Editor’s Note: A dozen students from the advanced language courses Spanish Conversation and Cinema recently visited the Little Colombia neighborhood in New York City to learn about the community there. The following is Language Department Head Nat Simpson’s description of the trip.
The Spanish Conversation and Cinema class is a year-long course that covers a variety of topics. In this, their third trimester, students focused on immigration and Hispanic populations in the United States. As a culmination of their work, the class went to to Jackson Heights in New York City on April 29 to learn more about Spanish-speaking immigrants in Queens.
Our first stop was at La Nueva Radio Internacional, which is a Spanish-speaking radio station in the City that caters to the Colombians living there. Their programming is 60 percent from NYC and 40 percent from Colombia. They are an affiliate of Radio Caracol, which is a large radio company in Colombia. The Conversation students went to learn more about the radio station and its connection with the immigrant community. To our surprise, many of them spoke LIVE on the radio to several thousands of Spanish speakers! I couldn’t believe it—I was so proud of them! There are some photos here of Sideya Dill, Julie Lord, and others at the mike.
After the radio station (as if it couldn’t get any better), we went to meet and eat lunch with Orlando Tobon, also known as the “Mayor of Little Colombia.” Jackson Heights is often called “Little Colombia” because of it is heavily populated by Colombian immigrants. “Don Orlando,” as he is affectionately called, co-wrote the movie screenplay of and acted in “Maria Full of Grace,” which is one of the movies that the Conversation class saw prior to traveling to Jackson Heights.
In the past two years, the students have interviewed Don Orlando over the phone. This year, he invited me to go have coffee with him, so I took the class along. He is the absolute nicest person you could ever meet and said that he would enjoy speaking with the students. During our two-hour lunch with Don Orlando at the La Pequena Colombia restaurant, students asked him questions and enjoyed unscripted conversation about his life and theirs.
Our last visit in Jackson Heights was to speak with the Valeria Treves, the director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE). She spoke with us how NICE works to empower newly arrived Spanish-speaking immigrants to the Queens area to meet the challenges that they face on a daily basis. She explained how many immigrants are victims of employment inequality and problems.
All in all, the Spanish Conversation experienced a memorable day of speaking Spanish and learning more about the cultures that speak it, both in this country and abroad!