The Language of Bonding: Teaching and Learning from Latinx Youth

My name is Brenda Sólkez, and I am a full-time doctoral student in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures who will be entering my fourth year in the Fall of 2020. I have completed the comprehensive exams required for my degree, and at present, I am starting to write my dissertation prospectus. Additionally, I am in the process of obtaining two PhD certificates: Women and Gender Studies and Latin American Studies. Given my academic, pedagogical, and personal commitments, in the summer I applied for the Humanities Engage Summer Immersive Fellowship. I submitted a proposal to work for two months for a local non-profit organization, Casa San José. When I first saw the announcement about the Immersive Summer Fellowship sponsored by Humanities Engage, I saw the perfect opportunity to enhance my academic research, a chance to “get out of the box” pedagogically since my teaching experience is with college students only, and, most importantly on a personal level, an opportunity to give back to my community. For this project, I proposed to teach the Casa San José summer camp language component.

My dissertation research engages with questions of migration, the border, and citizenship through critical readings of contemporary cultural production in the Greater Mexico. In my research, I employ an interdisciplinary and multi-media approach to examine literature, film, television, music, and digital media across national and regional boundaries. In addition, I conduct ethnographic work. My project entails a redefinition of the border. Instead of focusing merely on migrant communities along the Mexico-United States border, I explore the trajectories of migrants that utilize Mexico as a zone of transit. I bring this approach to my teaching where I emphasize the connections between our work in the classroom and our lived experiences outside of it. As a Mexican immigrant, I have learned first-hand about the obstacles that immigrants and underrepresented communities of color confront and the impact this has in the pursuit of higher education. Therefore, the opportunity to work with the children and their families in Casa San José allowed me to draw upon my past experiences with migrant outreach and language acquisition instruction.

Pedagogically, teaching through Zoom was a little unsettling. Furthermore, my experience had been solely with Second Language Acquisition, and the majority of my students had been non-Latinx or Hispanic. This was the first time I taught Spanish to Latinx children. However, the children were simply exceptional. Teaching the children at Casa San José turned out to be one of the most beautiful and meaningful experiences of my professional career. In addition to the children adapting very well to online learning, I was fascinated by the fact that even when we were on Zoom, we bonded as a community. I did not encounter any challenges in my teaching, apart from some technology flaws. Therefore, the only thing I would have changed about this experience is that instead of dividing the children by ages when teaching the language component, I would divide them by ages and levels of proficiency.  

Through the opportunity from the Humanities Engage Immersive Fellowship and Casa San José, apart from expanding my pedagogy to children, it became clear to me that children have more agency when it comes to their own identity and how much their voices have been neglected. Casa San José’s Campamento Sonrisa, the Spanish language teaching component, included reading bilingual books. Throughout these readings, some of the children expressed themselves in terms of identity, who they are in the Unites States as immigrants or as US-born children of immigrants, and the daily experiences they face in everyday life, such as in school. Due to personal and ethical reasons, I had not considered including children in my research, although it includes a strong component of ethnographic work. However, after listening to the students I worked with share their testimonies, I might rethink my stance and looking for a way to incorporate children’s voices and representations of their immigration experience in my dissertation. During the immersive fellowship, I also became aware of other colleagues whose dissertation projects included children-related research; therefore, it has motivated me to seek out new intellectual collaborations and exchange academic experiences on this matter.

I am immensely thankful to the fellowship sponsored by Humanities Engage. As Ph.D. students, we are constantly immersed in our academic work, and we often do not take the time to engage outside of the university environment. Sometimes, we drift apart from projects we had before we joined the Ph.D. life. With the Summer Immersive Fellowship, I had the opportunity to bridge that gap, and this opportunity was a breath of fresh air for me personally and academically. The only advice I have for future Fellows is to start forming relationships with organizations before applying. A good way to do this is by volunteering before you ask an organization to host you. Above all, I would like to thank everyone at Casa San José for allowing me to be part of Campamento Sonrisa, especially the children and their parents for their commitment to my Spanish classes, from which I grew as both a pedagogue and an academic.

Brenda Sólkez
Hispanic Languages and Literatures
October 14, 2020

Learn about all the Summer 2020 Immersive Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.