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Colby comics tell immigration tales

On Thursday, guest speaker Dr. Sandra Bernal Heredia spoke about Spanish heritage speakers and the importance of comics as a way to deal with trauma. 

Heredia is an assistant professor of Spanish at Colby College. In 2020, she created the Spanish heritage track. 

Spanish heritage students are those who had parents, grandparents or guardians who immigrated from Latin America. They often know Spanish in an informal, private setting, but without the formal teaching that second language students have.

The students from Heredia’s class created comics of their family’s immigration stories and these were showcased around the school. They were put into a 25-page comic book for others to see. Now, the comics have been inspiring to other Spanish teachers and students. 

The comics are being exhibited on the second floor of Williams Hall until the 24th. The comic book is available online in English.

Heritage students can struggle more than other students, as they don’t have the formal understanding of their heritage language. Programs helping second-language students and first-generation students can help get these learners into good colleges, however this does not change their need for assistance.

“These programs connect low-income students with colleges,” Heredia said. “Unfortunately, what usually happens is they get these students to the university, they get them to the door, and then they forget about them.”

In creating the Spanish heritage track, Heredia hopes to give specific help to students and help them have a successful college career.

“We wanted to encourage our students to continue using their heritage language,” Heredia said.  

The assignment she gave her students was to interview their family and create a comic based on their immigration story. In creating the comic, students are able to learn about their family, think about the struggles of immigration and learn more about grammar within Spanish.

“The heritage students get excited to know grammar. They’re like finally, I know where to put that accent,” Heredia said.

In addition to being a second language, heritage student’s Spanish tends to be highly regional and hold a lot of variety. 

“By building these varieties, it builds a sense of familial pride,” Heredia said.“Heritage speakers might speak Spanish at home, but English quickly becomes the first language.” 

According to Heredia, comics are a useful tool for learning how to format sentences to tell a story and fit into short text bubbles. They need to know the grammar to tell a story and they need to tell it effectively and in a short period of time. 

Another benefit of comics is their ability to help recognize and deal with trauma.

“Comics have been used to depict trauma throughout time, a famous example being Maus,” Heredia said. “It was something very criticized at the time.”

According to Heredia, the generational trauma of immigration can be depicted in comics which allow students to process it. The style of comics allows for gaps in time, especially for hard to think about scenes.

“You see the build up of a story and then the resolution, but you might not see the actual moment,” Heredia said.

As well as skipping over scenes that are too hard to depict, comics also give a useful tool for bridging the students with moments from the past.

“The comic structure can bring these moments that may not be in the same time and connect them side by side,” Heredia said. “Comics allow the past and present to exist together.”  

The decision to use comics also helps new readers see the stories of immigration and understand the struggles of others.

“It’s knowing these stories that takes us to respecting and understanding,” Heredia said, “The comics have been a colorful way to advertise and educate.”

By having her students showcase their work to the school and outwards, Heredia has been able to help inform others about the struggles of immigration, as well as build awareness of heritage students.


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