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September 30, 2008 3:00 am

Hispanic Heritage Month

Written by Tribune Staff

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Spanish Club students present their club at Northwest College recently. From left, Yesica Jurado originally of Mexico and now from Cody, Melissa Arriagada from Chile, Paulina Maldonado from Chile, Elizabeth Hoffman from Cody, and Silvia Haase from Chile gather at the booth. The students from Chile provided a taste of their culture last week as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. Tribune photo by Ilene Olson

Chilean students share piece of culture

When locals hear the word “Chile,” they may initially think of a warm meal, a cold morning or a type of pepper. But a country?

“Many people here don't know about Chile,” said Maria Lazcano, a Chilean student studying at Northwest College.

On Friday, four students from Chile shared their country's history, culture, dances, geography and food to teach people about the country.

Lazcano said she wanted people at the presentation to “know our country exists, and to show them a bit of our culture.”

Fellow student Melissa Arriagada agreed.

“We wanted everyone to know about Chile,” she said. “Especially to try the food ... it's delicious.”

The students prepared traditional dishes to give people a taste of the Chilean food they miss.

Arriagada, Lazcano and two other students from Chile, Paulina Maldonado and Silvia Haase, are studying at Northwest this fall through an exchange program, subsidized by the Chile government.

“Through a serendipitous encounter last May in Washington D.C., at the annual international educators' conference, I was introduced to a representative of the Chilean Ministry of Education, who was looking for a high quality, reasonably-priced college or university to send students for one semester,” said Harriet Bloom-Wilson, international academic director.

Bloom-Wilson suggested Northwest, and after correspondence with Multicultural Program Coordinator Mary Baumann, four students arrived in Powell.

This is the first arrangement with Chile, Bloom-Wilson said, and there's already talk of signing a formal agreement for future groups.

“We are all very pleased to have them here,” Bloom-Wilson said.

The feeling appears mutual.

“I love Wyoming,” Lazcano said. “It's quiet, and the people are very nice.”

Paulina Maldonado said she's thankful that a group from Chile came together.

“It's like having our own piece of home here,” she said.

The students chose not to share residence hall rooms, though.

“We have American roommates,” Maldonado said. “Our main goal is to learn something new.”

While the students came to learn about American culture and language, they've also ended up teaching about their own culture and language.

“It's a great opportunity for all of us here to learn about another culture,” said Mary Ellen Ibarra-Robinson, associate professor of Spanish.

Their insights on their home country “gave us a really nice glimpse of what Chile is all about.”

Friday's presentation on Chile was part of the campus' celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

People usually associate the word “Hispanic” with a person of Mexican descent, but Ibarra-Robinson said it represents more nationalities.

“‘Hispanic' correctly refers to any peoples whose country was settled by Spain,” she said.

Ibarra-Robinson said people from Latin America don't typically describe themselves as Hispanic.

People are more likely to use “Latino/Latina” or go by their nationality, such as “Mexicano/Mexicana,” Ibarra-Robinson said.

Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for Americans to learn about Latin American cultures they may not know much about.

“The thing we relate more to is the food,” Ibarra-Robinson said. “But we don't know about the culture in general.”

In addition to students from Chile, this semester Northwest also is home to students from Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mexico. About a dozen Latin-American students attend the college this year — a higher number than usual, Ibarra-Robinson said.

The Latin-American students have joined Americans in the NWC Spanish Club. The club is involved in the Powell community, and the Chilean students hope the multicultural dialogue continues.

“We want to get involved with everyone,” Maldonado said. “Even if they're not Latin American, they can join in our celebration.”