Is Ignorance Bliss?

| July 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

I sometimes blame myself for only knowing one language. The education system in the United States should also take some responsibility, but I never felt a push to reach out and learn something new from my parents or peers. I first encountered another language besides English in seventh grade. My school offered only French, German, and Spanish, and the majority of students did not like how the three languages were awkwardly shuffled throughout the trimester schedule. We had the freedom to pick one of the languages taught by young teachers fresh from university. These inexperienced teachers taught me the importance of grammar, however, it was not until high school that I learned about the culture behind the language I practiced.

The majority of my high school Spanish teachers had been to Spain and spoke with a Spanish accent. Unlike other schools, we used “vosotros” and other words unfamiliar to my friends in other school districts. Along with the vocabulary, my classes began to explore the people and history of Spain. I read about the Spanish conquest in Latin America, La Guerra Civil, and the cruel reign of the military dictator Francisco Franco. Although I admired the rich history of Spain, I realized that we did not study the many other Spanish-speaking countries. When I began taking Spanish in college, I encountered a whole new way of speaking and learning. I was ignorant before and did not give much thought to the poor, underdeveloped Latin American countries. People in my small, privileged suburb always reminded me that those countries “are dangerous and not worth helping.”

The only experiences with native Spanish speakers was at my customer service job in high school and my exchange trip to Spain. Stigma surrounds people who speak Spanish, and people tend to assume and generalize. I felt embarrassed to practice outside of school, even in college when I could hypothetically seek out Spanish-speaking students. Then an international student from Venezuela happened to be in one of my Core Curriculum classes. The open, discussion-based seminar allowed students to share personal anecdotes. Although Anto did not often speak in class, I remember one time she shared a story about Venezuela which caught my interest. After class I decided to be brave and introduce myself. We carried on a two- or three-week conversation about Latin American culture, discussing topics in my Spanish class and events she had experienced. Little did I know my curiosity earned me a close companion.

As students of the Core Curriculum, we had other classes together for the next couple semesters. I loved learning more about her personal experiences and what she thought of Americans and the college. We saw each other even more after she began working in the same office as me and sometimes our shifts coincided. I did not forget the reputation of Latin American countries in my home town, but I hoped my new friend could offer knowledge to break my ignorance. I began reading articles on Venezuela and the starvation crisis, the lack of hospitals, and the corrupt distribution of wealth. On April 6, 2017, I was preparing to take a physics exam when Anto walked in with terrible news. A few days earlier the Supreme Court had made an unconstitutional ruling eliminating the legislative branch and giving all control to the executive power, Nicolas Maduro. Not only was her country in uproar, but she had to forget about it for two hours and take a physics exam. Not everyone can endure the strenuous events she had to face in just a couple days and I hoped it would get better.

The rest of the semester worsened. College itself is difficult, however, every week Anto’s friends and family in Venezuela went into the streets and protested the corruption. They were met with power hoses, tear gas, and rubber bullets. By the end of the semester, there were around 40 deaths and at least 200 injuries. Unfortunately, hospitals were in no state to treat patients given the lack of funding and the shortage of supplies. These protests have continued for almost three months with limited global response. Whenever I try to tell a friend about the horror in Venezuela, I receive the same response I did years ago in my little town. I would say there is a lack of sympathy in the world, but then catch myself and realize that the sympathy is selective.

The lack of education and exploration of new cultures in America is a serious dilemma. In suburbs such as my own, it is common to painfully study the grammar and vocabulary of a language besides English until the school requirement is met. Most students ignore the culture surrounding the language, which is the central point of taking the time to learn it. My friend Anto opened my eyes and my heart to a wonderful culture. Since I have taken the time to research and study Venezuela, I understand the help it needs and what students like myself are capable of doing–beginning with raising awareness. The veil of ignorance must be shed to make a positive difference in the world.

Kassandra Round is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in psychology with a minor in Spanish. She has always had a passion for exploring different cultures and hopes to study abroad in Greece and Spain. 

 

Featured photo credit Kassandra Round

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