South Carolina’s culture is viewed, sometimes quite literally, in black and white. That is, white culture is one facet and black history and tradition, another. While this might have largely been the case for decades, a burgeoning Hispanic population is changing the face of the Carolinas. With nearly 150,000 Spanish-speakers in the Palmetto State, these individuals claim ancestry from many Latin American countries. Consequently, the significance of Hispanic culture in our state can no longer be overlooked. To expose students and the community to the Hispanic world, Dr. Graciela Tissera from the languages department has spearheaded a Creative Inquiry project that examines Hispanic culture and raises global awareness through research and outreach.

This multi-faceted project has been around since 2007, and one of its goals is to increase global awareness at Clemson. Using media as a tool, students can study the political and social issues that are pertinent to the Hispanic world. In some cases, Spanish-language novels are analyzed for themes that arise; other times, students compare films concerning real world events, such as poverty versus wealth in the films Secuestro Express and Plata quemada. Several students on her team presented research this year at a conference for the Southwest Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their research involves a comparative analysis of Latin American films dealing with diverse issues such as gender identity and survival during civil wars.

Another goal of the Creative Inquiry team is to actually contribute to the education of children in a local Hispanic community. Tissera’s undergraduates volunteer at Cafe Cultura, a weekly program in Simpsonville, South Carolina, that facilitates tutoring and enrichment activities for Spanish-speaking children. Because many of the parents are not fluent in English, the team hopes to help the children’s communication, reading, and math skills through learning activities and fun interactions. One team member, Nicole Cooper, states that “these parents get frustrated because they cannot help their kids with English-language homework; we contribute in this way.” Cafe Cultura also serves as a cultural hub, where families come to celebrate their Latin American heritage with food and music.

In the future, Dr. Tissera hopes to broaden her students’ experience with Hispanic culture by creating a Spring Break study-abroad excursion to Latin American countries such as the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica. There, students can explore in-depth a topic of interest to them, such as infectious disease or teen pregnancy.

Dr. Tissera believes that undergraduate research in areas of global significance is imperative to modern college education. When students become mindful of Hispanic issues that go beyond the United States, they are able to spread their knowledge to others and promote global awareness. Tissera hopes that her Creative Inquiry team will contribute to Clemson’s goal of becoming a Top 20 university.