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Lies My Spanish Textbooks Tell

By Sandy Shedivy

In the world of Spanish textbooks, class divisions do not exist. In a section on verbs in the Ven Conmigo (Come with Me) textbook, for instance, the illustrations are all decidedly middle-class or upper-class in their representations: riding bicycles on a nice gravel path; casually walking a group of dogs, hanging out with friends at a seaside resort.

The images imply that the verbs students are studying are activities that all Latin Americans enjoy. By not naming a country, an assumption of "Latin Americanness" is suggested, as if these activities are typical of the entire Spanish-speaking world. The books collapse Latin America into one monolithic middle-class culture, devoid of individual histories, collective and culture- specific experiences, and indigenous pasts.

Secondly, the books' illustrations give students the impression that all the children in Spanish-speaking countries have money for bicycles, for dining with their friends in restaurants, and have modern kitchens in which to prepare the family dinner. The middle-class portrayals serve to deny that anything is amiss in what is, in reality, a world of great disparity. Instead, there is a falsely presented worldview that Latin Americans enjoy a pleasant lifestyle similar to that of the middle class in the United States.

They Throw and Catch!

Just as the texts concentrate on a middle- and upper-class perspective, they also consistently over-represent Latin Americans as famous sports or entertainment figures. All of the texts I examined featured Sammy Sosa and other baseball players as representative of Latin American culture. No doubt, baseball is popular in Latin America. But its over-representation distorts students' impression of life there.

The texts portray a Spanish-speaking world that loves baseball while concealing the reality of desperately poor children willing to quit school for a chance at the Major Leagues. In the Somos Así (We Are Like This) textbook, for example, the caption accompanying one baseball photo highlights the Dominican Republic's training academy for Major League Baseball players. (Twenty-six percent of all players in the Major Leagues come from Latin America and one out of seven is from the Dominican Republic.) There is no discussion of how Major League Baseball exploits the poor of Latin America. For example, 60 percent of Dominicans live below the poverty line and young Dominican athletes typically play without shoes, using cut-out milk cartons for gloves, rolled-up cloth for balls, and sticks and branches for bats. Often, kids quit school at 10, 11, or 12 to play ball at the "baseball academies." If a Major League club does offer a contract, it's typically 5 to 10 percent of the signing bonuses offered to U.S. players. Sammy Sosa himself received a signing bonus of only $3,500.

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