Carrying the load," curated by Mirta Tocci at the Joan Resnikoff Gallery. Thanks to an energetic joint effort between professors of Spanish Susan Kalt and Eloisa Franco, professor of ESOL Veronica McCormack, Media Arts Center Director Marshall Hughes, and Pamela Green, RCC students toured the gallery, viewed a burlap sack like the one on which Caicedo's images were originally painted, and made sense of the complex images presented in the exhibit.
 
The students then brought their questions directly to the artist, who teleconferenced with them in Spanish from his home in Antioquia, Colombia over the course of two days of gallery talks.
 
Here are some of the reactions of RCC students to the exhibit: 
 
“I can relate to the living conditions which seem to mirror many places in the South during the Reconstruction Era, as well as some parts of the south as recently as the 1980s.” - Kimberly Sanabria, Spanish 1.
 
“¿Por qué está la segregación de personas colombianas basada en el color de la piel?” (Why is there segregation of Colombian people based on skin color?) - Lauren Davis, Spanish 2.
 
“Es muy emocionante ver a la gente hacer todo lo que pueda para defender a lo que quiere.” (It is moving to see all that people do to defend what they love.) - Nahomie Charles, Spanish 3.
 
Also in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, Professor Veronica McCormack, coordinator of the RCC International-Multicultural Institute, invited Boston Globe editorial writer Marcela Ellis-García to address our wider student body in English.  On October 21, more than 60 students gathered to hear and engage in a very spirited discussion of politics in the United States and abroad.  Ms. García, who was born in Mexico, is a bilingual writer with more than ten years of experience in journalism focusing on coverage of Latino and minority issues in the United States. After the talk, Ms. García shared links to demographic data on Latinos in Massachusetts and the US, as well as her Twitter feed, allowing the students to keep informed.
 
 
 Reported by Professor Susan Kalt and Professor Veronica McCormack