Proyectos


Plátanos fritos

One thing I like about teaching Spanish at UIC is the food! Students will use any excuse to bring food to the classroom. Spanish students learned to bring food in high school and they keep right on bringing it in college. I love it! If I could, I would design a Spanish course dedicated solely to comida de la cocina hispana.

My Spanish 104 class had to do oral presentations last week and some students found a way to prepare a dish that would highlight their proyectos. Of course, I never complain! I usually teach in the morning and most students are very hungry when they come to class. Okay, I’m hungry, too. So the food is always a very welcome visual aid for the student presenting. I’m looking forward to the next set of proyectos!

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La sirena


Lotería, el juego para todas las edades

When teaching Spanish, I always learn something new from my students, or rather mis estudiantes. Sometimes I don’t notice things that are part of our Mexican culture because they are just part of everyday life. For example, we don’t always notice daylight because it’s always there (in the daytime, of course) and we just take it for granted. In my Spanish classes, I just happen to take Spanish for granted. In fact, I’m rarely aware of which language I’m speaking. So when I’m supposed to be speaking English, I’m speaking Spanish, and vice versa.

So, today, we had a little bit of free class time so I decided to show a movie that was filmed in Spanish. Students just love watching movies in class. Rather than conversing in Spanish or doing more exercises. Well, I like to show movies in Spanish because this way they can learn something about Hispanic culture that they can’t learn from a textbook. A student had mentioned the Mexican movie Y tú mamá también earlier in the semester. In the culture section of our textbook SueñaGael García Bernal  is profiled and specifically mentions Y tú mamá también in his film credits. I thought this would be a good movie to teach students a little about Mexican culture and Mexican expressions, otherwise known as mexicanismos. Afterwards, the student who had originally mentioned the movie told me she thought the movie was a little racy. I have to admit that it is. I saw it at the show when it first came out. I was in a theater full of Mexicans at the Ford City Theaters and they were all shouting “¡Huy!” at some of the scenes at the end of the movie.

It seems that no matter what movie I show in class, a few students always comment about something in the movie that was offensive to them. All good movies will offend at least some of my students. Most of the other students love seeing the movie regardless of the content, whether deemed offensive or not. I’ve shown movies from México, Spain, Guatemala, Argentina, and the U.S. (in Spanish). They always seem to address some controversial topic such as sex, incest, murder, etc. and they usually have a tragic, depressing ending. But they are always good movies. The advantage of showing these movies is that I know none of my students saw them in their high school Spanish class. No sane high school teacher would dare show such risqué films without taking a chance of getting disciplined and/or fired. I teach at a university, so I have a little more liberty in film selection since all my students are older than eighteen.

Sometimes when students tell me they find a movie offensive because of too much violence or sex, I tell them that they may leave the class without penalty if they find the movie objectionable. No one ever leaves. In fact, they find the movie enthralling. So I just don’t understand why they complained in the first place. Perhaps, to clear their conscience. Besides, everyone loves Penelope Cruz movies and she hasn’t made a movie without any offensive topics. My favorite movie with her is the one where she plays a pregnant nun with AIDS.

On a couple of occasions, I offended some students unintentionally by playing Lotería. This is a board game similar to Bingo that I have been playing since I was a little boy. Every student gets a board with pictures of people and things such as La dama, El soldado, La rana, etc. There is a deck of cards with these same pictures. So I shuffle the cards and call out the names. If your board has the picture that I called out, you mark the picture with an uncooked pinto bean (provided by me, since students don’t happen to walk around carrying pinto beans with them, but I do). When you cover all the pictures with pinto beans, YOU WIN! And you shout ¡Lotería! at the top of your lungs and I give you a little prize like a packet of chiclets or something else that’s Mexican. This is a child’s game that you would think would not offend anyone. Well, if you thought that, you would be wrong!

Once, actually this happened several times, when I called, La sirena, a female student shrieked and said that the mermaid had exposed breasts. She was genuinely offended by the nudity. I didn’t know what to say. So I looked at the card of La sirena and sure enough she had exposed breasts! I’ve been playing Lotería my whole life and I never even noticed her exposed breasts. To me she was just a mermaid. A cartoon mermaid. All I ever saw was her long hair and her fish tail. I mean, if I saw a real mermaid in person, I wouldn’t be caught staring at her breasts!

Why didn’t I see La sirena‘s breasts before? I’m not sure. Probably because I always saw my mother breast-feeding my younger brothers. And in public, too! I remember my mother taking my brothers and me to the park to play in the playground and she would breast-feed my baby brother right there on the park bench. And she wasn’t alone, either! There were always at least two or three other mothers breast-feeding, too. Maybe I just view breasts differently from everyone else. Breasts were just part of my Mexican culture while growing up and I just never noticed them on La sirena or in movies until students point them out to me! ¡Ay! ¡Ay! ¡Ay!

Vacaciones


Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, México

Please remember that the singular “vacation” in English always becomes the plural “las vacaciones” in Spanish.

  • Fuimos de vacaciones a Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
  • Este semestre tenemos vacaciones de primavera.
  • De niño me encantaban las vacaciones de verano.

Some vocabulary words just take some getting used to.

UIC SOS


The international symbol of distress.

Teaching is very rewarding in many ways, but just not financially. My alma mater and present employer, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC),  is suffering from budget problems. Well, the whole country is suffering from these hard economic times. UIC is suffering because the state of Illinois isn’t paying UIC what it is owed and therefore hirings of new faculty and staff have ceased. Faculty and staff have to take unpaid furlough days to meet the budget shortfall–in addition to the budget recisions already implemented over the past few years. Illinois has one of the worst budget crises in the country, second only to California.

Of course, my job security is also on the line. My contract as a Spanish lecturer with UIC expires on May 15, 2010. Will I be rehired next year? No one knows with any certainty. We’ll see. The good news for me is that I don’t have to take any unpaid furlough days. The bad news is that I don’t earn enough to take furlough days. I feel the budget cuts in so many ways. I can’t call anyone on my office telephone outside of the Chicago area codes. Every year I’m allowed to make less and less copies for student handouts. Luckily for me, Spanish is the foreign language most in demand at UIC. Unfortunately, gone is the golden age when everyone who earned a Ph.D. would more than likely get a job in academia!

You suck!


Chicago Tribune, January 24, 2010

I saw this advertisement in the real estate section of the Chicago Tribune last Sunday. I remember when the word “suck” was a swear word! Perhaps I’m just on the verge of becoming a grumpy old man, but maybe that’s the reason I still remember when “suck” was offensive. So imagine my surprise when I saw this ad.

When I was growing up back in the 1960s, an age before political correctness had swept the land, people would purposefully insult each other. No holds barred. If someone had a physical deformity or a mental defect, that was exactly what the insulting party focused on. Racial slurs were not only permitted, but wholeheartedly encouraged.

But getting back to the word “suck,” most people who use the word today don’t even realize why they’re using it. Once, one of my students said, “Exams suck!” and many of the other students in the class agreed. She had a quizzical look on her face after she said it. Then, she said, “What does that even mean?” It seems no one knows what “suck” even means nowadays. No wonder I hear it on the radio and TV all the time. That’s because no one knows the history of the word “suck.”

But getting back to the 1960s, if someone wanted to insult you, they would–in so many words–say that you performed fellatio, back in an era when oral sex was frowned upon. The main offense was to insult someone’s manhood by implying he was homosexual. If someone did something stupid–and just about everything qualified as being “something stupid”–the person who didn’t like what you did would say, “You blow!” Sometimes people would hurl the insult to pedestrians as they drove by. Sometimes it was incorporated into everyday conversation: “Why aren’t you inviting Allouicious to your party?” “Because Allouicious blows!”

Somewhere along the line, “blow” received fierce competition from “suck.” Both words referred to the same sexual act of fellatio. The only point of contention seemed to hinge on the direction of air flow. But both terms were equally insulting in a homophobic manner. No one argued that! If you did, people would not only say, “You blow!”, but also, “You suck!” It was the great philosophical debate of my generation. Is it better to blow or to suck?

Well, flash forward to the present, and the people using the word “suck” are unaware of the history of the word “suck” whenever they use it. Just think about it. Can exams really suck? Who wouldn’t like oral sex to relax during a grueling exam. If exams literally sucked, students would love taking exams. And, then afterwards, the students would smile and say, “Yeah, that exam really sucked!”

Shh!


Para ver las respuestas a estas adivinanzas, búscalas abajo sobre la pirámide.

I’m back in school now and my teaching skills are rusty. I must get back into practice. Sometimes the class doesn’t want to pay attention to me for some unknown reason. If they merely not paid attention and didn’t talk, I would be okay with that. However, sometimes they continue talking when I’m trying to talk. This occasionally happens to the best of teachers. Yes, even me! But I know how to regain control of the class.

I have many tricks in my repertoire to silence the class. Sometimes I say, “¡Atención!” and that’s enough to quiet the class. Sometimes, I have to raise my voice and say, “¡Silencio!” Surprisingly, sometimes the class continues talking. So, I threaten to write the names of the students talking on the blackboard. My sons told me that some grade school teachers use this threat effectively. I wasn’t sure whether or not it would work at the university level, but I did try it once and the entire class immediately stopped talking. I was like totally amazed. If that doesn’t work, I yell, “¡Cállate!”

However, I’ll tell you my absolute favorite tactic. Raising my voice and saying, “Don’t make me snap my fingers in a z-formation.” I then snap my fingers in a z-formation. (Please note: You must say, “Don’t make me snap my fingers in a z-formation” in English.) Amazingly, the entire class stops talking instantly.

Once in a blue moon, none of the above strategies work. So what do I do? I very quietly say, “Shh.” That has never failed me! Yet.

Adiós


Burnham Hall, University of Illinois at Chicago

My Spanish class met for the last time this morning. Some students will never study Spanish again, but hopefully, they’ll remember more than just, “Buenos días” and “¿Cómo está usted?” The students take the last exam and they slowly leave the classroom one by one. The classroom is now empty. It’s very quiet for the first time in the semester. I’m all by myself and I already miss my students. They sometimes annoy me during the semester, but then I miss them when they’re gone. Go figure! I’ll just have to wait untill next semester to see my new students.