Forging New Spanish Ties

Luis García Montero, Christa Acampora, Richard Bueno, and Raquel Caleya
Luis García Montero, Dean Christa Acampora, Richard Bueno, and Raquel Caleya at the ceremonial signing of the a new collaboration between the University of Virginia and Spain’s Cervantes Institute.
Molly Angevine / A&S Communications

A new collaboration between the University of Virginia and Spain’s Cervantes Institute will lead to new educational resources for Spanish-language instruction at UVA, as well as Institute-sponsored cultural events bringing celebrated Spanish and Latin American writers, filmmakers and other artists to Grounds.

Celebrated last Thursday with a ceremonial signing by Arts & Sciences Dean Christa Acampora and Cervantes Institute Director Luis García Montero in the Dome Room of the Rotunda, the agreement designates UVA as only the second U.S. university authorized to host the exam certifying full Spanish-language proficiency. With this new agreement, students in the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese of UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences will be able to graduate with the highest certification of Spanish proficiency in the world, an opportunity unavailable to students at any other U.S. university.

“The University of Virginia’s programs in Spanish and Latin American literature and Spanish language are among the most prestigious in the country, and the Cervantes Institute is interested in entering agreements with the most prestigious universities,” Montero said.

Acampora celebrated the new agreement in terms of its important role in improving and expanding opportunities for Spanish-language education in the United States. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that in a nation of more than 330 million people, more than 20% speak a language other than English at home, with 62% of those speaking Spanish. At the same time, an increasing majority of the population only speak English. Acampora said collaborations like UVA’s agreement with the Cervantes Institute are important to building bridges in a country where its citizens increasingly cannot communicate with each other.

 “Spanish-language instruction is essential for providing access to many cultural treasures and important histories. Given the prevalence of Spanish-language speakers in this country and worldwide, Spanish is also essential for the vitality and viability of our democracy,” Acampora said.

“The University of Virginia is honored to be entrusted, through this important collaboration, with a leading role in that mission.”

Spain’s leading public cultural institution with centers in 90 cities in 43 countries, the Cervantes Institute was created in 1991 to further the teaching of Spanish and enhance the visibility of Spanish and Latin American culture. The Spanish organization also hosts an exam center — the Instituto Cervantes Observatory — at Harvard University, but with this new agreement, UVA becomes the first U.S. university with a designated “Cátedra Cervantes” professor, the highest professorship in Spain.

The Cervantes Professor for the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, to be selected jointly by the University and the Cervantes Institute, will work with the Cervantes Institute of New York to program cultural events bringing Spanish and Latin American artists to Charlottesville and the Washington, D.C. area. The agreement also offers Cervantes Institute resources support Spanish-language instruction at UVA, including providing training courses for Spanish teachers.

“When you think about the future of Spanish, the United States is a very important country,” Montero said. “It is estimated that by the middle of this century more than 60 million Americans will speak Spanish, because it is being studied as a second language and because it is being preserved as the language of all the Latin Americans and Spaniards who come to live in the United States. In that sense, it is important for us to defend the language as a language of prestige not only in literature, as the language of Cervantes and Borges, but also in science and in technological transformations. The University of Virginia is a fundamental resource.”

‘A moment of rebirth and reenergizing’

The announcement of the agreement with the Cervantes Institute coincides with the appointment of four new tenure-track faculty members in the College’s Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese and the celebration this weekend of the 40th anniversary of the UVA in Valencia program, the University’s oldest education abroad program in continuous operation. Professor Enrico Cesaretti, chair of the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, said this confluence of events put the spotlight on a department that weathered the educational challenges of the pandemic and the recent retirements of some of its most distinguished professors.

“It really feels like a moment of rebirth and reenergizing,” Cesaretti said. “These are very helpful initiatives that boost the morale of our department and all the faculty. That’s very important for us.”

Cesaretti and Acampora credited one of the newly appointed faculty members, Fernando Valverde, with playing a large role in securing the agreement with the Cervantes Institute. A critically acclaimed Spanish poet and former globe-trotting journalist, Valverde said UVA had to compete with other top universities when it announced its interest in opening a center in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

“We were in a very competitive situation,” said Valverde, who credited his department colleagues, professors Samuel Amago and Fernando Operé for their counsel during the University’s negotiations with the Cervantes Institute. “We have so many amazing faculty in the department working on so many interesting topics. Now we’ve reached a new point with this agreement with the Cervantes Institute that gives us a focus and more visibility. This collaboration is going to bring authors and artist from all over the Spanish-speaking world to UVA.”

Graduate students in the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese said they are excited about the range of opportunities this agreement will create for Spanish students at UVA.

Ph.D. student Carlos Velazco Fernández said the Cervantes Institute has a global presence that spans the Spanish-speaking world, with archives and repositories that can aid researchers interested in fields like linguistics, Latin American and Transpacific studies, as well as topics related to the Hispanic and Latinx communities in the United States.

“There is a tangible benefit that is connected to the employment market. No question, one of the major benefits is that our students can obtain certification with the guidance of experienced professors from the Department of Spanish who have a long-standing history in linguistic research and Spanish language teaching.,” Velazco Fernández said.

He added that the collaboration presents a great opportunity for students to become more competitive in their pursuit of careers in linguistic research, Spanish-language teaching and more generally in jobs that require Spanish fluency.

“But I also believe that this educational and cultural collaboration could benefit not only undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese but also the University of Virginia, as well as the Charlottesville community,” Velazco Fernández said.

Fernandez’s fellow Ph.D. student Elizabeth Mirabal said she hopes the collaboration will grant her easier access to the unique collections held in various Cervantes Institute libraries worldwide. She is interested in exploring the rare assortment of Cuban books that were rescued from the Cuban Cultural Center of Rabat, now housed in the library of the Instituto Cervantes in Tangier.

“I believe this could expand the range of job opportunities available to graduate students, particularly if they are interested in applying for positions outside of the United States,” Mirabal said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to build a closer relationship with the Cervantes Institute. This could provide us more access to the diverse cultural events they offer and even allow us to participate as speakers or attendees.”