The Course

In 2011-12, Arizona State University (ASU) and Columbia University decided to pilot a collaborative language for undergraduate heritage speakers project within two distinct Spanish courses at our respective institutions.  The project focused on the exploration and articulation of the notion of identity within the larger Hispanic American communities in two distinct geographic regions in the US, and provided a collaborative framework for students to share and compare their results with their peers at both institutions.

During the course of the semester, 48 students at each institution performed basic ethnographic research that ranged from observing local communities to reflecting on the culture shared between and among them and engaging in a meta-analysis of the value of these interactions.

Working on commonly defined areas of exploration but working separately on local issues, each class produced a collection of digital materials to be analyzed, edited, combined, curated, and shared via the Web . The students corresponded and shared regularly to compare and contrast, discuss and debate the central issue of Hispanic identity using material they gathered and created.


Students found the activities associated with their exploration of local barrios compelling; students at ASU created a number of reflexiónes, intended to provide outside readers and their colleagues at Columbia with information and their impressions of neighborhoods and cities as varied as Phoenix (a metropolitan area of 1.5 million inhabitants) Goodyear (a suburb of Phoenix with 62,000 inhabitants) and Nogales (a border community of 21,000).  Columbia students explored six distinct neighborhoods in the Greater New York City area (East Harlem, Loisaida, Washington Heights and Inwood, Jackson Heights, East Williamsburgh and Bushwick, Sunset Park) so that they were able to explore a rich cross-section of the culturally diverse Hispanic population of New York City.

Each Columbia student produced a multimedia exploration of at least one of these six barrios exploring both the distinctive historical and cultural of the area through a series of personal and communal histories and other forms of ethnographic research using various forms of cultural analysis ranging from simple observation of local communities to archival and library research of available documents, These information was then shared first with a subset of students in Arizona to which each Columbia student had been assigned and then with the larger group using a common project wiki. This lead to regular interactions between the two groups of students in which they compared, contrasted, discussed and analyzed the material collected in order to identify similarities and differences between the Hispanic communities of NYC and Phoenix, as well as reflect on the experience of being Hispanic in each the US.

Next Steps

In future iterations of the project, Charitos and Ross would like to further enhance the project by adding new partners that would allow us to explore additional facets of the Hispanic experience in the US (Cuban-Americans in Florida, Mexican-Americans in the Midwest, Central Americans in New England, etc.), and better integrating the course to other curricular offerings at the respective institutions.

If your institution is interested in partnering with Columbia or ASU in a future Hispanidades course, please contact us.