¡Salsa! 2003

I. Course description
In this class we listen to salsa music and learn to dance to it, but the title is really a metaphor for Latin American culture in general. The class is a survey of Latin American and Latino/a history and culture, including music, dance, art, movies, poetry and short stories. No knowledge of Spanish is required. We discuss the big questions, like are tacos really Mexican food? What’s it really like to move to the U.S. from a different country? What should be done about the situation of illegal immigrants? Is it more polite to call someone Hispanic or Latino? Is Peru really all that different from Panama? Recently in Vanity Fair magazine, a columnist said that there was no point in learning Spanish, because nothing worth reading has been written in Spanish since Don Quixote. We’ll read some poetry and short stories (in translation) and then see if we agree. We also read fiction by Chicana/o and Latino/a writers in the U.S. and talk about issues of immigration, language, racism, culture, and identity.

II. Instructor’s educational preparation and current employment

  • B.S. in secondary education (Spanish), University of Missouri-Columbia
  • Currently completing work on a master’s degree in Spanish literature and linguistics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • email: pcvtlp@yahoo.com

III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students
Traditionally, students don’t read Latin American literature in school until they reach college level Spanish classes. This class will allow them to read this literature in translation as well as study music, dance, and art from different countries, and explore how it reflects the sociopolitical reality of Latin Americans. We will also study Latinos/as in the U.S., a culture many students have some contact with but probably an incomplete understanding of. I hope that by learning about different cultures, they will have a better appreciation of diversity and see the purpose of learning foreign languages, as well as gaining more in-depth understanding of the specific cultures we study.

IV. Major topics covered

Latin America

  • magical realism as a reflection of Latin American society
  • salsa music and dancing
  • bachata music: the “music of the people” in the Dominican Republic
  • social issues reflected in Latin music
  • U.S. interventions in Latin America
  • dictatorships and popular resistance

Latinos in the U.S.

  • immigration issues
  • identity and language issues
  • differences in experiences due to gender and socioeconomic status
  • effects of immigration on Latin American countries
  • short stories by Chicano/a and Latina/o authors

V. Pre-requisite knowledge
None—all texts are in English or easily understandable Spanglish.

VI. Learning objectives
Students will:

  • constructively analyze Latin American and Latino/a literature, music,
    film and art
  • identify differences in culture among the different Latin American countries as well as between all of them and the U.S.
  • discuss critically the major issues facing the countries of Latin America and Latinos/as in the U.S.
  • understand both sides of the debate on immigration
  • research a related topic and present it to the class

VII. Primary source materials

  • García Márquez, Gabriel. “One of These Days,” “Big Mama’s Funeral,” and “Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon,” from Collected Stories.
  • Allende, Isabel. “Clarisa” and “The Gold of Tomás Vargas,” from The Stories of Eva Luna.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis. “Et Cetera” and “The Ethnographer,” from Collected Fictions.
  • Cortázar, Julio. “The Night Face Up” and “The Continuity of Parks,” from Blow-Up and Other Stories.
  • Neruda, Pablo. “La United Fruit Co.” from General Song.
  • Guzmán Bouvard, Marguerite. Excerpts from Revolutionizing Motherhood: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
  • Agosín, Marjorie. Excerpts from Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love.
  • Menchú, Rigoberta. Excerpts from I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala.
  • Díaz, Junot. “Aguantando” and “Fiesta 1980,” from Drown.
  • Fuentes, Carlos. Excerpts from The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World.
  • Alvarez, Julia. Excerpts from ¡Yo! and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.
  • Stevens, Ilan. Excerpts from Latino U.S.A.: A Cartoon History.
  • Montoya, Richard, et al. Excerpts from Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy.

Film excerpts:

  • In the Time of the Butterflies
  • Los Vendidos
  • In Plain English
  • Nueba Yol
  • Like Water for Chocolate

Music by:

  • Juan Luis Guerra
  • Maná
  • Frank Reyes
  • Joseito Mateo and Luis Kalaff

VIII. Supplementary source materials
Guest speakers talk about Mayan art, Venezuelan culture and the experience of immigration.

IX. Computing and the Internet (if applicable)
Students use the Internet for research on related topics.

X. Typical classroom strategies
Students are exposed to Latin American and Latino/a cultures through a number of different activities. They are given time to read pertinent selections, and they participate in small group and full class discussions of the material. Guest speakers present different perspectives on selected topics. Students use journals to explore their reactions to readings and discussions. At the end of the class, they have the opportunity to do individual or group research on a topic of interest related to the class and present their findings to their classmates.