Pine Fall 2012 Spotlight – Interview with alumnus Scott Hadley by NAU COE professor Norbert Francis
Note: The first portion of this article appears in the fall issue of Pine magazine. If
you came to this page from the magazine, continue reading after the * mark.
NAU alumnus Scott Hadley, ’83 BA, and College of
Education professor Nobert Francis are uniting two universities through a
community literacy project in rural Central Mexico. The NAU-sponsored project,
now in its 15th year, promotes literacy based on the idea of a
bilingual writers’ workshop, bringing together Nahuatl, the language of the
community, and Spanish. Interestingly,
Francis and Hadley met by chance – an unplanned and fortuitous reconnect, so to
speak, related to NAU’s ongoing global initiative. The following is an
interview with Hadley by Francis.
Francis: Tell us how you became interested in the field of language learning at NAU.
Hadley: I think in order to
answer that question fairly I would have to go back to my high school days
where I first became interested in Spanish.
After I started at NAU, my original intention was to major in history, then in business, but I kept going back to Spanish. There was a great faculty at the language
school, all representing many different places in the Spanish-speaking world. I
was fascinated by the variety of accents and cultures. It wasn’t long before I
changed my major to Spanish for good.
Francis: Tell us a little about the community you’re working with
and your fieldwork there.
Hadley: Actually, there are two
communities involved which are very close together: San Isidro Buensuceso in
the state of Tlaxcala and San Miguel Canoa in the state of Puebla. They are both very interesting in the sense
that Nahuatl and traditional culture still thrive there. I live only 20 miles away in a place that is
still rural in many ways but Nahuatl has died out all together. Although I have been spending the last three
years getting to know people there, my serious work learning the language,
doing field recordings on many different cultural
topics and teaching creative writing in a bilingual and even a trilingual
context, really only got started in January 2011 with my sabbatical.
Francis: How did you find your way to Mexico, today as professor in the Facultad de Lenguas at the Universidad Autónoma de Puebla?
Hadley: I received a Master’s degree from Arizona State University in Spanish literature and I spent some summers in Puebla, Mexico doing thesis research thanks to connections that one professor had with literature teachers at the Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (UAP). I wound up making both friendships and academic connections and I decided to return to Puebla to try living there for a while, and I have been there ever since.
Francis: How did you begin working with the project on literacy and bilingualism in the indigenous community?
Hadley: At the university in Puebla we hosted a conference on translation in 2006. I wrote a paper about how Nahuatl, the indigenous language spoken by the Aztecs, and Spanish interacted in translation. This paper was later published on the internet where you [Dr. Francis] read it and got into contact with me. You told me about the project you head in bilingual education, together with Pablo Rogelio Navarrete Gómez, in a Nahuatl-speaking village near my home. It didn’t take long for both of us to see what a great opportunity it was for me and the project to turn it into my sabbatical so that I could go to the community on a regular basis and even have hands-on experience in schools and other educational institutions.
*Francis: Teaching creative writing in a bilingual and trilingual context - how
does that work?
Hadley: Although this was one of the key areas of the
project, it is ironically the part that I have had the least experience
with. I’ve started preparing a creative
writing manual for both Spanish and Nahuatl basically by reading creative
writing manuals in Spanish and thinking of exercises to do to have the
languages interact. For example,
comparing lyrics to a song translated from Spanish into Nahuatl to be sung to
the same tune in both languages can be an excellent opportunity for talking
about rhyme and meter in two languages.
Also, we can talk about narration by taking a bare plot line and filling
in the details or writing a diary about what life was like in the past from the
point of view of a small child.
Although I haven’t
had much chance to work with poetry or other kinds of creative writing, my work
this fall at the Colegio de Estudios Científicos y Tecnológicos del Estado de
Tlaxcala in San Isidro Buensuceso has given me a chance to look at students’
writing for their social service projects concerning cultural preservation in
the community. This project is run by
Alicia Zepeda Arce who has kindly allowed Rogelio and I to participate. This work largely consists of the students
asking their parents and grandparents about local legends and stories and ways
of life, such as how to cultivate corn or produce charcoal. Some of the texts are in bilingual form and
this gives us the opportunity to work with two languages with something they
themselves have produced instead of a model from someone else. We can explore topics like what can be
literally translated between the languages and what cannot. Also, it is important to discuss how to write
in Nahuatl since many of the students have never had a chance to do it. We see style norms for both languages and,
with Rogelio’s help, they can begin to write more effectively and with more
clarity in both languages. I think that one of the most important advantages of
this project is the idea of bringing families closer together and bridging the
generation gap. There is a group of
students, for example, that has become very interested in stories that they
have never heard before and most are surprised about how different daily life
was before they were born. It seems to
be the case that traditions cannot be preserved unless the generations can talk
to each other on a different level. For example, talking about and reflecting
on the community’s history and its narratives.
Francis: Tell us why the
Nahuatl language is so special. What got you interested in this community and
with this language in particular?
Hadley: Yes, there are many
different indigenous languages in Mexico but I was always interested in Nahuatl
because it is spoken by the largest number of people in the country. Also, it has a well-documented history going
back to the conquest and it is the language spoken in the area where I
live. It just seemed to be natural that
it would be the indigenous language that I would study.
Francis: This photo (right)
was taken during your fieldwork. Tell us about that.
Hadley: We thought that an
important element of culture was not only literary but how people use what is
around them for food, clothing or even medicine. This picture was taken during an excursion to
the countryside to identify plants and the properties they have. Thanks to local residents who kindly served
as guides and informants, we now have a large collection of pictures and audio
files on plants and trees used for medicine or other purposes.
results of this project have just been published. Read Francis’ Bilingual competence and bilingual proficiency in child
development for more about it.
Special thanks to Norbert Francis and Nancy Serenbetz, '75, in NAU’s College of Education for making
this story possible.