Se habla español aquí: Professor describes the impact of the Spanish language and Hispanic culture

Spanish is the official language of 20 countries, plus Puerto Rico, and is the second-most spoken native language in the world. In 23 countries where Spanish has a significant presence, there is a branch of the Academies of the Spanish Language, highlighting the rich diversity of the Spanish-speaking world. Dr. César Ferreira, Professor of Latin American Literature in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UWM, has been a corresponding member of the Peruvian Academy of the Spanish Language since 2014, and has now been nominated to become a corresponding member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language as well. This academy consists of a select group of scholars who oversee and promote the use of Spanish within the U.S.

Dr. Ferreira spoke about the influence of Spanish throughout the U.S., Wisconsin, and here in Milwaukee.

Why is there a North American Academy of the Spanish Language (ANLE), even though Spanish is not an official language in the United States?

The representation of ANLE in the United States, which was founded in 1973, reflects the significant and growing importance of Spanish within the U.S. Current estimates indicate that there are at least 41 million people who speak Spanish at home and another 12 million bilingual speakers of English and Spanish. This means that the United States has more Spanish speakers than any other country except Mexico, and Spanish should not be considered a “foreign” language in this country.

Where do you see the greatest influence of the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures in this country?

While we all see Hispanic influence in everyday culture such as media, food and sports, I see the most significant influence of both Hispanic culture and the Spanish language in literature and in music. In literature, this includes not only the global popularity of Latin American authors, such as Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende and Pablo Neruda, to name just a few, but also the growing presence of Latino literature in this country, with authors such as Sandra Cisneros, Daniel Alarcón and Julia Álvarez. The Hispanic influence in both the language and styles of music in the U.S. is also unprecedented, with musicians such as Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin and Shakira, and it is no longer necessary for Hispanic musicians to ¨crossover¨ to English in order to be successful.

What is your area of interest and what courses can students take in your program?

I teach contemporary Latin American literature, a rich and diverse literature. In fact, Hispanic literature is widely taught, in Spanish and English, at the university level in the U.S. right now. The Spanish program at UWM offers a variety of courses that, along with introductory language courses, include Spanish literature, Hispanic linguistics, Latinx literature and Spanish for the professions (Health, Business, Translation). We also have an MA program that attracts students from within the United States and abroad. Our department also offers courses in Portuguese language and culture, given its close linguistic and cultural ties with Spanish. We have an active and diverse group of faculty from many parts of the Spanish-speaking world, including the United States, who teach a wide spectrum of topics on the Hispanic world.

Is there a large Hispanic population in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, and at UWM?

Wisconsin has almost 400,000 Hispanics, which represents about 7% of the population, and 19% of the population of Milwaukee is Hispanic. The Mexican government opened a consulate here in 2016 and organizations such as the United Community Center provide services in education, human services, health, community development and cultural arts to the vibrant and growing Hispanic community in our city.

UWM is part of the HSI Network of Wisconsin (HSI- NOW) as it works towards the goal of becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). The Roberto Hernández Center supports Hispanic students on our campus, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies is a Title VI National Resource Center that supports teaching and research and serves not only UWM faculty, students and staff, but also K-12 educators and the greater community.

Along with students who study Spanish as a second language, we have many Hispanic students who grew up speaking Spanish at home and want to study their first language formally. Many of them choose to major in Spanish to further develop their language ability and gain knowledge about the Hispanic world.

What kind of jobs can undergraduates or graduates get with a concentration in Spanish?

Being bi/multilingual and bi/multicultural can complement any other specialization, including in the medical field, the healthcare industry, law and law enforcement, business and marketing, journalism, social work, education, and so on. But on a more general level, the study of other languages and cultures helps you to develop a better understanding of other people and other cultures. Learning and using another language also has many cognitive benefits, such as improved memory and critical-thinking skills. Understanding another language opens up new worlds to you and is an enriching and pleasurable experience. Reading a novel, watching a film, or listening to music in another language enriches your understanding of the content far beyond what you can appreciate with a translation of that work.

Speaking of the arts and other languages, what are your thoughts on the success of the Disney film “Encanto”, which won this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature? What is uniquely Hispanic about this film?

This film is a great example of how much Hispanic culture has entered into the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural quilt of this country. Throughout the film and songs, the characters use a blend of Spanish and English, a phenomenon very common among Hispanics in the U.S., and some of the music is entirely sung in Spanish. The melodies and rhythms also represent the richness of the different Latin American musical genres. The film itself focuses on Colombian culture, but the images of violence and displacement and the importance of the multi-generational family unit are familiar to Hispanics from all countries. Additionally, given the basis of the film in magic realism, a genre widely identified with Latin American culture, the image of the yellow butterflies (mariposas) at the end of the song “Dos Oruguitas” (Two Caterpillars), evokes the imagery of the yellow butterflies found in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Gabriel García Márquez´s most acclaimed novel.