Fall 2011 News News: Hispanic Studies

Teaching palette refreshed with cultural insights

by Leslie McCullough | October 17, 2011

Kranbuehl Travel Award

Hispanic Studies Instructor Patricia Toney

In late 2009, Chemistry Professor David Kranbuehl established a charitable remainder trust to support travel for Modern Language’s continuing faculty who teach introductory language courses.

“I believe in the importance of international studies, and I wanted to reward the people who teach language courses,” says Kranbuehl who has attended French and Spanish classes at the College to prepare for overseas teaching opportunities. “I think the language courses taught here are fantastic. Modern Languages is a first-class department, and I’m a great admirer of how they’ve grown over my time here.”

Inaugural Travel Awards:
Patricia Toney, Hispanic Studies; Peru
Qian Su and Liping Liu, Chinese Studies; Chinese Teachers Association Conference in Denver

A new kind of social revolution is sweeping through Peru, changing the hearts, minds, and palettes of people across the country. This cultural shift is driven by a passion for a return to the nation’s culinary roots, and Hispanic Studies long-time instructor Patricia Toney calls the change “explosive.”

Doña Mary, serving ceviche in a popular market, is one of the many who went from food stand owner to successful entrepreneur.

“It’s something I never thought I’d live to see,” says Toney. “In a very classist culture, many native foods that used to be deemed as ‘only what an indigenous would eat’ are now skyrocketing in pop culture popularity. There is an explosion of passion for homegrown food and ingredients as well as traditional recipes that can date back to the Inca times.”

Toney was intrigued by this phenomenon and wanted to learn more. Thanks to the newly established Kranbuehl Travel Award (see box), Toney spent two weeks this summer traveling through Peru’s coastal region investigating and documenting how this new fusion cuisine is bringing about social and economic changes.

In speaking with farmers, fishermen, restaurant owners, and others, Toney found that the benefits of this food movement reach beyond the farm field and kitchen. A national pride has formed around celebrating Peruvian culture and traditions.

“One of the most emotional moments I had was seeing how lives have changed,” says Toney. “It’s not just about the food; it’s a whole social change that has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of Peruvian people. As regional foods around the country become more popular, the people who grow and create the foods benefit. We’re not talking about grand bistros; these are humble kitchens and farmers who have foods that no one cared about before and are now in huge demand.”

Anticucho, one of the hundreds of newly popular authentic Peruvian dishes.

One of the popular renewed dishes is ceviche made with fish, special Peruvian lemons, hot peppers, onions, and cilantro and served with sweet potatoes and yuca. Another favorite is anticucho, which is traditionally made with cow’s heart marinated in vinegar and spices, then cooked on a

skewer over an open fire. This dish is also now made with chicken, fish, and beef.

“Roadside vendors used to be unpopular with certain segments of society,” says Toney. “Now many venders have long lines of people anxious to enjoy a regional specialty. Many people have gone from poor to small entrepreneurs, and their quality of life has changed forever.”

Interest in Peruvian cuisine is also spreading internationally. Acclaimed, upscale Peruvian restaurants are opening in major cities across the United States and around the world. This kind of attention and focus on Peruvian foods, in turn, is further driving the sense of national pride.

“Peruvian people are coming together in unprecedented ways,” says Toney. “Indigenous farmers are now guests of honor at VIP parties. Culinary school is now available to poor families. Native people with little education have become culinary celebrities. This could never have happened years ago. A new culture is forming, and it is very exciting.”

Bringing Her Insight into the Classroom

Toney with Victoriano López, an indigenous farmer who now runs La Mar, a Peruvian restaurant in Manhattan.

As a native Peruvian, Toney moved to the United States as a young girl and has personal experience negotiating cultural shifts. As a Spanish-language professor, she feels that building cultural understanding is an important part of learning a new language.

“Of course learning verb conjugations and vocabulary words is an important part of the introductory language classes I teach,” says Toney. “But students must also learn about the culture. I try to provide a cultural note at every opportunity on the many regional foods, clothes, expressions, and so much more.”

She finds that many students aren’t aware that there are so many regional and cultural differences throughout Latin America. Assumptions are often made, such as that all Spanish speakers eat certain foods like tacos. By giving students insight into specific traditions, she helps them gain a deeper appreciation and understanding for what they are learning.

“I lived the [Peruvian] culture,” says Toney, “I didn’t just read about it in a book. I love being able to share my personal knowledge with my students, and I believe they benefit greatly from my first-hand experience.”

And now, thanks to her recent research trip, she can bring fresh, new insights to her classroom teaching.