Emory Report
October 24, 2005
Volume 58, Number 8


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October 24 , 2005
Carlos holdings inspire Hispanic community outreach

BY Katherine Baust Lukens

A cooperative program with the Carlos Museum and its docents is helping Emory students get involved in the local Spanish-speaking community.

Senior Lecturer Vialla Hartfield-Méndez has led the Spanish and Portuguese department’s efforts to establish stronger ties with Atlanta’s Hispanic community. Largely through her efforts, and in collaboration with the Carlos, the department has received grants from the University’s Joint Activities Committee, the Center for Teaching and Curriculum, the Office of University-Community Partnerships and Theory Practice Learning to sponsor related events at the museum and at area schools with large Hispanic populations.

In Spanish 212, “The Hispanic World: Culture, Society, Language,” students interact with Spanish-speaking children from Cary Reynolds Elementary and Sutton Middle School through programs designed in collaboration with the Carlos and based on the museum’s Ancient Americas holdings.

“Emory students become aware of Atlanta in a way that is completely new for them,” Hartfield-Méndez said. “They begin to understand issues that affect the Spanish-speaking population here, and they frequently are able use their own Spanish to make the tours or workshops meaningful for children who are still learning English.”

According to Carlos Docent Guild President Lindsay Marshall, the program’s objectives are to respond to the growing Hispanic community in Atlanta, to increase student involvement with the Carlos Museum, and create a multipart program where Hispanic elementary and middle school children experience their heritage in the collections of the Carlos Museum.

Gallery tours help students gain insight into the culture by exploring the context and use of the objects. “Emory students have also become much better acquainted with the Carlos Museum’s Ancient Americas collection,” Hartfield-Méndez said. “Many of them have not been in the museum, and even those who have been there before discover the collection in a new way.”

In the pilot program, docents and staff identified collection areas and tour themes for hands-on activities that would engage the students. Now in its third year, the tour focuses on the subjects of animals, jewelry and personal adornment for elementary students, and concepts of shamanism for middle-schoolers.

“For a lot of these students, these tours connect them with and instill pride about their heritage,” Marshall said. “Some of the children recognize these objects in the museum because they have one at home, or their grandmother in Mexico has one.”

“The children who come [to the museum]—if they are from Latin America—are in contact with their own cultural heritage in a setting that gives it great value,” Hartfield-Méndez said. “This is new for most of them. The children who are not of Hispanic heritage are in contact with the cultural heritage of their classmates; that can be new for them, as well.”

Last spring, after a group of students toured the museum, the docents made a follow-up visit to their school to inquire about their visit and about their experiences.

“In one classroom of eight students, the average length of time that they had been in the United States was 3.75 years, and all had been born in Mexico,“ said Laura-Beth Straight, docent and senior research project coordinator in neurology. “We found out an important aspect of the teachers’ discussions was their encouraging the students to dream about their futures: to think about going to college and their interests of study.”

And in tandem with the saying that one good turn deserves another, a member of the Hispanic community funded the translation of the museum’s family gallery guide into Spanish after hearing about this program. An Emory student even was employed to do the translation.

The next outreach events will take place at the Carlos Museum from Oct. 25–28.