South American native Laura Latil remembers when being bilingual wasn’t considered “cool.”
Even her own children, who spoke English and Spanish, didn’t advertise their Spanish skills, to her dismay, she said.
When she began teaching her native tongue to students at Trinity Episcopal Day School — every student there takes Spanish lessons twice a week for two years as part of their elementary school curriculum — she noticed another common misconception.
“Most people who speak Spanish are not Mexican,” she said. While the Mexican culture is closest to and, therefore, perhaps, most familiar to Americans, she set about to do everything she could to help her community appreciate the breadth and depth of Spanish-speaking cultures around the world.
And she started with her own classroom. Every year, as part of Trinity’s Showcase Day featuring student work from each grade at the school, Latil and her Spanish students create Festival Latino.
“At the Festival Latino, we exhibited the posters and hundreds of crafts that I collected from all my friends around Baton Rouge, from almost all the countries, such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Perú, Bolivia, México, Colombia, Salvador, Spain, Argentina, Honduras, Chile, etc.,” Latil said.
Also exhibited were many fruits and vegetables, such as yuca, chiles, malanga, mangos, peppers, tomatillos, tamarindo, pineapples, duros de harina, jicama, chayote and many more from different Latin countries.
“I looked all over town for different foods and spices,” she said, laughing and pointing to an enormous display table in the center of the room.
Latil is Colombian, she said, and is from a small town there called San Juan Giron, where people congregate outside on their porches after work and chat with the neighbors, walk to buy food and other necessities, and everybody knows everybody else.
It was a wonderful way to grow up, she said, and her own children learned to love the atmosphere and vibe of her hometown as much as she does.
But she also loves living in Louisiana, she said.
“The world is big and rich with culture,” Latil said. “If I can convince one or two students out of 200 to go and visit other places, I feel good about that.”
Seeing how other people live and work and entertain themselves, she said, changed the way she saw the world around her, in her everyday life and in her own travels abroad.
“It opens your eyes to so much,” she said.
And, she said, she has already heard back from students who have visited some of the places they’ve learned about in her classroom and other places around the world.
She’s most proud that her own children now think it’s cool to speak Spanish.