Program reconnects Spanish speakers to language

September 14, 2015

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of stories to mark Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15-Oct. 15.

Nobody in Craig Mahaffy’s family speaks any Spanish, so it might seem odd that he is enrolled in the Spanish heritage language program in Arizona State University’s School of International Letters and Cultures. Craig Mahaffy makes fellow Spanish heritage language students laugh. Business major Craig Mahaffy makes fellow students Maria Alejandra Felix (left) and Maria Fernanda Felix laugh as he describes his use of music to build his Spanish skills during an ASU Spanish heritage language course on Aug. 27 on the Tempe campus. The courses are meant to help native speakers and others with a firm grasp on the language to polish their skills. Photo by: Deanna Dent/ASU News Download Full Image

The junior in business with a focus on global politics said he discovered the program — aimed more at native speakers or those who already have a firm grasp on the language — when he found general second-language Spanish classes weren’t challenging enough for him. He had picked up the language while dating a girl from Mexico whose mother spoke only Spanish.

“I would make us speak only in Spanish for like a month just so I could practice it,” said Mahaffy said of that relationship.

That’s one of the things Spanish heritage class instructor Roberto Ortiz Manzanilla loves about the program: He said the heritage classes are a great mix of people from different cultures, including Spanish-speaking countries and American Spanish speakers.

Secondary education junior Hayden Ballesteros is a native Spanish speaker, having come to the United States from Panama as a child, and was excited to find the heritage program at ASU:

“It made me feel a lot more comfortable because I definitely was not looking forward to sitting through a class of how to say ‘hola,’” Ballesteros said.

Sara Beaudrie, associate professor of Spanish linguistics and head of the Spanish heritage language program, said it’s the mission of the program to “promote Spanish language development and maintenance in the Southwestern United States.”

“Unfortunately a lot of [Spanish heritage program students] grow up ashamed of speaking Spanish and are forced to speak only in English. … A lot of them are already losing the language,” she said. “This program gives them the opportunity to regain those skills that they once had.”

Spanish Heritage Courses at Arizona State University from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

Manzanilla said the heritage program is different in many ways: Spanish-as-a-second-language classes usually consist of several short vocabulary-type activities, whereas the Spanish heritage classes focus on a few larger language concepts.

“Heritage learners’ needs are different from traditional second-language learners, who have not been in constant contact with Spanish while growing up,” Beaudrie said. “We offer these separate courses as a recognition of heritage learners’ unique abilities and needs within our classrooms, and as a way to expand our Spanish-speaking community at Arizona State University.”

That’s important to students like Ballesteros, for more than one reason: “This program allows us to build on the knowledge we already have,” while also acknowledging the importance of the Spanish language in today’s society.

“Spanish is one of the most spoken languages throughout the world. I can almost guarantee you that you will meet at least one person a month who only speaks Spanish, and it is an awesome feeling to be able to connect and communicate with that person on a different level,” said Ballesteros.

The School of International Letters and Cultures is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU News

(480) 965-9657

Community art exhibit celebrates the world of food

September 15, 2015

Throughout history, food and culture have met in art. We have an incredible connection to food through our senses — we love the taste, texture, colors, smells and even the sounds food creates. Wide-open farmlands, colorful produce and the buzzing of a beehive are all aspects of food and its vital importance to our lives.

Arizona State University has launched its Action, Advocacy, Arts Fall 2015 exhibit, transforming halls and spaces on the Downtown Phoenix campus into hubs of conversation and social and cultural engagement. Alexandra Brunet-Giambalvo ASU environmental biology and ecology student Alexandra Brunet-Giambalvo stands by her painting "California Roll.” Each semester's Action, Advocacy, Arts exhibit invites professional and amateur artists to contribute works that are displayed on the first through third floors of University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by: Adrianna Ovnicek/ASU Download Full Image

Organized in collaboration with ASU’s College of Public Service & Community Solutions, the College of Health Solutions and the School of Letters and Sciences, the exhibit provides community organizations and individuals the opportunity to share valuable visual-art stories with students and community members in the downtown ASU community.

The exhibit, "Feast Your Eyes," includes works of various media — including paintings, collages, pencil drawings and sculpture — that explore the role food plays in our lives.

“I wanted the goal of the exhibition to be the exploration of art and culture surrounding food and to examine the various meanings associated with something that is at the very core of living,” said Carrie Tovar, curator of art in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“This is a theme that every living thing can relate to. … I received paintings that were close studies of fruits or vegetables; I received art works focusing on the foods of other cultures. … I also included thought-provoking images on the lack of food, sustainable farming and the necessity of food banks,” Tovar said.

One of the artists featured is ASU student Alexandra Brunet-Giambalvo.

“My work is inspired by my interests in small details, nature and bright colors,” said Brunet-Giambalvo. One of her featured works is an oil painting titled “Avocado,” painted on a wooden panel.

“I really love the way blues and greens look in the natural world. To open an avocado and see dozens of different greens is fascinating to me,” she said.

Flagstaff-based artist Rhonda Thomas-Urdang submitted two sushi-themed works inspired by the semester’s theme. Her two collages, “Sushi Goddess No. 2” and “Mama-san Nymph No. 4,” explore links between female principle, union, love, fertility and growth.

The artist incorporated original paper dolls from 1940, decorative rice papers, paper umbrellas, lace and other printed elements in the works.

She coined the term “femmages” to describe her work, which she defines as art made from a feminine perspective through a combination of paint and fabric with deliberate references to feminine imagery and icons.

“It's a pleasure to make a difference by participating in this group art exhibition at the ASU Downtown campus — a central hub of significant conversation, social change and cultural engagement,” Thomas-Urdang said.

The exhibit is on display through Dec. 5 on the first, second and third floors of the University Center building on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. The gallery is free to view and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except for holidays.

Guided tours may be arranged by contacting Carrie Tovar at For more on Action, Advocacy, Arts, visit

Written by Adrianna Ovnicek

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions