Banner Photo: Victor Canales, a double major in Spanish and Sociology, finishes up bottle feeding a baby calf on a dairy farm in Jerome. Canales was part of a group of students who accompanied Kappler-Crookston to give presentations about higher education to Latino high school students and their parents. 

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A student at a dairy farm

Spanish Faculty travel to Jerome to Make Connections

By Lisa Heer

Demographics all over the country are changing, and Idaho is no exception. In the last two decades, Idaho’s number of Hispanic residents has doubled. The result is an infusion of rich culture, creating new communities that are both bicultural and bilingual. One of these towns is Jerome, Idaho.

A reason for this shift is the stability of jobs in the dairy and manufacturing industries in the area. Rather than traveling with harvests like migrant workers in other regions of the United States, these workers and their families are able to set up a permanent residence.

Creating roots in an entirely different culture has its challenges though, and Modern Languages and Cultures department chair Irina Kappler-Crookston believes University of Idaho faculty and students would be able to help with the transition by establishing a collaborative service-learning project within the Latino Community.

Recently, Kappler-Crookston and three of her colleagues—Dr. Lori Celaya, professor of Spanish and Latino/Borders Studies; Dr. Martin Carrion, professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies; Amanda Soto, professor of Music Education—travelled to Jerome to discover ways to create a service learning experience in the community. One of the primary goals of the outreach was to encourage higher education.

“I’m a strong believer in education, and I think education can solve a lot of world problems. You can’t have democracy unless you’re educated. It’s important that young people have the opportunity to go to a tech school or college,” said Kappler-Crookston.

While in Jerome, the group got the chance to experience the rich culture there first hand. They visited a local dairy farm, attended a Catholic Mass spoken completely in Spanish, and attended the Dia de Guadalupe festival, a traditional Mexican celebration.

“The dances were beautiful and the food was phenomenal. It lasted from the morning well into the night,” said Kappler-Crookston. “The traditions are so vibrant they bring in to the country. To be honest, it was a very moving experience.”

In addition, the group talked to the Latinos in Action Organization at Jerome High School to promote further education. Students in this organization are bilingual and bicultural, from both Mexico and Central America.

Kappler-Crookston said she has already started to see students benefit as a result of the outreach: "A year and a half ago, I took a group of students to give presentations in Spanish to Latino families and to Latino students in Jerome High School. Two of those high school students and their parents showed up for Vandal Friday and will be starting with us in the fall."

“They are our future, I believe," she said. With the continuing development of this community, she would like to create the opportunity for interested University of Idaho students to mentor and tutor students or help in the community.

“There is a need for tutors for children after school because their parents don’t speak English and can’t help them with their homework,” she said. Other opportunities would include helping with immigration issues—such as helping people fill out FASFA forms or apply to college—and helping with the agricultural side of the community by bridging the gap between farmers and workers on dairy farms.

“We’re hoping to create a track or endorsement of some kind for Spanish majors where students can use Spanish with their professions,” said Kappler-Crookston, citing majors such as public relations, nursing, journalism, business or counseling as good potential pairs. Nearly every major could benefit from Spanish studies though, she believes.

“Once students get out of the University, by combining their disciplines [with Spanish], there are a lot of jobs out there,” she said.

A service-learning opportunity in Jerome would allow students to get experience for post-graduation careers, and give them a unique immersion into the rich culture.

Kappler-Crookston was struck not only by this strong sense of culture, but the overwhelming feeling of unity.

“It’s beautiful to hear 1500 people speaking Spanish and see that unity in the community,” she said. “You can’t imagine it—you have to go feel it. I want everyone to feel it. It’s such a vibrant community. It’s full of life.”

She hopes her fellow staff and students will be able to contribute to that life in the near future.