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“Why Do I Have to Learn Spanish? We Live in America!”

“Why do I have to learn Spanish? We live in America!”

I overheard that complaint from a scholar earlier this year, during dismissal after theater club at SA Bushwick, as her grandmother urged her to use Spanish more often at home. The question cut straight to the heart of a dilemma many immigrants face when they come to the United States — how can families adapt to a new country, while making sure that their children are still in touch with their cultural roots and language?

It’s a tough question. I am proud to work as a theater teacher at a school full of students who hail from religiously, racially, and ethnically diverse families. Our school community reflects the neighborhood of Bushwick in Brooklyn — which has families with roots in countries like Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, and Guatemala — to name just a few.

As a lifelong storyteller (I enjoy writing children’s books and plays), I was inspired by her question. At the time, our staff was brainstorming ways for the school to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, and I thought that  the scholar’s question could serve as a perfect launching point for a play that educates students about Spanish and LatinX history, culture, music, and dance. I had recently learned the Spanish word “Wepa,” — which means “let’s celebrate!” — and it seemed an ideal title for our play: It would be a celebration of Hispanic culture.

What followed was an inspiring demonstration of our scholar’s talent and our staff’s dedication. Over the course of a month, I worked with all 230 of our SA Bushwick scholars and many faculty members to write, finesse, and rehearse a one-hour play made up of 24 separate skits related to different aspects of LatinX culture. Together we came up with everything from a silly reenactment of a traditional Spanish telenovela (which bachelor will earn the rose?) and a Mexican Hat Dance to a skit about bullfighting and a song from the musical West Side Story. Every scholar at SA Bushwick had a role. We rehearsed several times a week in and outside of our theater classes and, through this creative and collaborative process, we all learned more about the rich heritage of Latin America and of Hispanic immigrants in the United States. The final performance was everything I had hoped: a true celebration of Hispanic culture and our incredibly diverse school community. Watch one scene from our performance (an exciting bullfighting sequence) here!

I invite you to take a look at the photos below and join us on our adventure through Hispanic culture — wepa!

Written by Israel Hilery November 14, 2017

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