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Insights into Hispanic Heritage Month from our Bilingual Education Faculty [10/10/2019]

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Dr. Lupita Lang is pictured in her office with a wall hanging of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo! Lang appreciates Kahlo because of her intensity. “Frida poured passion into what she wrote, what she painted, how she lived, and her relationships with others. I think of her as someone who burned the candle at both ends,” Lang said.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), we sought some insights on the occasion from new faculty member Dr. Lupita Lang, who is assistant professor of bilingual education.

Lang does not typically describe herself as Hispanic or Latina, although she is both. She prefers the specificity of “Mexican,” because she was born and raised in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México, just across the Texas border. She joined the Baylor School of Education in August, after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned her PhD.

Five commonly misunderstood facts about Hispanic Heritage:

  1. Hispanic and Latino/a are NOT the same thing. Hispanic refers to language, and Latino/a refers to geography. Hispanic technically refers to people who speak Spanish or are descended from Spanish-speaking populations, while Latino/a refers to people from a geographic region, Latin America, or their descendants.However, in the U.S., the term “Hispanic” is often confused with Latino/a, Lang said. And National Hispanic Heritage Month is a United States designation. According to the official website, hispanicheritagemonth.gov, “Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, México, the Caribbean and Central and South America.”
  2. Not all Latinos speak Spanish. Brazil, for example, is a Latino country where Portuguese is spoken. And because the Spanish language was imported to Latin America through colonization, there are significant numbers of people who speak only indigenous languages. The most common indigenous languages, Lang said, are Quechúa, which is spoken in Perú, and Maya, spoken in México and other Central American countries.
  3. Not all U.S. Latinos are Mexicans. While Mexicans represent the largest Latino population in the U.S., the term includes people with heritage rooted in all other parts of Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Puerto Ricans and Cubans are the second and third largest Latino groups in the U.S.
  4. A common misunderstanding is that Puerto Ricans are not U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico is categorized as an unincorporated territory of the United States.
  5. The new term “Latinx” is pronounced latt-in-ex. Say the first two syllables just like the word “Latin” in English and the third syllable like the letter “x.” The relatively new term is already included in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary and is a gender-neutral term for Latinos. Lang said that similar terms are arising in the Spanish language, such as the use of “otroas” instead of “otros.” She said, “It is part of the movement toward inclusive language.”

Hispanic Authors to know and love:

If you really want to delve into Hispanic culture, Lang suggests exploring the works of some of the best-known writers. Here are five writers from five Latin American countries that Lang recommends:

  • Octavio Paz Elementary School in Queretaro, México, which Baylor SOE students visit when they study abroad.

    Gabriel Garcîa Márquez (1927-2014) of Colombia is a favorite, known for novels of magical realism including 100 Years of Solitude. One of Lang’s favorites is The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

  • Octavio Paz of México (1914-1998), a poet and essayist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990 for a collection of poems published that year and written between 1957 and 1987. His well-known book of essays, The Labyrinth of Solitude, explores Mexican culture and thought. Students in the Baylor School of Education have visited Octavio Paz Elementary School in Queretaro while studying abroad for the Carpenter Family Embedded Global Classroom.
  • Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-) of Perú is a writer, politician, journalist and college professor who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. His seventh novel, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, is a favorite of Lang.
  • Isabel Allende (1942-) of Chile is one of the world’s best-known writers, gaining immediate acclaim for her first novel, The House of Spirits, published in 1982. Her 23 best-selling books have been translated into 42 languages.
  • Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) of Argentina is known primarily as a short-story writer, with works including Fictions and the Aleph, published in the 1940s. Some critics consider his work to be the beginning of the magical realism literary movement.

Lang said that by exploring the literature and art of Hispanic heritage, college students — and especially future teachers — can better understand the culture.

“Just the sheer proximity of Latin America to Texas creates a closer relationship,” Lang said. “I try to incorporate a perspective of diversity into the classes that I teach at Baylor, and it’s important for future teachers to be prepared for a classroom of diverse students from different class, language, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”


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