Reality: What I Learned (dictatorship research class of 2015)

Every year my Spanish V students research twentieth century dictators of Latin America (and, sometimes, Spain).  This year they studied the political situations of Argentina, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  I ask my students to write essays that analyze what happened during various dictatorships and the current political and social climate of the countries they are studying.  Additionally–and this is key–the students have to interview (by email or Skype) experts in the countries they are studying.

The students’ work always inspires me and always teaches me something new.  This year one student asked her expert for specific examples of how he survived the dictatorship under which he had lived.  My former Middlebury College Summer Spanish School professor, Félix Ulloa, Jr., explained that while he was living in exile in Mexico his wife smuggled radios and other means of communication to him so that he could stay in contact with the people of El Salvador.  I have known Félix Ulla, Jr., since 2001 and he never shared this particular account with me.  Others, yes, but not this one.  This moving story showed us the courage and love of his family during a dangerous time.

Another student received an email which explained the pain of the disappearance of a relative.  Ignacio Aldonis detailed how his wife’s father disappeared when his wife, Natalia, was two years old.  A few years ago, Natalia’s grandmother traveled to Bariloche and brought back gifts from there for her family.  When Natalia opened her gift, she found the reciept from the store and, on it, the name of the store owner.  His name was identical to her father’s name.  Itgnacio Aldonis related how, for a few minutes, Natalia was filled with the irrational hope that her father hadn’t been disappeared but rather had escaped and was alive.  Natalia knew that this reality was improbable, but still, the next time her work took her to Bariloche she went by the store to be certain that her father wasn’t there.  And he wasn’t.

I don’t want to suggest that I didn’t learn anythingn from the other essays by the rest of my students because each essay informed me of something I didn’t know before.  I am so proud of the work of all of my students each year they undertake this research.  Addition

ally, I want to thank those who help my students understand more about history, about the world, and about what it means to be human.  I thank the experts for their passion, their compassion, and their love.  Other individuals who have helped me in the past and deserve recognition are:  Ana María Marcos, Martha Guadalupe Romero García, Juan Maldonado Gago, Marcelo Pelligrini.  And, lastly, I thank both the students and the experts for teaching me more about reality.

4 comentarios sobre “Reality: What I Learned (dictatorship research class of 2015)

  1. I think that this article is very good. This teaching method is very interesting and professional, because it can improve student’s knowledge about the history. Dictatorship was a big problem during the past and nowadays it still remains. For example the dictatorship in the Northern Korea still exists and we are in the 21st century. Also we have some states in Africa, that has problems with dictatorships, but the major part of the world eliminated it many years ago, so as South America. Students have to study about the past to learn from mistakes that were made, so they can prevent it and live in the better future. It is interesting for them because, they can get in touch with many experts and learn some facts from them. Also as the teacher said, it improves her own knowledge about the specific stories of people which actually had experienced these terrible things. Maybe it would be better to talk with students about the history of European dictatorships also, not just the Spanish or Latin ones.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate comment. We do touch on other dictatorships around the world, but do not study them in depth as the focus of the class is Spanish speaking cultures. That said, I am always careful to point out that one of the reasons we spend time investigating dictatorships of the Spanish speaking world is to also invite students to become more aware of international politics and our role in the world. I hope to instill in the students an interest in human rights and social justice throughout the world while we study Spanish speaking cultures. I agree with you that a broad world view is very important, and I will keep your suggestions in mind when we tackle this project again next year. Thank you very much!

  2. It’s a really nicely written, no wonder that you do such surveys like this. This fact makes me think. I personally would love to read the all of your essays and learned something new. I think it would be really a lot. I´m personally interested how it was in the days of dictatorship. The most intrigued me, how you mention a man, who lived in exile in Mexico, while his wife smuggled radios and other means of communication to him to be able to stay in touch with the people of El Salvador. I admire so much this courage. People in this time must be really strong and fearless. Nowadays it would probably where who laid.
    You should definitely do these studies in the future too. And not just for your educations, but for us, cause we want to learn something new just like you. Perhaps it would not be wrong to write a book of it. I think that a lot of people would be happy to read it.

    1. These studies are very important to me. Not only do my students learn a lot each year but also their research always reveals something new to me. I feel so fortunate to have wonderful, brave, intelligent mentors abroad who are willing to take time from their lives every year to work with me. I will absolutely continue this project in the future. Thank you.

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