Anne Fountain: Indigenous America in the Spanish Language Classroom

Indigenous America in the Spanish Language Classroom by Anne Fountain provides a framework for Spanish teachers of all levels to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into their classrooms. The book gives an overview of Indigenous history and culture in the Americas as well as practical resources and curriculum ideas, aiming to create inclusive and social justice-oriented learning. Read on for a Q&A with the author about the influences behind the book, how to create inclusive learning environments, and other important takeaways for teachers.

Why is Indigenous history important to Spanish language classrooms?

Spanish around the world lives in culturally and linguistically diverse areas. In the Americas it shares space with the continent’s original languages, which claim millions of speakers in the twenty-first century. Those who speak an Indigenous language—often but not always along with Spanish—are proud of their heritage. Not knowing about the Indigenous histories of the Americas would be like not knowing about Greece and Rome as foundational in European and Western thought. The twenty-first century is bringing more information about Indigenous histories to digital formats. My book gives links to many of these sources.

How did visiting Yucatan influence your decision to write this book?

Leading groups of teachers and students to non-tourist areas of Yucatan for over 10 years and engaging with Mayan speaking communities influenced the way I teach Spanish. It made the vitality of Mayan culture and language in today’s Mexico real—not abstract or historically distant. I keep in touch with teachers and students who traveled with me to Yucatan and my book pays tribute to their participation in the summer programs.

In your book you problematize the term the “Spanish-speaking world,” given the prevalence of Indigeneity in this region. Should we/how can we reframe this term?

Historically the term Spanish America has prevailed to describe nations in the Americas whose official language is Spanish. Some have used the term Indo-America for countries with a large Indigenous (Indian) population. Both terms are descriptive. I like the encompassing nature of the wording “Indigenous America” because it implies past and present and does not depend on the words indio/Indian.

How can teachers make their classrooms culturally welcoming to students with Indigenous backgrounds?

When teachers have a defined classroom, they can use realia to create an ambience that includes Indigenous America. Creating lessons or learning scenarios with a Native American theme can highlight the heritage that students with Indigenous backgrounds bring to a class. Inviting speakers of Indigenous languages to a class, either in person or virtually, is a way to recognize their importance.

How can the presence of Indigenous culture in the classroom be used to achieve social justice aims?

The history of Indigenous peoples in the Americas who faced conquest, colonial rule, and the rise of national governments leads directly to topics of social justice. The year commemorating the Quincentennial of Columbus’s arrival in the Americans (1992) marked the rise of Indigenous Americans telling their own versions of history and claiming political rights throughout the hemisphere. Posters and poems (especially short ones) that proclaim Indigenous rights can be starting points for learning scenarios that have social justice themes.

Do you envision this framework for incorporating Indigenous perspectives into Spanish language classrooms to be used by teachers of other languages?

This book has examples about Brazil and Portuguese but also points to resources in German that describe the experiences of German explorers in Brazil. An overarching theme is to look to museums and government sites as sources of information.

What is the most important thing that you hope Spanish teachers can take away from this book?

Many authentic resources are online and are free. An abundance of source material awaits creative teachers who want to develop learning scenarios. Those with the eBook version can click on hundreds of links and instantly access sources.