Dalel Cortés first visited Beeville in 1996 to help set up the first intensive Spanish program for Coastal Bend College, then Bee County College, students at the Mexican Immersion Center in Cuernavaca. She met with BCC President Norman Wallace, Vice President John Brockman, other BCC instructors and staff, and with A.C. Jones High School Spanish teacher Kay Past, who took the first group of students to Cuernavaca, the City of Eternal Springtime, in June 1996.
Cortés recently returned to Beeville to meet with Coastal Bend College officials and instructors and with A.C. Jones and Skidmore-Tynan High School Spanish teachers about plans for future programs at the Instituto Mexicano de Español y Cultura, as Cortés’ Spanish language school is now named. At a time when Mexican language schools are facing a sharp reduction in students because of frequent media reports of drug violence in our neighboring country.
In the intervening 15 years, some 200 students and teachers have participated in the highly successful CBC summer Spanish program; several of them more than once. For many of those students, the trip gave them the opportunity for their first plane rides, as well as introductions to Mexico’s history and culture.
Cortés’ language school grew rapidly through 2008, when she and her staff provided classes, excursions and homestays with friendly, hospitable Mexican families to an average of 350 students a year. In addition to classroom learning, students explored Teotihuacán; the National Museum of Anthropology, Taxco; the beautiful indigenous village of Tepoztlán; and many other interesting sites in the heart of Mexico.
Then, in April 2009, the H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic broke out in Mexico just as several universities were preparing to send students to Cuernavaca for May and June programs. “Several of those programs were canceled, even though there were never any cases of H1N1 in Cuernavaca,” Cortés said.This year, media reports of violence in Mexico scared so many people that IMEC only had 72 students all year (including eight from CBC).
“Yes, there have been a few incidents of violence in Cuernavaca, but no more than in any large city in the U.S., and all have been drug-related problems in the areas of the city where no law-abiding citizens would ever go,” Cortés explained. “No innocent people have been victims of drug violence in Cuernavaca.”
“Most of the violence has been in the Mexican cities along the U.S. border, especially Ciudad Juárez,” she pointed out. “Not going to Cuernavaca because of those incidents is something like not going to San Antonio because of the terrorist attack on New York City.”
However, changing Americans’ minds about the safety of traveling to Mexico is a big challenge, as Cortés, Dr. Bruce Exstrom, CBC Dean of Instructional Services, and Ed Massey, social sciences division chair, discussed during Cortés’ visit to Texas.
“We need to gradually convince people that it’s safe to go to the interior,” Exstrom suggested.
Glynnis Strause, CBC Dean of Institutional Advancement, who also directs the continuing education program, likes the idea of offering enrichment programs for adults in Cuernavaca and other well-known Mexican tourist destinations. She also met with Cortés during her stay in Beeville.
“We could combine cooking classes with visits to places of historical and artistic importance, like San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo.” Plans for this trip are being made for 2011.
But none of these ideas involve sending students to Cuernavaca in the immediate future.
Last summer, Cortés was asked to provide language classes for CBC students using Skype, an internet program which allows people to converse audibly in front of small web cameras. She agreed to set up the classes for an hour or two per week per person.
Her virtual students are varied, including a retired Illinois Supreme Court judge, an architect and office designer in Houston, a California high school Spanish instructor, a social worker in Canada and a teacher of English as a Second Language at a small town in Wisconsin.
Recently, a Spanish teacher at Harvard-Westlake High School in North Hollywood, Calif., asked Cortés if she would be willing to tutor some of his students who were having trouble with the language. She agreed to set up tutorials for three beginning level students and three intermediate ones. Those sessions were evidently helping the pupils so much that, during her stay in Beeville, she signed up six more students from Harvard-Westlake. Her daughter, Vania, and two other IMEC teachers are also assisting with tutoring and the prospect of more students is exciting for all of them, according to Cortés.
Exstrom, Massey and CBC Spanish instructor Dr. Emmanuel Alvarado are also interested in the possibilities of online connections with IMEC. There is presently a need for Spanish tutoring at CBC, and, if funding can be arranged, Cortés may be hired. She also look forward to the possibility of a return to CBC’s intensive summer Spanish program at IMEC.
During her stay in Beeville, Cortés had the opportunity to visit Goliad, where she saw the statue of Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, the Mexican hero of the battle of Cinco de Mayo. Zaragoza was was born in Goliad. She toured the Presidio La Bahía and Mission Espíritu Santo and enjoyed learning more about South Texas’ Spanish and Mexican heritage.
Cortés was a guest of Al and Kay Past. While staying at the Pasts’ ranch home, west of Beeville, she was delighted to see all the stars in the night sky. “We have too much light pollution to ever see a sight like this in Cuernavaca,” she explained.
From Beeville, she traveled to Marble Falls and to Fort Worth and Dallas to meet Spanish instructors and administrators who have also have had ties to IMEC for many years. After the Texas consultations, Cortés flew to Boston for the annual convention of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
When she returns to Mexico, Cortés will have another new challenge: she is president-elect of México, Sí, the national association of Spanish language schools, comprised of some 100 different schools through the republic. One of her first projects will be to contact U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to convince her to remove the “travel warning” from the areas of Mexico, like Cuernavaca, where few incidents of violence have occurred.
Another plan for the association is to establish a “Ruta del español” program by which students can travel from one language school to another in different areas of Mexico, studying the same Spanish curriculum. This will provide students with the experience of learning about different areas of the country.
Spanish students, at all levels, in need of tutoring can contact Dalel Cortés at pregunta@imeccuernavaca or by phone in the U.S. at (239) 454-1687.