When Melany Vergara applied to the Foreign Languages Program (English and French) at the Universidad del Atlántico in her hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, she had no idea the path she was choosing would lead her back to Spanish.

During the fourth year of her Licenciatura studies in Barranquilla, she took advantage of an opportunity to spend two months in Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa in Mexico, teaching English in an orphanage. But shortly after her arrival, once she realized the orphans were mostly illiterate in their mother tongue, Melany switched to Spanish, tutoring, mentoring, and helping the children to complete their school projects.

The sensitivity to injustice that Melany’s own experience growing up in a marginalized neighborhood in Barranquilla had instilled in her was profoundly deepened and broadened by her work with the children in the orphanage in Culiacán. The challenging conditions those children had endured — domestic abuse, drug-related violence, homelessness — inspired her decision to pursue an advanced degree at the University of Florida and focus her study and research on the representation of children surviving in violent environments in Colombian, Brazilian, and Mexican literature and film.

Melany believes that by analyzing such material and sharing her findings, she can increase awareness of the ongoing violation of children’s human rights. She hopes that her research might help everyone understand the complex circumstances involved in the portrayal of children, as both victims and victimizers, in Latin American literature and film.

Imanol Suárez-PalmaImanol Suárez-Palma (Assistant Professor, Hispanic Linguistics) is from Asturias, Spain. He obtained his PhD in Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Arizona (May 2019), where he also minored in Linguistics and in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching from the SLAT interdisciplinary program. His dissertation, “Datives Stuck in the Middle,” explores the interaction between middle-passive constructions and dative arguments in Spanish and other closely-related languages such as Asturian or Catalan.

In addition to formal linguistics, Imanol is interested in language acquisition, bilingualism and additional language instruction. His graduate education also comprises MA degrees in Hispanic Studies (University of Kent, UK) and in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language (Universidad de Oviedo, Spain). When not working on “syntacticky” stuff, he loves exploring new restaurants and happy-hour spots, visiting second-hand book and record stores, cooking, and spending time looking at alligators!

Paola UparelaPaola Uparela (Assistant Professor, Hispanic Literature) specializes in Colonial and Transatlantic Latin American cultural studies, gender, sexuality, and queer studies, visual culture, race, and biopolitics. She holds a PhD in Spanish (2019) and an MA in Latin American and Iberian Studies (2015) from the University of Notre Dame, as well as a BA in Literature from Universidad de Los Andes (Colombia, 2010).

Paola’s current research focuses on the colonial emergence of gyneco-scopic regimes and on the material and symbolic violence that made the female genitalia ultra-visible and intelligible. Paola has received numerous teaching and research awards, such as the 2018 Victoria Urbano Essay Award, the Feministas Unidas Essay Prize, and the fellowship Feminisms and Science: Women in STEM. Paola’s articles appear in H-ART, Hispanic Issues, A contracorriente, Lingüística y Literatura, among other academic journals. When Paola is not working, she does performing arts and loves to dance.

Quinn HansenQuinn Hansen (Lecturer, Portuguese Language and Culture) was raised in Texas, where he earned a BA in Spanish and Portuguese Language and Literature from the University of Texas at Austin.

Following that, he moved to Portugal to pursue an MA in Linguistics from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. After completion of his MA, Quinn moved to Aleppo, Syria, to teach first grade at an international school. Upon returning to the United States, he completed a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Florida under the direction of Dr. Eric Potsdam.

Although his past research focused on syntactic issues related to Brazilian Portuguese, Quinn now dedicates his time to focusing on the many different aspects of Luso-Brazilian culture including language use, music, political systems, and sports. Quinn enjoys helping students fall in love with the Luso-Brazilian world and its many cultural expressions, and is looking forward to helping to grow our Portuguese offerings.

Lorena FerrandoLorena Albert Ferrando (Lecturer, Spanish Language and Culture) holds a BA in Spanish Philology (Universidad de Zaragoza, 2002) and masters degrees in Languages and Literature and Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language (The Graduate Center, CUNY, 2005; International University Menéndez Pelayo, 2013; Universidad de Zaragoza, 2017).

She is currently finishing her PhD dissertation, which deals with the linguistic and ideological approach of Spanish language teaching at the beginning of the twentieth century with regards to the articulation of the Spanish nation and the development of its international relationships in America.

She has taught Spanish language and culture at both US and European institutions (such as Princeton University, NYU, International University Menéndez Pelayo, and the University of St Andrews), and has worked as a teacher of Spanish as a second language with non-scholarized immigrants and refugees in Spain. When Lorena is not working, she is at the movies, at a concert, or just out and about exploring the town with her bike — even though she knows she should be writing!

Lawyer Alexis Lambert received the Outstanding Young Alumni (OYA) Award from the UF Alumni Association earlier this year

Alexis LambertNineteen years after graduation, people still ask me why I chose Spanish as my major. It certainly wasn’t my original plan; having scored a 5 on the AP Spanish exam, I had already satisfied UF’s foreign language requirement. But I decided to take one class in the department at UF to see what it was like. We never knew what was coming in Professor Pharies’ class, but it was always interesting and fun. I realized that majoring in Spanish would give me all the advantages of a small, liberal arts college experience without having to sacrifice the perks of a big school.

I read the Quijote with Professor Armon, learned about modern Peninsular literature with Professor Nichols, and studied Latin American film and culture with Professor Avellaneda. It was a great mix of art, culture, history, and politics.

During my second year of law school, we studied a case that hinged on the meaning of the verb deber.  In this case, the defendant moved to suppress statements he made after he was arrested. He had said “debo yo llamar a mi abogado” to the police officer. With only a transcript and no audio, the court had to weigh whether the defendant was asking if he should call his lawyer or saying that he must call his lawyer.

Throughout my career, Spanish has come in handy. Whether it was translating press releases or interpreting in constituent meetings, being bilingual has made me more employable in a competitive job market. I’ve also used my language skills in volunteer work. Every summer, I serve as a translator to a team of American medical professionals who provide free surgical care to patients in Antigua, Guatemala. This year, I had to tell a 36 year old patient he had the same cancer that I did. I told him he could cry for one day but then had to go to war; I was beating the disease, and he could, too. He came back the next day with labs and images indicating the best of a bad situation: only one cancer, in only one place. With surgery and radiation, he would be changed, but not destroyed — just like me.

My education at UF refined a skill that has allowed me to meet incredible people, see beautiful places, and experience life way beyond my suburban South Florida upbringing. I’m forever grateful.

To learn more about the Outstanding Young Alumni (OYA) Award, click here

Libby Ginway and Theresa Williamson after her talk “Community Resistance in Post-Olympic Rio de Janeiro” Nov. 12, 2019

Professor Libby Ginway and then-graduate-student Andréa Ferreira first piloted a class on favelas — Brazil’s low-income communities — as the theme of the culture course in the six-week study abroad program in Rio de Janeiro during Summer B 2010.  Rio was a logical setting for the class, since favelas are visible near the airport and throughout the hills surrounding the city, and students regularly expressed curiosity about these communities. Local specialists in anthropology, environmental history, music, religion, and photography were invited to class to present to the students that summer.

The course was a success, and continued in future summers. It was especially meaningful during the summers of 2014 and 2016, when both the World Cup and the Olympics were hosted in Brazil. In Rio, students saw firsthand the impact of the games through the evictions from favelas and the militarization of the police as incursions were made into these communities in the name of security.

In Fall 2016, Dr. Ginway taught a version of the course in English, cross-listing it with Latin American Studies. She introduced students to a wide range of readings, from urban studies and anthropology to history, crime and governance, in order to provide a solid background and historical perspective, and to avoid the sensationalized violence of films such as City of God (2002). She then used fiction, film, and studies on tourism to examine issues surrounding the “gaze” and issues of power and spectacle. Finally, they examined daily life in music, dance, and visual arts — especially graffiti and photography—as a means of expression, therapy, and activism. For the final course project, each student presented a final paper on favelas from his or her disciplinary interest: the topics included health and educational systems, Brazilian soap operas, film and activism through art, issues of crime and justice and gated communities, families and youth, and the role of NGOs (non-governmental organizations). According to Dr. Ginway, this was by far the most satisfying part of the class, as students proved they had assimilated complex issues that affect the social reality of these communities and their role in Brazilian society.

Dr. Ginway is teaching the course again in Fall 2019 and has invited Rio community activist Theresa Williamson, who regularly tours U.S. campuses, to her class later this semester.

View Previous Editions of the Spanish and Portuguese Studies Newsletter