Electivos Latinos

Mira Ponnambalam ’26 in Features | October 20, 2023

          Lawrenceville offers a wide array of electives for students to explore Latin American or Hispanic heritage and politics. Ally Calderon ’24, president of Latinos Unidos, stated that “as diverse as Lawrenceville is, we should put more emphasis on trying to understand each other’s cultures… We are able to be unified by understanding each other’s cultures.” It is essential that Lawrenceville electives continue to facilitate the spread of cultures, including Latin culture and beyond. 

Modern Latin America: Continuities and Change
          Eduardo Hernández teaches the Fall Term elective Modern Latin America: Continuities and Change. While the class existed previously, Hernández has shifted the class’s focus to imperialism and colonialism in Latin America, while incorporating some previous ideas and textbooks. The class dives into both the individual histories of Latin American countries and how their interactions with other countries in and out of Latin America have shaped their collective history. “I want students to walk away with a better understanding of the complexities of Latin America, and knowing that Latin America is not just one blanket place,” said Hernández. For one assignment, students have to study one specific Latin American country to better understand its individual history. In addition to an essay, “students are given an array of resources and activities for the authentic assessment part of the assignment: one of them is to cook food… it makes it a lot more fun and lively, and brings the history to life,” added Hernández. Through such projects, students can develop a deeper understanding of the culture and history of Latin American countries. Hernández specifically believes in the importance of talking about the interactions between Latin American countries, like the Dominican Republic and Haiti, to highlight the complexity of certain issues.

Honors Spanish: Politics and Poetry
          During the Winter Term Josefina Ayllón-Ayllón teaches the interdisciplinary class Politics and Poetry. Although this year only Ayllón-Ayllón teaches Politics and Poetry, in past years Alison Stewart y Fonseca P’12 has taught the class as well. The class examines  poetry as a political tool in Nicaragua. Historically, other countries such as Cuba and Chile had been included. “The country is known for its poetry because of Rubén Darío, the father of modernism… because he was such a hero in the land, everyone in Nicaragua seems to write poetry,” stated Stewart. The class encourages students to embrace the spirit of poetry, prioritizing emotion and delivery over memorization. Over the course of the term, students hone their Spanish skills and develop a better understanding of Nicaraguan politics. “We would look at these comic strips of history that would simplify it for us. It would give us an overview of the politics and history that would later influence the poem that we’d read,” added Ally Calderon, ’24 who took the class last year. The class provides an alternative to textbooks and allows students to interact with and understand Spanish through a unique perspective of primary sources.  Stewart believes that the class “gives a historical context… poetry gives insight into people’s souls. It provides a more visceral understanding of other people.”
The Latino/Latinx Experience Through Literature:
           This English class, taught by Maria Lamattina, highlights the experiences of people of Latin heritage in the United States. The class focuses primarily on people from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. By examining both historical and modern literature, students learn about how different groups of people have been treated in the United States and the history of immigration from these countries. Lamattina tries to emphasize that “though people lump all their backgrounds together as if they’re the same, they're not. In fact, those countries have very distinct cultures.” Her class helps students understand different perspectives while expanding students’ knowledge on the history of Latine people in the United States, emphasizing history, politics, and culture. Lamattina mentioned, “Not surprisingly, half the students in the class last year were some sort of Latino, and I think that even they gained knowledge about certain aspects of their cultures that they weren’t aware of.” By sharing cultures and exposing students to new aspects of certain cultures, Lamattina hopes to cultivate what she called “an understanding and a respect that is sometimes forgotten.” 

Honors Spanish: News and Culture: 
          The interdisciplinary class taught by Alison Stewarty y Fonseca P’12 explores current events and social justice in Latin American countries over the course of the Fall Term. It covers a wide range of topics, from art as activism to the military dictatorship in Argentina and Chile. The class also allows students to look at conflicts between countries from various perspectives. “I think it’s important to have everyone represented in our curriculum. All people should be celebrated and honored in the curriculum to show different points of view,” stated Anika Ponnambalam ’25, who is taking the class. Examining different perspectives allows students to develop a more thorough understanding of certain events, placing existing knowledge into context. “It’s interesting to see the difference between how different political issues have been treated in Latin American countries versus in the United States. For example, Mexico just decriminalized abortion while the United States Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade,” mentioned Ponnambalam. Regarding an assignment that involved researching a specific country, Ponnambalam said, “It’s been really interesting to delve deeper into the country rather than just learning about it in class because I’m allowed to do independent research. This allows me to find out more than I might have been able to with just the standard curriculum.”