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Health and Society in the Hispanic World (SPAN 4343). Spring 2016.

Nine students successfully completed service learning internships at different clinical sites serving the Hispanic community in Houston this semester. They developed educational projects that provided critical information to empower Latinos to make better decisions about their health. Some of the students will expand their projects over the summer, one will begin medical school in the fall, two will participate in global health programs in Haiti and Nicaragua, and another will continue in a paid internship to develop a program on Centering Pregnancy before applying to medical school next year.

Spanish Major Manendra Sharma recipient of Summer Undergraduate Fellowship

Manendra Sharma

Manendra Sharma is a Spanish major and one of the 63 participants this year selected for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program which was open to UH undergraduates from all colleges and disciplines. SURF provides students with a concentrated, full-time research experience under the mentorship of faculty members. Sharma received a $3500 stipend to conduct a cross-cultural and comparative research on the intricate meanings and interpretations of idioms and proverbs in Houston and Cádiz, Spain. Sharma will be working under the mentorship of Dr. Guillermo de los Reyes. At the end of the program, the SURF recipients presented research posters on their projects at UH’s annual Undergraduate Research Day on October 10th, 2013 which was open to all interested visitors.

Students from Spanish for the Health Professions participated as volunteer translators and health facilitators at the American Diabetes Association Health Fair

Beyond Quick! Easy! Spanish to Intercultural Communicative Competence

Professor, María Pérez with students, Anma, Johny, Eric and Safa, at the end of a gratifying working day
Professor, María Pérez with students, Anma, Johny, Eric and Safa,
at the end of a gratifying working day

The students from Spanish 3343 -Spanish for the Health Professions- participated as volunteer translators and health facilitators at the American Diabetes Association Health Fair on October 12 at Mason Park, in the Magnolia/East end area near UH. They collaborated with other UH students from the Colleges of Optometry and Pharmacy by providing crucial health information to the mostly Spanish speaking fair attendees. Spanish for the Health Professions is new course for our department, focusing not only in the acquisition of medical terminology and correct grammar in Spanish, but also in developing the cultural understanding to effectively communicate with the Hispanic community. This course is part of a new track of Spanish courses for the professions, which aim to offer linguistic and cross-cultural support to the professional development of students of other disciplines such as business, health and translation services. These courses are based on experiential learning, and students interact with working professionals throughout the semester. By offering these courses our department responds to the increasing demand for Spanish in these fields, matching the demographic growth of this segment of the population in the United States. Effective communication in Spanish can be a useful tool to close the gap in health disparities, and the UH students participation in this fair certainly proved this point.

Sarahí helps a patient completing a cholesterol exam form
Sarahí helps a patient completing a cholesterol
exam form

Here is the testimony of Pascal Vo, one of the students who had the opportunity to share this experience.

Health Fair

By Pascal Vo, SPAN 3343

Growing up in a country where distinct differences between social groups are apparent at the level of economy and healthcare, I later came to the United States with a heavy burden from what I had experienced for years living in Vietnam, and a hope to change the healthcare system in my home country as well as everywhere I go. Drawing on those personal experiences, I am a believer of helping those that do not have access to health care or cannot afford it. By participating in the Feria de Salud organized by the American Diabetes Association on October the 12th, 2013, I was able to witness the effects of Hispanic population that has not been receiving adequate healthcare and necessary information about their health conditions. The majority of patients that attended the fair were unable to pay for health insurance, and as a result, they have not been able to find a doctor to receive regular medical checks. Many of the patients suffered from high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes, and some people have not even received routine blood tests in years. Nevertheless, what was more surprising was that they were unaware of their immediate circumstances, and the majority did not have an appropriate knowledge about the dangers of having these types of diseases. Being a part of the Feria de Salud opened my eyes to the grave risks involved to the lives of those who are not provided with sufficient and reasonably priced health care. This valuable experience has led me to deem that it is a responsibility for everyone associated with the health care field to extend quality health care to those who need it, regardless of background, financial status, and so on. Healthcare, after all, is an essential human right. As aspiring medical professionals, my classmates and I strongly aim to provide satisfactory health care to people and groups that suffer from the inability to access quality medical care, whether in their home countries or as minority populations living abroad. We also wish to establish facilities for these types of communities in the future so that every population in the United States is able to live a healthful and quality life. Read more

On a personal note, I would like to dedicate a sincere thank you to my professor, Dra. Maria Perez, for giving my classmates and me a unique and wonderful opportunity to work with the Hispanic population in an environment related to our professional interest. All of the lectures that we have studied contained many useful vocabulary lists and ideal samples of conversation that reflected in many situations that I encountered while volunteering at the health fair. The studies of the “hoja clínica” and of different ways to express advice and recommendations are extremely significant in term of practical use and communication with patients in the real world. In addition, I would like to point out that the method of Kleinman takes a very important part in my understanding of Hispanic culture as well as interactions between diverse social groups. Every individual and every community have their own perspectives and receptive abilities about healthcare, and this could be justifiable and became clearer at this Feria de Salud. Therefore, it is necessary for all medical professionals to study this type of ideology and conformity in order to gain further trust and to develop a more intimate relationship with their patients.

Hispanic Studies in the news

English-to-Spanish Translation Professional Certificate


On April 12 the English-to-Spanish Translation Professional Certificate was launched with a talk by Dr. Manuel Ramiro-Valderrama (University of Soria, Spain). Dr. Ramiro-Valderrama talked about the current challenges faced by translators, and also about translation theory. The attendees asked for his power point presentation, and he was kind enough to leave us a copy for everyone interested in Translation Studies. (Click here to view .pdf version)

The certificate will open on September 28, and the registration process has already begun. For more information about this program, visit:

Anadeli Bencomo awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant

Anadeli Bencomo

Hispanic Studies Dept. Chair will teach and study narco-violence in Mexico (See full press release here)

Narco-violence is a succinct term for the kidnappings, assassinations, dismemberments, mass murders and other extreme violence used by illegal drug cartels to assert their power and domination over local and national governments and law enforcement agencies.

How these acts of terrorism committed by organized-crime syndicates are communicated to the people living in cartel-controlled urban communities in Mexico is the subject of Anadeli Bencomo’s research.

Dr. Bencomo, chair of the Hispanic Studies Department, has been awarded a Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant to study and teach in Guadalajara, Mexico. Read more

“I will be studying journalistic and literary writings depicting the impact of narco-violence in urban communities,” she said. “By spending several months in the city of Guadalajara I will be able to witness the impact of narco-violence in the everyday life of one of the most important cities in Mexico.”

Her research has found that Mexico is portrayed by national and international journalists as a country devastated by drug trafficking, organized crime and corruption of elected and law enforcement officials. Guadalajara has been one of the epicenters on narco-violence since the late 1980s.

Brutal attacks against journalists shape the public perception of the cartels just as much as the news reports published and broadcast by journalists.

“There are those texts which denounce this violence as the result of a historically corrupt Mexican State where the official institutions are main culprits,” Dr. Bencomo said. But there are also written “representations that construct a legendary version of the drug lords with their immense fortunes and power.”

Digging through the various journalistic and literary writings published in the Mexican Chronicle and other primary news sources will allow Bencomo to separate urban legend from fact.

Bencomo said the Fulbright award gives her the crucial advantage of being able to “interview the authors of the texts, to record their own perspectives on their work, their goals, their limitations, and personal risks while engaging in narrating the stories of narco-violence.”

The core Fulbright Scholar Program sends 800 U.S. faculty and professionals abroad each year. Grantees lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.

Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs, university presidents, journalists, artists, professors and teachers. They have been awarded 43 Nobel Prizes. Since its inception more than 60 years ago, approximately 300,000 Fulbrighters have participated in the Program.

National Parks Service commissions book by Dr. Nicolás Kanellos and other Latino scholars

Preserving U.S. Latino culture -- one text, one historic site at a time

UH Moment discusses the Spanish Heritage Exam

Houston Public Radio just interviewed two Marta Fairclough and Flavia Belpoliti about the innovative exam that they developed. Listen to the interview here

UH Moment: "Speaking Spanish," Oct. 3, 2012 by Marisa Ramirez

In Spanish classes, a placement test should be able to indicate whether a student is a 'second language' speaker (more basic) or if he is a more advanced 'heritage' speaker.  Success hinges on being placed in the right class. Read more

"When I started here, there was a very simple one and a half page exam," said Marta Fairclough, associate professor and director of the UH Spanish Heritage Education.  "If it's just a multiple choice test, it really doesn't measure their spelling, their grammatical knowledge, how advanced they might be, and a lot of other aspects that need to be tested."  

Fairclough says few students were taking the placement test, denying themselves the opportunity to learn at the proper level, and the opportunity to test out of several more basic classes.

She and colleague Flavia Belpoliti went to work researching other like-placement tests and textbooks nationwide.

"I looked at things that were working with tests and things that were problematic," she said.  "At the end, the one and half page placement test grew to 10 pages."

A team from the UH language testing center designed innovative software for a new test based that incorporates word recognition, grammar, written and voice recorded speech. Students could then more accurately be placed in the correct class.

"Today, students are not only being placed in the appropriate class based on the intricate test, more students are choosing to pursue Spanish studies.  They're getting better grades and fewer of them are withdrawing, dropping or getting incompletes."

The test has also become a bit of a celebrity as other universities across the country are interested in buying it for their own students.  

Still nothing says success like fulfilled students.

"One student told me, 'I'm speaking more with my father because he doesn't speak English, and now I can speak Spanish.' That's success. That's success."

Speaking Spanish is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.

Mariana Alegría


Incoming doctoral student Mariana Alegría recently received the Fulbright-García Robles Award from the Comisión México-Estados Unidos. She will be pursuing her doctorate in the department of Hispanic Studies at UH.

Mariana graduated with honors from the Universidad Iberoamerica with a degree in Latin American Literature. She received her Master's degree in acting at the Birmingham School of Acting in the United Kingdom, earning an honorable mention for her role as Bertha Mason. Her Master's thesis is entitled “Performing Feminism in The Grace of Mary Traverse” and explores British feminist theatre in the play by Timberlake Wertenbaker.  She is currently investigating the theatrical works of writer and director David Olguín and will be directing the play Olímpica by Héctor Azar this summer. 

Whitney Koonce


Whitney Koonce, a Spanish major, is one of the recipients of the 2012-2013 Provost's Undergraduate Research Scholarship. The PURS Program provides talented UH juniors and seniors with the opportunity to participate in a research project under the direction of a UH faculty mentor. Scholarship Recipients receive a $1,000 scholarship for one semester of research. Koonce will be working under the mentorship of Prof. José Ramón Ruisánchez on a project about Literary Tropes, which explores linguistic and literary approaches to four tropes that have gained or regained prominence in current Mexican poetry. 

Marta Fairclough

Marta Fairclough


Press Release Part 2