Monday, October 29, 2012

Día de los Muertos

While many Americans have been celebrating Halloween this week, in Mexico people are preparing for a different holiday knows as Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This celebration lasts for three days, from October 31 until November 2. Check out the video below for an overview of what this holiday is all about.

Watch Day of the Dead on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Based on what you learned in the video, in what ways do Halloween and Día de los Muertos seem similar? In what ways do they differ?

One similarity you may have already noticed is that both holidays include macabre artwork featuring skulls and skeletons. The skulls, known as calaveras, and the skeletons, known as calacas, are central to Day of the Dead decorations and were inspired by the artist José Guadalupe Posada.  Sugar skulls (calaveras de azúcar) are one of the most common items for sale during Day of the Dead festivities.
Many families set up altars in their homes in honor of their loved ones. What items can you identify on this altar? Can you explain the significance of each item?

Dia de Los Muertos.
image courtesy of San Jose Library via flickr
After comparing Halloween to Día de los Muertos, which holiday do you think has more cultural value? Explain your view in the comments below. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

¡Qué maravilla es la época de Carnaval!

You may have heard about, or even been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. You may not be aware, however, that Spanish-speaking countries have similar celebrations known as Carnaval.  Just like Mardi Gras, Carnaval owes part of its roots to a Catholic tradition. Historically, devout Catholics would fast for the forty days leading up to Easter in spiritual recognition of the sacrifice made by their savior, Jesus.

Christ Carrying the Cross by the Spanish artist, El Greco
 (currently located at The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

This fast is known as Lent and begins every year on a day known as Ash Wednesday. Many modern day Christians observe lent by giving up a particular excess or indulgence such as smoking, drinking, eating meat, consuming sugar, etc. The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is important because this is the day before fasting begins and is therefore observed as a "last chance" to indulge before Lent. Mardi Gras and Carnaval celebrations generally begin roughly a week prior to Ash Wednesday, culminating in a huge Fat Tuesday celebration.

photo by pkingDesign via flickr

While the most famous Carnaval celebration is, without a doubt, the celebration held in São Paulo, Brazil, (where Portuguese is the official language), other cities host well-known celebrations in the Spanish Speaking world. They include cities such as Cádiz (Spain), Tenerife (Canary Islands), Ponce (Puerto Rico), and Barranquilla (Colombia). The Carnaval of Baranquilla, Colombia perhaps outshines them all, as it has been proclaimed a World Heritage Event by UNESCO.

If you have time, watch this Spanish television special about the 2011 Carnaval in Baranquilla. (Don't worry if you don't understand the narrator, the visuals are enough!) Judging by the music, dance, costumes, etc., do you think carnaval might have other influences besides Western Catholicism? What might they be?

 If you can't acesss Youtube, watch it here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

¡Vamos a Cuba!

My seventh and eighth grade students have just finished watching the film Viva Cuba in class. If you have seen this film, I would like to know your thoughts on how the film portrayed Cuba. What surprised you? What questions did it raise about Cuban history and politics? What similarities and differences did you notice between Cuban children and children in your home country?

If YouTube is blocked, try watching the Viva Cuba trailer here.

Also, check out this webquest I recently created. My seventh and eighth graders will complete this virtual tour of Cuba before writing a detailed journal entry in which they reflect on their "travels". ¡Les deseo un buen viaje!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Columbus Day Controversy

If you are unable to access youtube, watch the PSA for Reconsider Columbus Day here.

As much as we all enjoy a three day weekend, it's important to have an understanding of exactly what you are celebrating. Here in the United States, Columbus Day is a holiday which was created to honor an Italian explorer credited with discovering America and claiming it for Spain. (It is important to note, however, that there were people already living here and there is strong evidence that the vikings had explored the area 500 years earlier.) Several states in the U.S. do not observe the holiday, most notably Hawaii and South Dakota who have designated the same Monday as an observance for native peoples.

Throughout much of Latin America, October 12th is known as Día de la Raza or Día de la Hispanidad.  The date still refers to the day Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, but the focus is less about honoring the man and more about recognizing the Spanish influence on the Americas.  The holiday is widely controversial throughout Latin America and is considered by many to support a Eurocentric view of history which does not reflect the indigenous experience.

What do you think? Should the United States continue to uphold Columbus Day? Do you think it seems appropriate to give Native Americans their own national holiday? What is the image you have of Christopher Columbus based on what you have been taught in school?

Friday, August 19, 2011


I love shouting "¡Golazo, golazo, golazooooo! every time a player scores and "¡seeee laaaa perdioooooooooó!" when they miss just like the Spanish-speaking announcers during a football match.

Obviously I am not talking about American football, but rather soccer, as it is called in the United States. I definitely prefer the term football (or fútbol), especially since that's what everyone else in the world calls it, but I digress...

Did you hear about Leonel Angel Coira of Argentina? He is a 7-year-old soccer prodigy that has just been signed to a youth league sponsored by Real Madrid. If you need an American football analogy, I guess that would be like the Colts recruiting a first-grader in hopes that he would be the next Peyton Manning. You can read or watch the ESPN sports coverage about little Leo on the ESPN website.

While we're one the subject of adorable kids playing soccer, I would like to share the short documentary film, L'equipe Petit, featuring a group of tiny football players from Barcelona with decidedly less talent than Leonel Angel Coira. If the title does not look Spanish, that's because it is in Catalán, which is another language that is spoken in and around Barcelona, Spain. You will hear both languages in the film but there are English subtitles. Warning: this film may induce cuteness overload!


If you can't view youtube, you can watch it on vimeo here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Somos todos americanos

It seems that we never have enough time in class to talk about all the cool places in the world where Spanish is spoken. Click here for a fun little quiz to see how much you already know about South America.  Feel free to do any research on your own about some of the places mentioned and leave a comment about something interesting you find out.

By the way, did you know that in Spanish speaking countries they go by a 6-continent model of the world? That's because they consider North America and South America to be one continent. (If you don't believe me, click here.) That means you're better off using the term "estadounidense" rather than "americano" or"americana" when you want to express your nationality in Spanish. In fact, it can seem presumptuous and even offensive for U.S. citizens to use the term "americano" as if they are the only people on the continent!