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.

bookcover1Initial 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.