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Students Embrace San Antonio

First-Year Seminar gives opportunity to learn history of the city and become involved in the community

By Russell Guerrero’83

Susana Rojas (left) of San Antonio, gives first-year students a lesson in traditional Mexican cooking. The Rojas family invited the students to their home as part of the Embracing San Antonio class.

July 2010 - First-year students who want to learn more about San Antonio and participate in its culture can take a seminar course that will give them an active role in the city’s vibrant Latino community.

The seminar is titled Embracing San Antonio: Cultura y Communidad and is taught by David Spener, associate professor of sociology and anthropology. The class is a bilingual course that is part of Trinity’s Languages Across the Curriculum program. Students should be able to speak Spanish in order to enroll.

According to Spener, the aim of the seminar is to explore the history, culture, and modern-day reality of San Antonio’s Latino majority population. The course involves a mix of reading assignments, meetings with community leaders and activists, and trips to culturally significant landmarks.  As part of engaging with the community, students work in groups and participate in service projects with non-profit organizations.

During the spring 2010 semester, 10 first-year students enrolled in the course. “We had an interesting mix,” said Spener.  “We had some international students who have spoken Spanish their whole lives.” The group also included students from other states, from cities in Texas, and one student from San Antonio.

As part of the semester’s activities, the class joined other Trinity students for a trip to Monterrey, Mexico as part of Trinity’s Mexico, the Americas, and Spain program. The trip gave the students a chance to learn of the strong ties San Antonio still has with the traditions and heritage of Mexico.

The class was also invited to the house of a local Mexican-American family, who offered their guests an authentic home-cooked Mexican meal and their personal stories as immigrants to the United States.

At the end of the semester, the students gave presentations on their service learning projects. Among the community organizations the students worked with were:

  • The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, assisting with events such as movie night and a class in making piñatas.

  • The Willie C. Velasquez Learning Center, helping with English as a Second Language class.

  • The House of Neighborly Service’s House of Teens Program, working at an afterschool program with middle school and high school students

All organizations based in San Antonio’s predominantly  Latino West Side.

The students enjoyed their community engagement.

“There is a really strong sense of community in a lot of the areas we saw. I don’t know if that is surprising, but it was really neat to see,” said student Katie Flores of Houston.    

“I was exposed to things more than I had been before. I think that’s why I wanted to take this course, because I knew that I was not as educated as well as I should have been about the city’s history,” said Maribel Plasencia of San Antonio. “Also, just the use of Spanish in this course is probably the best thing about it.”

Students visit a pulga, an open air-flea market located on San Antonio's south side. The pulga sells everything from candies to formal quinceanera gowns. There is also stage for live music and dancing. The class visit several neighborhoods to view murals created by local artists.


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