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Community-based learning course adapts to COVID-19 restrictions

| Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Notre Dame professor Tatiana Botero has found ways to help students engage with the South Bend Latino community through her community-based learning course, “Immigration and the Construction of Memory.”

The course is taught in Spanish and covers the history of immigration, border crossings and current migrant issues.

For the community-based aspect of the course, students meet with members of two non-profit organizations that serve the Latino community in South Bend: El Campito and La Casa de Amistad.

On Thursday evenings, students gather in Hesburgh Library to listen to stories and interact with different people associated with the community organizations. This semester, students are putting together books about each of the organizations’ histories and key contributors over the years.

Botero, a teaching professor of Spanish in the department of romance languages, said this semester’s project idea was inspired by El Campito celebrating its 50th anniversary and La Casa de Amistad celebrating its 48th anniversary. She said these anniversaries led her to want to feature the organizations themselves.

Courtesy of Tatiana Botero
Students sit in Hesburgh Library as part of professor Tatiana Botero’s “Immigration and the Construction of Memory” course.

In past years, students traveled to the organizations to visit the children and interview their family members. They put together books about the family histories of those with whom they spoke and gave them the books at the end of the semester.

Shannon Weyer, director of programs and operations at El Campito, said there are a lot of immigrant families at El Campito that have rich cultural and diverse backgrounds.

“Giving [students] the opportunity to hear different people’s stories and backgrounds and kind of connect and reflect on that is a huge takeaway for them,” Weyer said.

Sophomore Caroline Zitnik, who is currently enrolled in the course, said it is challenging and nerve-wracking — yet worthwhile — to speak with native Spanish speakers. 

“It just kind of opens your eyes to other people’s experiences more and allows you to be more empathetic and understand how this huge political issue right now is affecting real people,” Zitnik said. 

Botero created the course and has offered it for the past eight years. As the daughter of Colombian immigrants, she said she has always been interested in immigration issues. 

“Storytelling has always been also very important for me, so I kind of thought about it and pieced it together,” Botero said. “I started thinking about how I can create a class that works with the Latino community and what would be the project that the students would work on.”

In the classroom, students read the book “La Otra Cara de América” (“The Other Face of America”) by Jorge Ramos, which tells immigrant stories and dispels common myths about immigration into the U.S. 

After taking the course last spring, junior Patrick Kelly said he was inspired to continue work on immigration issues. He currently interns at Friends Committee on National Legislation, a lobbying firm based in Washington D.C.

Kelly’s job is to organize students on campus to lobby Indiana senators and representatives to pass the Dream and Promise Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

Botero said she has many students who go on to address immigration issues after the course.

“I know that the students that come through the class, to those students, the class has a great impact,” she said. “And then they’re able, many of them, to continue on doing different projects with the Latino community, so I know that then the impact kind of grows through their projects.”

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