“What are you studying?” There is nothing inherently wrong with this line of questioning; however, the problem occurs when I answer. I usually begin with, “I am pursuing my Doctorate in Hispanic Studies.” The general response is, “Oh, you mean Spanish,” spoken with stress on the word “Spanish.” It boggles my mind as to the academic limitations some people place on Hispanic Studies. It is time to shed some light on the matter.
Names such as Captain James Cook and Captain George Vancouver are well known. On the other hand, have you discerned names in Victoria such as Quadra, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or Cordova Bay? Before the British, there were the Spanish. According to the B.C. Archives, “In 1774 a group of Haida people canoeing near Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) discovered Juan Perez and his ship the Santiago. This event is known as ‘first contact.’” Ultimately, the British set up colonies and established British Columbia. Nonetheless, we should remember the Spanish explorers who also explored the Pacific Coast.
You may be thinking, alright, but that was over 300 years ago. Fair enough. However, what about movies and music? Films disseminate information, express creativity, and entertain the masses. There are numerous people of Spanish/Hispanic origin in the film industry whose works are admired worldwide. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar has produced many critically acclaimed films, including All About My Mother (1999); Mexican director and producer Guillermo del Toro made his mark with Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), which received several prestigious awards; and actors such as Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Gael García Bernal, and Diego Luna have all received international acclaim. In addition, recording artists such as Shakira, Juanes, Marc Anthony, and Enrique Iglesias have all entered the mainstream. Dance terms such as salsa, flamenco, tango, and merengue are also familiar to most people.
It is clear that the Spanish/Hispanic culture permeates many aspects of our Western popular culture. Yet, why study Hispanic Studies?
Over 400 million people in the world speak Spanish as their first language. It is also the fifth most widely spoken foreign language in Canada. Understanding the history, culture, art, language, and literature of Spain and Latin America is imperative in obtaining a thorough understanding of this significant demographic. Whether I choose to use this knowledge to obtain a career in international business, education, translation, or live in one of the 20 countries in the world where Spanish is the official language, I am investing my future in this field because I believe it will only continue to increase in importance on the global scene.
Globalization and social media have changed everything. Last year, a group of Saudi Arabian students showed me a clip on YouTube consisting of Saudi men, wearing Western-style clothes, lip-synching the international hit “Gangnam Style” by Korean singer PSY. At the time, I thought to myself, “Our world truly is getting smaller.” Spain and Latin America’s presence will continue to grow on the international stage, and I will have the knowledge to respect, and the tools to understand, this extraordinary part of our world. Hispanic Studies is a discipline that deserves more recognition and should no longer be designated as merely “Spanish.”