Photo above: From left, Ana Cruz Navarro, director of the film “The Suffragists” (Las Sufragistas), is introduced by Mary Husain at a recent CineCulture screening.

~ By Nancy Barragan, student writer for the College of Arts and Humanities

The Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures brings several guests with an international perspective to Fresno State each semester. 

The MCLL Department houses two undergraduate majors — bachelor of arts in Spanish and French — as well as five minors in classics, French, German, humanities and Spanish.  

Each program brings guests with an international perspective to campus so students can receive a well-rounded experience when learning about their desired major and the culture behind that language.  

“Instructors teach students how to speak several languages, but they also provide students with knowledge of the literatures and cultures associated with those languages,” said Debbie Avila, chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures. “Students are also provided with the opportunity to acquire this knowledge through study abroad. In addition, MCLL has brought guest speakers and artists to campus for events attended by students, as well as the community.”

Faculty members assist with the selection of some films for CineCulture, and the department co-sponsors films, lectures, classroom visits and other events, Avila said.

Bringing international speakers to campus provides a unique opportunity for students to learn from them. Past guest speakers have visited different classes and have given a presentation about their career, their journey and advice based on their life experience.  

“Faculty members have brought a variety of speakers to campus from several places, including France, Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico,” Avila said. “For example, MCLL hosted Georgina Herrera, an Afro-Cuban poet in March 2016. The department has also co-sponsored films from several places, including Puerto Rico, France, and Germany. … In March 2018 MCLL hosted Bosnian genocide survivor and president of the Association of Women Victims, Bakira Hasecic.”

By co-sponsoring campus events, MCLL is able to ensure that students have the unique opportunity to meet international guests from around the world, interact and network with them.

Dr. Paula Sanmartin is an associate professor of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Spanish American literatures and currently the graduate coordinator and graduate adviser for the Spanish masters program:

“In fall 2010, I invited Margarita Engle to come give a talk to my undergraduate class on Afro-Caribbean literature. Engle is a Cuban-American writer who lives in the Central Valley and has received numerous awards for her work on young adult literature. She discussed her book based on a Cuban autobiographical slave narrative I was teaching in the class, as well as her decision to become a writer.”  

Being a former international student at the University of California at San Diego, Sanmartin tries to be involved in promoting international studies and study abroad.

“I took Fresno State students to Spain with [University Studies Abroad Consortium] in fall 2013 and I previously participated in the International Week, presenting a Brazilian CineCulture film,” Sanmartin said.

Sanmartin also brought Dr. Sara Cooper in 2015, who gave two lectures on Cuban women writers publishing on the island, and her work founding a nonprofit.

Besides being popular among undergraduate and graduate students majoring in Spanish, all sorts of people were attracted to the events — faculty, students in Women’s Studies, Chicano and Latin American Studies, Africana Studies, as well as business and media students.

In spring 2016, Fresno Afro-Cuban writer Georgina Herrera gave a lecture to an undergraduate class about Hispanic women writers and even met with students for lunch and a campus visit.

“Students were really surprised by how open she was with them, and they were inspired by her harsh struggle to become a published poet,” Sanmartin said. “She came from a humble background, worked as a domestic and did not have a college degree. She also gave a talk that community members attended. I provided translation into English. Several of them contacted me afterward wanting to find out when there would be more events related to Cuban studies.”

In fall 2017, Sanmartin brought Cuban author Aida Bahr, who spent two days on campus and gave several talks to faculty and students — one in English, the other in Spanish. Bahr also gave a student workshop on creative writing.

Another way students are able to interact with international guest speakers is through CineCulture‘s film lineup. CineCulture is a film series that strives to raise cultural awareness through film screenings and post-screening discussions. Each film is typically co-sponsored by another Fresno State department.

Dr. María Dolores Morillo, a professor of Spanish, has contributed in bringing a few international guest speakers to Fresno State.

Morillo said, “This year I am collaborating for the first time with CineCulture in bringing Spanish-speaking films to our communities, so I have to say that my very first guest and movie, Carla Cavina and ‘Extraterrestres,’ have a very special place in my heart and in my memory. It was a very labor-intensive but rewarding experience, and I shall always cherish it.”  

On January 26, the film “Extra-Terrestrials” (Extraterrestres) and the film director Carla Cavina were invited to CineCulture.

“In addition to CineCulture, Carla was very generous and agreed to speak in three of the classes that professor Mary Husain, adviser and curator of CineCulture, teaches,” Morillo said. “She also spoke at an event I organized for the larger student community and we had a fabulous turnout.” Cavina presented one her short films entitled “?Nos conocemos?” (Have We Met?) and a music video, “Jayaera.”

“She spoke to our students about being a woman, being a filmmaker, being gay and being from a colonized island (Puerto Rico), and connected all those identity marks as a form of invisibility, and how she is trying to overcome that invisibility with her art and her activism,” Morillo said. “She also talked about the current situation of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. It was very inspiring to hear her story and see her trajectory. We were very fortunate to have her here for a week. Not many directors are able to do that, so we are very grateful.”

Dr. Rose Marie Kuhn, a professor of French, has also contributed in bringing international guest speakers to Fresno State.

“MCLL is special because it teaches many different languages in addition to Spanish: French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin and Portuguese,” Kuhn said. “We are also teaching Humanities courses. We are part of Arts and Humanities and fulfill the need for Fresno State students to obtain a well-rounded education in addition to their majors. A college education includes global awareness and cultural competency as well as knowledge of a language different from English to be able to function efficiently in our multicultural and multiracial world.”

The French program also provides lectures for students to learn from.

Kuhn said, “French recently had Dr. Ieme van der Poel, a professor of French from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, who gave a lecture in French in one of my advanced classes. She is a specialist of French literature of North Africa and the title of her lecture was: ‘French Literature Today: Toward a World-Literature in French?'”

On March 16, CineCulture presented the film “Serenade for Haiti” and the film producer Christy McGill. Filmed over a seven-year period in Haiti, this documentary tells the story of a small and modest classical music school, the Sainte Trinité Music School, in the heart of troubled Port au Prince, Haiti.

This film was shown in Haitian Creole, French, and English with English subtitles. It was co-sponsored by The Africana Studies Program, the French Program, MCLL and the Alliance Francaise de Fresno.

Kuhn said inviting the film directors all the way from Paris was a rewarding experience for students, but that it can also be onerous since most of the budget is absorbed by the travel expenses. That’s where the co-sponsorships come in and assist with the expenses.

Kuhn isn’t the only professor who sees the benefits of bringing international guests to campus. Morillo hopes to start a Spanish Film Festival next year to showcase films from Spain.

“There are four different languages spoken in Spain: Catalan, Euskera (Basque), Galician and Spanish, and there is high-quality cinema being made in all four languages,” Morillo said. “I would like to bring that diversity to Fresno State and Fresno.”

The most recent international guest speaker that MCLL brought to campus was through collaboration with Cineculture on April 27 featuring the film “The Suffragists” (Las Sufragistas). The screening was followed by a post-screening discussion with the film director Ana Cruz Navarro. 

“Our expectation is to expose our students to other ways of thinking and seeing the world, to new ideas, cultures and ways of life,” Kuhn said. “To engage a dialogue between the Fresno State community, the Fresno community at large and the directors about diversity, cultural understanding and global awareness. We want to make sure to open the world for our students and make them realize that many local issues are also global issues.”