Sunday, April 7, 2013

Crisis, a current topic for the Spanish class

It is always important in a bilingual program to keep track of the cultural and social changes in countries where the target language, Spanish, is spoken. For example, at Western Canada High School in Calgary, they are doing research and studying the situation in Venezuela just after Chavez's death. Students have seen a documentary on the political, social and cultural situation in Venezuela and are reading two newspaper articles about what the future development of the country will be like. Then they are asked to write their views on the issue and how the situation in Venezuela can affect all of us globally.

In the case of Spain, unfortunately, the main conversation topic nowadays is the economical crisis. It seems that we will feel the consequences for many years to come. A possible topic of study of research could be how it is affecting people's lives.

We can say that after the Second World War every generation in Europe, Spain included, had a better standard of living than the previous one. Up to now. New generations in Europe face a bleak present and even darker future. The crisis is generally spread in Europe but in the case of Spain there are two features that make it even deeper:
  • Political corruption and the lack of confidence of Spanish people in most political institutions
  • The fact that a significant number of the university graduates in Spain have to leave the country to find a job related to their capacity and studies
We are able to gain access to almost an endless and updated supply of articles, TV programs almost every day that deal with this topic. However, I would like to use works of art, such as short films or graphic novels to help students "humanize"and gain insight of the situation. Naturally, artists, film directors and writers have been reflecting on the topic since around 2008. There are plenty of material that we can use. I wanted to focus on works that portray how the crisis is personally affecting people, their dreams and their lives. There are not so many examples showing the people directly affected by the crisis, the real protagonists.

My first choice is a very short film, Clarividencia by Luis María Ferrández. A divorced father is trying to explain to his daughter why Santa Claus is not bringing her any presents to his place this year . There are many other children who need them too and everyone needs to collaborate and share. She will get presents at her mother's. The reality is quite different as we find out at the end of the short film. The short film shows in a simple but powerful way the situation lots of families are going through. Tender, sad and with an open ending.

The second work of art is the graphic novel Andando by Torres, Carreres & Riego. Andando is the story of three different people, Andrés, Sergi and Claudia living in Hospitalet, Catalonia. They come from different social classes, have different jobs but the three of them are directly affected by the crisis that means, among many other things, that they lose their jobs.

Andrés is 60 and is unemployed for the first time in life. Pressed by the circumstances, he is made to reach an unfair agreement with his former employee. He feels a bit worthless because of his unemployment so he tries to find something to fill up his time. To make things worse, he has to financially support his daughter´s family, like so many families in Spain.

Sergi is an electrician running his own small company. Things go from bad to worse and eventually he decides to get rid of it and start a new career from scratch. He is always supported by his partner, a teacher in a school who also has her share with the crisis every day: lack of resources, neglected children and so on.

Claudia, the third character, is a senior associate in a prestigious law firm. It seems that she is so far away from the crisis until she gets pregnant and her employers, wanting to be rid of her began emotionally abusing her until she decided to quit her job and emigrate to Norway. It is "cheaper" for the company not to pay her maternal leave and to let her go. Still the old prejudices against women are the norm in some Spanish companies.

Andando shows in a  realistic way how crisis affects three totally different people. It deals with lots of topics but always focusing on how the crisis is affecting people directly. A very good choice for the higher levels.